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Defense Wins Championships

By: Brian Deakyne

In the New Jersey Devils' three Stanley Cup runs, they were facaded behind the best team defenses in the entire National Hockey League--and terrific players. Two that have always stood out in Devils' history have been Scott Stevens and Ken Dayneko. The past few seasons--including this one--New Jersey has come up short despite clinching high playoff berths. This isn't a matter of fatigue or poor coaching, but the lack of defense in front of Martin Brodeur.

This season, the Devils have five solid defensemen: Paul Martin, Bryce Salvador, Johnny Oduya, Andy Greene and Colin White. Still, none of them are quite a Scott Stevens or Ken Dayneko. Let's breakdown each player.

Paul Martin: Clearly nothing much to say about Martin, as he has only played nine games this season before being place on Injured Reserve. While healthy in previous seasons, however, Martin has an offensive awareness that is very rare in defensemen today, and has been a leader in New Jersey for a number of years.

Bryce Salvador: Considered much more of a defensive defensemen, Salvador rarely shows any offensive prowess, tallying just 11 points this season (3 goals, 8 assists). Salvador's biggest problem is staying out of the penalty box, with 40 PIMS (Penalties in Minutes). Down the stretch, Salvador will need to stay out the box and continue to be a big-bodied type of player who has no problem taking the body on any forward.

Johnny Oduya: Plagued by injury for almost half of this season, Oduya has not had the opportunity to prove that he can be the player of last year. In his 35 games played this year, Oduya has just one goal and one assist, and it is obvious he is struggling without Martin, but he has to pick up his game in a big way before the playoffs come around.

Andy Greene: Greene has definitely been the most pleasant surprise for the Devils this year. In this, his third full season in New Jersey, Greene has scored five times, showing an offensive touch the Devils haven't seen from him before. Much like Martin, Greene has proven, when given the chance, he has the speed and puck skills to go coast-to-coast and give New Jersey a quality scoring chance. If Green continues to play the way he is, he will be the go-to-guy come April.

Colin White: Shockingly, White is the only Devils defensemen who has played all 50 games on a team that has been hit badly by the injury bug. In those 50 games, White has tallied 10 points, and that's about the best you can expect from him at age 32. White has never been an offensive-type of player, but he does have the experience and leadership that none of the fore-mentioned players do. White has been a part of two Stanley Cup winning teams (Devils 2000, Devils 2003) and that alone separates him from the rest. New Jersey will need his experience down the stretch to guide and be a leader along the blue line.

All in all, the fact is the Devils do not have an all-star caliber player in front of Brodeur, and they are injury-plagued. Still, they have put themselves in position again to make a serious run at a potential 4th Stanley Cup, and all five of these defensemen will need to play a major positive role in order for that to happen.

If so, they all will be put in the same sentence as Stevens and Dayneko--Stanley Cup champions in New Jersey.


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