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The New Jersey Devils Special Teams Are Costing Them Games

The New Jersey Devils penalty kill and power play are bad. How bad you ask? So bad that the low conversion rates are now actively costing them games which we look at today.

NHL: Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

After Tuesday’s 5-1 drubbing by the Boston Bruins, the New Jersey Devils continue to spin their wheels in neutral with a record of 7-9-4. While this means they’re not last in the NHL or even the Eastern Conference (yay?), they’re still dangerously close to it. Even if you’re someone who believes that the Devils may have needed time to gel with all of the new faces, a quarter of the season should have been enough time to find more consistency. So what gives?

Well aside from all previously discussed issues on this site, if we want to continue with the concept of consistency, the power play and penalty kill need to be brought up, as both have been anything but consistent. The Devils power play currently sits at a miserable 13.9%, good for fifth-worst in the league. The penalty kill is slightly better, as it’s only seventh-worst in the league at a pitiful 75% Let that last number sink in: for every four penalties the Devils take, the opposing team converts on one; if the Devils take four minors in one game, they’re essentially spotting their opponent a goal.

So what is going so wrong here? Well, I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to either, but there’s certainly factors that coaching should recognize and correct. Let’s start with power play; remember how the Devils scored against Montreal? Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall each set up on their off-hand side; Hall slides a perfect pass to Palms and he drills the puck behind Keith Kinkaid for an overtime victory. Easy, right?

Well, not when the Devils have been setting up Hall and Palmieri on their usual respective wings; having Taylor on the left and Kyle on the right eliminates a better scoring angle for their one-timers, the same angle Palmieri scored off in OT. It’s not the only issue (Taylor Hall not being able to buy a goal right now certainly adds to the low %), but this is one that can be fixed literally by telling two players to swap where they are on the ice.

Additionally, there may be a need for some different personnel on the PP, as the second group just isn’t clicking at all. I don’t mind loading up the first group (particularly since Wayne Simmonds has found some effectiveness in front of the net) but why not try Blake Coleman on the PP? Why not shift some players to different spots on the ice? If the argument is to not take someone out of their comfort zone/area of the PP that they know, I don’t think that excuse can fly. It’s not working as it is, the numbers don’t lie and they spell disaster for the Devils at Sacrifice this season.

Speaking of disasters, let’s go and talk some more about the penalty kill. First easily correctable mistake is the usage of certain players on it when they’re in the lineup. I don’t mind Kevin Rooney as a fourth line center when he’s playing, but to say he’s one of your four (or five if one of them is the player in the box) best defensive forwards? That’s laughable at best, as Coleman, Pavel Zacha, Travis Zajac and Nico Hischier are all smarter defensive players. If the above are the four rolled, it also allows the Devils to go to Hall, Palmieri and Jack Hughes after the penalty expires, so it’s not as if the Devils are using a player from each line or anything that would prevent them from using said four forwards.

I know he’s only appeared in 13 contests this season, and most of those have come due to others being injured, but I don’t want to see Mirco Mueller in the lineup again, let along on the PK. Mueller does a decent enough job of moving bodies, but there’s a disconnect between his stick and his hands. He rarely if ever is able to use his stick to disrupt a play, and he consistently struggles to get the puck up the boards and out of the defensive zone, both at even strength and on the PK. While Damon Severson and P.K. Subban may not be the best at killing penalties, at least they can get the puck out of the zone more often then Mueller.

With the poor choices being made for deployment, plus some individual struggles (both offensively and defensively) the rates at which the Devils are converting with the man advantage, as well as the rate they kill off shorthanded situations simply is an active detriment. While the record is indicative of these struggles (and vice-versa), is keeping things status quo the right call? Would it hurt to try players in other positions? While I firmly believe both questions can be answered with a “no” I and all of us on this site just don’t have the power to make those calls.

Do you attribute the Devils’ record at least in part to the terrible PK and PP? What do you think are some of the problems that stick out that could easily be fixed? Are there some more difficult issues that you see need changing as well? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!