The New Jersey Devils have had one constant all season long, even before players on the team dropped to injuries like flies to a can of RAID. The penalty killing by New Jersey is something more awful than a website and a popular forum. Given that hockey is a results-oriented business, where they rank says it all: the Devils are currently 28th in the league in both categories according to NHL.com. I try to make sense of it, but I'm just open to any idea at this point. Maybe Sutter should be as well?
Let's look at the worst side of it first: the penalty kill. The Devils have killed a mere 73.9% of all man disadvantages all season. They have conceded 18 power play goals against in 17 games. That's an average of a just over a goal against per game (specifically . That means, on average, the Devils let up a power play goal which puts them in the hole in terms of momentum and on the scoreboard. This is especially bad, and worse off than their lack of an effective power play. The Devils have been incredibly successful with terrible power plays. The Devils put up a record of 46-20-10 in 2002-03 and won the Cup in spite of a power play so awful that it caused fans like me to wonder if penalties could be declined. Yet, given that the Devils aren't goal scoring machines (witness their blazing 2.53 goals per game average), keeping the puck out of the net becomes more important to stay in hockey games. Something they are especially prone to when they are down a man.
This is incredibly shocking when you consider that the Devils still have ace checking forwards John Madden and Jay Pandolfo on the roster as well as a defensive unit that has the benefit of playing with each other for much of last season. The top four minute-men while the Devils are shorthanded are, in order, Bryce Salvador, Madden, Paul Martin, and Pandolfo. The second unit are who you would expect to have the second most minutes on average: Johnny Oduya, Colin White, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias.
Now, this is a real-head scratcher. Salvador and Martin are usually paired together on even strength and they've been a solid pairing all season long. Madden and Pandolfo have been together since popular culture reference is with another popular culture reference. White has been a defensive mainstay for the better part of the last 8 years, and Elias has seen PK time in the past. The new regulars on shorthanded situations compared from last season (link to last season's stats, organized by SHTOI/GP) are Oduya and Zajac. And both of them are playing better hockey than they were last season. Also, from where I sit, Oduya is definitely an upgrade over Mike Mottau given that one is an actual top-4 calibur defenseman and the other is just in such a role.
So the Devils have the players you would expect to be on the penalty kill. Players who can play some defense, get some stops, and once in a while, threaten with a chance of their own. They even have guys who are experienced at the role. Yet, they aren't getting the results. While they are able to get a few clears down the end of the rink, they are prone to having the other team just get a fantastic shot off to beat Brodeur/Weekes/Clemmensen. Sometimes they just happen, but it's happening far too often. Time from time, I read a post from Gulitti's blog that the Devils are tinkering on the power play. I wonder when we will get to hear about the penalty killers. Given their past history and success at frustrating opposition forwards, I almost want to suggest splitting up Madden and Pandolfo for a couple of kills. Pandolfo, in particular, hasn't played very well recently and maybe it'll shake things up a bit.
One of the areas where the Devils have improved recently has been in taking penalties to begin with. Sutter correctly identified it as such after the loss to the Rangers on Wednesday, according to Gulitti. Well, the team has responded by only taking a total of 3 penalties in their home-and-home with Washington. Great. Only, the Capitals scored on 2 of those power plays. They aren't getting the results needed even when they take fewer penalties. At least they are among the teams with the lowest amount of times shorthanded (26th with 69 times according to NHL.com)
Maybe it's the tactics; perhaps Sutter should use a more traditional passive box style of kill. Or maybe they have been using the passive box and it fails; so Sutter should try something else (a diamond? large box?). Maybe it's the personnel, and Sutter should mix up the combos - even Madden and Pandolfo. Maybe they just need to work harder in practice on shorthanded situations. Still, something needs to change on the penalty kill and fast. I don't see how the Devils can keep up in the NHL if opposing teams have been so successful taking advantage of their mistake of taking a penalty. That they are Maybe the Devils should just not take penalties; but no hockey team plays many games without taking an infraction, so improvement is a must. All I have here are maybes; but then if I truly knew the root cause, something tells me the Devils already know about it. At least, I hope they would.