Monday Musings on Road Warrior Devils and Superstar Injuries

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Written on 11/02/2009 by Jim Cerny


Off to a perfect 7-0-0 start on the road following Saturday's 2-1 shootout win in Tampa, the Devils are proving to be real Road Warriors, playing intelligent, gritty, resilient hockey.

Take Saturday for example. No Paul Martin. No Johnny Oduya. No Jay Pandolfo. (Still) no Patrick Elias.

No Problem.

Hold the Lightning to 9 shots on goal through 40 minutes of play, but allow them to tie it up on a fluky bounce in the third period.

No problem.

Pummel Antero Nittymaki with wave after wave of shots, but score only once through 65 minutes of play.

No problem.

Top forwards Zach Parise and Travis Zajac get stoned in the shootout, and head coach Jacques Lemaire plays assistant coach Tommy Albelin's hunch and gives David Clarkson his first-ever shootout attempt.

No problem.

Just put it in the books as a "W" because the Devils can seemingly do no wrong on the road. Clarkson scores, Devils remain perfect on the road, and now have the second best road start in the history of the NHL.

The good news: the Devils face the Senators up in Ottawa on Saturday night.

The bad news: the Devils have to play two games on home ice before then.

Oh yeah, forgot to tell you. Amidst the joy of this great road run, the Devils have played downright ugly at the Prudential Center, losing four of their first five home contests.

It's kind of like a reverse Jekyll and Hyde for the Devils. Their games are fairly similar at home and on the road, usually very close affairs decided by one team's mistake here or there. Of their 12 games, nine have been decided by two goals or fewer. They are 6-0-0 in such contests on the road, and 0-3-0 on home ice.

The difference has been that on the road the Devils have not made the killer mistake. At home, they have been the team to blink first.

As Martin Brodeur told The Star Ledger's Rich Chere, "We're not getting outplayed. It's maybe the little things we do on the road. We have to incorporate them into our home game, also."

If I am Lemaire or Lou Lamoriello, one month into the season I would think that what the Devils have accomplished on the road as far character and resiliency far outweighs a slow start at The Rock. Those two traits are vital components of a contender, and they will help turn things around on home ice sooner rather than later.

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The spate of injuries that has claimed some of the biggest names in the National Hockey League already this season found another superstar yesterday.

Alex Ovechkin suffered an "upper-body" injury in yesterday's 5-4 loss to the Blue Jackets and is listed as day-to-day. Caps beat writer Tarik El Bashir is speculating that Ovechkin suffered a left shoulder injury follwing a collision with Raffi Torres.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that many of the league's top stars have been KO'd from their respective lineups at a fairly alarming rate to start the season. Ilya Kovalchuk. Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik. Marc Savard. Sergei Gonchar. Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Toews. Johan Franzen. Valtteri Filppula. The list goes on and on, with Ovechkin and Carolina's Eric Staal joining the injured list yesterday.

And this list doesn't even include Phil Kessel, Patrick Elias, or Marian Hossa, all of whom have not played yet this year following off-season sugeries.

So why so many injuries?

Caps owner Ted Leonsis shared a theory with the guys on Hockey This Morning over at XM Home Ice earlier today.

"The schedule is responsible for these injuries," stated Leonsis. "We just played four games in less than six days. We had two sets of three games in four nights one right after the other. It's too much. We have to take a really hard look at this. We are talking about very big men, and a very violent, fast game. Too many games in too few days is a problem."

Good points. But what is the alternative? Play fewer games? Expand the season to include more days off, and, as a result, play the Stanley Cup Finals closer to the month of July? Do not participate in the Olympics?

The answer is that there is no real clear answer. But what is obvious is that the league needs to take a close look at the injury issue. It's not good when any group of players is getting hurt on a regular basis, no matter the sport.

But when it's your top players---the faces of your league---going down one after another, answers must be forthcoming.

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2 Comments

  1. Henry |

    Leonsis is right!
    We don't need to play fewer games or extend the season.
    Take a look at the schedule from the last few years. What do you notice?
    The NHL refuses to play on Sunday's and Monday's.
    They're so worried about getting trampled by the NFL they schedule only a handful of games to be played on those days.
    So essentially you have clubs playing 3 or 4 times in 5 nights.

    The NHL has to stop thinking it's the ugly friend to the NFL.
    If you want respect then start treating yourself with respect.
    Start using all 7 days a week!

     
  2. dbmaven |

    Prior to answers forthcoming, the league (and the dysfunctional NHLPA plays a part in this, too) needs to actually ask the question - then do some research, and maintain statistics. Do injury rates climb when more games are compressed into a shorter timeline? Is that situation exacerbated further in an Olympic year?

    Developing a baseline for comparison, even if that means poring over historical records, is essential in understanding the scope of the issue - if there even is an issue.

     

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