It’s time for another edition of New Jersey Devils news and notes. This week, we’ll take a look at a struggling power play, Alexander Holtz’s debut in the AHL and another tough break to Andreas Johnsson’s season after a hard collision against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday evening.
Let’s dive into the latest action regarding the team.
Devils’ Power Play Failures
It’s no secret the Devils’ power play has been nothing short of terrible this season. There are plenty of factors that go into it, but it has to start at the top with assistant coach Mark Recchi, who oversees their man advantage.
The Devils hired Recchi in the offseason to breathe some life into their power play, but that has not happened in the least bit. It’s been too stationary, hasn’t generated enough quality shots and scoring chances, and as a result, has failed to come up big when the team has needed it to, as was the case against the Flyers on Sunday evening.
The question general manager Tom Fitzgerald will have to ask himself is, are these long-term issues or are they the product of a weird, condensed season that’s seen the Devils have little to no practice time to iron out the kinks.
There are arguments for both, in my opinion. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ power play last season, Recchi’s final one overseeing it, operated at nearly a 20 percent success rate and had some of the best per 60 rates in the league in terms of expected goals and high-danger chances. That was pretty much the case throughout Recchi’s time in Pittsburgh too. It obviously helps to have personnel like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, but Recchi still got the job done. So if you’re the Devils, you’re hoping he can emulate some of that in a normal season that allows for practice time.
At the same time, you could easily argue his system needs to change with the Devils. As mentioned, their power play is too stationary. There’s no puck movement, and that’s a significant reason for its struggles.
One option is to move to a behind-the-net power play. Ryan Stimson went into detail about behind-the-net power plays here. But the gist of it is it provides variety and different ways to create scoring chances. It becomes much more difficult for penalty kills to defend than a 1-3-1 such as the one the Devils run. And it helps make up for the lack of pure shooters, something plaguing the Devils at the moment.
Long story short, no matter what, things can’t remain the same headed into next season. Sure, the Devils need better personnel. But if Recchi stays, he’ll need to make fundamental changes to his system. If not, then Fitzgerald may have to go in another direction because there’s too much risk in having the power play be this unproductive in 2021-22.
Holtz Debuts in AHL
After plenty of anticipation, Holtz — the Devils’ top prospect — made his North American debut over the weekend after signing his entry-level deal a little over a week ago. His first game went quite well. He fired five shots on goal, had multiple good looks on the power play, and created some quality chances for his teammates.
Holtz’s second game, which was a 6-5 loss last night, was much quieter than his debut. He had only one shot on goal and was not as involved offensively at even strength, though he had some quality shot attempts on the power play.
There was always going to be a transition for Holtz after playing on larger European rinks for the majority of the last few years. That’s why the Devils were wise to bring him over to play in Binghamton’s final 10-11 games of the season rather than having him go through that transition to start 2021-22.
It’s only been two games, but it’s easy to see why Holtz is such an exciting prospect. His first game highlighted his strengths, which include his shot and playmaking ability.
With that said, he’s not the type of player that can carry a line. That won’t be a problem in the long run with Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier, though it’s something that can slow down his transition in the AHL since Binghamton doesn’t have a ton of center depth right now.
One option New Jersey should consider is sending Jesper Boqvist down to Binghamton. He’s shown some progress this season, but he’s still not quite there yet. He’d probably benefit from some more time in the AHL, and with the Devils looking to try him at center, he could help Holtz in the process too. Like Holtz, he’s Swedish, so the two could have chemistry together. There are benefits for both players, and they both figure to be part of New Jersey’s future, so it’s something worth considering to end this season.
It’s been a tough season for Johnsson, and it got worse in the Devils’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Flyers on Sunday night. He took a hard hit into the boards from Scott Laughton and appeared to be in quite a bit of a pain. He needed help getting off the ice and could not put much weight on his left leg.
The Devils acquired Johnsson in the offseason to give them scoring depth, but he has 10 points in 48 games and has struggled to find consistent linemates. It hasn’t been all bad, though. His Corsi-for percentage is third-best on the team, while his expected goals percentage is ninth-best. He’s also been the victim of some poor shooting luck — he’s shooting 6.7 percent this season and is an 11.8 percent shooter for his career.
The Devils will have a decision to make when it comes to the Seattle Expansion Draft regarding Johnsson, but they should probably protect him. His underlying numbers are strong, and I’d bet on his shooting percentage rebounding next season. As long as his injury isn’t too significant, he should be a part of their squad when 2021-22 begins.
That’ll do it for this edition of Devils news and notes. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest NHL coverage as the regular season comes to a close over the next couple of weeks.
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