Depth is a key element to a winning team, but sometimes it forces teams to make some tough decisions.
The New Jersey Devils currently have eight quality defensemen on the roster with just six open spots in the lineup. Mark Fayne and Peter Harrold have been healthy scratches the past two games, but Adam Larsson and Henrik Tallinder have also seen time on the bench.
Harrold has always been the extra man on the roster unless someone was injured, so it is likely that he remains a healthy scratch as the season goes along. That leaves the Devils with seven players for six spots.
Statistically, Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have been the Devils best option on the blue line.
The 36-year-old Zidlicky has one goal and six assists so far this year and has been a main clog in the Devils' power-play unit that is currently ranked 10th in the NHL. Greene currently leads all Devils defensemen with two goals, six assists and an impressive plus-seven rating.
Surprisingly enough, the next two points leaders on defense have been the two players that have been scratched the most. Mark Fayne has three points in just 12 games, and Henrik Tallinder has two points in only nine games.
That leaves Anton Volchenkov, Adam Larsson and Bryce Salvador.
Salvador is the team captain, so there is no way head coach Peter DeBoer scratches him. Larsson has been seeing time on the bench early this season, but many believe he has grown from last year and is becoming a very good quality defenseman.
Fire & Ice blog: Larsson showing his potential since getting in Devils' lineup; Captain Salvador leading by example: bit.ly/VSA592— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) February 12, 2013
Does this mean Volchenkov should be the odd man out? Many argue that Volchenkov is the Devils' most physical defenseman on the roster, but his statistics show otherwise.
Since the 2010-2011 season, Volchenkov has either been first or second on the team in hits, but this year he has only recorded 21 hits in 16 games. David Clarkson, Stephen Gionta (!) and Steve Bernier each have either 21 or more hits this season, and Marek Zidlicky is tied with Volchenkov as well.
Volchenkov also didn't have the best start while playing in the KHL during the lockout, and has only recorded one point in 16 games this season. He also has almost as many penalty minutes (10) as shots on goal (12).
There is always the possibility that the Devils make a trade to ship off one of these defensemen for a goal scorer, but New Jersey doesn't have many draft picks to work with after giving up two picks for Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The Devils' defense isn't the youngest in the league, so perhaps starting Fayne (25) and Larsson (20) would be more beneficial than Volchenkov (30) and Harrold (29). DeBoer will have to continue to shake up the lineup until he finds his best combinations, but with a lockout-shortened season, he is running out of time.
The season is a quarter of the way through, and despite the fact that the Devils are sitting near the top of the standings, they still have a lot to figure out on the defensive side of the puck.
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