The New Jersey Devils have been playing a new, looser form of hockey this season under head coach Pete DeBoer. The historically defense-minded and conservative team has become faster, younger, and more willing to take chances in the offensive zone in order to score this season.
The new philosophy has yielded results, particularly over their last eight games, in which they’re averaging 3.6 goals per game. But, there is a down side to living “fast and loose” in the offensive zone. Gambling on one end of the ice can leave you vulnerable on the other, and nowhere have the Devils left themselves more vulnerable than their power play. In an increasingly desperate attempt to boost their 27th-ranked power play production, they’ve become increasingly more aggressive, and there is a fine line between aggressive and reckless.
In their bid to keep constant heavy pressure on the outnumbered defense, the Devils have already allowed 10 short-handed goals this season, a total that is good for worst in the NHL by a wide margin. Certainly, there have been a few unlucky breaks, but the Devils can’t blame all of them on unfortunate luck.
Shorthanded goals are to hockey what two out walks are to baseball: unnecessary, inexcusable, and flat-out killer to a team’s momentum. It’s no wonder that the team has managed to win just three games in which they allow a shorthanded score. Head coach Pete DeBoer briefly addressed the issue at practice the morning after New Jersey’s loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night, a game in which the Devils surrendered a key third period short-hander that put the game out of reach, but didn’t offer any specific solutions.
Several remedies have been suggested recently, including removing Ilya Kovalchuk from the point on the power play. Although the Devils sniper is a defensive liability (he pledged to work on it in the offseason, even declaring that he hoped to register a plus rating this season to make up for his minus-26 last year) he is one of the league’s most potent goal scorers when he gets hot. Removing his production from a power play unit that is struggling to score goals would be completely counterproductive. That being said, something has to be done to stop the bleeding on the power play. Coach DeBoer has a legitimate issue on his hands, and correcting the epidemic of shorthanded goals has to be a priority. The success of the team in 2011-12 depends on it.
– Travis Zajac scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday night vs. Rangers.
– Adam Larsson is expected to miss the next two games while attending his grandmother’s funeral in Sweden.
– Patrik Elias missed Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers with a high fever.