Throughout the offseason, I’ll continue to discuss the good, bad and ugly of the Devils’ 2009 – 2010 season. While I’ve already previewed some good, including the overall season and the team’s performance against the Atlantic Division. In this post, I’ll look at the bad, possibly even the ugly, in talking about the Devils' powerplay.
The Devils powerplay finished 18.7%, good for 11th overall in the league. While that number looks successful, a deeper look at the numbers shows a dull picture. The team tied for 21st in the league in powerplay goals (51) and sat alone in 21st with powerplay assists. While Zach Parise tallied nine man-advantage goals, no one else really stood out. Niclas Bergfors, who was traded midseason, ranked second on the team with eight powerplay goals. Brian Rolston netted seven goals, but guys like Patrik Elias (11 total powerplay points) and Ilya Kovalchuk (two goals) couldn’t produce with the extra man.
When the Devils reached the postseason, the situation became dire. The team went 4-for-32 during the playoffs (12.5%), and that ranking reflects the team’s powerplay output (12th in both powerplay goals and assists). As we saw, the Devils allowed each opportunity to slip by, not making the Flyers pay for their penalties. Rolston scored two goals in game three, and that accounted for half – yes, half – of the Devils’ powerplay goals in the series. Clearly, the powerplay’s futility added to the Devils’ inability to beat the Flyers.
Throughout the season, the Devils’ powerplay operated below an efficient level. In the playoffs, it even became their Achilles heel. The Devils thoroughly struggled throughout the season, including the months of February and March, when the team went 9-for-67 (13.4%). Even the addition of Kovalchuk couldn’t spur the powerplay. The team clicked on 19.02% of their powerplay opportunities before Kovalchuk, but dropped to 16.53% after acquiring the left-winger.*
*To be fair, the team slumped when Kovalchuk joined them. He wasn’t the main reason for the powerplay not succeeding. But it didn’t work as well in the 121 opportunities since his acquisition.
All of these numbers speak for themselves. At first glance, the Devils’ powerplay looked solid. But, in actuality, the team struggled the entire season, even after the addition of Kovalchuk. The great numbers on the powerplay were dictated by the 2009, when the Devils 30-for-144 (20.8%). But as the team slumped in 2010, the powerplay slumped with it.
So the Devils are now faced with a problem. How do they fix their problem with the man advantage. You can read my solutions right after the jump.
Coaching: The Devils need to work more on their powerplay during practices, etc. I know the team frequently worked on it throughout the regular season, but clearly something didn’t click. The coaches need to stress puck movement. There were too many times this season when the Devils’ would rely on one guy to deke through four defenders and create an opportunity. Without quick puck movement, the penalty killers can set up and be aggressive. That was one of the things the Flyers did well throughout the first-round series. The Devils coaches, whoever they may be, should stress the importance of puck movement. If the Devils could learn how to move the puck, they can generate more pressure and keep the defense honest. Remember, a powerplay doesn’t have to always score to be successful. But it should put pressure on the opposing defenders, something the Devils failed to do time and time again.
Change Up The Units: Here’s another subtle strategy that can work effectively. We all know that Rolston and Kovalchuk have great shots. But why put them on the same unit? It seemed that, at times, the Devils had too much of one thing on a powerplay line. Jacques Lemaire would stack the unit with shooters, but it would be devoid of playmakers. Instead, why not balance the lines a bit. Try and create a mix of shooters, passers and those guys who are willing to crash the net. Here’s what a potential two units can look like. I’ll operate under the assumption that the Devils’ re-sign Paul Martin.
First Powerplay Unit: Parise – Travis Zajac – David Clarkson; Rolston – Martin
Second Powerplay Unit: Dainius Zubrus – Elias – Jamie Langenbrunner; Andy Greene – Anssi Salmela
I think these lines would work well. On the first line, the Devils would have two playmakers in Pariseand Zajac. Also, Zajac and Parise have some good chemistry, so putting them on a line together would be effective. Clarkson could crash the net and screen the goalie, getting to the dirty goals down low. Having Rolston and Martin on the point allow the Devils to have the big shot ability and a solid defensive presence.
The second line brings more of the same thing. Zubrus is a left-handed shot, so the Devils wouldn’t need to worry about the awkward position of playing a right-winger on the left side. Elias is a playmaker, and Langenbrunner likes to get in front. I admit the blue line would be a tad weak, but the Devils could take care of that problem if the team can…
Sign an above-average offensive defenseman: One of the main weaknesses for the past few years has been the lack of a good powerplay quarterback. While the Devils want Martin to develop into that player, he hasn’t been able to do so yet. The defense, as a whole, didn’t really produce with the man advantage last season (19 points), and adding an above-average offensive defenseman could increase that number. I do realize that total probably would have been higher with Martin playing a full season, but the team can’t ignore the problem. Hopefully they’ll add this crucial piece to the powerplay puzzle to go along with Martin and Greene.
I don’t expect the Devils to ever click at 100% efficiency. But the team should generate consistent pressure with the man advantage. We saw too many times last season where they wasted those opportunities. If they can make some changes next year, the team should produce more chances and, hopefully, more goals on the powerplay.
Brian Rolston Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Ilya Kovalchuk Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP Photo