Sunday, May 5, 2013

So What Went Wrong?

I've had a little more than a week to process the end of the Devils season, and I've probably been thinking about this topic for even longer than that. So what went wrong with the Devils in 2013 after they won the Eastern Conference playoffs a year ago? I think the answer is a multi-part answer.

New assistant coaches

During the offseason a year ago, there were some new assistant coaches brought in to fill out Pete DeBoer's staff. Just look at what I wrote back in July about the new coaches coming in. Okay, I might have been a little bit off in my assessment of Matt Shaw. Adam Oates left for a head coaching job in Washington, and a new coach, Matt Shaw, came in to replace him, and the Devils offense got about 1000 times worse in the shortened season. Meanwhile, Adam Oates, after a slow start in Washington, led his new team to the Division title.

What I think was the problem on offense was the new system they were trying to play. Maybe the short training camp after the lockout didn't give them enough time to learn it, but one would think that over the season, it would sink in. And maybe it did, since the team got off to a real good start and then tailed off over the last 2 months in the very short season. Many times on offense, the Devils didn't look like they knew what they were trying to do. They have the talent, but there wasn't a good system tying it together. The Power Play was god-awful, with many times at home games seeing too many passes and 5-on-3 advantages that had 0 shots on goal and 0 scoring chances (which seem to be a different stat). One of my repeating jokes during the season was that they're a team that likes to pass, and they aren't even good at it. I would see outlet passes from the defensive zone and passes trying to set up plays in the offensive zone that didn't seem to be very crisp. All season long. Matt Shaw needs to go.

There were also some problems on defense, with new assistant coach and former Devils captain Scott Stevens. There was a period of time where the defense seemed to be incoherent as well. The secret to Marty Brodeur's success has always been a strong defense in front of him. And there was a period in the season where the Devils didn't have that. I liked Scott Stevens as a player, but that doesn't always translate as a coach. Maybe he needs more time.


Lots of injuries during the season led to the Devils downfall. A lot of people look at the Kovalchuk injury in late March, and they lost their first 10 in a row while he was out, winning the final game before his return. They went on to win 3 out of 5 after his return. Before Kovy went down, Marty Brodeur missed about a month, and the team lost a lot of games during that stretch too. Not winless, but not good. So, should they have tried to play one of the backups from Albany for a couple games to see what they're made of, both of whom were up during Brodeur's absence? In hindsight, it probably wouldn't have been much worse than Hedberg. But the team didn't step up for Hedberg. And Zubrus was out for a while early in the season. And Henrique was injured at Albany during the lockout and wasn't there to start the NHL season in mid-January.

But one thing that the injuries did expose was a lack of depth on the Devils roster after losing Petr Sykora and Zach Pari$e during the offseason. Maybe on paper, the full lineup looked good, and the injuries happening are largely bad luck, but it hurt the team a lot. There were a lot of line changes and lineup changes during these injuries (I don't think the Devils ever had their full roster until their elimination day), but there was definitely a miss on management's part there not being prepared. So Lou went to so many places to fill those gaps, both inside the organization and a few trades outside that didn't really seem to solve the problems. With more free agency coming this summer, this is going to be a bigger problem for the Devils. With more normalcy this summer (no fear of a lockout and a full season and full training coming after the summer ends), it's time for Lou Lamoriello to figure this one out.


One thing I heard this season was that the Devils didn't practice the shootout very often. And I heard that they did a lot last year. I don't know whose decisions those were, or why it was changed (possibly new assistant coaches, possibly a shorter season leading to less practice time and some things having to get squeezed). But I think it made a HUGE difference. 2-7 record in the shootout. 10 OT losses in total (which include the 7 shootout losses). In the end, they were 7 points out of the last playoff spot. By contrast, they were 12-4 in shootouts last year. Roughly the same percentage of games went to the shootout (remember, this was a short season and last year was a full season), and the record was basically reversed. Practice, practice, practice! Sure, losing Parise hurt, and the time without Zubrus and Kovalchuk also hurt, but there's just no excuse. Shootouts are jokingly referred to as "skills competitions", and the Devils were bad at the skills competition. One of the worst winning percentages in the league in shootouts.


I think there some issues that had an effect on other things during the season. Changing lines, either due to performance, lack of training camp time, or injuries (or probably all of those) has to play on the players' minds. Where is the chemistry? Taking time to find it hurt the club. Did they get down after the different injuries? Who knows. Did they get down after the shootout losses, and giving away games late in the 3rd period? I'm sure they did. Did they get down on themselves while Kovalchuk was out and the team seemingly forgot how to score? I think they did. But if you win just 3 of the shootout losses, and find cohesion in the lines early in the season, I think it would have had a trickle down effect and some of these other losses would be wins, and they would be in the playoffs.

Leave a comment or drop me a line at DyHrdMET [at] gmail [dot] com. Your comments will fall into a moderation queue.