Tonight will be Game 10 of the young 2018-19 season for our New Jersey Devils, and while things haven’t been perfect this season, things haven’t been terrible either. Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier have been terrific to start the year; some other players, namely Damon Severson, Travis Zajac, Miles Wood, Sami Vatanen and heck even Mirco Mueller, have contributed as well.
A hockey team isn’t two lines of forwards and two defense pairs though; the “second line” featuring Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha and a seemingly rotating cast of right wings (I believe Stefan Noesen, J.S. Dea and Drew Stafford have all had a shot here) have contributed little to nothing. Of particular concern right now is Zacha; he’s still a very young player (only 21 and not turning 22 until the end of the regular season) but he’s about to be on a ten game point-less streak. While the Devils cup isn’t running over with talented forwards, there are at least enough bodies who can contribute everything that Zacha has so far this season to merit sitting him out a game in hope of jump-starting him.
While Zacha has never been a prolific offensive player in the NHL, his penalty killing abilities worth keeping him in a lineup for. The only issue is that when the Devils need strong defense from their forwards, they have enough players that are capable in this role that also can contribute offensively. The top duo for PK duty is Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman; after that John Hynes has been using Zacha and Brian Boyle. If Zacha’s only redeeming quality at this point is to be a PK2 guy, can we not just use Kevin Rooney in that role? He kills penalties just as well, and comes without the draft pedigree headaches that plague our fans in regards to Zacha and his development.
Again, he’s young, but you can’t sit here and tell me that Zacha’s season has not been frustrating; he had a good preseason where he looked like he would mesh well with Johansson and Jesper Bratt, but with Bratt out, he hasn’t looked good outside of a strong first two games this season. There are only 4 other Devils who have suited up while yet to record a point this season, and they’ve played the same number of games combined as Zacha. For a player who’s supposed to be a large part of the team’s future, and started the year as the second line center, that’s a pretty big concern.
I’m not suggesting that Zacha should be scratched as a punishment due to how he’s played. I think he needs to take a step back and maybe watch the game from a different view, as coaches often have struggling youngsters do. I do take issue with instances such as the aforementioned when it becomes multiple scratches in a row rather than just one, but Zacha needs to take a step back and possibly simplify some aspects of his game as well. Some nights he seems like he’s trying to do too much, and others it seems as though he’s disengaged; happy medium Zacha might be what we need, but the question is how do we find that Zacha?
Bratt’s imminent return could help; perhaps less time and responsibility playing a line lower will do the trick. If neither is the case, maybe he should watch on Saturday when the Devils meet the New York Islanders. At this point, trying some different things couldn’t hurt.
What do you think of Pavel Zacha’s slow start; is this a cause for greater concern or is it just a slow start to this season? Is the lack of a consistent right wing affecting his play? Does he just not mesh well with Marcus Johansson? Should he sit for a game or is there another solution you can think of? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!