Evaluating The Devils – Games 11-20

Many analysts, coaches and front office personnel believe in evaluating their teams in 10-game segments. The ten games give a broad enough spectrum to evaluate the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Through the New Jersey Devils first 10 games, several disturbing trends arose. A lack of consistency and scoring were some of the team’s several issues. They stumbled out of the gate, playing to a 2-7-1 record.

We all know how the last ten games have went. The Devils played slightly better, going 3-6-1 over the last ten games. Not only that, but the play improved dramatically. The results, however, still aren’t there. The team sits near the bottom of the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. They can’t afford many sub-.500 ten game segments from here on out.

There’s still several issues plaguing this team. Here are some of the main issues during the team’s recent 3-6-1 stretch:

1. Scoring

The Devils currently sit dead last in the NHL in goals for (36) and goals per game (1.8). New Jersey is the only team in the NHL averaging less than two goals per game. The scoring drought hit every single player, from Ilya Kovalchuk down to Adam MairJason Arnott leaves all scorers with six goals, and Patrik Elias leads all scorers with 12 points. Those are abysmal numbers through twenty games. Most of these players are point-per game producers, but they haven’t reached those levels this season.

Despite the bleak scoring output, there have been abundant signs of offensive life. As a team, the Devils have put 628 shots on net. During these past 10 games, New Jersey produced more quality scoring chances. They’re putting quality shots on net, and they’ve been making opposing goalies work. The effort is there, but the results are not. The coaching staff can’t put the pucks in the back of the net. The team’s average goals per game increased (1.7 to 1.9) despite being shut out three times in the ten games. It’s not a great number, but it’s an increase nonetheless. The Devils look close to breaking out of their slump. Hopefully it’ll come soon.

2. The Power (less) Play

MacLean brought in assistant coach Adam Oates over the summer to improve the team’s offense. Oates was expected to improve the team’s powerplay and finally give the Devils man advantage a punch. Through 20 games, the powerplay can only be described as abysmal. The Devils’ powerplay is 6-for-59 this season, ranking it – you guessed it – last in the league. At first, I believed the struggles stemmed from struggles to adjust to a new system. But it’s now laughable, and the Devils powerplay scares no team.

The Devils powerplay began to look better, especially at home. But it’s not up to par, even by Devils’ standards. The team never had a great powerplay, but this is a joke. They’ve shown now creativity and a lack of ability to develop plays. The team flashes that ability, but those instances are few and far between. It’s been difficult to figure out exactly how the team can improve. The players are too tentative with the puck, leaving no passing or creativity with the man advantage. They’ve drilled it in practice and had their opportunities in games. Maybe it’ll click one game, but I’m not sure how the powerplay can improve.

For more analysis of the past ten games, read after the jump!

3. The Injury Bug Continues To Bite

The Devils didn’t need any more injuries, but that’s exactly what the last ten games brought. Zach Parise underwent surgery for a torn meniscus, Martin Brodeur sustained a right elbow bruise, Jamie Langenbrunner continues to sit with a stiff neck and Matt Taormina twisted an ankle in practice. Even with Brian Rolston returning, the team can’t seem to get on the right side of healthy.

There’s no solution to this problem except to allow players time to heal. Langenbrunner sat out the last four games and will miss his fifth straight tomorrow night. Ditto for Taormina. Brodeur, who left Thursday night’s loss against the Maple Leafs, will rest his elbow for at least five days. Parise may return before the All-Star break, but it’s no guarantee. The injuries are no excuse and shouldn’t be used as a crutch. But it’s been debilitating to development of chemistry throughout the lineup. It would be great to see what this team could do healthy, but so far, they haven’t had the opportunity.

4. The Unlucky Breaks

Many of the Devils problems originate from plain old bad luck. Bad bounces, untimely penalties and lucky plays have all gone against the Devils. Unfortunately, there’s nothing the team can do to change their luck. As I said before, the Devils have played better and set themselves up for success. The puck just hasn’t cooperated with the team. Take the Devils’ last game against the St. Louis Blues. Two of the three goals scored came off of bad luck plays. The first goal came from a scrum in the front of the net, where play should have been whistled dead. The second goal came off an odd bounce of the puck off the end boards, with it ultimately ending up hitting up Mike McKenna and going into the back of the net.

Once again, there’s nothing the team can do to change their luck. They’ve put themselves in favorable situations, but the bounces aren’t favoring New Jersey right now. Hopefully that turns around soon, because one lucky break could shatter the frustration in the locker room.

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A 5-13-2 record is unacceptable for this team, especially one with so much talent. There were high expectations coming into the season, and the team hasn’t met them. No one has the answers to fix this team. Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello already admitted the process of re-evaluating the team is underway.

“I don’t think it’s a question that this is something that shouldn’t be acceptable by anyone beginning with the players and I don’t believe it is,” Lamoriello told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “The question is what do we do to change that and that’s the process you go through right now.”

Games 11-20 showed a different Devils team. They looked hungrier, played with more consistency, and looked better overall. But the results just weren’t there. It’s tough to battle frustration in the locker room, but the players and coaches have been up front about their performance. None of them accept the losing.

The next ten games will, without a doubt, determine whether the Devils are a playoff-bound team or receiving a high draft pick. Four of those games are against Atlantic Division opponents, including two against the Philadelphia Flyers. Those games are important, must-win situations for this team. Getting six of eight points would be huge. Hopefully, the team can put together a winning record. It’s the only way they can vault themselves back into the playoff race.

As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s getting late early.”

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The Devils next 10 games:

Washington Capitals vs. Devils – November 22

Calgary Flames vs. Devils – November 24

Devils vs. New York Islanders – November 26

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Devils – November 27

Montreal Canadiens vs. Devils – December 2

Devils at Philadelphia Flyers – December 4

Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins – December 6

Devils at Ottawa Senators – December 10

Detroit Red Wings at Devils – December 11

Phoenix Coyotes at Devils – December 15

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