Looking at the standings, things seem about right for the Devils...currently in 5th place in the Conference, one point back of the division lead but only three ahead of the 9th place Thrashers. After years of going all out for, but never quite reaching, the Cup, the team jettisoned exactly half of the pro roster (Bryan McCabe, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jason Blake, David Legwand, Jamie Langenbrunner, Robyn Regehr, Curtis Glencross, Maxime Lapierre, Mike Smith, Wayne Primeau), projections were mixed. Many of the moves were made to bring in younger players and prospects and remove long-term salary considerations. It looked like a re-tooling year for the Devils.
Then during free agency, the team surprised many by adding future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and Todd White to an already dangerous group of forwards and added Nikolai Kahabibulin in an attempt to stabilize the goaltending. Most expected there to be a drop off for the Devils on defense and in net this year, but scoring was expected to come easy. With Ryan Getzlaf, Alexander Semin, Tomas Vanek, Alexander Frolov and Chris Stewart to go along with Selanne, the Devils boast perhaps the best group of goal scorers in the league. In Getzlaf and White, the team has two pass-first centers to get the scorers the puck. Even GM Rich Epstein had no idea what to expect from his team this year...the offense should be good enough to compete, but was it good enough to overcome the defensive and goaltending issues?
Fast forward 29 games, and the answer is no. And yes. Somehow, none of those dangerous forwards (other than Getzlaf) is on a pace for even 20 goals or 50 points. But the team is still in contention...because the defense and goaltending have been spectacular. Khabibulin is currently in the top-10 in GAA, S% and wins. And the defense has been 5th best in the league, allowing under 29 shots per game.
So, what does the team do now? Already Epstein has tried shaking up the lines, which resulted in back to back losses and a total of two goals. Nothing seems to be able to get Vanek to shoot the puck...he was moved off of Getzlaf's line and responded with 1 shot in two games. Does the team roll with what it has and hope for the best? Move under-producing players while their value is low? Look to next year? Does he dare risk messing with the defense in an attempt to make it stronger?