Devils to rely on depth, experience
|Brodeur said the Devils' depth will be tested with the losses of Martin and Pandolfo.|
It started last October when Brian Rolston crashed into the boards at Atlanta on Oct. 16 and missed the next 18 games. One game later, Bobby Holik broke his pinkie finger. Then Andy Greene broke his hand and sat out six weeks. In November, Martin Brodeur ruptured a tendon in his elbow, needed surgery and missed 50 games.
Monday's news that Paul Martin (forearm) and Jay Pandolfo (shoulder) will each miss four to six weeks had the Devils down, but not discouraged. Shorthanded for so much of 2008-09, the Devils nevertheless went on to capture the Atlantic Division title, and that experience defying the odds will be a major asset in the coming weeks.
New Jersey has won three in a row, including six of its last seven, and hosts Buffalo on Wednesday.
"It helps if you do have success," said head coach Jacques Lemaire. "Because they know somebody has to pick it up; somebody has to play better; somebody has to take over for the other guy. It's only when you're using a player a lot more than he used to play and he cannot do the job, then you're in trouble."
The Devils of 2008-09 did more than hold on until key players were healthy again, they flourished, at one point winning eight in a row with Brodeur out of the lineup. Surviving without two workhorses on your special teams, though, poses a unique problem.
"Forwards, defensemen, everyone chipped in together and they helped the goalie and kept going," Lemaire said. "It's a little bit like this, but special teams are different. You lose a good guy on the penalty kill or a good guy on the power play, then it's your special teams that suffer. Your whole game won't suffer that much, because you'll play fine. But special teams, you're supposed to do something good and maybe the (replacement) just can't do it as well as the other guy. So you're missing that spring, either on offense or on defense."
Banged up or not, don't think the resilient Devils will adjust their own expectations.
"You're losing two big guys, so it's definitely a loss to you," David Clarkson said. "But I believe in my heart that in this room we have the guys to go out and be able to win these games we have coming up. It's not a concern of mine that we're going to lose because of losing anybody. I think being a professional at this level, you have to believe every night that you're going to win.
"You believe in your teammates, the people around you, and as much as it hurts losing those guys – you're going to miss them big-time; you're going to see a difference – but if everyone pulls together and works hard like we have lately, I think we'll be OK."
Martin and Pandolfo join the list of Devils' injured that includes Patrik Elias (groin) and Mike Mottau (lower body), who did not play in Saturday's 4-1 win at Pittsburgh. Elias has yet to play this year following September surgery, but has begun skating on his own. Mottau is expected to practice Tuesday and play Wednesday.
Martin's non-displaced fracture will not need surgery, but President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello said the prognosis for Pandolfo is not yet clear. But no matter how many injuries a team must deal with, Lemaire said morale shouldn't suffer.
"We have a job to do and we have to do it the best we can," Lemaire said. "Morale, we'll keep that later on. Morale gets affected after you lose people and then you lose games – not before you lose games."
Lemaire's challenge is coping without Martin, who leads all Devils with 23:57 of average ice time through nine games, and Pandolfo, who has long been an essential part of New Jersey's penalty kill. Martin, a power-play quarterback, has been New Jersey's top-scoring blueliner in each of the last two seasons.
Lemaire plans to spread out Martin's minutes over the rest of his defensive corps and hand over some of Pandolfo's PK responsibilities to Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus, both of whom have impressed the coach with their defense.
Said Lemaire: "When you think that one is a guy that you always put on to play against any type of player; up front to check the top players on the other side, and he was doing a really good job, penalty kill, playing on a very important line, and the other one is one of our top defensemen. When you look at that, what can you say? You get injuries that you have to go through. I know it's hard. We have one of our top forwards out, a top defenseman, a top checker, but you know what? We're still going to play. We'll try to have the other team beat us, and not beat ourselves. That's what we'll do."
New faces will be called upon until Martin and Pandolfo are ready to return. Defenseman Cory Murphy has been recalled from Lowell (AHL), where he had two assists and a plus-3 rating in four games.
"You're testing your depth of your hockey club, that's the bottom line," Brodeur said. "Guys will have to step up in different roles. We lost two players that are playing important minutes in games, not just regular minutes, they're playing special teams minutes. It's hard to replace, but we have guys that are waiting for that opportunity to step up into certain roles. It's an opportunity for them to embrace it as much as they can because sometimes in your career there's a break to be had. This could be (it) for somebody. You're not happy to have lost somebody, but it is what it is."
Brodeur said a player facing a long layoff eventually comes to terms with it before training for his comeback.
"The hard part is when you're almost there and you can't travel with the team and you can't be with the guys," he said. "You're just on your own trying to get yourself back into the groove. The mental part is the toughest."