There isn’t much of a secret how the Devils have been winning games lately. Scoring once or twice on a white hot power play, and then curling up into a defensive bubble around their net for the rest of the night. The stats back up the so-called theory. The Devils have a power play that is clicking at an astounding 12 for 28 rate over the last 10 games (with a record of 6-2-2 to show for it during that stretch), and allowing just 16 goals over that span. Their record when scoring first is now 20-0-4, making them the only team in the league who haven’t dropped a game in regulation when taking that 1-0 lead. When they take a lead into the third period, they have an 18-0-1 record. They score once or twice, then slam the door shut. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Devils teams from the past, scoring a goal or two, then employing the Neutral Zone Trap in front of Martin Brodeur. It seemed to work for them.
The trouble is, and it’s rather worrying, is that this team is scoring most of their goals on the power play. Take the last four games as a good sample. The first of these games, the Devils never reached the power play, and didn’t look like they ever came close to scoring against the Rangers. The next three games saw them score a combined five goals on the power play, but looked next to hapless 5-v-5. The power play now ranks 6th in the league at 21.5%, but 5-v-5 they have the lowest goal total in the league. So, as exemplified by the game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 8, if the Devils don’t see the power play, they don’t stand a chance.
This makes no sense at all, if you think about it. How is it possible, that a team can be so ineffective at even strength, but have a deadly power play, and win games semi-consistently?
Let’s take a look at the Devils’ PP unit, and see if we can deduce something from it.
It starts in the face-off circle. Take a look at the only goal from the game against Los Angeles:
Travis Zajac wins the face-off cleanly to the point man David Schlemko. Schlemko then throws the puck on net, it takes a fortuitous bounce off either Joe Blandisi or Kings’ defenseman Luke Schenn and in for what would be all the Devils need for 2 points in the standings. But the importance is being able to win the possession and set the table for one of many options. This also shows the value of David Schlemko, who has very underrated hands, keeps play moving well, and has great vision to be able to facilitate quality chances. He comes up again later on in a different segment of this unit.
The next important piece is the swingman on the half wall. This is the department of Jacob Josefson, and more recently, Reid Boucher. Here’s a video from Saturday’s win in Philadelphia:
The play came to Josefson in his spot by the right circle. From this spot, he can pass back to the point to switch the play to the other end of the ice (I’ll get there in a minute), down low, or just take a shot on net and see what happens. The latter 2 are apparent in this goal by Blandisi. Josefson moves forward, takes the shot, and the puck then moves to the goal line, then back in the slot, into the net. Either that, or the puck simply goes in off the shot (like Josefson’s goal in Toronto, or Reid Boucher’s goal against Edmonton). Either way, we see the options opening up from the half wall, which is what makes a guy like Josefson so valuable to our team.
Finally, we look at the aforementioned left point. Take a look at this goal from a game in December at Toronto:
Kyle Palmieri has found a nice spot on the left point opposite David Schlemko. Schlemko is one of the two guys creating the flow in the puck movement, the other being whomever is on the half wall. One of the options Schlemko has is the one timer by Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri has the right-handed shot that fits perfectly above the left circle and near the left point, to be able to unleash a rocket that either goes in, or finds it’s way to another Devil stick and give them a second chance opportunity. The above video exemplifies this nicely.
Looking at this power play, with it’s 1-3-1 format and the simplicity of moving the puck among one or two guys and opening lanes and getting rebounds has been the bread and butter of this otherwise poor offense. Combine that with a team that doesn’t give up much (the lowest goals allowed per game in the league), and you actually have a recipe for success. The numbers don’t lie. The team has lost just one game in regulation when scoring at least 3 goals (the second game of the season, in early October). The team shuts down the opposition when leading. The team doesn’t allow many quality chances, and even fewer goals. The team is the stingiest in the league, and that, combined with a dynamite power play unit, that makes teams pay for making a mistake, is a recipe for success.
As I said earlier, it’s worked before.