The New Jersey Devils have had an up-and-down season so far in 2013. After starting out strong and at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Devils have stumbled down to seventh after losing six straight.
Here are my midseason grades for the Devils in these categories: Forwards, Defense, Goalies, Power Play, Penalty Kill, Overall.
Positives - The Devils forwards have surprised many after losing Zach Parise to free agency this past summer. The forecheck has been great this year, especially on the third and fourth lines. The forwards continue to work together, play physical, and put pressure on the other team. Players like David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Steve Bernier, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Andrei Loktionov have stepped up to keep the Devils in playoff contention.
Did you know? Steve Bernier was selected one pick before the Devils drafted Zach Parise (16th overall in 2003 NHL entry draft).
Negatives - Although they have exceeded the expectations of most, there is much room to improve. The Devils have been struggling to score as of late. They have scored more than two goals in regulation three out of their last ten games. They have only won one of these three games and won three out of the ten.
Grade – C- : Although they have maintained a playoff spot, they are the only team in the Eastern Conference top eight that has a minus goal differential (-10). They have continued to score few goals. Scoring two goals or less in regulation in seven out of the last ten games is a big problem. Something needs to be done to fix this.
Positives - The defense has been looked at as the strong point of the Devils for years. The Devils have always been known as a defense based team. The d-men have gotten involved in scoring too. Marek Zidlicky is a focal point in the powerplay, and Adam Larsson has been using his slap-pass to manufacture scoring chances in front of the net. Another thing that I like about the defense is their physicality. The physical aspect could be from the new defensive coach, Scott Stevens, who was one of the most notorious hitters the NHL has ever seen.
Negatives - Although they are physical, the defense has been turning over the puck too often. These turnovers frequently turn into goals. They also tend to over commit and leave open voids on the ice. Opposing teams have taken note of this and exploiting the Devils defense. Also, opposing players have been able to easily stand in front of the net. There is no effort by the defense to move or shove these grinders screening the Devils goaltenders. Thus causing plenty of goals. Lastly, they are old, plain and simple. The average age of the eight defensemen that the Devils have on their roster is 30 years old, and are not growing any younger. Their age is starting to show. In my opinion, the Devils should trade one of these veterans to make room for younger “good” caliber prospects in the Devils system. Another alternative would be to trade one of the younger prospects to bring in more offensive firepower.
Grade – C- : I gave the defense this grade because although they are hitting hard and getting offensively involved, they have given up too many goals, turned the puck over too much, and are growing old. The age is starting to show and they are getting sluggish and lazy.
Positives - Oh boy, well, there is not much to say here, except Martin Brodeur. The Devils are counting down the days until Brodeur is healthy, but there seems to be no end in sight. The 40-year-old ageless wonder went down on Feb. 24 during warm-ups. Before he went down they were tied for first in the division and fourth in the conference. Now they are battling for being in the top eight. Not much here for positives since Marty went down. Devils fans are growing restless and wishing for Brodeur’s back to become healthy.
Negatives - Simple, backing up Brodeur. Johan “Moose” Hedberg has struggled since taking over the injured Brodeur. The Devils have gone 3-6-1 in their last ten and have let up a plethora of goals, allowing 33 in that ten game span (3.3 goals against average). The Devils rank 15th with a 2.77 goals against average on the season. Hedberg has continued to struggle recently due to many different factors. Some of the goals he allows are not entirely his fault, but others, he is the only one to blame. Hedberg has misplayed pucks, made bad judgements, and got just unlucky on a few occasions. Goaltending needs to step up big in the second half of the season.
Grade - I am going to do this one differently. I am going to grade the individual goalies.
Brodeur – A
Hedberg – D+
I gave these grades because of how well the Devils were doing before and after the injury to Brodeur. Before, the Devils were tied for first in the Atlantic Division and battling for the top of the conference. After, the Devils are struggling to win games and are continuing to drop in the standings.
Positives - None. But in all seriousness there is not much to put here beside the slumping power play is failing to score. But I have to give at least one positive, so here it is: They are not last in the NHL in power play percentage.
Negatives - Where to begin? The Devils continue to fail to score goals on the power play. In 97 opportunities they only have 16 goals to show up for it (16.5 percent). The Devils have continued to work on the power play in practice but still have nothing to show up for it. Maybe it is the lack of personnel that is capable of scoring, or the failure of creating plays to function according to the style of play the Devils use. Bottom line is the Devils need to take more shots and score more goals on the power play.
Grade – F- : The power play has been dreadful for the Devils and continue to fail to score on the power play.
Positives - Again, not many positives. The special teams overall have been bad this year. A positive for the penalty kill is that they maintain being the top short-handed goal scoring team. The Devils have seven this year and are continuing to score shorties. They finished first in the NHL last year for short-handed goals and are poised to repeat that again.
Negatives - The penalty kill has dropped off tremendously this season after finishing first in the NHL and setting a NHL record for penalty kill percentage with 89.6 percent in 2011-2012. This season the Devils have allowed 22 goals in 103 chances (78.6 percent). The Devils have had a problem with failing to clear the puck, turnovers, and over-committing. Devil penalty killers find themselves chasing the puck into the corners leaving open players all over. This occurred in the opening game of the year and as recently as the March seventh shootout win over Buffalo.
Grade – C+ : Although they are ranked 25th in the NHL in penalty kill percentage, they have continued to score short-handed goals. Also, the Devils have been improving their penalty kill and should continue showing efficiency in killing off penalties.
Grade – C : I decided to give the Devils the overall grade of a C because the Devils play has just been mediocre. The offense is struggling, the defense is failing to do its job, the goalies are giving up soft goals, the power play is just terrible, and the penalty kill has been struggling. However, the Devils are still in a playoff spot and hopefully will boost their play in the second half of the season.