For a team that had overall pretty crummy results under then-Head Coach John Hynes and Interim Head Coach Alain Nasreddine, there was still a bright spot for our New Jersey Devils. Said spot would be the penalty kill, although I guess you could argue that playing down a man shouldn’t be a “bright spot” but I digress. Over the past five seasons, there were four times that the team finished in the top eight (we’ll ignore the 23rd place finish anomaly in 2016-17) of the league. For a team that has had only one playoff berth in the time frame, at the very least they’re keeping pucks out of the net when missing a player or two.
Which brings us to our question now; with some personnel changes, as well as a complete coaching overhaul, will New Jersey’s penalty kill still be effective in the upcoming 2021 (it’s all taking place in 2021, I think it’s time we drop the “2020” from ahead of it) season? Today we look at who stays, who has departed, and how coaching could be the biggest factor that affects the bottom line.
The Players - Positives and Concerns
I’ll start right off the bat here and say that the Devils’ traded an integral piece of their PK last season, when Blake Coleman was sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coleman would always seem to find a way to get a shorthanded breakaway and I’m sure his regular partner, Travis Zajac, misses having the opportunity to spring him. The team also traded defensive stalwart Andy Greene to the New York Islanders, however anyone watching the games could see that age and style of play (sacrificing his body to stop pucks on the kill for years) had lessened his effectiveness.
Looking at a positive note, Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha, two of the most important penalty killers on the team, are back and should continue to play a prominent role. Nico Hischier has also spent time killing penalties and he could see his role expanded in man short situations. The Devils have enough depth in terms of forwards with defensive ability that whoever they deploy up front, it shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Now the backend on the other hand, could be a huge issue. P.K. Subban and Damon Severson will probably both see some time on the right side, and newly acquired Ryan Murray should be a boost when he is healthy. Beyond that is a big question mark; Will Butcher should be kept far away from killing penalties. Any rookies who come in will be almost complete unknowns. The bigger worry here has to be injuries; if one of the three names mentioned at the start of the paragraph go down for an extended time, can their replacement carry a similar load of work? I would have to say this should be a legitimate concern
Speaking of legitimate concerns, let’s look at coaching for a second here; the Devils will be under a completely new coaching regime for the first time in six seasons. Lindy Ruff’s reputations has preceded him here; he’s known as an offense-first coach, and some have even gone so far as to say that it comes at the expense of the defense. While that shouldn’t be the case for a penalty kill (especially sans Coleman), the worry exists that defense will fall by the wayside. If that becomes the case, it’s going to be a long season, and not just on the penalty kill. The team’s new defense coach will need to be sure to spend some time maintaining the high standard set by the penalty kill of previous campaigns.
To briefly conclude, I think the Devils penalty kill could still be effective this season; I think a small dip in numbers would be expected, especially to start the season. However, the Devils still have a number of experienced penalty killers, and two of the best penalty killing forwards in the league in Zajac and Zacha. While they may not finish within the top eight again this season, they should still have a respectable showing, barring substantial injuries.
What do you expect from the Devils penalty kill this season; do you think it’ll still be effective? Do you worry about the personnel they have available to deploy? Do you think injuries will sink the entire thing? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!