The New Jersey Devils must get things right before moving onto the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There is a learning curve that this group of young players is going through as they work to understand what’s necessary as they approach playoff hockey. Veterans like Erik Haula mentioned in a media scrum after the loss to the Islanders that this team needs to get over their lower energy and a bit of sloppy play. As the Devils host the Hudson River rival Rangers on Thursday, the core group needs to rally early and take over the entire game’s momentum.
Players like Jack Hughes and Tomas Tatar have had excellent performances against the Rangers, and Damon Severson had that epic overtime game-winning goal that helped keep the Devils ahead of the Rangers for a good chunk of the season.
Every game the New Jersey Devils play needs to be treated as Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It needs to be a cooperative effort playing to fight it out going into the playoffs for more favorable seeding. This will be a testament period for the New Jersey Devils’ goaltending to come up even bigger than they normally do.
Devils coach Ryan McGill has to get Ryan Graves to play a much tighter defensive game. Opponents are getting to the crease too easily with Graves on the ice.
It will be a big improvement to see the Devils simplify their game while moving into the offensive zone. Devils associate head coach Andrew Brunette needs to hammer home that the beauty shot doesn’t always come up when games move closer to the playoffs. Finding the right shot becomes more of a premium. This is the time of year when defenders will move up and try to thwart offensive plays.
On the topic of offense, the power play has to make more high-quality passes and fewer quantity passes. The more simplified those passes at even strength become, the more goals the Devils will score. It’s that simple. Get the puck to a player who can shoot the puck like Timo Meier or Dougie Hamilton. This team will benefit from that overall simplification in the offensive zone.
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The bar has been raised even higher and the narrative for the playoffs needs to be simple, quick and agile skating, smarter passing, and more shots on net like earlier in the season. This would help set the momentum up for the Devils in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (which will likely be against the same Rangers team they play Thursday night) to gain an edge and possibly make a run.