When Devils center Jacob Josefson crashed into the end boards and broke his right clavicle during the first period of a game against the San Jose Sharks at Prudential Center last month, an already thin position for the Devils appeared downright skeletal.
Following the 4-3 shootout loss, coach Pete DeBoer prophetically told reporters "someone’s misfortune is someone else’s opportunity."
The opportunity went to center Adam Henrique.
The following day, on Oct. 22, New Jersey summoned Henrique from the AHL. After a pair of scoreless games immediately following his call-up, Henrique began to carry the Devils offensively.
By totaling four goals and an assist, Henrique has been one of the biggest reasons New Jersey carried a four-game winning streak into Friday night’s 3-1 home loss against the Capitals.
He thought the team’s momentum carried into Friday’s game, despite the result.
"I thought we came out and played pretty well . . . but we made a couple mistakes and that was it," Henrique said.
His ascent has prompted "Hen-rique" chants from the Devils’ home crowd, not to be confused with the chorus of "Hen-rik" for the goaltender across the Hudson.
The 20-year-old Ontario native carried a three-game goal streak and four-game point streak into Friday night’s game against Washington. He has seven points in nine games since he joined the team in Pittsburgh three weeks ago.
The team’s recent play is even more impressive when the absence of workhorse Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been out the past three games with a lower body injury, is taken into account.
He has also earned enough of DeBoer’s trust to be used in all game situations. He centers a line with wingers Zach Parise and Nick Palmieri, kills penalties and distributes the puck from down low on the team’s second power-play unit.
But Friday night’s loss was a lesson to Henrique, who was playing in just his 12th NHL game, about playing against one of the league’s top offenses.
"You’ve got to work extra, extra hard to get back, have all five guys back in the zone every time," he said.
Henrique made the Devils out of training camp this year but was demoted to Albany of the AHL after two scoreless games. At that point, Josefson appeared to have a roster spot sewn up for the foreseeable future ahead of Henrique, a former third-round pick.
It is a testament to the Devils’ organizational depth that they have been able to withstand losing both Josefson early in the season, and last year’s top center Travis Zajac over the summer to a torn Achilles’ tendon.
The Devils know what they have in players like Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and, for a least a little while longer, Martin Brodeur.
But the ability of players like Josefson, 18-year-old defenseman Adam Larsson and Henrique step in to full-time NHL roles will be what determines whether or not last year’s playoff miss was an aberration, not the end of an era in Newark.
Atlantic Division Notes
The Islanders escaped the Eastern time zone this week but not their problems. They have only won once since Oct. 15 (1-5-3). . . . Al Montoya has been buried on the team’s goaltender depth chart. Since starting three of the team’s first four games, Montoya saw his first action in nearly three weeks in Thursday night’s 4-3 overtime loss in Colorado. . . . The Rangers are one of the NHL’s hottest teams. New York’s 5-1 victory at home against Carolina on Friday night was its sixth in a row. . . . Rangers D Dan Girardi, who leads the NHL in time on ice per game, was left off the league’s All-Star ballot. . . . Penguins LW James Neal scored twice in Friday night’s win over Dallas to pull within one goal of the Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel for the NHL lead in goals (13). . . . The Flyers called Tampa Bay’s bluff on Wednesday night by not moving the puck out of their own end when the Lightning forwards sat back and did not aggressively pursue the puck, vindicating haters of the neutral zone trap everywhere. "What do you want us to do? If they are not going to forecheck, why should we go after it?" Flyer captain Chris Pronger told reporters. . . . Eighteen-year-old Devils D Adam Larsson scored his first NHL goal in the team’s loss to Washington on Friday.