New Jersey Devils: Ondrej Palat and Simplifying Team Assets and Tactics

Ondrej Palat #18 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ondrej Palat #18 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

As the New Jersey Devils approach the halfway point of the season this coming January, they have been dealing with a lot of adversity. Not so much because of injuries, but it’s due to the high quality of goaltending they face on a seemingly nightly basis. Yes, Alexander Holtz is not ready to make the NHL, and yes that would help if that weren’t the case, but it’s much more than that.

With the return of Ondrej Palat coming back at any moment, fans tend to forget he had just how good he was prior to his groin injury. A guy like Palat is a veteran winger and brings that speed and finesse, and can win board battles and go to the dirty areas to create high-danger scoring chances. Getting a player like Palat back brings a sense of familiarity to a lineup where you can bring that modern crash line. His leadership is sorely needed because Palat is an X factor that can help end a cold spell.

Getting More Bodies Up Front

During this week’s TNT broadcast against the Boston Bruins, one announcer said, “with Palat coming back, I don’t see Tom Fitzgerald making a big move,” that is something you can infer about. Tom Fitzgerald needs that Adam Ruzicka, Nick Ritchie-type guy that can cause chaos and be implemented in front of the goalie crease. The Devils themselves have been generating high-danger scoring chances, but they lost that net-front presence to insert in front of an opposing goalie like Pyotr Kochetkov or Tristan Jarry in order to make life a living hell.

If Tom Fitzgerald can add a few guys that can shake things up a bit more at 5v5 and on the power play, the Devils can convert more opportunities. Before Nathan Bastian’s shoulder injury, the Devils would utilize him like David Clarkson being a pest in front, playing that bulldog on puck style hockey, and that very strong forecheck on both ends of the ice.

Manipulating Opponents on Offense

One of the keys to the Devils’ 13-game win streak was the manipulation of offensive zone time. Teams who thought they had figured out a blazing-fast team that fell behind on the scoreboard, but those teams would get exhausted in the middle of the 2nd period. That led to a 3rd period meltdown, one the Devils usually took advantage of. By the time a player like Jack Hughes or Jesper Bratt would get a pass from Dougie Hamilton or John Marino, the Devils would shoot very frequently and often score. The Devils were scoring because of their extended offensive zone time, often exceeding a minute inside the zone at a time.

That kind of zone time would be an extension of what would feel like an extended power play. Players such as Jesper Bratt or Yegor Sharangovich would get the puck on their stick, the Devils would extend their lead and make it physically and psychologically harder for opponents to overcome.

Fly, Fight, Swagger

When talking about the key to the Devils’ success that currently needs to be adequately utilized is their ability to fly up ice. Teams are terrified when one of the Devils young studs is skating quickly up the ice. Any moment team’s defenses would back off when the Devils neutral zone to offensive zone transition entries occurred, it became a lot harder to defend the New Jersey offensive blitz on opponents trying to match.

The Devils certainly need to add that extra oomph to their lineup that has the resiliency and ability to strike fear into opponents. It can tenderize them to prevent them from getting comfortable on both sides of the puck. The Devils lack swagger in the past two games, and if Palat returns sooner than later, this will ignite a spark plug to the bottom-six pairing.

Palat will bring back those three to four lines of clutch scoring and adds that veteran playoff experience that knows how to snap these cold spells from December to tee up a far more successful start to 2023.

Next. Jack Hughes Is Allowed To Feel Frustrated. dark

Suppose the Devils can bank more points over the next month, buying time for John Marino and Ryan Graves to eventually return from injury. Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotiuk can keep growing and becoming a solid physical stay-at-home unit. Then, adding Simon Nemec after the World Juniors U-20 Tournament will add more youth on the right side of the defense. Nemec will add that dynamic 200-foot defender who can chip in offensively and create the pace of play for his team’s offense.