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Devils Putting The Power In Their Powerplay

After two-plus months of futility, the New Jersey Devils powerplay finally looks like an advantage.

In their past five games, the Devils are 7-for-20 (35%) with the man advantage. The seven goals match the same output of the 25 previous games, when the Devils were a putrid 7-for-74 (9.4%).

Several small changes led to the powerplay’s revival. As Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record noted, the Devils shifted Travis Zajac to the point in an umbrella formation on the first unit. Before the move, defenses would key on Ilya Kovalchuk at the point. Zajac’s ability to pass and shoot takes the focus on Kovalchuk. It also opens options for Patrik Elias, who plays along the half boards. When Zajac has the puck, Elias becomes a potential scoring threat. He also has Zajac to set up quick passes along the blue line as well.

Zajac played the point at times last season, but this season he’s quaterbacking the man advantage. While he’s not perfect, Zajac feels he’s growing.

“I’ve played it before, so I’m kind of used to playing it, but I’m still learning,” Zajac said to Gulitti. “A lot of it is making tape-to-tape passes and not so much rushing the play. It’s more just making the right play at the right time. It’s just being patient with the puck. I think the key on the power play is always trying to draw one guy to you and make it easier for Kovy or Patty to get shots off or take it to the net.”

The success brought composure to the Devils’ powerplay. Early this season, it seemed New Jersey would press to score, and their play suffered. With the powerplay working, the team is more willing to set the offense and patiently let things happen.

Devils coach John MacLean said a few successful powerplay attempts helped boost the Devils’ man-advantage play.

“It plays a big part,” MacLean said. “We’ve been working on it and I think confidence and comfortability with guys moving it around and knowing where to move it and knowing where one another is going to be is helpful. Like any part of your game, when you feel good about yourself and things that are happening, then good things start tending to go your way.”

Zajac credits assistant coach Adam Oates, who’s personally helped him improve on the powerplay.

“It’s just little things – what to look for, where guys sticks are on the opposite team, when to skate with it, when to shoot it,” Zajac said to Gulitti. “He’s a great hockey mind. He knows the game. He especially knows how to make plays. You’re always learning from that guy.”

While the Devils won’t convert every powerplay opportunity, the improvement helped get their offense going. New Jersey has eight goals in the past five games, and has twice scored three goals. With a strengthened powerplay, the Devils offense should continue to improve. Hopefully it’ll increase the Devils wins as well.

Ed. Note: You can see my preview for tonight’s game over at SBNation NY.

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