Things are not going as planned for the New Jersey Devils this season. Their ongoing motto during training camp was to win as many games as they can at the start of the season so that they won’t be playing catch-up in the latter half of the season. Those early season points can make all of the difference in the end.
Everything was going well through preseason. They looked tough and difficult to beat with their 4-1-1 record. As they started the regular season on the road, they finished off their road trip 3-1. But the second they got home, they went 0-for-2 for a total combined record of 3-1-2.
In Tuesday night’s overtime loss, the game displayed both their strengths and weaknesses. Their strength was in their power play, scoring all three goals on the power play in the 3-4 (OT) loss to the New York Rangers. Their weakness was in their penalty kill. Two of the three regulation goals from the Rangers were on their power play.
The Rangers definitely exposed the Devils’ major weakness. Just who exactly did the Rangers expose? Andy Greene, Adam Henrique, Bryce Salvador and Patrik Elias. Their final line of defense was Cory Schneider. All four skaters were on the ice both times when the Rangers capitalized on the man advantage.
Let’s go back to the game prior to this loss. During the Devils home opener, the San Jose Sharks also exposed this weakness. Their first two goals in their 4-2 win over the Devils were power play goals. The only common denominators were the defensemen on the Devils’ penalty kill: Greene and Salvador. The skaters were Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri on the first goal, Dainius Zubrus and Stephen Gionta on the second goal.
These are not rookies making mistakes. These are seasoned veterans making these mistakes. The penalty kill started to suffer the second their latest losing streak began back on October 16th in the 6-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.
The final goal of that game was scored on the power play by the Capitals. Jon Merrill, Henrique, Elias and Damon Severson were on the ice for that goal. While these two defensemen are still new to this, you start to see a pattern. You can see a repetition of who is on the ice when the opponent scores.
The Devils have boasted the best penalty kill in the league for years. Their defense is amongst the best of the best. It’s what they’re known for. To now all of a sudden have their defense compromised, it has become just as flawed as the secret service at the White House.
So how do the Devils get their momentum back? To them, it’s a very simple answer. Admit to what their own weaknesses are and focus on fixing that.
“Right now, our PK, we need to find our trust in it again,” Schneider said after the loss against the Rangers. “Right now, we’re just not getting the big kill when we need it or a big save on the penalty kill.”
What’s different about the penalty kill this year as compared to last year?
“Some of it is bad bounces,” Schneider said. “The first one hits their guy’s skate and goes right to the point and rebound, goal. Some of it, we just need to be better. Your goalie’s got to be your best penalty killer. So it means me making a save or we’ve got to eliminate some of these cross-ice passes that we’re giving to the teams and keep it more simple. As a unit we’ve got to figure this out. We’ve got to be better.”
“There are areas we need to clean up,” Henrique said after the Rangers loss. “We’ve given ourselves the chance to win every game so far. We’ll look at the video, take the positive and move forward.”
“It’s a couple of mistakes we’re making,” he said of the penalty kill. “In the past, we haven’t. We’ve just got to find a way to clean that up and just stay out of the [penalty] box. We’ll kill all the good ones, the good, hard penalties in the defensive zone. Things like that. But the things like the little ones are getting us right now.”
“I think we’re playing good,” Henrique said when asked how they’re going to get their momentum back. “We’re playing the right way. We’re giving ourselves the chance to win every game. We’ve just got to find a way to close it out and try to find a way to get that extra one. In the third, it’s just tightening it up. I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’re playing well in most areas, but we’re kind of finding we’ve shot ourselves in the foot here in the last couple games. We’re heading in the right direction.”
“Our PK,” he said was the team’s greatest weakness so far. “We’re giving up too many. Too many goals. I think we’ve just got to find a way to tighten that up. It’s been a strong area of our game for the past few years.
“I’m more confident in the group in here” he said. “We’ll get it back.”