While preseason sold a pretty dream, the in-season results on the Kevin Bahl and John Marino pair have unfortunately been poor so far. Perhaps it is time the New Jersey Devils break them up and try some new pairings.
Marino was a revelation for the Devils last season, often taking up the tall task of facing the opposing team’s best players. This was vital in keeping Dougie Hamilton fresh to drive possession up the ice and to keep Severson in “easier” minutes to maximize his efficiency. The results were quite clear: every one of New Jersey’s defensive pairings posted above 53% expected goal share (xG%). Qualitatively, the Devils defended quite well for the most part and produced clean exits on a regular basis.
This season has been quite different. Replacing Graves with Bahl, while great in theory, is not replicating the success Graves and Marino enjoyed last year. The xG% for the “Marino Pair” has fallen from 53.1%, tied for ~15th best among all defensive pairings last year, to 47.4%, which is currently ~55th in the league. While Marino has been off his game to start the year, Bahl’s randomness in terms of puck movement, defensive posture, and consistency in winning puck battles has really hampered the pairing’s effectiveness on the ice.
The problem compounds when you consider that the Bahl-Marino pairing is still being used in the same way, matching up against top competition. In Monday’s defeat to Colorado, there was a lot of emphasis on MacKinnon by this pairing. The results? Well…
It is certainly an issue that can’t be avoided at this point. The Devils cannot have two of their defensive pairings getting shelled on a nightly basis, especially if they want to make it far into the playoffs. Instead of hoping that the pairings will work themselves out, the Devils should proactively change up their defensive pairings.
Luke Hughes and Hamilton have been dynamite together, so make this the top pairing. Hughes has proved enough at this point to warrant the promotion. Slide Siegenthaler down to play with Marino to create a new shutdown pairing, with Marino reprising his breakout duties as a passer. Finally, have Bahl pair with Smith to let him play in an easier environment. Bringing up Hatakka, Vilen, or Nemec are options as well to replace Smith, who has really played like an AHLer this year.
L. Hughes – Hamilton
Siegenthaler – Marino
Bahl – Smith/Nemec/Hatakka
The Devils need a spark to fix up their act defensively. It is not good enough to win the “xG battle” if you continually give up so much the other way. Perhaps these line changes are the catalyst for an upswing in form.
Data from MoneyPuck.