Can the New Jersey Devils be a threat on the power play? If Monday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals is an indicator, it appears they could be. Last season the Devils’ power play ranked 28th in the league. The team’s puck retrieval and decision making was constantly missing the mark, and it was a topic that needed to be addressed for this season.
When training camp began for the Devils, coach Lindy Ruff made sure to focus on the team’s power play. The noise of pucks hitting the glass and sticks hitting the ice echoed throughout RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House as Ruff ran drill after drill to better his team. General manager Tom Fitzgerald acquired players this offseason that would give their man advantage a new look and hopefully help find success.
The Key Players
This preseason the Devils have been using newly acquired Dougie Hamilton as the quarterback of the first unit of the power play. It is a position he knows well and finished last season with 18 power-play points with the Carolina Hurricanes. When healthy, forwards Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Pavel Zacha and Tomáš Tatar make up the rest of the first unit. Tatar finished last season with eight power-play points, which was fifth best on the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s chemistry, so you have to practice, practice, practice [the power play]. I think the best units have been together for so long, everything’s automatic,” said Hamilton. “You know what the guy beside you is going to do with it, so if you’re thinking and not sure where the guy’s going to be or if you have to get open for him in a certain spot, then it makes it harder. Hopefully, we can get to that early in training camp and practice it, build some chemistry right away instead of waiting to try to figure it out in the season. I’m looking forward to seeing what the coaches put together.”
Some Preseason Success
The Devils have played five preseason games and earned at least one power-play goal in three of them. Hischier was the first to light the lamp on the power play in their first match up against the Washington Capitals. Damon Severson had the lone assist on what turned into the game-winning goal.
In the team’s second preseason game, fans saw how impactful forward Zacha can be on the man advantage. He along with Janne Kuokkanen both scored power plays in a dominant 7-1 victory over the New York Rangers. On Monday, Zacha picked up right where he left off. Within the first 10 minutes of the third period he received a pass from Dougie Hamilton, and put his team up by a score of 3-1.
“I’m seeing him as a big part of our success. He is shooting the puck really well and had a shot on the power play that only a few guys can put it there,” said Ruff after Monday’s victory. “Pav (Zacha) has proven he is one of them.”
A Preview of What is to Come?
On paper the Devils’ power play should be much better this season than last, and to be honest, when you’re at the bottom there is no where to go but up. Hamilton should be able to successfully carry the puck into the zone and find the open lanes. Throughout his nine year career, he has put up 104 power-play points.
“I’ve been really impressed so far,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “Watching him shoot the puck and get pucks through in a couple of those drills, where he shot them a foot off the ice, 18 inches off the ice, getting pucks through, how quick he got them through. That, coupled with the fact he skates so well, that I think he’s really going to be an important piece for us.”
It is a stretch to say the Devils will have a top power play in the league — fans need to stay somewhat realistic. An improvement of any kind is a step in the right direction, and their new-look power play should help secure some wins this season. With the additions of Hamilton and Tatar, I would not count them out on the man advantage — at least not yet.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.