The Devils are a team that has struggled to score goals over the past few seasons, particularly at even strength, and with a lineup that projects to be middle-of-the-pack in scoring at-best, the power play could be a pivotal factor for the team's success on offense. The team succeeded on the man-advantage last year, despite a low shot output. Can they improve their play and keep producing, or will they be hit hard by regression?
2013-14 Power Play
In the 2013-14 season, the Devils actually saw their power play convert at a high enough rate to land in the top 10 in the league in that category. It wasn't always pretty, but the team found ways to make their time with the man advantage count as the season carried on. This was despite often looking out of sorts and having difficulty gaining the zone, particularly early in the season. Part of the team's struggles gaining the zone and getting set up are on display in their third-to-last shot output with the man advantage. The unit improved as the season moved along - particularly with the arrival of Gelinas - but they still weren't wearing out goalies relative to their peers (league median in shots was about 52.75). They also drew the fewest penalties in the league, limiting the overall output of the unit as well. Still, the Devils were good in 2013-14 at converting the chances they did have.
The team didn't feature a singularly dominant goal-scorer on the power play, but was able to produce by spreading around the scoring. Marek Zidlicky and Adam Henrique tied for the team lead in PP goals, with seven a piece, and four players (Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Eric Gelinas) tied for the team lead in PP assists with 12. Here is a full breakdown of the output of the 2013-14 Devils with over 60 minutes logged with the man advantage:
(Stats via War-on-Ice)
Jagr, unsurprisingly, led the team in power play minutes on the season with Zidlicky leading all defensemen. Patrik Elias continued to be a playmaker with the man advantage and Adam Henrique led the team in goals and goals/60, despite having the only the 10th most PP TOI/60. Players contributed up and down the lineup as everyone in the top-10 in PP TOI had at least 3 goals on the season.
The breakout star of the Devils power play last season had to be Eric Gelinas, though. He tied for the team lead in overall PP points and far outpaced all of his teammates in points/60, finishing over a full point ahead of second-place Patrik Elias. Gelinas made an undeniably huge impact on the Devils power play after his arrival about a month into the season. Thanks in no small part to his booming shot, Gelinas finished third in the entire NHL last season in points/60 among players with at least 60 total PP minutes. He was able to score goals and generate plenty of rebound opportunities for this teammates, and despite some of his struggles on defense, he carved out a spot for himself on the roster with his power play proficiency.
Not a whole lot, to be honest. Of the top 14 players in PP TOI from last season, 13 of them are on the Devils' current roster. The top two power play units should look at least largely similar to how they did last season. Jagr and Elias are basically locks for big minutes and Henrique and Zajac are likely to see significant time as well. Some of the other forwards may get shuffled around a bit as the season progresses, but names like Ryder, Brunner, and Clowe will probably get a decent amount of time there, though some of that group may see their minutes cut into by offseason acquisitions. The new arrivals at forward, Mike Cammalleri and Marty Havlat [2013-14 PP Stats], will be considered for the power play units (as well as maybe Scott Gomez, if he makes the team), as both are forwards with scoring talent who have seen significant time on the power play in the past. How much of an impact either might have on the unit is hard to say, though.
Havlat's injury woes and reductions in ice time in San Jose make him a bit of an unknown quantity at this point, but he did have some success on the PP earlier in his career. Cammalleri will almost definitely get significant minutes on the power play, as he scored more goals with the man advantage (8) than anyone on the Devils last season, despite a significant decline from his peak PP output years. Cammalleri comes from a similarly anemic power play team in terms of shot output in Calgary, though, and his rate stats from last season are about middle of the pack compared to current Devils, so it remains to be seen how much he can do to improve the unit.
In terms of power play defensemen, there will be even less change coming on that end. Zidlicky, rightfully so, will continue to see big minutes as the team's best blue line distributor. Gelinas, provided he can play well enough at even strength to stay in the lineup, will continue to unleash The Truth on opposing goaltenders. Stalwart D Andy Greene will get his share of PP time as well. Jon Merrill or Adam Larsson could get some minutes as well, but they will each have to up their output from prior seasons to be a positive influence.
The team will have to find a way to generate more pressure with the man advantage if they want to continue to succeed with the extra attacker. They often struggled settle themselves in the opponents' end last season and will have to find a way to generate more shots and more pressure to keep converting at a top-10 rate. Still, this power play does seem to have the makings of one that can be successful going forward. They have some strong offensive options from the blue line in Zidlicky and Gelinas, they have great playmakers in Jagr and Elias, and they have some guys who can finish in Henrique and Cammalleri. The team will just have to work on making goalies work a little harder by generating sustained pressure with opposing players in the box and they could also stand to draw a few more penalties as well.
With some of their personnel, I wouldn't expect the team to end up in the league basement in conversion rate in 2014-15 but I do think it will take a step back. Generating shots is certainly not the be-all end-all of a power play, but I think it's hard to expect a team to score at a top-10 rate will sitting near the bottom in the number of opportunities they are generating. I'm expecting a bit of a regression from this group, call it 15th-20th in power play conversion rate, even with a full season of Eric Gelinas and the addition of Mike Cammalleri.
How are you feeling about the Devils' power play heading into this season? Do you think they can repeat their success or will they fall back to Earth due to their inability to create shots? Do you think the new acquisitions will have a big impact? Anything else you'd like to add or point out that I missed? Sound off with your thoughts below and get excited for hockey, because October is here.