Coming into the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Devils were badly outplayed by the Flyers in one pivotal area: powerplay goals. While the Flyers ranked second in powerplay goals and third in powerplay assists. The Devils sat on the other end of the spectrum, ranking 21st in powerplay goals and assists. Playing against the Flyers, the Devils would get chances. One of the biggest factors would be whether or not the Devils could make the Flyers pay for their mistakes. Instead, the Devils have, so far, failed to capitalize on their chances.
In games one, the Flyers handed the Devils an opportunity to beat them with the man advantage. Down 2-0 in game one, the Flyers spent six minutes of the third period in the box, including a double-minor on Oskars Bartulis for high-sticking David Clarkson. The Devils couldn’t even set up in the zone, wasting their opportunities. It’s no surprise that the team ended up dropping the first game, 2-1, after missing out on five extra-man opportunities.
Yesterday was another example of the lack of powerplay skill. The Flyers gave the Devils eight – EIGHT – powerplay opportunities. The Devils converted on two chances, which isn’t a terrible percentage. But, on their other six chances, the Devils did little to even apply pressure to the Flyers. They only managed seven shots on their eight powerplay opportunities. That’s less than a shot per attempt. By the end of the game, the Devils powerplay looked jumbled and confused. Instead of putting pressure on Brian Boucher and the Flyers defense, the Devils allowed their opportunities to slide away. That, coupled with the lousy third period play, doomed the Devils in their 3-2 loss.
In the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Devils are 3-for-16 with the man advantage. That’s 18.7% While it’s not expected for the Devils to score a powerplay goal every single time they have an advantage, they should be putting pressure on the Flyers defense. They’ve looked absolutely terrible so far. No puck movement, no creativity, and no aggressive play. Without these three things, the Devils powerplay looks flat and unimaginative. The only way they can score against a swarming Philadelphia penalty kill is to move the puck and create opportunities. The usual dump in, play with the puck and try to get a shot off just won’t cut it. By moving the puck quickly, the Devils can open up lanes.
One great example is the Andy Greene powerplay goal in game two. The Devils used quick passing and deception to draw the Flyers to Ilya Kovalchuk. With the defense collapsing around the left-winger, Greene worked into the zone and one-timed a pass into the back of the net. Those things are going to create powerplay chances. Without doing this, the Devils are going to continue to struggle to put any pressure on the Flyers. With Philadelphia continuing to give the Devils chances, the powerplay will only grow in importance. If the Devils can’t figure it out, it may become their achilles heel.