Damien Brunner will miss four weeks after injuring his right knee during Friday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks. He suffered the injury in the first period after a knee-on-knee collision with Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric. Luckily, Brunner will not require surgery to repair the injury, just rest and rehab.
The most unfortunate part about the injury is how well Brunner was playing as of late. Entering Friday night, he had 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) in his last four games. Brunner was playing with more confidence than he had all season, and it was evident on both ends of the ice. He was frequently skating the puck through the neutral zone and setting up great scoring chances, as well as winning more puck battles in the defensive zone.
The loss of Brunner also means that the Devils will have to shake up a lineup that had been producing very well over the past five games. On Saturday night against Washington, their first game without Brunner in the lineup, coach Pete DeBoer elected to put Mattias Tedenby in Brunner’s spot on the second line with Patrik Elias and Steve Bernier. Jacob Josefson was also in the lineup in place of Andrei Loktionov, who missed the game due to an illness. The Devils were able to score five goals in the 5-4 overtime victory, but the Tedenby-Elias-Bernier line did not contribute to the offense output.
Another candidate to replace Brunner is Ryane Clowe. Clowe was one of New Jersey’s many free agent signings this offseason, but he has only played in six games this year due to a concussion. Clowe has participated in the last few practices and it appears that he will be returning to the very soon.
However, if Clowe is activated off of injured reserve in the next few days, I would like to see him playing on the third line with Henrique and Ryder, and Reid Boucher moved up into Brunner’s second line spot alongside Elias and Bernier. The move would allow for Henrique and Ryder to have Clowe, who plays a power forward type game, battle down below the goal line on the fore-check and find his way to the front of the net for screens and rebound opportunities. I also would like to see if Boucher will get more scoring chances if he played on a line with Elias. Elias’ experience and playmaking ability compliments anyone who plays on his line, and having the rookie Boucher play on his line for an extended period of time could really raise his confidence going forward.
Losing Damien Brunner for about a month will certainly be a hit to the Devils’ offense, but this team has the pieces on their roster to continue playing winning hockey while he’s out. It will be important to keep an eye on how Pete DeBoer manages the line combinations going forward.