The New Jersey Devils have begun the 2013-14 season in almost the worst way possible, the only way it could get worse is a fifth loss in a row tonight against the Calgary Flames. New Jersey has to stop this losing slide, this team has too much talent to still be winless this season.
The other factor which makes these first four losses harder to deal with is they had a lead in every game with the exception of opening night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils have had opportunities to win games and have not been able to hold the lead, which is very demoralizing to a team.
I know that the players, the coaches and the front office must be concerned with this rocky start. I know the fan base is certainly disappointed and frustrated at times in the past week since the season began as well. The Devils have shown some positive signs in these games, and obviously have shown some areas of concern as well.
Some fans were worried about the number of new players on the roster, and the overall chemistry of the team being an issue for the Devils this season. Other fans I have talked with are concerned about the ability of this team to score goals. Now, I think we as fans just want the Devils to get their first win. I will detail some of these areas of concern and the positive aspects so far in this young season.
The New Guys
The new players on this roster have, for the most part, played well so far. I have been very impressed with Damien Brunner, here he was a training camp invitee, and he has played aggressively and has scored some goals.
Jaromir Jagr looked rusty at first, and his passing was inconsistent, but he has played better since the Devils left on the road trip. I think he will gel on that line and on the power play and make a substantive contribution.
Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe have both played well in their respective roles on this team as well. Clowe has some very good ideas with the puck offensively to create scoring chances. Ryder has been good on the offensive end and has made some very good decisions with the puck as well.
Rostislav Olesz has played well in limited action but I like the decision by Devils Head Coach Pete DeBoer to give him an opportunity. He made some strong passes and skated well, I liked what I saw from him. I think he is a high-ceiling guy, a former 1st round pick of the Florida Panthers he sustained a bad injury early in his career, I like redemption stories in sports. I think he was a good pick up for New Jersey.
The new players have played well overall, and the issues for this team largely stem from the performance of the guys already on the roster from last season.
Areas of Concern
The areas of concern that I have noticed over the first four games are:
- Defense: the Devils defensively look slow to me at many points compared to the opposition, now I know they have played two fast teams (Penguins and New York Islanders) but they look tired on this road trip and that is alarming this early in the season. The Devils play the most back-to-back games of any team in the NHL, so the players need to be prepared and this defense looks too old and slow to deal with that type of grind.
- Power Play: The penalty killing unit has been largely very good, however the power play unit is still using too many passes. The Devils have to move away from the finesse game on the power play and become a volume shooting team with the man advantage. That will lead to more rebounds in front of the net and more converted power play goals.
- Offensive Chances: New Jersey was better at this in Vancouver than they were in the prior 3 games- they need to create more scoring chances. They will be hard pressed to score goals if they do not fix this moving forward.
- System: Pete DeBoer has to make some changes to his system and that includes line changes, shaking up the defensive pairings, and being more aggressive in the offensive zone.
Calgary and beyond
The Devils starting tonight and moving beyond this game and this road trip have to make adjustments. I have talked with other fans about a youth movement and I think that needs to happen.
I think Coach DeBoer needs to give Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill the opportunity to play in the defensive corps, and Jacob Josefson should get an opportunity at the forward position. I am not a huge fan of Josefson but something needs to be done to get this team going, and I think all options need to be on the table at this point.
The Devils also should bring up an extra skater to apply pressure when they have the puck, I know it can be risky and can leave them vulnerable to an odd man rush, but they need to do something to generate goals.
The Devils have a chance to right the ship here tonight and I hope they can make some adjustments and find a way to their first victory.