New Jersey Devils special teams cannot get on track together


Throughout the first month or so of the season, the story for the New Jersey Devils was a dynamite power play paired with an atrocious penalty kill. Through the first 11 games, the Devils’ power play was 10-38 which is an outstanding 26.3%. However, in the last seven games the Devils’ power play is just 1-21 or a 4.8% success rate (and that goal was into an empty net). It’s no coincidence that the Devils’ worst stretch of the season came when the power play stopped functioning and the penalty kill was still out of whack. Having two abysmal special teams units spells disaster for any team. Luckily for the Devils, the penalty kill has figured it out and in the last three games they are a perfect 11-11 killing penalties. This is especially noteworthy because in the first 15 games of the season, their PK was only killing penalties at a 64.4% clip which was easily the worst in the league. So while the power play fell apart, the penalty kill got its act together… but why?

The easy answer is that injuries have affected both units in different ways. Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat and Adam Henrique all were injured around the time the power play stopped clicking. Having three dynamic offensive players out of the lineup at the same time is going to hurt the offense as a whole, especially the power play. At one point, the Devils had a power play forward group of Patrik Elias (wait for it), Steve Bernier and Tuomo Ruutu. ‘Nuff said. On the other hand, an injury has actually helped the penalty kill. No one ever wants anyone to get injured, at least they shouldn’t, no matter who it is. Yet it’s no coincidence that since Bryce Salvador got hurt and hasn’t been available to play defense, the penalty kill has been perfect. The Devils have been able to use their young defense in Bryce’s place and it has been a revelation.

Again, the injuries are just the simple explanation. Digging deeper, there are systematic things that have been the reason that the Devils’ special teams units have done a complete 180.

More from Pucks and Pitchforks

On the power play, it appears that the design of the five players does not agree with the philosophy instilled by the coaching staff. The Devils live or die with shots from their defensemen, even at full strength this is how the Devils’ offense looks. They do all the dirty work along the boards, get the puck back to the point and fire shots from the blue line. With guys who can flat out shoot the puck such as Eric Gelinas, Marek Zidlicky, Damon Severson, Adam Larsson and so on the idea isn’t a terrible one. The problem is, since that’s the philosophy why is there nobody in front of the net? The only player that even screens the goalie is Bernier. The design of the power play is an umbrella with two defensemen at the points, a player on the half boards, another below the goal line and the final person in the slot. There’s nobody causing chaos for the goaltender. Point shots are much more effective if the goalie can’t see them.

As far as the penalty kill is concerned, the Devils have been much more organized in the last three games as opposed to the first month of the season. Early on, the Devils’ PK would be all over the place; a defenseman would be out of position, a forward would fail to slide down and cover the slot, it was a huge mess. In the last three games, the Devils have been able to use the perfect combination of pressure while staying compact. The unit as a whole has figured out when the best time is to attack the puck carrier and when it’s time to sit in a tight square and keep the pucks to the outside. Before, the opposition would pass the puck through the slot at will and create easy goals. Now the Devils are taking away the slot while also blocking a ton of shots from the point. In addition to the organization being better, one player who has really stepped up is Adam Larsson. Larsson has taken Salvador’s spot on the top PK unit and run with it. He’s been a force on the penalty kill and huge reason the Devils haven’t conceded a PP goal in a week.

In summation, the power play was good and the penalty kill was bad. Then there was a stretch where both were putrid and the Devils lost four straight. Finally the penalty kill is clicking on all cylinders, but the power play is still dormant. In order for the Devils to have success, they need the penalty kill to keep doing its job while the power play figures out how to get some pucks in the net. Special teams are the key to any club and the Devils simply have not been able to get both on track at the same time this season.