Devils Must Overcome Gap in Skill

Not many teams have a player with the skill level of an Alexander Ovechkin. Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby, Chicago has Patrick Kane, Dallas has Jamie Benn, and that’s not including guys like Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, and Tyler Seguin. It feels like that in the current NHL, every team has at least one stud player, and now many cases, two or three star players. This isn’t about how the New Jersey Devils obviously don’t have that, but it’s more about what the Devils need to do to overcome what has become an obvious gap in skill between them and other teams in the league, even within the first two games alone.

Overcoming the Gap


That is what I want to see this team do every single time they take the ice. I honestly don’t care how big the gap in skill is between the Devils and any other team in the league, because if the Devils compete, then they have enough grinder-like talent to play with almost anyone in this league. We saw it in the last game against Washington where even though the Devils got down 2-0 early, they came right back to tie the game at two.

The Devils had their best moment of the night in the second period as they killed off a five-on-three power play for the Caps. Keith Kinkaid was sensational, and even with Ovechkin ripping shots from his patented spot on the top of the circle; New Jersey stood strong and killed it off. That was the moment when the game should have shifted in New Jersey’s favor, but by the time the third period rolled around; it looked like the team ran out of gas, and then Ovechkin did this.

These are the kinds of plays, which are going to happen nightly if this team doesn’t compete for a full 60 minutes. The types of goals being scored won’t be as bad as what Ovechkin the other night, but the feel of this season will get even worse if highlight-reel plays are happening to this team every other night.

This isn’t an overreaction to what Ovechkin did, but a realization of what this team needs to do to have any kind of success this season. Even later in the period, Ovechkin made a move to cut inside before making great pass over to Marcus Johansson, who finished into the wide-open net. New Jersey doesn’t have a guy who can make a play like that on the half-wall, which only makes it easier for other teams to defend against their power play.

Finding Line Chemistry

Finding the right chemistry between players, and even more so for an entire line is truly a beautiful thing when it comes to hockey. One of the most recent best lines to form a chemistry for the Devils was Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier, which was dominant in the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. It always takes a couple of games for chemistry to begin developing between lines, but the Devils have more of an urgency to create that chemistry so they can score goals.

Having chemistry doesn’t always guarantee an increase in goal scoring, but it helps dramatically. Unfortunately, there are some things, which are a bit sketchy about the Devils line combinations heading into tonight’s game against the Nashville Predators. First of which being Jordin Tootoo shouldn’t be in the Devils top-six based off the slight success he had towards the end of last season. Reid Boucher, Stefan Matteau, or newly acquired Brian O’Neill should be in that spot as Tootoo would fare better grinding it out with Lee Stempniak and either Sergey Kalinin or Stephen Gionta at center. Head coach John Hynes will do what he wants with the lineup, but to play with other teams skilled players, New Jersey needs to have as much pure skill playing together for them as possible.

What it comes down to for the Devils is competing and pushing the pace of play. We always hear players say after a loss is that we need to get back to playing our game. In whatever form that’s said, is what the Devils literally need to do every night, because if they don’t compete, and if they don’t push the pace, then that first overall selection in 2016 will become more and more of a reality as each day, and each loss passes by.

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Corey Spina is a New Jersey Devils staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @CSpinaTHW.