Later this week, we will begin a brand new year. It's a common practice for people to make resolutions for New Year's. Although I agree that one should start working on improving yourself or your life whenever you can and not by an arbitrary date, I have no issue with using the a calendar change as a catalyst. If successful, then how it was started really doesn't matter.
Not only will the New Jersey Devils kick off a brand new year, but they will have played their forty-first game of the season on New Year's Eve. After the game against Pittsburgh, they will officially be in the second half of the season. The time where fans, players, coaches, and executives pay a lot more attention to the standings and results. It's when contenders should start pulling away from pretenders. It's when points seem to matter more, though they always have mattered. If there's a time to improve a team, then it would be in the new year to increase the chances of playing later this Spring.
Now, improvement is always possible for all players and all teams. Even the very best team in the NHL (right now, that's Chicago) can tinker with part of their game (in their case, the penalty kill) to help them out further. In that sense, I'd like to suggest some changes for various Devils players. If they can improve in those regards, then they'll not only help themselves out but also the team. At 16-16-8 among a very crowded Metropolitan Division, even small improvements can help make the difference between playing hockey in late April or playing golf in late April. I'm not going to go down the entire roster and I'm not going to suggest the nearly impossible (e.g. Anton Volchenkov needs to get faster). But I do think if the following players make and complete these resolutions, then they would benefit the team.
Marek Zidlicky - Sticks belong on the ice, not on your man. Marek Zidlicky isn't just the team leader in minor penalties. Prior to Sunday's games, he was in a five-way tie for the most minor penalties in the league with 21. A quick scan of his split stats at NHL.com reveals that the majority of them are stick fouls. He's been tagged six times for hooking, four times for tripping, three times for slashing, and two times for high-sticking. Surely, not all of these were to prevent a goal scoring opportunity. I don't expect Zidlicky to not take any calls but if he can take better care of where and how he uses his stick on defense, then he can take fewer calls. At the very least, he can at least not be among league leaders in minor penalties.
Patrik Elias - Realize that it's OK to be selfish sometimes. I know it's not a positive virtue but there are times where matters are best taken by their own hands. Elias recently expressed a desire to score 1,000 points this season. He likely won't do that and he definitely won't at this rate of production. While it's true he hasn't had great wingers, it is also true that he's not shooting the puck nearly as much as he could. In each of the last three seasons, he was among top scorers on the Devils and averaged at least two shots per game. So far this season, he's got 56 in 32 games, or 1.75 shots per game. Elias is a great passer and usually creates a good scoring opportunity. However, he could have had more than seven goals - something this team can always benefit - if he would fire a few more pucks on net instead of trying to hit a teammate with a pass on an odd-man rush or some low-percentage chance of creating a goal.
Ryane Clowe - Use your head, protect it. While few (myself) feel Ryane Clowe can live up to your contract, he certainly won't if he can't play. It's good to see that he's willing to play physical and go into the dirtier, grittier areas of the ice. It's not at all good if he's going to drop the gloves for a face-punching situation or if he's not careful about how he goes into the boards. With his concussion history, it's a bit sad I have to point it out, but here we are. In any case, a healthy Clowe has a far, far better chance of contributing something than an injured Clowe, who can't possibly contribute anything while out.
Andrei Loktionov - Learn something new, such as playing wing. Andrei Loktionov wants to be a center and I respect that. However, that limits how he is used. In games where the opposition seems deep at center, Peter DeBoer has used a more experienced two-way player like Adam Henrique as a third line center, which either bumps Loktionov down to the fourths or out of the lineup. If the current plan continues with Ryane Clowe playing opposite Michael Ryder on a line, then they need a center who can defend rather well. Henrique can do that much better than Loktionov. Again, that keeps him down. The thing about Loktionov is that he's been really good in possession this season. Sure, he's got a high offensive-to-defensive zone start ratio and he doesn't face tough competition, but his Corsi percentage at 5-on-5 is high enough to figure he's doing something right out there. By extension, it's enough to at least consider giving him tougher situations to see what he can do. With Damien Brunner out, I'd love to see Loktionov get some shifts with Patrik Elias on his wing. It's worth a shot considering we've now seen Stephen Gionta and Mattias Tedenby have games in that spot. I'd like to think Peter DeBoer would give him more minutes if he had the flexibility with Loktionov that he has with Henrique, Gionta, and Elias. Even for his future, being able to play wing and center provides more options for a coach, which is never a bad thing. So, please Loktionov, learn to play wing and accept it's better than centering fourth-line scrubs or sitting because of it.
Eric Gelinas & Jon Merrill - Look up to your elders, or at least go ask for some advice from Salvador and Volchenkov - Both Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill have been standout rookies. Whereas most team's defenses would have fallen apart by missing multiple defensemen, these two have helped fill the gap. However, both Gelinas and Merrill have been beaten quite a few times by speedy players getting by them. They'll be at the blueline like they're supposed to be, but they don't quite react enough so they're forced to be desperate, foul the player, and/or hope the goalie bails them out. It hasn't happened in every game, but it's happened enough that it's an area of improvement. All part of the learning process and I think this is something Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador can give some good advice. Neither Salvador or Volchenkov are fast but they're not constantly getting torched either. That has to do with how they position themselves, when to decide to go for a hit and when to decide to just stick with them, and how fast they react more than how fast they skate. Salvador and Volchenkov should know; they would not have lasted in the league for very long if they didn't figure it out. So the rookies should seek them out for some help if they haven't already. If it works, then these two defensemen do not only better themselves but strengthen an already stingy blueline.
Michael Ryder - Put in a more active effort on defense. Michael Ryder is similar to Petr Sykora from two seasons ago. When he's shooting and scoring, he's an asset. When he's not, he's not helpful. Unlike Sykora, Ryder can still skate and he's under 35. He's never been a very good defending forward and I don't expect him to become one. But he's actually shown some actual examples of backchecking recently, especially if he's the first forward back. Of course, that's followed by him hanging back hoping for an outlet pass that doesn't always come. If could apply himself more often by the sides instead of jut waiting for pucks, then he'll be more useful than just an offensive player. As it is, that's been good with eleven goals on 68 shots, which is a really good rate. But as we saw during his long goalless streak, he's not much help when he's not scoring. So if he can at least put in more effort in his own end - even just a little - then that will further justify his usage when the shooting percentage drops for a bit.
Cory Schneider - Be what you are, and it's not Martin Brodeur. While the even strength save percentages of Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur have been similar (Brodeur's actually ahead of him as of right now), I'm more confident in Schneider coming out ahead in the second half of this season. He's been better in recent history and he's not 41. However, Schneider needs to try and play the puck less often with his stick. Whether it's because he feels he needs to do what Brodeur does or whether he wants to stop dump-ins like him, it's a Hedbergian adventure on some nights when Schneider tries to do that. I think he should stray away from that. He's got good reflexes, good positioning, and he's very good at stopping pucks. That's all he really needs to do. Hopefully, the percentages rise and we'll see more of #35 than #30 in the second half of this season.
Jaromir Jagr & Andy Greene - Don't get complacent, continue to be driven by what got you here so far. Jaromir Jagr and Andy Greene have been the team's best forward and defenseman, respectively, of the first half of this season. Jagr leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 34 points. Greene has been an absolute boss on the blueline with an average ice time of 24:56 to go with six goals and twenty points. Both have been excellent in possession on a top-ten possession team in the league. Whatever it is they are doing to put in these great performances night-in, night-out, I want to see continue. Whether that's hours of additional hard practice, wanting to make your national team organization look stupid for not even being on the consideration list for the Olympics, being able to bust a teammate's chops, or just wanting to be the best one can possibly be, I want it to continue. The Devils are where they are in part of how well Jagr and Greene has played so far. If they start to falter, then the Devils could be in trouble. So I want them to try to stay motivated and keep doing what they have been as opposed to changing anything.
These are the ones that come to my mind. What would you suggest that the Devils players (emphasis on players) change as the new year and second half of the season begins? What would you want their resolutions to be? Please leave your suggested resolutions and other thoughts about the ones I came up with in the comments. Thank you for reading.