New Jersey Devils 2011-12 Season Preview Part 4: The Special Teams

The Devils are spending a significant amount of their first week of training camp addressing the special team’s issue. That shows how badly this facet of the Devil’s team needs some upgrading. Could the answer on the Devil’s power play be Adam Larsson? Might the penalty kill get a needed boost from Zach Parise?

The special teams last year were anything but consistent. In the fall/winter of 2010, under John Maclean, nothing was being done to get pucks in the back of the net on the power play. Then, the Devils hit a lucky stride in December, as described by John. Once Jacques Lemaire took over, a present from Lou during the holidays, the Devils had better special teams, but still nothing to be proud of.

Devil_s_stats_vs_league_medium

Last year's power play produced only 34 goals in 237 power play opportunities, or a 14.35% power play success rate. As seen in the chart, that was about four percent lower then the league average. The penalty kill was about 1.4% higher than the league average, not much to brag about, but more than we can say for the power play. These stats will be outdated this coming season for a few reasons: the loss of key personal on each side of the puck, as well as a new head coach to lead the special teams. I make my care for this year's special teams after the jump!

First, I will go over the key personnel changes.

Losses:

Brian Rolston

The biggest loss to the power play this offseason.  He put in a lot of minutes on the power play and contributed 6 power play goals, third best on the team after Ilya Kovalchuk (9) and Patrik Elias (7).  I agree with the decision to get rid of Rolston for salary cap reasons; I just hope someone will be able to step up and fill his role.

Rolston_pp_medium

Colin White

The biggest loss to the penalty kill this offseason. When you lose a defenseman who is 6’4", 220 lbs, you need to fill his spot on the penalty kill with another man of White’s stature.  White put up tons of minutes on the penalty kill and was used to keep the front of the net clear. White, using his size to his advantage, did a great job keeping the front of the net clear and tiring out the opposing power play by roughing them up. 

Additions:

With training camp underway, it will be hard to tell who will for sure make the team, let alone impress Peter DeBoer enough to get on the special teams.  Therefore I will give you my best guess as to who will make the special teams and leave out the others.

Adam Larsson

I could write a novel on the predictions for Larsson, but only real NHL experience will differentiate between potential and what Larsson can do. He will have to show he is ready to handle the big minutes in the NHL.  He has the ability, he just needs to prove it, and he is turning heads in training camp. 

Anton Stralman

I think Stralman will make the roster over Peter Harrold / Matt Corrente.  This league favors larger defensemen and hitting, so the size will come to Stralman’s advantage over either of those two.  The Devils are also looking for a young core to compliment their established veterans.  He is a capable defenseman who put up 4 pp goals and 18 PP assists while playing 73 games in 09-10.  Last year his production dipped a little, but he also played less games. DeBoer will surely be looking for consistency along his blue line and I think Stralman will be able to do that in limited roles.

Stralman_pp_medium

This Year’s Special Teams-

The Power Play:

Let’s start this section with how Ilya Kovalchuk feels about our power play this year: "If you looked at our power play by the names, I think you would’ve said it could be one of the best in the League".

If your number one power play scorer says this, it should mean something, right? I think Kovy is on the right track. The Devils lost Rolston, but they have a few up-and-comers who can fill his production, and possibly contribute even more than Rolston’s 11 power play points. Travis Zajac will be missed on the power play, but that is only temporary.  For the few months he is out, other players will need to step up. My PP units without Zajac look like this:

Parise-Elias-Clarkson                      Tedenby-Josefson-Palmieri

Kovalchuk-Larsson                          Kovalchuk-Stralman/Fayne

The first power play unit may become a powerhouse once Larsson develops chemistry with Kovalchuk. I expect 45 power play goals from that unit if they can stay healthy and get more power play opportunities than in previous years. Last year the Devil’s power play was dead last with only 391 power play minutes.  In order to score power play goals, we are going to need to increase that number somehow.

Devil_s_pp_medium
The Devils did however take 49.6 shots per 60 minutes on the 5v4 power play, ranking them 14th. If the Devils manage to increase their power play time on ice, our power play numbers will increase, and with a healthy Zach Parise, I see the goals for per 60 minutes increasing as well.  The second power play unit will not be as productive as the first but I would hope to see a modest 5-10 power play goals from that group. 

The Penalty Kill:

For the penalty kill units, face-offs, stamina, and defense are the keys to keeping the puck out of the net (Other than having a great goalie). 

Lines:

Steckel-Parise                       Josefson-Elias

Salvador-Tallinder             Volchenkov-Greene

Last year’s penalty kill was not as bad as the power play. However, this year I think our penalty kill will be much different. The first line of David Steckel and Parise will be very effective with Bryce Salvador and Henrik Tallinder anchoring the line. Steckel is a face-off whiz and Parise can use his speed and puck possession prowess to keep the opposing power play from tiring every player out. Salvador will be a presence in front of the net while Tallinder is a little freer to battle in the corners.  The Jacob Josefson-Elias combo will provide speed and wit respectively.  Anton Volchenkov will block plenty of shots and Andy Greene will be the defenseman who can stray a little.

Devil_s_pk_medium

The Devil’s penalty kill spent the least amount of time on the 4v5 penalty kill than any other team in the NHL. The Devils were very responsible, even under John MacLean, and that is what led to the 3rd least amount of goals against in the league. However, the goals against per 60 minutes was a little higher in the league (20th).  The Devils let in a lot of goals for only being on the ice for a fraction of the time other teams are on the penalty kill. On a better note, the Devils did well in keeping the shots per 60 minutes down to 43.0 (2nd in the league). Controlling shots is important on the penalty kill because the less shots, the less chances to score. If you can manage to stay out of the box and keep the amount of shots on goal down, you’ve got yourself a solid penalty kill.

 

Overall, I expect the special teams for the Devils to step it up a notch. It may take a month to transition under Peter DeBoer, but once they have a few games under their belt the Devils will have one of the more formidable special teams in the league. I believe our power play will hinge on Kovalchuk again, but this year he will get more shots, and convert them into points more often.

How do you feel about our special teams going into the season? As optimistic as me?

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