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Cullen: Who steps up in wake of Parise and Phaneuf injuries?

Scott Cullen
11/3/2010 1:53:38 PM
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New Jersey and Toronto are both going to be without important contributors for a significant period of time, but there is always the chance that others on the roster will rise to the occasion.

In 2008-2009, I wrote about the New Jersey Devils' likely fade from playoff contention when Martin Brodeur was injured. 

Kevin Weekes represented a significant drop in performance in goal and the Devils shouldn't have been able to make the postseason with a goaltender stopping fewer than 90% of the shots he faced (as Weekes had for three years running).

Enter Scott Clemmensen, the career minor-leaguer, who took the reins and handled the starting job in Brodeur's absence, going 25-13-1 with a 2.39 goals against average and .917 save percentage (Weekes, for the record, had a .920 save percentage as the backup).

So with news that Zach Parise, the Devils' best player, is out for three months following knee surgery, it's easy to write off New Jersey's hopes considering what has already been a miserable start to the season, but there will be opportunities for others to step into the spotlight.

Naturally, Ilya Kovalchuk will be the one expected to pick up the offensive slack with Parise out, but Kovalchuk was already expected to be a significant offensive contributor.  That he hasn't been yet has only made the rest of the team's problems -- injuries, poor power play and shaky goaltending among them -- even worse.

Certainly, proven performers like Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac will have to be better, but the Devils need some of the complementary players to elevate their production in Parise's absence.

Jamie Langenbrunner has struggled (1 G, 4 A -8 in 13 GP) early in the season, scoring on 3.8% of his shots, which is well below his career mark of 10.0%. 

Just as troubling for Langenbrunner is that he is getting 2.0 shots on goal per game, which would be his lowest since 2001-2002, the year he was traded from Dallas to New Jersey.

Playing with Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, Langenbrunner will have the opportunity to produce like he has in recent seasons; in three of the last four years, Langenbrunner has scored at least 60 points and the Devils could really use another year of similar production from their 35-year-old captain.

Jason Arnott is another veteran that will have to do more for the the Devils and, at the moment, he's doing much less.  He's mystified by his decreasing ice time (13:29 in Vancouver Monday night), but Arnott has one assist in the last six games and is a minus-9 on the season, so it may not require a special decoder ring to figure out why he's not playing as much. 

The only forward in the league with a worse plus-minus is teammate Patrik Elias (minus-10).

In any case, Arnott isn't getting a lot of shots on goal lately either -- eight in the last six games (1.33 per game) -- and even if he's slowed down at this stage of his career, Arnott's always been able to shoot. 

Arnott had averaged 30 goals per season from 2005-2006 through 2008-2009, before slipping to 19 in 63 games last year.  If 36-year-old Arnott can get back to playing 17-plus minutes per game (he's averaging 14:41 per game now), he might provide some goals and that's what the Devils need. 

The question that has to be addressed is: will Arnott getting ice time lead to more goals or will Arnott getting goals lead to more ice time?

New Jersey's leading scorer this year is Dainius Zubrus, with seven points in 13 games, which should hammer home just how inept their offense has been early in the 2010-2011 season. 

Zubrus hasn't surpassed 40 points in a season since 2006-2007, but hasn't exactly been given a featured role in his time with the Devils, so maybe increasing his responsibility this year could help help the 32-year-old raise his game. He's scored 50 points twice in his career and the Devils probably wouldn't mind
 this being his third.
 
Finally, if there is someone from the Devils' under-30 set that might be able to improve his production, it's David Clarkson, the gritty 26-year-old who opened the year with no points in nine games, but now has a couple of points in the last four. 

Clarkson is getting a little more ice time lately, yet still isn't playing even 15 minutes a night.  Even so, he ranks second on the Devils, to Parise, in shots on goal with 42. 

He's not a skilled finisher like Kovalchuk or Parise, but if Clarkson merely continues to get the same number of shots on goal (3.2 per game) and finishes a modest 9.0% of them, that could put him in the 20-25 goal range.

To a lesser degree, Toronto will miss Dion Phaneuf on the blueline for at least a month after suffering a deep gash on his leg Tuesday night.

Despite leading the Leafs in shots on goal this season, with 37, Phaneuf has yet to score and really hasn't been a productive offensive player since arriving in Toronto (2 G, 12 A, -8, 37 GP), but he's also been playing 22:44 per game this season and those minutes will need to be filled.

Francois Beauchemin is the most likely to take over Phaneuf's spot on the first power play unit.  Beauchemin is already playing 23:45 per game, so he shouldn't be asked to handle more minutes overall, but if he has to put in a minute or two more per game on the power play, that is an opportunity for him to add a new look to a unit that has struggled, scoring on 12.8% of their opportunities.

Luke Schenn may also get a chance at more offensive role. Schenn's playing more than 22 minutes a night already, but has performed well, leading Toronto blueliners with a plus-4 rating.

The Maple Leafs have been in an offensive funk lately, scoring two goals in the last three games while going 1-for-13 on the power play, so changes to the PP may not be the worst thing in the world for the short term. 

Eventually, though, the Maple Leafs are going to have to hope that they get more reliable defensive play from those at the bottom of the depth chart -- maybe this is a chance for Mike Komisarek to re-establish himself -- to hold the fort while Phaneuf is out.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.

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