Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Having just done a brief tour of some of the less scenic parts of New Jersey, I can tell those of you who haven’t been there to skip it. New Jersey is to New York City what Gary, Indiana is to Chicago — except with half the smell and twice the abandoned buildings. Got the picture?

Hey, the truth hurts. And with the Blackhawks’ ranks depleting faster than they can call up reinforcements from Rockford, the truth is more painful than usual these days. But we’ll go there later.

Right now, the matter at hand is a New Jersey Devils team that, fortunately, won’t land in the basement of the Atlantic Division thanks to an Islanders team with a nice lottery position. But a team that is nonetheless in big trouble as its latest bout of losses presents the real possibility of missing the playoffs. Surging teams in the form of Buffalo and Washington may just use the last 6 games of the season to kick New Jersey straight to the golf course.

Will offensive titans Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise be able to light the lamp enough to make up for Martin Brodeur’s fading talents between the pipes? Hopefully not tonight…

It would be inhumane to bash Brodeur, a living legend who began his NHL career 20 seasons ago with this same New Jersey Devils team. Longevity, and loyalty, like that are rare in this day and age. His gold medal victory leap for Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics — as immortalized on the front page of the Toronto Star — will be a lasting image in my head. He brought honor to his country on that day; I think it’s time to bring honor to his career by stepping aside at the conclusion of this, his 18th winning season. Staggering to think about.

But goaltending is not the concern at present, as the Elder Statesman and his protege in the form of promising youngster Johan Hedberg will be enough to get the Devils by for now. Defense is not exactly stellar, as you have to get down to fourth on the payroll list to find the defenseman who has a positive plus-minus. For the combined $8.25 million that the Devils are paying defensemen Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky they have but 3 goals and a combined minus-10 to show for it.

So offense will have to be the key to the Devils’ success, and Head Coach Peter DeBoer isn’t taking any chances. He spent Monday tinkering with his forward lines trying to boost his offensive output. Travis Zajac recently returned from a lengthy injury, and registered an assist in the Devils’ 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. That top-six addition will mean some adjustment in the ranks as teammates get used to his presence again.

Speaking of adjustments, that’s what the Blackhawks’ attitude needed after a pathetic and flat performance against Nashville on Sunday. Every once in a while this team skates out on to the ice with “We Just Don’t Care” written across the front of their jerseys. Sunday was one of those nights, and Nashville took full advantage of it. Granted, the ‘Hawks were trying to find the right balance in the absence of both Captain Jonathan Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith. But there really was no excuse for such lackluster effort against a beatable Predators squad.

Tonight, more adjustments will be needed. Ray Emery did not travel with the team, and if Corey Crawford’s performance wanes under the onslaught of offense from the Devils, we will see Carter Hutton make his NHL debut in relief. Not exactly a confidence-builder. Steve Montador and Marcus Kruger should both return to the lineup, meaning we will likely have seen the last of Brendan Morrison and Sean O’Donnell for the time being. But all this lineup-Cuisinart means that the ‘Hawks won’t know who is holding the stick they are aiming for on the other side of the ice. That’s never a good thing.

Administrative nonsense: the Devils are without the services of defensemen Henrik Tallinder and the afore-mentioned Volchenkov; the Blackhawks list of walking wounded now contains just Jonathan Toews and Sami Lepisto, with Duncan Keith serving the second game of his 5-game suspension. Stay tuned for my fatwa against Brendan Shanahan; this “Department of Player Safety” horse-shit has gone far enough.

6:00pm puck drop tonight from New Jersey. You can watch the game on Comcast SportsNet in Chicagoland; WGN AM-720 has the broadcast radio coverage; XM subscribers will find the game on channel 212; and Sirius Premiere customers should tune in on channel 211.

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