The Devils have started this trend of playing extremely well against good teams and poorly against teams that should be an easy victory. Sure, the Blues have been heating up and doing their end of season run but to get shutout by them really shows a lack of effort (Brodeur not included). Tonight the Devils play the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are having a lackluster season based on last year’s performance. On paper this looks like an easy win for the Devils but who knows at this point. Predicting a winner is tough because the Devils should be able to easily outplay the Blue Jackets but lack of motivation might prevail again.
If the Devils are going to win tonight they are going to have to play good offense. Scoring goals hasn’t been this team’s problem, motivation has. The Devils can score them in bunches and can do that early, so look for long possessions in the Blue Jacket’s zone. If the Blue Jackets can weather said storm, they can go into the second period strong and probably catch the Devils sleeping. The second period has been a killer for the Devils since they have started their subpar play. It is crucial for the Devils to win this game and tie for first in the Atlantic.
Right now the main problem is the inept power play that hasn’t gotten better since the addition of Kovalchuk. He was supposed to fix all the problems right away and it hasn’t done anything and might have made it worse. The power play before he showed up was hovering around 20% and now has dipped down to 17.6%. When adding up the Devils power play and penalty kill, which is a way to determine the effectiveness of the specialty teams, the Devils are at 99.9%.100% is the ideal but at this point the Devils power play needs to get better to put them into the elite teams in the league. There is no clear cut reason for the power play troubles. However, a major problem is with how the points are being worked. Offense on the power play is stemming from passing from the points to down low or shooting from the points when there aren’t any good shooting lanes. Teams are giving up passing lanes to players down low, so why not pass down low? If you start the offense from down low you can free up the point man. Kovalchuk isn’t a passer, he’s out there to bomb shots from the point but he can’t do that if you don’t give him space. If you have the three guys on one side drawing the attention of the penalty killers you can free up space for Kovalchuk so he can get a pass to one time. Maybe this isn’t the solution to the problem but mixing it up rather than being stagnant and hoping it’ll click seems like a better solution.
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Written by Ben Petrino