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'No-Name' defense continues to shine in New Jersey

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- There's certainly no secret to the success of the No-Name defense in New Jersey.

While much has been made of the team's struggles to find some measure of offensive continuity over the final 15 games of the regular season, the Devils have continued to lead the League in fewest goals allowed, with 162 through 68 games.

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur certainly appreciates the tireless effort exhibited each night by the men in front of him.

"We're always battling," Brodeur told "Our defense is helped by good, solid center-man support. We're not just doing it one way but different ways. We're a good team and these guys are there and getting the job done year after year. We're always among the top 5-10 teams defensively and it's not just because we have a goalie. We're a good team. Plus, these guys have committed themselves and they're doing well, so I'm happy to see when they get some recognition in the way that we play."

The days of Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko and Scott Niedermayer manning the blue line are long gone. Instead, Colin White, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, Mike Mottau, Anssi Salmela, Mark Fraser and recently-acquired Martin Skoula are clearing lanes and successfully starting the transition. Perhaps when Paul Martin returns from his broken forearm -- possibly later this week -- the No-Name label will be removed for good.

"I think with Paul out this season, that was a big blow -- he'd be our most offensive-defenseman," Salvador said. "I guess when you look on paper and you don't have a (Chris) Pronger or a (Tomas) Kaberle … it's how efficient you play as a group and I think sometimes when you don't have some of those superstars, you rely more on yourself to do more, produce more and play more consistent. I think that's what this group has done. We keep the game simple and really just try and play within our means."

When asked what he thought of the No-Name label, Lemaire smiled and said, "Don't really care."

In addition to their responsibility in their own end, these Devils defenders are getting a little offensive, too. Greene, Salvador, Mottau and Skoula have combined for 3 goals and 11 points over the last four games. Mottau scored his first goal since Nov. 28 in a loss to the Islanders on Saturday, and Skoula notched his first point -- an assist -- as a Devil in Monday's victory against the Bruins.

"They play together, move the puck well and make the easy play," Lemaire said. "They're trying more and more to bring some offense and they're very steady. We've been talking about (getting more scoring from our defense) and trying to bring some ideas on how they can help offensively during practice. They've been doing it. Some have done it and have had success."

The strong defensive play has put the organization in the running for the William Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalie or goalies having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals allowed during the regular season. The Devils have won the Jennings four times -- most recently in 2003-04 -- when they yielded 164 goals in 82 games.

"It's not something we've discussed," Salvador said of the Jennings Trophy. "I think the main focus is winning the Stanley Cup. Those other trophies or awards are obviously great achievements, but you can win a lot of awards and not the Stanley Cup and the season doesn't really mean that much. You get to the point in your career where you really want to win and that's the most important thing. When your career is over, you're not going to hear, 'How many Jennings Trophy teams were you on?'

"They want to know how many Cups you've won, so that's been a focus here in this organization for years and they've had great success in being strong defensively. Along the way, some of those other accolades have come along with it."

Martin, who could return to the Devils' blue line as early as Saturday, certainly has been encouraged by the play of his team along the back end during his 59-game absence.

"They've been great all year," Martin said. "We hit a little rough spot, but it seems they're working their way out of it. It's a good team in here, and the better they play the more excited I am or anyone else would be."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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