Tom Gulitti is a beat reporter who covers the New Jersey Devils for the Bergen Record. His blog, Fire & Ice has become the go-to place on the Internet New Jersey Devils news. While the Devils' season is over, F&I isn't dormant. Gulitti has pulled off something great recently. Last week, he offered to take questions from his readers for Zach Parise and then post his responses. I'm very glad that Parise, a fan-favorite, Corsi-machine, and impending restricted free agent for the Devils has been willing to reach out to the fanbase like this. I'm even more glad at the interest it generated as well as the effort Gulitti put in to make this happen. Hopefully, it'll lead to more sessions with other players in the future.
Anyway, Gulitti put up two posts of Parise's answers already and they are worth your time in reading them. Here is Part 1 and here is Part 2. Some of them are light-hearted, giving some insight into what he likes to do, how he likes the area, and so forth. Some of them are a little humorous. And some of them are more serious, such as what he thinks the Devils need to do to be more successful in later. Parise's responses regarding the power play and puck possession in particular made me scratch my head. As you may expect, I have something to say about it after the jump.
The Power Play
Let's start with the power play. You know, that part of the game the New Jersey Devils have seemingly struggled with for season after season, and especially in 2010-11. The Devils themselves would love to know how to fix them, much less the fans. Therefore, it's not surprising that someone asked Parise about what he thinks has to be done to improve the PP, and the star winger answered it in what Gulitti posted as Part 2:
Hey Zach: What are your thoughts on getting the Devils power play to click better? Do you think we need a completely new approach or is it just small changes? (Asked by AlienDev)
I think all of the players on the power play would like to make it a strong part of our game. As I said earlier, you need a good power play to win games in this league. It is small changes I think. (Assistant coach) Adam Oates is great with the power play and understands how to make it work. I think we just need better puck movement on it and everything will fall into place. It’s not always the set up, but how you execute it.
This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it suggests that Adam Oates has something to do with the power play. The second is that Parise thinks highly of Oates' handling of the power play.
It's that second reason that's a head scratcher. Please recall that A) Oates was hired last summer and B) that the Devils' power play sucked last season. As I showed earlier this month, the team's stats at 5-on-4 play were largely poor with respect to the rest of the league. Only in shots for per 60 minutes were they not at the bottom of the league, and even that was in decline compared to the last few seasons. Outside of the land of "what could have been," nothing about the Devils' power play in 2010-11 can be described as "great." Since Oates wasn't involved in New Jersey until this season, this doesn't reflect well on him at all. So I don't understand the praise.
Of course, I don't interact with Oates. Maybe he is great in practice, in meetings, and in discussions; and the problems lie elsewhere. I can respect that. Still, if the power play is his job and the power play sucks, then I don't think it's out of line to suggest that he's not doing what he could. Now, if he's still around for next season and the power play is more effective; then I'm more than willing to give him his due.
Since I'm still on the subject, I don't think the problems are little things that can be tweaked for success. When getting the puck into the other team's end is a struggle from night-to-night, that requires more than a tweak. It shows that a better plan is needed with respect to carrying the puck in, better communication from the players, and adjustments when it doesn't go so easily on some nights. When the team is consistently last in drawing calls and so plays relatively little time on the power play, that needs more than a "little change." It's hard to have an effective power play without opportunities. The problem may be in personnel, guys who aren't adept at drawing calls; or perhaps in terms of what is done at 5-on-5 which may lead some teams to taking calls because they have to. The issues go beyond execution.
I think Parise understands this and a healthy season from him could help out the PP dramatically. There's no question a more effective power play would greatly help the Devils in the season and in the playoffs. But this opinion doesn't mesh well with the facts as far as we know them.
The Puck Possession Opinion
Then there's the issue of puck possession. Parise mentioned this as an issue in multiple answers. Here are two from Part 1 that I would like to highlight (literally, italics are mine in the following quotes), originally posted by Gulitti:
Since you had a lot of time to observe the team this what is the No. 1 thing you think the team needs to do or improve on in order to get back to the playoffs again next year? (Asked by Jason R)
I think our puck movement and puck possession will be the biggest thing for us to get back on track. With that, you get a good power play. I am a believer in having the puck the most is the best defense rather than throwing it away all game. Another part I think will be important is going on the attack with four and five guys, not just three forwards. Back-checking in the league is too good now and you need your defensemen to be allowed to jump up in the rush and give you another option.
How about asking Zach on his coaching preference: a defense-first coach like Lemaire/(Ken) Hitchcock or an offensive coach like (Bruce) Boudreau or Marc Crawford? (Asked by Mike P)
I would prefer an offensive coach, though it isn’t up to me! Every coach is going to stress defense for sure and you definitely need structure in that area. But I think our strength is up front and we should be playing to our strength. We haven’t really had that type of coach here and I think we would benefit from it. Sutter was the closest thing his second year here and we scored a lot of goals, but were sound defensively as well. There is definitely a happy medium out there, but I think we could use someone that wants to go on the attack and wants to play a puck-possession game and encourages defenseman to get involved in the offensive attack.
Now, I want to thank Parise for highlighting puck possession as an important matter. Corsi & Fenwick are good indicators of a team's possession at even strength, and it's difficult for a team to win a lot of games if they're usually defending attempted shots more often than creating them. He's almost 100% right here.
What I don't agree with is the notion that the puck possession game isn't where it needs to be. In this past season, the Devils weren't too terrible in terms of Corsi% and Fenwick% under John MacLean and were superb under Jacques Lemaire. If you're interested in the exact numbers, check out this post on team possession under both coaches. Granted, under MacLean, the Devils probably benefited in those percentages by being on the wrong end of the score so much. The percentages under Lemaire, however, were fantastic no matter how you slice it.
I don't know how the Devils ranked in all of those percentages. I do know their rank in score-tied Fenwick% from what Gabe Desjardens wrote in his preview of the Vancouver-Chicago playoff series at Behind the Net:
If we look at shot differential - aka Fenwick - it certainly seems that way:
Team Fenwick %, Score Tied PIT 54.4 CHI 54.1 VAN 53.9 SJ 53.7 DET 53.5 NJ 53.3 MON 52.6 TB 52.4
Any surprises there? New Jersey? Montreal? I digress. Chicago and Vancouver were equally good at controlling the play this season when the game was on the line.
Sixth in the league! Right behind traditional powerhouse Detroit, and 0.7% ahead of Montreal. I would go as far as to say this shows that the Devils were very good when it came to puck possession.
Maybe Parise has access to a different means of measuring possession, making all of this moot. Or maybe Parise has the mindset of "good isn't as good as better," which I can identify with. However, if the 2011-12 Devils can reach 53.3% in score-tied Fenwick%, then we should be very pleased with that. I would be, hopefully Parise would too. Of all of the things that went wrong this past season, I do not believe puck possession was one of them. So I'm not sure how the Devils can get "back on track" like Parise wants.
Moreover, the Devils were able to achieve such a percentage because of how well they did under Lemaire. You know, the fellow that most people think of when it comes to a defensive-minded coach in hockey. The possession game does rely on the players themselves, but the tactics and instructions given to the players help it along; and Lemaire got the job done. I think it speaks more to Lemaire's tactical acumen moreso than whether he prefers a defensive or offensive style. I'd like to think Parise understands that, which is why he didn't really commit one way or another to that second question; I hope others see it this way as well. But a defensive-minded coach doesn't not automatically equal a lack offense; Lemaire's tenure in 2010-11 disproved that.
Ultimately, I want to say I see where Parise's coming from. He's a forward and so he knows how important possession is to begin with; and he wants the team do better and striving for first would be better than striving for sixth. But the Devils were not at all a bad puck possession team last season; and I really hope he and his teammates doesn't go into 2011-12 thinking this is a real issue. Just maintaining it would be a feat in of itself; and if they can do that, then the goals will pile up since I don't believe the team's even strength shooting percentage will be so miserable for a second straight season.
Perhaps I'm being too particular about Parise's quips on the power play and puck possession. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not being picky or a "hater." I am very glad he's doing this at all and that he's being as candid as he has been so far. I believe Parise returning for a full season in 11-12 will help the team out on both areas discussed here. I hope it continues it. And I fully admit that Parise sees things differently and may have access to different sets of information; not to mention that these are detailed responses to short answers.
These answers just caught my eye, made me raise an eyebrow, and I felt they weren't fully accurate based on what the team has done last season. That's all. Just pointing things out. Should Parise want to rebut any of this, I would be more than glad to let him go on at length here.
All the same, do you want to rebut any of this? What do you think about Parise's answers which include the power play and the puck possession game? What do you want to see with respect to both? Please leave your answers and other relevant thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.