In any article concerning the Devils it is easy to focus on the following: Kovy and Parise’s production, Henrique’s maturity and contribution, Elias finding the fountain of youth, Clarkson’s development as a two-way player, or Ponik paying fantastic dividends since coming to New Jersey.
Well, look who the Devils featured in beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in their last victory: Peter Harrold, Steve Bernier, Matt Taormina. All three players played at least 14 minutes in the overtime victory, including very important crunch-time minutes.
Here is a quick recap of these players’ career trajectories before New Jersey. When the Devils signed Harrold, it was off waivers; he had played only 19 games with the Los Angeles Kings the previous season. A few times this season, he has stepped in when the Devils’ defensive depth has suffered due to injuries. (He was called up from the AHL on Sunday to replace Foster.)
Steve Bernier was signed in late October to an AHL contract, having bounced around the league since starting out with San Jose. He is now playing major minutes for the Devils.
Matt Taormina, Harrold’s linemate Wednesday night (they went up against Toronto’s ace line of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Tyler Bozak with regularity), finally cracked through into the NHL this year, and the undersized, puck-moving defenseman has been a revelation for New Jersey. He has played big-time minutes as the Devils back-line has struggled to stay healthy, and faced off against opponents’ top lines and held his own.
So this recap of the past two games is appropriately titled after the brilliant Will Ferrell movie “The Other Guys.”
Peter Harrold: If you heard someone fidgeting nervously in the background during the Devils’ games against Montreal and Toronto, that was Kurtis Foster whose back stiffness injury (causing him to miss both games) opened the door for his getting his job taken from him.
Harrold skates well, plays with a high hockey IQ, and makes the tough plays along the boards when necessary. He is very careful not to turn over the puck, and will skate it to the red line and dump it into the offensive zone if the Devils’ forwards are covered in their breakout. Harrold has also shown he can excel at getting into the passing lanes and blocking shots. Taormina likes to pinch and jump into the play offensively, and when he does, Harrold will hang back and protect the long stretch transition pass.
Before the trade deadline, the popular hockey sentiment “You can never have too many defensemen for the playoffs” is used to death. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see Harrold step up and play big minutes because the Devils will need defensive depth in the postseason.
Foster will likely get time when he returns, but his problems with routinely causing turnovers, failing to mark his man while physically separating him from the puck, and getting beaten regularly by anyone with a whiff of speed, could potentially kill the Devils in the playoffs. While there is a much smaller sample size, Harrold so far seems to play the position with much more grit and acumen.