The recent performance of the New Jersey Devils indicates that they are a team about to turn the corner and string some victories together. The team has improved significantly in recent games, and they look to continue that momentum on Saturday night against the division rival Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers were a team that also struggled out of the gate to open this season, and then they have turned in some more solid performances in their most recent games. The Flyers struggle with teams that forecheck aggressively and work the cycle well, which are two components of the game which the Devils are capable of executing very well.
New Jersey has made some very effective adjustments to improve their performance level in these games.
The Devils have made adjustments to their defensive play to contain the ability of their opponents to move the puck. During the early season losing streak, New Jersey consistently allowed the opposition to pass the puck deep, and to get the puck into the seams deep inside the circles in their defensive zone.
The Devils have largely eliminated the ability of the opposition to make those types of passes. They have better defensive discipline, and are maintaining balance on their end of the ice. They maintain the gaps and they have not been caught out of position nearly as much as they were in the early part of the season.
One could argue that the defensive effort they put forth against the Tampa Bay Lightning was the best total game defensive effort the Devils have given in quite some time. They were able to get into lanes to prevent cross-ice passes from the Lightning, they were physical along the boards, and they back checked the puck very well also.
The most impressive aspect of that game was the ability of the Devils to do that to Tampa Bay, which is a very good offensive team. The Lightning have scored 38 goals in 12 games, which is 8th best in the NHL (www.nhl.com).
The Devils have made adjustments to improve on offense as well. They are moving the puck through the neutral zone with greater efficiency, and the play of Marek Zidlicky, Damien Brunner, and Jaromir Jagr has been very good on the offensive side. After a rough start, Zidlicky has played well recently, and leads the team with 8 assists (www.si.com).
New Jersey gets the puck moving with the very important first pass after they gain possession of the puck to begin a breakout. They have also improved the quality of their scoring chances, which is a welcome change from the way they were approaching that aspect of the game in the losing streak.
The use of the forecheck has been excellent by the Devils, they have been relentless with it at points, which is very good. They will need to continue to utilize this technique in order to create offense with their personnel and lack of overall team speed.
The lines have stabilized as well, which I have written about previously, that I did not agree with Head Coach Peter DeBoer changing the lines every game. Coach DeBoer has decided to stay with the same players on each line and I think it has definitely contributed to the improved performance of the team.
Special Teams Adjustments
New Jersey has improved markedly on the power play from what was a very anemic conversion rate earlier in the season. The Devils are now 9 for 42 on the power play which is a 21% conversion rate, ranking them 11th in the NHL (www.nhl.com).
The improvement on the power play is due to several factors: better passing, holding the zone better, more precise shooting, crashing the net with more regularity, and better play overall from the points on the man advantage. Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas have both used their respective powerful shooting propensity very well from the point on the power play to create scoring opportunities.
The penalty killing unit has improved as well, with the Devils killing 81.8% of the time when they are serving a penalty, which is 13th in the league (www.nhl.com). They are a very strong 90% penalty killing team at home at the Prudential Center, which is a very good metric for their performance being down skaters to their opponents.
The Devils were also able to net a short-handed goal against the Lightning which was scored by Adam Henrique. I think that goal is significant to getting Henrique going here as the Devils enter an important stretch of games.
The Devils have games against the Flyers as mentioned earlier, and then as follows:
November 3rd @ Minnesota Wild
November 7th @ Philadelphia Flyers
November 8th @ Toronto Maple Leafs
November 10th Nashville Predators
That is a tough couple of weeks, but I think the Devils are capable of winning some games here if they continue to play the way they have recently. I would love to have your feedback on this analysis. I think the Devils are going to continue to improve as this season moves along.