The New Jersey Devils are looking for something, anything really, to get them that all important win in their next game. Unfortunately, the schedule isn't kind to them tonight. They visit the Igloo to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Let's put it into this perspective:
The Devils have not won on the road since March 3 in Toronto and have not won in their last 5 games. They are playing the Penguins, who has went 10-1-2 in March with a 4-1 record in their last 5 games.
Fortunately, Brent Sutter's response to Monday's loss to the Rangers was more, shall we say, pro-active. Gulitti's post-game report from Sutter has the head coach visibly and vocally upset with the team. The Devils did not get the day off yesterday. Instead they had a 30 minute meeting before going on through the rest of practice per Gulitti's report. Sutter also had this to say to Gulitti after practice:
"Through it all you do trust the group. You have confidence and faith in the group," Sutter said. "Yet, when you start seeing things that shouldn't be happening, you have to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, whatever level that sometimes happens in, now the coach has to step down here. Does it say that I'm losing trust? No it's not. All it's saying is, 'Listen, this is the way it's got to be done and everybody has to buy in to make sure it gets done.
"The thing about it is, yes it's coming for me, but Lou feels the very same way I do about this that this is the way we've got to get out of this. But it's going to be the accountability of the players. They have to figure it out."
Fair enough. Good to hear that Lou and Sutter are on the same page. According to Gulitti's report, it doesn't appear that Sutter will make any changes to the lineup, so expect Brodeur in net and the same lines and defensive pairings to start the game.
So what is "it" that the Devils have to figure out? Well, Zach Parise had a quote in Gulitti's post-game reaction on Monday night that I think is good answer:
"I don’t think we’re being proactive enough," left wing Zach Parise said. "We used to take the play to teams, control the play and have the puck. We’re not doing that right now."
I think that's exactly right (and I hope it means Parise has a good game as he wasn't a factor on Monday). When the Devils take the initiative and play with urgency, like they did early on against Carolina for example, they find success. When they do not or wait until they are behind to up their effort, they continue to lose. The Devils need to be aggressive and win the battles to do more than just put a shot on net, but dictate the flow of the game. The defense can't just say, "Hey, Marty, get ready to stop 30-40 shots tonight!" and just clean up rebounds;but they have to challenge the puck carrier. In the transition game, the Devils can't just go with the flow, they got to get back to working hard to stop the opposition in the neutral zone so they can't even set something up. That is how New Jersey got a large number of their 47 wins and it'll likely be how they will get one tonight!
Unfortunately, you can file all of that under E for Easier Said than Done! The Penguins, as mentioned, are blazing right now. Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid in his own net; the Penguins' defense has held their own, and the offense is percolating. That offense is led by the #1 and #3 scorers of the league, two guys who can turn a game around almost all by themselves.
|2008 - Evgeni Malkin
|2008 - Sidney Crosby
Yeah, those two alone are going to be a tough challenge for a Devils defense who has been bleeding shots against over this slump.
What's more is that it's not just them who are getting points. The Devils will have to contend with Sergei Gonchar from the point, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin (again), Superstar, and perhaps a resurgent Ruslan Fedotenko (Pensburgh has this evidence from their last game, a 4-3 over the Rangers).
Alas, if there is an area of opportunity, it's special teams - a recent problem for New Jersey and a season-long one for Pittsburgh. The Penguins, despite their talent at scoring, only has a 16.6% effective power play (23rd in NHL, tied with Florida) and their penalty killing is good, but not great, at 81.9% (15th in NHL). That is where the Penguins are vulnerable, despite their awesome March performance. Given Sutter's and the players' realization that the aggression isn't there, the Devils need to prey upon the Penguins with some strong special teams play. At least to use it to keep or change momentum in their direction if they aren't scoring.
The Penguins will be well rested and ready to put on a show for the home crowd. The Devils need to avoid dwelling on the past and take it to the Penguins from minute #1 and onward. It should be an interesting game to say the least. Frank and Hooks Orpik at Pensburgh has all your necessary Penguins coverage, so check them out later. Hopefully, the Devils actually play well. Hopefully, they'll get a win and start off April right.