Watching the Breeders’ Cup this weekend it became clear, time after time, that breaking from the gate is crucial in any race. In the NHL Eastern Conference race, the New Jersey Devils are not exactly setting the pace for the rest of the league. They are running dead last.
Let’s look at some sad-but-true statistics:
The Devils have played the most games in the Eastern Conference (15) and scored the fewest goals (25). They have allowed 48 goals, only two less than the Islanders and the Thrashers, giving them a goals-against-average of 3.13.
Their top seven forwards have amassed the following point totals: 101 man games, 17 goals, 32 assists, from 248 shots on net, a scoring percentage of .069. Their +/- is a combined -33.
Ilya Kovalchuk, their prized acquisition of this last off-season, has played 14 games, sat out one as a healthy scratch for disciplinary reasons and has 3 goals, 5 assists on 41 shots-on-goal, a scoring percentage of .073.
Marty Brodeur has played in 14 games with a resulting 3-8-1 record and a GAA of 2.7, way below his norm.
Andy Greene, a rising defensive star in the past two years has 2 goals, 3 assists and has a -12 +/-.
The team has yet to win a game at home and their 9 points is the lowest in the league.
Pundits, ranging from vociferous fans to the travelling press corps, are scratching their heads and asking WHY?
In their last game, playing at home against the NY Rangers, their hardcore rivals, the team looked lost. Zach Parise had undergone knee surgery that day; Marty Brodeur was sitting out with a bruised elbow; Colin white was home with the flu and the team looked like a Big Red ship without a rudder.
From the sidelines, it appears that two problems have to be solved.
The first is simple: Leadership. The big guns have to step up and score. Kovalchuk,
Langenbrunner, Elias and Arnott have to put the puck in the net. Looking behind the above statistics, one has to differentiate between shots-on-goal and scoring chances. White, Volchenkov and Tallinder have to put some muscle in the defense.
Therein lies the second major problem. The coaching staff has to install an offensive system that accommodates the individual styles of the current roster.
The most common criticism heard about this year’s team is that they have not yet found their identity. The signing of Ilya Kovalchuk changed the focus of the team. More offense was expected. Maybe an offensive system, tailored to the needs of the current roster, and one that remains the same game after game, might help.
Can the freewheeling Russian superstar be expected to play the dump-and-fore-check game of last year’s top-scoring trio of Parise, Zajac and Langenbrunner or can a line be put together that accommodates his fire wagon style of turn on the speed, carry in and fire?
Can this current crop of D-men find the passing range needed to move the puck out of their own end
or will they suffer all season, being forced into mistake after mistake by the fore checking of opposing forwards?
The same applies to their play around their own net. Will the rearguards step up and play the man, start knocking people down instead of waving at pucks with their sticks? Can they get their heads out of the clouds and start clearing rebounds? Will the return of Anton Volchenkov make a difference on the Penalty Kill?
These are the questions that need to be answered and, just like in the game of Jeopardy, the clock is ticking.
Under the heading: NHL Coaches –
Answer: the man in the hottest seat in the Prudential Center –
Question: Who is John MacLean?
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