But this season his speed has become deceptively fast, especially with the puck. His stickhandling and long reach have him beating opposing defensemen with regularity. Every game now I find myself saying something along the lines of, “Holy s***, Clarkson just dangled that defenseman like he was a peewee player.”
The only thing that has been more pleasantly surprising than his vastly improved speed and stick work has been his passing. The pass he sent to Elias for his deflection goal against Philadelphia was one that most NHL players could not make. He had a rabbit hole to pass it through and did it off his backhand.
But most importantly, Clarkson’s career year is coming with him never losing sight of his identity. He still crashes the net as hard as anyone in the NHL, and whether it is off his stick or some part of his body, his universe always seems to be changing the puck direction enough to elude the goaltender.
But here is why he deserves this section for “The Good” this week. He has stayed out of the penalty box. He is far too good a player now, and far too valuable to be caught up in Eric Boulton-like activities. And after he briefly lost his sanity in that Devils-Ranger 2-0 loss on Feb. 27, he has only accrued two penalty minutes! He is far too important to New Jersey to spend his time waiting out penalties.
Anton Volchenkov: Since I need to get to “The Bad” I’ll make this quick. He rarely gets beat. He plays all three zones well. He is one of the few Devils defensemen who blocks shots. He seems to always make the right pass on breakouts, and if the pass is not there he will skate it out of the zone. He is good with puck possession and even better at forcing turnovers and separating the opponent from the puck with his strong physical play. Currently the Devils’ two best defensemen are Larsson and Volchenkov, followed by Greene, Fayne, and Zidlicky in no particular order. This leads us too…
Maybe the concussion that kept him out last season has undermined his consistency. He had a very good performance for his first thirty games, but since then has gone far south. It should also be mentioned he is 35, and not everyone is Elias or Brodeur. Whatever the reason may be, Salvador has been downright awful for a pretty long stretch now, with a few games in-between where he has played decently.
Every game he concedes costly turnovers, gets beaten the most frequently of any Devils defensemen, takes stupid penalties, and makes errant passes that lead to takeaways. (I included turnovers and takeaways even though they are virtually the same thing because he has been that problematic with them.)
When you consider how dreadful he is offensively -- watching Salvador shoot is as frequent as Haley’s comet; he has two more shots this season than fellow defenseman Taormina, who has played 41 less games and actually scored a goal -- and what a liability he has become defensively, despite the veteran experience he brings, it seems reasonable to question whether bringing Taormina back up for a seventh defensemen to add a little healthy competition would be such a bad idea.
After all, as explained above, the Devils’ other D are contributing much more offensively and are less of a liability defensively. When given a chance, Taormina proved he has thet same puck-moving capability of Zidlicky, and if DeBoer is concerned about not having enough stay-at-home D, then simply don’t put him with Larsson or Zidlicky.
Lastly, if you are reading this and thinking “How can you be considering demotion for the leading +/- player on the team?” -- well, there lies the beauty of advanced hockey statistics! After watching Salvador continually mess up for the last thirty games and get lucky because Marty or Hedberg made a save, statistics like Corsi (Corsi is shots on goal plus blocked shots plus missed shots) and On-Ice Save Percentage prove I’m not a moron. Salvador has by far the highest On-Ice Save Percentage of any Devils defenseman who has played over 50 games with a .937 and Volchenkov has the lowest with .900. Salvador also has the worst On-Ice Corsi and Relative Corsi of Fayne, Volchenkov, and Larsson.
The Devils finish their home-and-home with Philadelphia tonight and fifth place in the Eastern Conference is on the line. The Devils defense has allowed five goals in their last six games and is dominating all 200 feet (although Marty and Hedberg have been playing sensationally, something that cannot be emphasized enough). Kovy’s line has been buzzing, and sliding Clarkson to a third line that Josefson centers while keeping Elias on the second, gives them three legitimate lines that can score. If the Devils can prevent getting too many men caught too far deep in the offensive zone (this leads to odd-man rushes the other way), and can avoid getting too clustered and bunched up in their defensive zone and the neutral zone, they will continue to win.