The New Jersey Devils hit a new low point losing to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night, by a score of 3-0 and they find themselves still searching for their first win of the new season.
This is a New Jersey team which went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and started last season very strongly out of the gates after the lockout was ended. So, the fan base is asking: “What’s missing?” and “What’s wrong with this team?”
Those questions are valid, and the answers are not clear cut. Some people among the media and the fan base think those answers have a great deal to do with Head Coach Peter DeBoer , and whether a coaching change needs to be made to turn this disastrous situation around remains to be seen.
There are others among the media and the fan base that believe that the poor start is the fault of the offense: that the Devils need to be more creative when they have the puck, and that they need to make dramatic improvements on the power play.
Still others among the media and the fan base maintain that it is the fault of the defense that the team is struggling, that the backline needs to step up and make plays. They would point to New Jersey having leads in many of these games, only to falter and lose them in the closing minutes.
I have been critical in prior articles of the Devils defensive unit observing that they look old, tired, and slow compared to their opposition. That could be in part because the veteran players in the unit are getting toward the last few years of hockey they have left in the tank.
Tough questions, tougher answers
The questions surrounding this team from the offseason remain unanswered, and even more daunting, there are new questions that have come about in the early stages of this season as well. The questions alone are tough, the answers are even more difficult because I think the performance of the team is tied to many variables.
It is essentially a combination of issues that has the Devils and their loyal fans ready to panic. I have been a fan of this team since the beginning, and I have to think back a long way into the mid-1980s to remember the Devils in a funk like this season. My fellow fans and I in the Devils Army are not used to this at all. So it amplifies the issues that much more profoundly.
Another aspect I find troubling is that the Devils have played well in some of these games and still lost, but they have played some mediocre teams and lost to them. What is going to happen when they have to face the top-tier teams in their conference and in the league? That is why I have some suggestions for changes to correct this situation before it gets worse.
First, the offense has to be more efficient in creating scoring opportunities. They have to be more aggressive crashing the net, New Jersey has to consider committing an extra skater in the offensive zone. I think particularly when Marek Zidlicky or Mark Fayne are on the ice they should be brought up from the back into the offensive zone.
Next, the Devils have to improve on the power play, they are 1 for 15 with the man advantage this season (www.si.com). They continue at that pace of ineptitude and they will not win too many hockey games. New Jersey can do a variety of things to improve the performance of this unit. They need to shoot more and pass less when they are on the power play, they could try different players at the points, and they need to hold the zone much more effectively.
On the defensive end, the coaching staff needs to shake up the personnel: whether it is changing the defensive pairings, bringing up some young talent from Albany, or benching players for underperforming.
I can make one suggestion right off the top: bench Peter Harrold. I have been a proponent of him in the past, I think he is a talented player but he has made too many mistakes often at critical points in these games. The before mentioned Fayne needs to play more, he played well for them in a limited sample this season. He has the experience, the skating ability, and his passing proficiency offers the Devils a different look from the backline through the neutral zone.
The combination of some of the defensive pairings are not working well either. I learned earlier today that at least Coach DeBoer has made some changes to the pairings for the game against the Ottawa Senators. Here are the new pairings:
Bryce Salvador – Adam Larsson
Andy Greene – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Peter Harrold
Although Harrold is still in the lineup, the pairing with Volchenkov will help balance that pairing off. I also like the pairing of Salvador with Larsson, in the original way Coach DeBoer set this up, the pairings were too slow and where Salvador is skilled in some areas, Larsson is skilled in others so they balance out much better.
The defense also has to be more disciplined to hold leads late in games. They allow too many passes into the seams and deep into their own end of the ice. The Devils need to make adjustments to correct that very quickly. Late goals in crucial spots on this trip through Canada has lead the team to the position they are in now.
What’s wrong with them?
That is not an easy question to answer. It is not solely the coaching of Peter DeBoer, though this team is talented, and he has made some puzzling decisions at points.
It also a lack of focus by the players to close out games, they look tired, which is an issue. Maybe they will come out firing in Ottawa tonight because they had a few days off and were actually able to return home and practice in Newark this week that could help them regroup.
The whole team seems out of sync, and I hope in time, that will correct itself. Some changes along the lines will be made with the injury to Ryane Clowe, and so we will see how the offense responds tonight to those changes.
Finally, the goaltending, both Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider have played well at points. I think it is a lack of consistency with Coach DeBoer rotating them both too much. The defense cannot get settled in a scenario where they have a different guy in goal every night. He has to make a decision on who is he going to go with and move forward with that goaltender.
I look forward to your comments on my analysis of the team at this point, and whether you agree with my assessment. I hope I will be writing about a Devils team that found a way to their first win after this game in Ottawa. Enjoy the game Devils Army!