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About that Power Play...

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The New Jersey Devils are up 2-1 on the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. They have yet to trail in regulation, they have managed to put at least 30 shots on Cam Ward in each game, and the Devils broke some streaks in winning Game 3 in Carolina.  Momentum is in their favor and while the words out of their mouths may play this down, they have to feel at least a little more confident inside their minds. (Last link goes to Gulitti)

However, this series could really be 3-0 had the Devils done better on the power play in Game 2.  Or Game 3 would have been more decisive for New Jersey and not even need overtime with some tallies on the man advantage.  While Carolina's own power play ineffectivity is big news - it's even a headline at NHL.com! - the Devils have been just as punchless by going 1 for 14 in this series.  The one being a beautiful deflection by Zach Parise on a Paul Martin shot in Game 2 (NHL video in my recap if you want to see it). 

However, given that's all the Devils have got going on the power play, the Devils need to do more than just hope for a great deflection.   Again, their power play stands at 7.14%.  Imagine how this would have gone if the Devils were scoring at their regular season rate of roughly 19%.  That's, theoretically, 2.66 goals.  Given how tight Games 2 and 3 were, that's a big difference and a big opportunity lost to change the nature of the game.  This lack of scoring on the power play is really just making these games harder on themselves.  It's a big issue.

Part of this issue, the Devils have no control over: Cam Ward.  He's been facing a lot of rubber: 39 in Game 1, 34 in Game 2, and 35 in Game 3.   And he's definitely holding up well despite it! Ward's glove remains his best asset, in addition to his composure in net.  While the Devils have beat him 8 times in this series, Ward alone has robbed the Devils of so many more. 

Yet, on the power play, he gets the benefit of screens.  The Devils shooters at the points or the top of either circle have been getting lots of chances.  A pass could come to the top to, say, Brian Rolston, there would be at most one Cane doing something and so Rolston fires it ahead.  Only there's a ton of traffic in front, and so the puck is deflected away or outright blocked.   The Devils' forwards have a nasty tendency to set up something promising, but literally shoot it into someone's foot.  Or their shin.  Or their stick.  Or something.  The pressure is there in possession and in passing, but the shooting leaves a lot to be desired.  Screens don't work if the shots hit them!


So what can the Devils do to fix what they can control? I don't think it's the talent: the Devils definitely have that on offense.  The first unit features the Devils' top scorers: Parise, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac along with a hard-shooting pointman (now it's Brian Rolston with Jamie Langenbrunner injured) and a defender (Paul Martin).  The second unit has is more varied: the shifty Brian Gionta, the massive Dainius Zubrus, the experienced Brendan Shanahan, and two defenders: Johnny Oduya and Niclas Havelid. 

What  I think they need is a bit of an adjustment in their approach.  On a man advantage, ideally the offense will move the puck around to set up a high quality shot while the defense sits back and reacts only when there is a need to do so.  In even strength, this isn't (usually) possible with a defending player matching up with each attacker.  Yet, I feel the Devils need to pass up the shots at the point and just take more lower quality shots at closer range.   From what I have seen, Carolina's PK units combined with the Devils' inaccuracy are getting more shots blocked than they are getting through to Ward on the power play - most notably in Game 3.  

I think the Devils power play units should get the defenders moving and force them to set up a little wider, a little more out of sync. Passing alone won't do it, as the Devils have got that part down on power plays.  Instead, the Devils should keep them honest with shots in the circle or little set-ups from behind the net or shots from the endboards can do this.   They could even fool Ward or force him to cough up a juicy rebound.    Even if that doesn't happen, Carolina won't just hang back in their old positions unless they feel that confident in Ward denying a Devils bombardment during a penalty kill (given their even strength play on defense, they may feel that way anyway).

More simply, if they have the puck, and no Cane is jumping or falling down for an attempted block, take a chance on net!  I'm not saying the Devils should throw everything on net all the time.  If Carolina is willing to let the Devils pass it cross-ice or up into space, then by all means, the Devils should take it.  What I am suggesting is a breaking of the standard, move the puck around, get traffic forming, and get a shot from the point - regardless of the traffic being more likely to block it.  Put some more shots - at Ward and not at traffic or a screen - on net, get the Carolina penalty killers moving, and then strike when necessary.  At a minimum, it'll cause more pressure on offense than just holding onto the puck as well as being something constructive.

I think this is a good way as any of doing it.  Whatever Sutter and the team decides to do, if the Devils can figure out their power play and have it become productive in Game 4, then I don't see how the Devils can really falter in this series, all other aspects of the game being equal.

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