Home > Analysis > So Far, So Bad: The Devils Early Season Struggles

So Far, So Bad: The Devils Early Season Struggles

Through the first six games, the Devils have shown little to get excited over. Instead of solid defensive hockey, the team has played lackluster in their own zone. The puck control offense? It comes and goes, and it’s been gone more times than not. The Devils, with arguably their deepest offensive team in years, have scored 10 goals this season. Instead of playing as one of the best teams in the conference, the Devils look like a disorganized mess.

The Devils, plain and simple, need to straighten themselves out. The following is what has plagued the Devils, and what can be done to fix the issues.

Devils opponents have outscored them 21-10 through six games this season. Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

1. Defensive Miscues/Breakdowns

Problem: The Devils have been horrific in their own zone this year. Opponents are generating great scoring chances, and, while Martin Brodeur has allowed soft goals, he’s been a victim of terrible defensive play. One of the issues is with the offense. The team is looking to move out of their own zone too quickly. Instead of making smart breakout passes, players are making the wrong reads and turning the puck over. The communication isn’t there, which allows for defensive lapses. Not only that, but players are breaking out of the zone too early. When that happens, they’re leaving the team shorthanded.

Solution: Stay in the zone longer and communicate. MacLean wants to make the quick breakout pass and get the offense started, but that doesn’t work when players can’t make their passes. Defenders and forwards who take the puck in the zone need to have an idea of where they’re going with the puck, etc. If players can manage to stay in the zone a half second longer, it would probably open up some more options. The players also need to talk to each other. There have been far too many teams this season where opposing forwards slipped behind defenseman for great chances. Players need to keep their “heads on a swivel,” or see the entire ice, and talk to each other. Say Henrik Tallinder leaves his man to play the puck along the end boards. He needs to let Andy Greene know so that the proper adjustment is made. Simple things like smarter passing and communication would cut down most of the Devils’ mistakes in their own zone.

2. Lack of Scoring

The Devils' top scorers, including Zach Parise, haven't been able to finish their scoring chances this season. Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Problem: Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello significantly upgraded the offense during the offseason, bringing in Jason Arnott and re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk. Those two acquisitions, coupled with the talents of Zach PariseTravis Zajac and Patrick Elias should have formed two great scoring lines. But that hasn’t materialized. Parise and Kovalchuk have combined to score three goals. That’s not a typo. Arnott and Elias haven’t been able to find the chemistry from the old “A-Line” days. There’s been a complete lack of scoring from complementary players, such as Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson. Some of the problems are out of the Devils realm of control. Opposing goalies have played well and shut down New Jersey. But the team lacks finish, and that’s hurt them.

Solution: FINISH!!!! I can’t tell you the amount of expletives I yelled at the television watching the Devils offense this season. The Devils have generated several opportunities, some of which have been gift-wrapped goals. But the players aren’t finding the back of the net. Bad shot selection, coupled with terrible luck, have frustrated the entire team. The Devils need to get back to basics – out shots on net, generate traffic in front. Not every goal will be a beautiful wrist shot to the top shelf or a big blast from the point. Scoring some “dirty goals” will bring confidence, and that’s what the Devils’ scorers need.

For more on what the Devils need to work on, read after the jump!

3. Lack of Veteran Push

Problem: This issue has presented itself in several recent interviews with the media. Whether it was Elias or Brodeur speaking, one disturbing trend rose to the surface – the lack of push from the Devils’ veterans. Players aren’t building off of momentum or pushing their teammates to continue an uptempo pace, etc. This isn’t as easy to fix as a technical issue. This is an attitude, a mindset that some veterans believe is ok to use. I’m not saying the team is a bunch of overpaid brats playing for stats and contracts. The veterans just haven’t done a great job of getting each other motivated.

Solution: The Devils need to get hungrier, and that passion needs to come from the top down. Each shift has to be the best effort. Players need to think that no one will stop them from getting that loose puck, making that big hit, or getting the scoring chance. A perfect example of this was the Devils win against Buffalo last Wednesday night. Save for a few moments during the second and third periods, the Devils were hungry. They chased down every loose puck, pressured the Buffalo defense, and played solid defense. Repeating that over and over led them to dominate the first period and gave the Devils control of the game. I don’t expect the team to play like that every night for 82 regular season games. There will be bad nights, which I can live with. But the Devils veterans need to provide push and set the tone from start to finish.

What will happen when Brian Rolston and Bryce Salvador qualify to come off the LTIR? Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

4. The Cap Situation

Problem: Lamoriello’s cap situation should not be considered “status quo” anymore. The Devils’ G.M. has tried to fix a leak in the wall with a piece of gum. Sure, it lasts for the time being, but it’s not a permanent solution. The Devils are playing over the cap now, but what happens when bothBrian Rolston and Bryce Salvador are ready to return?

That uncertainty, while downplayed throughout the organization, has an impact on the players. I’m sure there are guys on the ice attempting to overcompensate and play outside their skill set. They feel they need to impress Lamoriello to stick around the team. It’s still a dark cloud hanging over the organization, and the issue, while diminished, still exists.

Solution: Your guess is as good as mine. There will be people leaving this team, but it’s a matter of who and where. In order to alleviate this situation, players need to be moved, and the sooner the better. The injuries have handcuffed Lamoriello worse than before, and whether we like it or not, this might be a problem for the entire season.

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The situation isn’t as dire as some experts and analysts have made it. Yes, the Devils aren’t playing great hockey right now. But there have been some positives, including the play of rookie defenseman Matt Taormina. New Jersey hasn’t fallen too far behind the eight ball yet, and there’s no reason to quit on the season. The Devils need to make some changes, and the ones above are a few things I’ve seen the team lacking in their first six games. Every team has wrinkles that need ironing. The Devils have more than others, but they’re all fixable.

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