The New Jersey Devils Need Patience with the Puck in Game 2

OK. Game 1 was a loss for the Devils.  There was much to be unhappy with, most of all the result.  After all, this is the playoffs, who ever wins moves on regardless of how.  It doesn't matter what the sport or the level of competition is, it's all about getting victories by any means necessary.

Given that the Devils have only won once after going down 2-0 in a playoff series, Game 2 is absolutely vital for New Jersey to win.  While I'll concede that the Devils didn't perform terribly, the scoreboard said it all: the Devils didn't do enough.  Therefore, the Devils need to make adjustments for Game 2.

Now, I'm sure there are many suggestions that can be made.   Here are a few off the top of my head. Jacques Lemaire switching lines to units that have had success in the past instead of trying to account for the Flyers' size.  The Devils should not continue dumping the puck over the blue line - especially when a Flyers defender is playing deeper because of it and it plays to their strengths.  They should be attacking like crazy in the 30 minutes that Chris Pronger isn't on the ice.  They need to simplify their power play (well, Jacques Lemaire's already saying this which is good)  And so forth.

What do I want the most?  Well, it's not anything Jacques Lemaire, Mario Tremblay, Chris Terreri, Tommy Albelin, Scott Stevens, you, me, or even Lou can do.  It's all up to the players on this one and while difficult, it's very possible: they need to be more patient with the puck.  They need to cut down on forcing passes and shots as they have led to very little results for the Devils in Game 1.

Maybe it was the result of nerves. Maybe it was an issue that really just grew after the Flyers scored in the second period.  Maybe it was just the planets and stars aligning in some order that coincidentally have the Devils make poor decisions in a hockey game on that night.  Whatever it is, it needs to change as I firmly believe this to be the most important adjustment to make for Game 2.

Why did the Devils forwards make some terrible decisions in the offensive zone? There was no patience, they dished it out without regard to what was going on.  In their own zone, they rarely coughed up the puck, they made smart passes, and generally moved through the neutral zone fairly quickly when they did get the puck out (second period excepted, of course).  They were more patient there, able to make reads and find open Devils for successful passes.  Once they got the puck in over the blueline, it was like the Devils got too excitable to do the same there.

Why did Brian Boucher have such an easy night? The Devils on offense having little patience with the puck had a lot to do with it.  The frantic nature of their puck movement and shooting led to 14 shots getting blocked, 16 shots missing the net, and several weak shots out of 24 on the Flyers goaltender.  I fully agree with Tom Gulitti, they didn't challenge the goaltender as much as they could and should have. 

Mind you, I think he did well, but the expectations for him were/are so low that some claim he out-dueled Martin Brodeur in a game where the shot totals were 24-14.  That's not remotely close to a goaltender's duel and it obscures how tepid the Devils played on offense.  The true stars for Philly were the defense that even while the Flyers turtled in the third period, they were able to remain calm and make the smart play and force a poor shot or pass. The Devils with their frantic attitudes with the puck just played into their hands, especially on the power play.   

Basically, the Flyers defense and the panicky Devils offense playing into their hands made the game easy for Boucher.  Imagine a parent cutting up meat for a young child so he can chew it better.  It was something like that.

In retrospect, the Flyers played very, very well in their own zone, they clogged up the slot, were strong along the boards, and got in the Devils' faces away from the boards but without getting too close.   That's what's usually referred to as "gap control" and the defender maintaining enough space against his opponent will always have an advantage if he doesn't play too far off or too close to him.   It allows him to force his opponent to make a decision and if the defender is positioned properly, then he'll be able to block or deflect what the opposition wants to do.   

The best way to account for this, in my opinion, is to show patience with the puck and force the defender to make a move.  Perhaps he drops back, allowing more space for a pass or shot.  Perhaps he comes up too close, where the attacker can get around him - especially if he drops down immediately.   Perhaps he maintains his spot - meaning the Devil needs to look for an option to move the puck.  With patience, you're able to make more and better decisions if only because you're doing more than just reacting.  You're understanding what's going on and so you can move your body and the puck accordingly.

I'm not calling for a perfect night where every shot attempt is a shot on goal.   But when you're not hitting the net in even half of your attempts, you're just forcing the issue more often than not - and to no avail. Clearly, you need to be more methodical in your attack.

I know that with a 2-0 deficit in your own building, seemingly everyone in the building is screaming for shots (and stupidly, I might add, so please don't do that), and you figure that the Devils want to and should bomb Brian Boucher with rubber.  But  their lack of patience got them what they ended up in Game 1.  As a reminder: 24 shots on net, a good amount of them being weak shots, 14 blocked, and 16 missed the net.  Game 1 was a perfect example of why a team can't just continue to attempt to force pucks through players. If your gameplan is hoping you can sneak the puck through the player somehow or hope that the Almighty can temporarily change the laws of physics to have the puck go where you want, then you're going to be very disappointed.

Let's consider an example where patience led to a positive, the one goal the Devils scored in Game 1. Tell me what you see here:

If you didn't see the video or aren't able to, let me tell you the most important point on the goal: Travis Zajac didn't have a Flyer right in front of him ready to block the shot and Andy Greene didn't have a Flyer right in his direction when he dished it up to the point.  The whole play was possible because their movement made sense, they had the time to make a decision, and followed through as there wasn't someone in their path.   It was a good pass to make and a good shot to take. Sure, Zajac got a good inadvertant deflection; but even if it wasn't, it would have been far more effective shot than, say, going down low and jamming the puck at Boucher's pads hoping to crack them.

Quite frankly, if you want to see improvement on the power play and the Devils offense in general, they need to be more patient with the puck.  Yes,at times in a hockey game, you just want attackers to throw caution to the wind and just make movements.  Still, just firing pucks regardless of who's in front of you is generally terrible way to approach a game.  With more patience, a player can make smarter decisions. They can allow better reads on what the Flyers are doing. They can make more happen with their possession.

They'll need to do so to win Game 2 and keep hope alive in this playoff series.

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