NJ Devils 2013 Season Preview Part 4: Special Teams

Dainius Zubrus scores a power play goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. - Bruce Bennett

The special teams are going to change in the upcoming season - but how? With a new PP coach and a few changes on the roster will the team improve on the man advantage? And can the Devils keep their record breaking success on the penalty kill on track?

The Devils had a record setting penalty kill and an average power play last season. At times, it was more nerve wracking to watch the Devils on the man advantage than it was when they were shorthanded. While Dave Barr will still be running the penalty kill, the team has a new power play coach in Matt Shaw so a few things will look different when the puck drops.
First, let's take a look at how special teams performed last season:

Power play:

Team

PP Opp

PPG

PP%

SHGA

NJD

267

46

17.2

13


The Devils were 14th in the league with the man advantage last year converting on 17.2% of their power play opportunities. Perhaps the most painful number on this chart is the shorthanded goals against. They appeared mostly at the beginning of the season, but the thirteen shorthanded goals allowed were the highest in the league on the year. This number shouldn't be a trend, but it is still a disturbing stat to see.

Penalty kill:

Team

TTSH

PPGA

PK%

SHG

NJD

259

27

89.6%

15


The Devils PK was sensational last season. Their performances shorthanded were not only ranked first in the league, but it was a record setting year. Another number worth noting was the fifteen shorthanded goals the team scored. Five different players contributed to that statistic including Kovalchuk (3), Elias (2), Parise (3), Henrique (4), and Zubrus (3).
Although the Devils had an awesome record shorthanded during the regular season, they had troubles during the playoffs. The team made it to the finals but only finished with the eleventh best PK out of sixteen teams. Los Angeles, on the other hand finished second. New Jersey's penalty kill finished with just a 73.2% success rate in the playoffs.

Now let's look ahead to this coming season. The following looks at how the team has changed for next season. It focuses on those who were used significantly on special teams and who may replace them.

Losses:
Zach Parise:
Parise was responsible for seven goals and assists on the power play last season. He also scored three goals shorthanded. More importantly, he was used for an average of 1:57 minutes shorthanded per game. The only other offensive player used more than Parise was Zubrus at 2:00 minutes per game. He was also used second most on the power play, behind only Kovalchuk. Parise saw an average of 3:26 minutes with the man advantage. He will be missed greatly in every aspect of special teams this season. Someone will have to make up for his time and production.

Alexei Ponikarovsky:
Although Ponikarovsky was not with the team for the entire season, he was utilized on special teams - the power play mostly. He saw an average of 1:15 minutes per game on the power play but did not score any goals while with the Devils.

Petr Sykora:
Sykora was rarely used on the penalty kill, but he did average 1:58 minutes on the power play each night. He also scored four power play goals on the season. Although he may still resign with the team, I did not include him in my write-up below.

Additions:
Bobby Butler:
It isn't known what kind of impact Butler will have on the Devils special team until his place on the team as a whole is solidified, but when he played for the Senators he was used for an average of 0:58 seconds per game on the power play when he was on the roster. He has also been doing a lot for the Albany Devils recently with five power play goals and one shorthanded tally. He may get an opportunity with the losses listed above.

Matt Shaw:
Shaw was hired to take Adam Oates' place running the power play from behind the bench. As assistant coach in San Jose, he led the Sharks' power play to second in the NHL with a 21.1% conversion rate last season. They also only allowed four shorthanded goals against. He should be able to boost the power play.

Possible Special Team Units:
Power Play:

Elias/Henrique- Zajac - Clarkson
Kovalchuk - Zidlicky

Zubrus - Josefson/Elias - Butler
Kovalchuk - Larsson

(Elias would move to center the second unit when Henrique comes back from injury)
As noted in John's post about forwards, the Devils have an abundance of centers and are short on the wing so it will be interesting to see what Shaw does with the weapons he has at his disposal. He has had a lot of success in the past and I definitely expect the PP to improve, even with the loss of Parise. Parise was responsible for 7 of the 46 power play goals scored last year. The other 39 were scored by seven other players - 10 were from Kovalchuk. I expect the power play to revolve around Kovalchuk again. With his dynamic play and with the inclusion of Henrique (when he returns from injury) and Zajac for the full season, the points lost with Parise may come. Shaw's new ideas and input will revamp the units and bring them to life.

Devil's Power Play (2011 - 2012) Source - behindthenet.ca
On ice scenario TOI (rank) GF (rank) GF/60 (rank) +/- per 60 (rank) SF/60 (rank)
5v4 420.6 (15) 39 (19) 5.6 (20) 4.0 (25) 45.2 (23)
5v3 10.3 (10) 6 (4) 34.8 (4) 34.8 (4) 110.3 (10)
4v3 9.1 (8) 1 (22) 6.6 (21) -6.6 (30) 92.8 (9)

In comparing this data with Matt's evaluation of special teams from last year the team improved in almost every way possible. They jumped from dead last in 5v4 time on ice to 15, went from 27 goals scored to 39, doubled their 5v3 goals, among many other things. Their power play was not the best in the league by any means, but there was major improvement that can be pushed further this season with Shaw behind the bench.

Penalty Kill:

Zubrus - Zajac

Salvador - Volchenkov

Henrique - Elias

Tallinder - Greene

I think the Devils' PK will be good again this year. Maybe not record breaking, but they will get the job done well. Zubrus was the most used offender on the penalty kill last season and Elias was not far behind in minutes. Pairing them with Zajac and Henrique, who are both defensively responsible should bring success. Another bonus is all of them know when to take their chances offensively, which brings the possibility of shorthanded goals. On defense, the Salvador, Greene, Tallinder (when he was healthy), and Volchenkov were the go to guys in the incredibly successful PK last season - these pairing should stay intact.
Barr found the right combinations last season and the team really clicked when on the penalty kill. They always knew when to push it offensively and when to fall back and protect the net. Although Parise was used frequently on the kill, the Devils have enough guys who are capable on the penalty kill and should be able to carry their success into this season without him. I think most of the load will be on Zubrus and Elias who were used a lot last season with more time and responsibility being given to Henrique.

Devil's Penalty Kill (2011 - 2012) Source - behindthenet.ca
On ice scenario TOI (rank) GA (rank) GA/60 (rank) +/- per 60 (rank) SA/60 (rank)
4v5 423.1 (18) 24 (1) 3.2 (30) -1.3 (1) 42.7 (26)
3v5 10.7 (21) 2 (24) 11.3 (25) -11.3 (6) 67.6 (27)
3v4 4.3 (24) 1 (16) 13.8 (12) -13.6 (20) 41.5 (25)


The penalty kill also took major steps forward from 2010-2011. They had the number one ranked kill in the league and not much more can be asked from this aspect of the game.

Overall, I think the special teams will be successful this year. I expect the power play to improve and while the penalty kill may drop slightly, it will still be strong. As expected, the power play will revolve around Kovalchuk while the penalty kill will be all about the team. At the end of last season Coach DeBoer said,

"Penalty killing is about grit and structure and heart and battle level and I think those are important characteristics of our team."

I think that's a great way to put it, and is exactly what we saw last season when someone was in the penalty box. Hopefully that is something that carries over from last season. The biggest question is who will replace Parise's production and minutes on special teams. I think with shuffling a few pieces and fitting Zajac in as a regular the units will work out and fill the gap he left behind, but only time will tell if that will come to be. I have also put a lot of responsibility on Henrique, and it is impossible to tell how he will perform during his sophomore season - that will account for a lot of the success the special teams may or may not have.

What are your thoughts on the special teams for this coming season? Do you expect the power play to improve? Do you think the team can carry over the success on the penalty kill from last season? How do you think the special teams will look without Parise?

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