Special Teams Are Key To The Devils Playoff Quest

The New Jersey Devils are in the midst of a tough part of their schedule, where they will play nine of the next 11 games on the road. With the offense sputtering and missing a superstar player in Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils need to get their power play producing now more than ever if they expect to make a serious run at the playoffs this season.

The Devils continue to struggle offensively, and in no category have those struggles been more apparent than in their power play. They’re ranked last in the NHL in power play percentage, with a pathetic 10.0%.  A team that boasts scorers like Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias is expected to produce more goals, especially in power play situations, and rightfully so.

Although they have been playing without their sniper, Ilya Kovalchuk, for the last several games, New Jersey has managed to win three of the four games he has missed, including a gritty comeback win in Washington on Saturday night. And, although management currently refuses to predict Kovalchuk’s return from a nagging lower body injury, his return should bolster the power play unit.

Despite registering only one power play goal this season, Kovalchuk led the team in power play goals last season, with nine. In addition to his scoring, which often comes in bunches, the veteran forward’s mere presence on the power play takes pressure off his line mates and creates scoring opportunities for them.

Head coach Pete DeBoer, in perhaps the understatement of this young season so far, addressed the lack of power play success in the post game press conference after the loss to the Capitals Friday night, in which the Devils failed to score in five chances:

“We have to score, we have to find a way to get our power play going, that’s obvious.”

On the other side of the special teams equation, the Devils’ penalty kill has been among the best in the NHL, an impressive 93.0%. They’ve been perfect at home, going 30-for-30, including 4-for-4 in Friday night’s loss to the Capitals, which featured three kills in the second period.

Saturday night in Washington, the Devils killed off all five penalties in a 3-2 shootout win. It was a microcosm of the season thus far, with the defense and penalty kill keeping the team in the game until they could muscle their way into tying the game and grind out a win.

The ability of the team to improve on the power play, as well as continue to play at the elite level on the penalty kill, will be the key to the season for the Devils. If they’re going to be a genuine playoff contender, converting power play opportunities is vital. The return of Ilya Kovalchuk, their strongest pure scorer, should help. But the entire unit must gel together, and that isn’t going to happen until someone starts putting the puck in the net.