Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Devils Have Problems

I just looked at my blog and saw that I haven't written since the home opener. I've been throwing in thoughts on twitter, but not a full blog post. I was actually sick for most of the winter, missing several games (and going to others while still "sick"). I also had a poorly timed vacation that took me away from the team for a while. But I'm back for the home stretch, and if work doesn't kill me over the next few weeks, I think I'll be in for the playoffs (and I think the Devils players can say the same thing).

But I was at the game last night, as well as a sprinkling of games this season, sitting in my seats in the back of Section 124. And from there, in the corner to the goalie's right side, looking across to the spot in between the benches, where I've been sitting since Opening Night 2011-12, I can see a lot on both ends on the ice. Things that I don't always notice while watching on TV.

Last season, especially in the playoffs, I saw a very tight defense from the Devils that took away the middle lane in front of the goalie, thereby making it harder for the opposing team to score. It helped lead to great success. This year, save for the first couple games, I really didn't see that. At least not in the pronounced way that it had been there last season. I did start to see a return to that with last night's game (compared to the last game I saw in person 2 weeks ago).

But the bigger one is watching the offence, especially the Power Play (which a few years ago, I nicknamed the "Power Play Kill" because it looked like they were killing time with the extra man on the ice instead of taking advantage of that man advantage). Last night, the power play was getting booed. Last year, I thought the power play was bad. This year, it's looked beyond awful. Now, I never liked Ilya Kovalchuk playing the point on the power play. I always thought he was too sloppy to be playing the point, letting too many pucks slip through out of the zone, and he would be more dangerous to the opposing defense playing up front. Even last year when the whole team looked better, I thought that was the case. But the biggest killer is when they're setting up on offense, they waste so much time passing the puck. And when you pass the puck, defenses can get their sticks in there breaking up passes and clearing the zone. It's not even a power play issue, but offense in general.

The only thing that's changed from last season, with new assistant coaches in charge of the offense, is that they're not good at passing the puck. How many times this season have I seen pucks miss the sticks of the intended recipient or pucks passed too hard go off the stick and have to be chased down. Both of those things affect the rhythm of the offense (and that's when they don't result in turnovers). The stats sheet shows a lot of shots, but whenever the team is trying to set up for a score, it's all passing, and you don't pass pucks into the net.

Zubrus being out for part of the season and Kovalchuk being out right now aren't the reasons why they're not scoring. There certainly has been a lack of depth that I think we all thought was a non-issue after losing Parise last summer. The Devils have the talent on offense, but it isn't clicking. And after a while, I think it got into their heads. It's definitely in their heads. I heard on the radio postgame last night that maybe a sports psychologist is in order (a thought from the radio team and not necessarily the coaching staff). You know the coach doesn't know what to do when the forward lines are being changed up every night. I know injuries are part of that, but still. I don't know which was the chicken and which was the egg as far as injuries and switching up the lines. I think they could have survived without Kovy if they didn't have all these other problems.

Get their heads cleared (okay, I don't know how easy that's going to be), and get some of the hockey skill issues resolved. Make forward lines, keep them in tact, and let them figure out how to play together. Don't pass so much on offense, shoot the puck on net, and have players in place for a rebound. Unfortunately, I don't know how much will be resolved this season. But we can always hope, now that the Devils are on the outside looking in.

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