[Today we’re playing devils advocate, good cop/bad cop or any other name you want to call it. Jeff and I both selected a side and we came up with five points as to why the Devils are in major trouble and five as to why everything will be fine.]
The team is in trouble
By Jeff O’Connor
1) I’m not sure I trust the new assistant coaches. Matt Shaw, who came here to run the power play, said it was going to be a primarily “shooting” power play to help build rebound chances to stuff home. They tried it for a few games and as far as the eye test goes, it they haven’t done it in a while. They are staying with his umbrella structure, but they are not shoveling a ton of shots, they’re passing a fair amount to setup a quality chance or two. Listen, I actually prefer the passing method rather than just throwing any shot on the net, but it seems like they’ve given up on his power play technique. Maybe because it’s a short season and they don’t want to take a chance? Who knows. Either way, it appears Shaw has little purpose on this team. How about Scott Stevens? Is he entirely to blame for the defensive performance lately? Of course not. But part of me is worried, considering this is the same EXACT group from last season, a unit that played pretty solidly for the last half of the season.
2) No big injuries to forwards last year DURING the season. This was inevitable. The Devils got so lucky last year in regards to forward injuries. No established forward from last season’s squad missed more than five games other than Zajac who was lost from the beginning, so they didn’t have to shuffle lines. Now they’ve got second and third line wingers on the IR in Dainius Zubrus and Ryan Carter. Don’t sell either guy’s absence short. We know what Carter can do with his other linemates and that Zubrus is one of the few guys who can protect the puck really well while cycling in the offensive end. The lack of those two guys has shown lately with a power outage for scoring. There is a definite timetable (for the most part) when Zubrus will be back, not so much for Carter.
3) The penalty kill coming back to earth. Last year, it was unreal. It was record-setting for the post 04-05 lockout NHL. Some level of dropoff was expected but this is a steep fall. It’s currently at 76.5%. It was 89.6% last season. A key penalty kill at an important moment might have earned them a few points here and there over this last month. Hopefully those points won’t make the difference between May hockey and the golf course.
4) With so many games every night and only a few teams who are really bad, it’s going to be tooth and nail to the finish. There’s no where to go run and hide. Heading into Monday, six points separate fourth place from 10th. Last year, the Devils finished 6th in the conference but had a nice 10-point cushion over the 7th and 8th place spots. Don’t expect that this year. If a team is going to lose games this year, at least do it in overtime or a shootout. Those three straight extra session points vs. Montreal, Boston and New York were beneficial to the Devils because they still had collected 50% of possible points.
5) Erratic scheduling due to the lockout. I’m not sure where the players are physically. They’ve played a month of the season, so I think it’s fair to say they finally have their game-shape legs. However, the crazy schedule of games is something they have really never dealt with before. Three games in four nights? Truly unheard of in any normal year of hockey. The Devils are a veteran team. It is very realistic that these many games in such a short span of time may take their toll.
The Devils will be just fine
By Dave Turner
1. Every team goes through a slump or two. You can’t get caught up in a few game losing streak. A good week of play and they can be in first place again. Things are magnified when you continue to lose and you have to expect that some of the issues will rectify themselves just because the team isn’t nearly as bad as they’ve looked over the past few games. All it takes in a multiple game winning streak in which the Devils play well and things will be quickly forgotten. As fast as the Devils slipped back down the Eastern Conference standings, they can shoot right back up them.
2. Martin Brodeur has been good. Yes, his back may be troublesome, especially now that Keith Kinkaid has been called up. It doesn’t seem like its serious though, so it’s not much to be too worried about. Brodeur has a 2.27 goals against average and a .911 save percentage and is 8-2-3 on the season. Though the team has been slumping, Marty has been pretty good. It’s Johan Hedberg that has been the one surrendering goals like a sieve. As long as Brodeur is playing well, he will not only be a stabilizing factor, but he can will this team to win with his solid play.
3. The two elite forwards are producing. With Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias leading the way, they will continue to make everyone on the ice with them better. Both veterans are having sensational seasons and though their respective centers in Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique have been slumping, when you’re playing with guys like Elias and Kovalchuk, eventually the chances will be there. As long as those two continue to play at a high level, the offense will follow.
4. You have to have faith in Pete Deboer. In the short time that Deboer has been here, you can see the difference that he’s made within the organization. This team responds to him and his system. The Devils finished as a six seed and went to the Stanley Cup Finals, so I think DeBoer must know that it’s about the long haul. That’s why he’s been so calm and collected in his press conferences amidst this losing streak, he’ll get this team back on track.
5. This team can’t be as bad as their record over the last few games would indicate.There’s no way this team goes from beating the Penguins twice back-to-back to not being able to beat some of the worst teams in the conference. That’s what happens during a slump is that you start to change your play style, you get timid and then you start losing games to teams that are worse than you. We’ve seen them play very well at points this year. Though they may not be as good as they looked coming out of the gate, there has to be a middle ground and i’m sure that will be found soon. They have a solid goaltender, a defense that CAN play well and some solid leaders in the offensive end. Couple that with young guys like Andrei Loktionov and Adam Larsson who are hungry and trying to make a difference and they’ll be just fine. Plus, when you add Dainius Zubrus and Ryan Carter both back into the mix at some point, they’ll be a deeper team as well.