Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Who Sits for Sheldon?

A big game against the hated NY Rangers this Thursday. A team that is in disarray more often than it should be on defense. The new system - like any system - needs time for it to take full effect; and new players need time - like anybody new at anything - for them to gel with the unit. But with a team looking to get a what could be sweet - if not delicious - win over a hated rival, perhaps a change is in order. This could have been - or perhaps not - the thought process of Brent Sutter calling up Sheldon Brookbank to play on Thursday night at MSG (as reported by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice).

Now, Gulitti's post suggests that it could be John Oduya because he was specifically called out for being burnt on the game winning goal in overtime on Saturday. In my opinion, the Devils entirely got burnt by allowing a big winger like Bill Guerin to sneak into the slot without anyone noticing. Anyway. With the way the defense has been playing, a lot of the defenders could sit. I've heard plenty online that it should be Oduya who sits - but the only reason why he's been getting so much time and responsibilities is because he isn't new (like Karel Rachunek or Vitaly Vishnevski), a rookie (like Andy Greene or Mike Mottau), or Paul Martin who already has the ice time and responsibilities. In short, in the absence of Colin White, Oduya is the only available Devil who has played on the top two pairings for a significant amount of time last season. Yes, I agree Oduya hasn't shown that he's capable of doing it for a whole season - but that's the fact of the matter. So unless Sutter really wants to hammer home the message to Oduya, I don't think he's the most likely one to sit.

More to the point, I think there are three more obvious choices. The first two are the rookies, Mottau and Greene. I don't think Mike Mottau or Andy Greene has played that poorly to warrant a scratch - but they also haven't been impressing either. Mottau is still the team's #6 defenseman and if you think Sutter was upset about Oduya in OT, I can't imagine him being any less displeased with Greene for his late penalty. It's too improbable to sit a winger like Mike Rupp to play with seven defensemen; especially in a game where the rivalry will get the two teams very riled up. Rupp or Cam Janssen could see time if only to keep opponents honest, as it were. But the third choice? Vitaly Vishnevski - and seeing him scratched won't surprise me at all.

Brookbank is a big defenseman who does have some skill - as he was named the best defenseman in the AHL last season with Milwaukee. The scouting report in his profile states that Brookbank is a reserve defenseman due to his proclivity to take bad penalties and a lack of skating abilities. That's not to say he's junk on two skates, he's just not the second coming of Perhaps it's a bit much to expect him to revitalize the defense, but it would be a change at the least.

Nevertheless, why do I think it may be Vishnevski? For starters, I don't think Vishnevski has shown why he's with the Devils. He hasn't been a physical presence, he hasn't been a destroyer, he has just been "there" on the third pairing. Brookbank has size and he can play tough (and fight). Given that he still only has 3 games of NHL experience, putting Brookbank on any pairing other than the third pairing would be a big surprise. So we know he's big, he's tough, he'll likely be on the third pairing, and he has shown he can play well in a minor league. From all that, it seems to me one of the third pairing defensemen will sit. Since Mottau is more of a two-way defenseman, I don't see Sutter playing two physical defensemen on the same pairing. Hence, I think Vishnevski will be a healthy scratch. Of course, as a blogger, I reserve any and all rights to be absolutely wrong.

Speaking of wrong, Rich Chere has reported in today's Star Ledger that Sutter has called out Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta. I know the offense has been a bit inconsistent at times (so what else is new), but you can't convince me that Elias, Gionta, or any forward are the key symptoms of this team's slow start. The team, as a whole, is shooting - an average of 30.6 shots per game. Would I like to see more of those go in the net? Of course I would. Who wouldn't? Given that the Devils have had games where they come from behind to tie it or win it, the potential is obviously there. But when the team is giving up a total of 14 goals in the second period alone in all of their games, when the team regularly makes major defensive gaffes in terms of coverage and positioning, I would think it's the defense that needs to be "challenged," not the team's two most talented wingers. Perhaps that's why Sheldon is being called up to play in the first place.

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Don't know too much about Brookbank but there are plenty of defenseman you could sit. As a longtime Devs fan it really ticks me off to see them so weak on defense. Their positioning has been awful. There is absolutely no physical presence in front of the net. I thought Vishnevski was going to smash people but he looks lost out there. Rachuneck is a big guy but he's pretty weak on the puck and avoids contact. Mottau I'm not too sure about him but he's a career minor leaguer. The only bright spot has been Green I belive. He's very poised with the puck and solid defensively for his age and size. Martin has been pretty good and is also and chewing up alot of icetime. Odyua is a mysterty to me. Sometimes he plays vey well and then he'll just make a bonehead play at the worst times.
I never thought I would miss White so much. If I was Matvichuck I'd be extremely pissed off at not even getting to play one game. It's probably too late but how the hell can you judge the guy when he hasn't even stepped on the ice? He couldn't be too much slower than White or Mottau. How can you say he's too slow when he shut down Lecavier and StLouis in the playoffs? It's all positioning and smarts at that age. Good guy in the locker room according to the players and would HIT people and block a ton of shots.
Dano is just about ready to jump out there and smack someone around.
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