Fresh off their massive win against Our Hated Rivals, the New Jersey Devils took to the ice in Toronto on Wednesday night. They managed to accomplish something for the first time this season. They gave up not one but two shorthanded goals to the Maple Leafs. It was the first time this season that the Devils gave up two shorties in a game. What’s more is that both shorthanded goals turned the tide of the game; the second one was the third goal for Toronto in a 2-3 regulation loss. Additionally, both shorthanded goals allowed were the tenth and eleventh the Devils have allowed this season. They are now the league leaders in SHGA. Celebrate the pain.
Of course, the 11 shorthanded goals allowed are not some recent phenomenon. They are the result of the New Jersey Devils’ power play. The units are led and primarily coached by assistant coach Mark Recchi. As a player, Recchi was a power play producer. As a coach, well, the Devils have allowed 11 SHGA and have a success rate of 18.1% for this season - good for 25th best in the NHL as of Wednesday night. This is Recchi’s second season with the team. Last season’s power play converted chances at 14.2% and allowed 5 shorthanded goals. They are more successful - and more painful than before. To call it progress is a mixed bag.
Rather than just point to the very obvious facts and declare that Recchi is not fit to continue running this power play, I need to go deeper. Have the Devils give up a lot of shorthanded opportunities? Were these shorthanded goals meaningful when they were scored? Why is this happening? Then, should one point a finger at Recchi? And who can do a better job? Let us answer those questions with the information we can find.
Do the Devils Allow a Lot of Shorthanded Offense?
The best place to start is here. It is one thing for the Devils to allow 11 shorthanded goals. It is another if they are allowing opponents to regularly have a crack at whoever is in net in what should be a man-advantage situation for the Devils. Fortunately, Natural Stat Trick has all of the team stats to provide an answer. Since Wednesday night, here are how the Devils rank in Corsi (shot attempts), shots, goals, expected goals, scoring chances, and high danger scoring chances against, both by count and by rate. I am including rate since not every team has played the same number of games and there is a lot of variation in the amount of power play ice time they have had this season.
In short, the answer is yes. Oh, is the answer yes.
The New Jersey Devils are in the bottom of the league across the board. Whether it is by raw count or per-60 minute rates, the Devils have allowed opposition penalty kills to attack. They have allowed a lot of attempts, shots, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances. The result is not just the most shorthanded goals allowed, but the most expected shorthanded goals allowed. Even if the goaltenders were meeting the Natural Stat Trick expected goals model, the Devils would still be on the higher end of giving up shorthanded goals. This chart adds another dimension to the pain inherent in knowing the Devils have allowed 11 shorthanded goals. They allow a lot of opportunities and outright scoring chances to the other team on their power plays too.
By the way, all 11 shorthanded goals allowed by the Devils this season were on scoring chances per Natural Stat Trick. 7 of those 11 were high-danger chances. Once again, MDCAs matter too.
As a related issue, is this a function of the Devils’ power play being particularly high event both ways? No. The Devils have the fourth lowest rate of attempts made, the lowest rate of power play shots for in the league, and the second lowest high danger scoring chance rate in the league. Their SCF/60 is just outside of the bottom ten and their goals for per 60 is 6.7, which is just outside of the bottom ten too. The expected goals model at NST has the Devils’ power play at 5.79 for the season, which is the fifth lowest in the NHL. If you want a visual aid, look at this Tweet, citing Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy’s heat map for the Devils’ power play unblocked shots relative to league average.
The NJ Devils mostly seem like a decent team getting terrible goaltending, but also this PP viz is wild. Compare it to, I don't know, some team chosen at random. pic.twitter.com/500sW6ZoYC— draglikepull (@draglikepull) March 24, 2022
For those who cannot see it, the Devils’ power play has largely been firing away from the center point. That is where the defenseman usually is on the Devils’ power play units. Not where Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, Pavel Zacha, etc. are on the ice. No, the power play is driven by defenders jacking up shots from one of the least successful parts of the ice to score from. The picture on the right is Toronto’s power play, a far more successful one and, not coincidentally, taking shots closer to the net much more often.
Mind you, this is for the whole season. Whatever gains made in February and perceived gains made in January are included - and the Devils are still near the bottom. Oh, and the Devils’ power play isn’t firing shots in at 25% anymore. Anyone who tells you that the Devils fixed their power play either does not know all of this or does not want to know.
The 2021-22 Devils power play is not a case where the Devils create a lot of opportunities and their ways yield a lot in response. No, the Devils’ power play does not create much offense relative to other teams and allow the opposition to attack much more than the rest of the NHL.
Did These Shorthanded Goals Matter?
A shorthanded goal is just any goal scored against a team with a power play. An empty netter against a team with a man advantage frantically trying to get back into the game? A shorthanded goal scored amid a rout? A backbreaker as witnessed in Toronto three times this season, twice just this past Wednesday? All of them count the same as SHGAs. What this means is that a closer look at all eleven will show whether they were particularly costly in the context of the game.
Fortunately, NHL.com makes it easy to identify which games had shorthanded goals in it. The Devils have given up 11 shorthanded goals in 10 games. It began on November 2, 2021 in Anaheim and the Devils have allowed at least two per month since then. In each game, the Devils had at least 3 power play opportunities in it. This meant opposing teams had more than just knowledge on paper about what the Devils would do with a man advantage and how they were performing in the game. The Devils themselves only scored a PPG in three of those ten games. Wednesday’s loss to Toronto was the first time this season the power play was a net -1 in goal differential while scoring a power play goal. What this means
After looking into the game and event summaries of all ten games, I have noted the following in this chart.
The vast majority of these shorties mattered. A lot. Nine out of eleven of them turned a one-goal deficit into a two-goal deficit, equalized the game, or (most common) broke the tie against the Devils. Wednesday’s loss to Toronto was the most obvious example. The first loss to Toronto this season also featured a game winning goal against during a Devils power play. As did the December 11 game on Long Island. Only the first and fifth shorthanded goals extended already established leads in those respective games. The game in Anaheim was the one and (so far) only time the Devils were shutout. Isac Lundestrom’s SHG just made the score worse. The December 14 game against the Flyers was a garbage game featuring a sick Blackwood getting lit up. All of the others had a major impact at the time when they were scored. This is why 11 shorthanded goals irks so many fans of a team that has allowed close to 230 of them. They really hurt in these games.
The timing of the shorthanded goals furthers their impact. Only Teddy Bleuger’s shorty on December 19 opened the game’s scoring and was scored within the first ten minutes of the game. Of the three first-period SHGAs, two were scored within the final three minutes and certainly spoiled any plans going into intermission. Except for Lundestrom’s and Horvat’s shorthanded goals, the second and third period SHGAs were scored in the second half of their respective periods. Perhaps fatigue, run of play, and repeated power plays were contributing factors as to what happened. Even if it is not, it is a sad coincidence that, again, makes these 11 GAs hurt more than most other goals allowed. Had a couple of those been stopped or never even had a chance to exist to be stopped, then perhaps the Devils find some ways to win, or get a couple more points out of it. Maybe the Devils are not 0-3-0 against Toronto this season, for example.
As a quick note, the Devils have been leaking shorthanded goals to both quality, playoff-bound teams like Toronto, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota, and not-so-quality, non-playoff teams like the Isles, Philly, Anaheim, and (maybe) Vancouver. This is not a case of only superior teams blasting the Devils’ power play or teams in a similar standing situation with rest to the postseason just picking on the PP. The quality of the team does not matter so much.
What is surprising to me was that one cannot blame a single goalie here. No one goaltender was particularly prone to these goals allowed. Only Scott Wedgewood (and technically Andrew Hammond so far) has escaped the damage of a SHGA among the six goaltenders the Devils have used this season. Everyone else has felt it from Schmid to Daws. Mackenzie Blackwood and Jon Gillies both lead the group with 3 allowed. In Blackwood’s case, the latter one was in a game he should not have been started in by Ruff. In Gillies’ case, he replaced Nico Daws in March 15’s game in Vancouver. This is not a case where one can say, “This goalie gave up notably more shorties than the other goalies; therefore, he may be part of the problem.” That it is more than one suggests larger issues at play. And possibly that all of the goalies are not all that and/or a bag of chips.
As one final not-fun fact: the Devils are 1-8-1 when they allow a shorthanded goal. Three of those eight losses were losses by one goal. Once again, these shorthanded goals have largely been costly to the team’s efforts. Unless you are a follower of Sherman Abrams, this has not helped.
What Happened on These 11 Shorthanded Goals?
A whole lot of mistakes. Here’s a list with a link to each goal and a quick description of where things went wrong.
- November 2, 2021, at Anaheim - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Derek Grant battling for puck control with Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier along the wall in the Devils’ zone. Yes, this SHGA came from a penalty kill’s forecheck. Bratt with support from Pavel Zacha seemingly knocks it away from Grant. But Isac Lundestrom stick-checks it away from Hischier. Grant wins a stick-battle with Zacha to get the puck. He curls as P.K. Subban goes after him, Bratt and Dawson Mercer (with a stick in the passing lane) are now engaged. Lundestrom is open entering the slot. He gets the pass, spins to keep the puck away from Hischier, get around Bratt, and slide one past Jonathan Bernier’s left pad. Not a good goal for any Devil there.
- November 24, 2021, vs. Minnesota - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Jonas Brodin rimming a puck around the boards from behind his own net. No one is on the near side of the boards. Freddie Gaudreau collects it and has a 2-on-1 with Nico Sturm against Hamilton. Hamilton goes down on his knees and stretches out his stick, but Gaudreau saucered the pass over to Sturm. Sturm one-times it in past Mackenzie Blackwood’s right. I do not know why no one was back but Hamilton, who was already in his own zone. Perhaps they were just changing lines I did see Jimmy Vesey and Subban out there, but that is a guess.
- November 28, 2021, vs. Philadelphia - SHGA Video - The puck is along the nearside wall high up in Philly’s zone with Sean Couturier, Zacha, Vesey, Hischier, and Provorov battling. Dougie Hamilton is at the right point, Subban is towards the left point, and Scott Laughton is above Hamilton. Provorov chips the puck out of the battle right to Laughton. Hamilton’s already beaten before Laughton collects the puck. He breaks away and has a step on Subban. Subban cannot deny or foul Laughton, who goes down the middle of the zone. Laughton cut to his right and beat Blackwood with a backhander. Not a good goal to allow by the goalie and absolutely shameful for how it happened from just a board battle lost given how many red jerseys were nearby.
- December 11, 2021, at Islanders - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Bratt leading a breakout. He dropped pass the puck to Hughes in the neutral zone, who then makes a pass for Zacha to gain entry. Zacha’s timing is off, so the pass hits his skates and gets loose. Justin-Gabriel Pageau fights off the loose puck from Zacha, which goes down the far side wall. Scott Mayfield beats out Hughes to it and fires it ahead. Pageau misses the loose puck, but darts ahead to retrieve it ahead of Hamilton. While Zacha is backchecking, Zach Parise is streaking down the middle. Pageau makes a turnaround diagonal pass to spring Parise for the breakaway. Parise beats Akira Schmid five-hole. The first SHGA created from a bad zone entry this season.
- December 14, 2021, at Philadelphia - SHGA Video - The clip begins with a breakout by the Devils. Zacha passes back to Bratt, who carries the puck through the neutral zone. After crossing the blueline, he passes a puck towards Andreas Johnsson. The pass goes through Johnsson’s legs and past his stick. As Johnsson glides away from the play, Hughes passes the puck back towards the point, hoping for Hamilton to get it. Hamilton does and one-touches it off the blueline before a Flyer could get to it. The one-touch pass bounces off the boards, which is easy for Provorov to get to with two Devils along the boards away from it. Provorov immediately fired a pass up ice to Cam Atkinson in the neutral zone. Atkinson leads a 2-on-1 with Oskar Lindblom against Hamilton. Atkinson kept the puck and rifled one over a crouching Blackwood, who was sick this night but Ruff started him anyway. Another SHGA created by a zone entry going awry.
- December 19, 2021, vs. Pittsburgh - SHGA Video - Hughes collected a pass at the right point. Not seeing a clear option ahead of him - Brock McGinn was closing down on him - he decided to pass the puck to Hamilton at the center point. The pass was not clean as it wobbled slowly towards Hamilton. This gave Teddy Blueger enough time to pick it off, chipping the puck to the center circle. He beat Hamilton, who fell, to the puck, went off on a breakaway, and tucked in a shot through Jon Gillies’ stretched out legs for the game’s first goal. A bad pass high up in the zone created this SGHA.
- January 27, 2022, vs. Tampa Bay - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Bratt leading the breakout from his own zone. He tries to pass the puck to Nathan Bastian for the zone entry. Mathieu Joseph, who was in the lane between Bratt and Bastian and locked onto Bratt throughout the breakout, picked off the pass. He collects it to start a 2-on-1 with Bellemare against Severson. Backcheckers and Severson focus on Bellemare, so Joseph shot the puck. Gillies stopped the shot, left a rebound, no one on New Jersey covered the rebound or Joseph, so Joseph put in his own rebound. Another failed zone entry creating a SHGA.
- January 31, 2022, at Toronto - SHGA Video - The clip begins with the Devils getting set up in their 1-3-1 formation. Under pressure, Hughes passes back to Severson at the center point. That pass was good. Severson, seeing Alexander Kerfoot engaging him, turns and passes to Hischier. Hischier looked for a seam pass, did not see an opening, and passed back to Severson. As Kerfoot pointed to Ilya Mikheyev what to do, Severson quickly passed it to Hischier. Hischier, thinking he caught the Leafs unaware, attempted a cross-ice pass to Hughes. Only that Kerfoot was still in the lane, so the pass hits off his stick. The puck goes loose. Severson activates to try and get it, only for Mikheyev to knock the defender’s stick away to keep the puck loose. Kerfoot charged ahead to lead a 2-on-1 with Mikheyev against Severson. Severson skated hard to get back - only to completely cover nobody on the 2-on-1 and leave his stick outside of a passing lane from Kerfoot to Mikheyev. Schmid was focused on the puck carrier, Kerfoot, so he was beaten backdoor by one of the easiest assists Kerfoot would ever have. Mikheyev smashed the close-range one-timer to break a 4-4 tie. This was Severson’s worst moment this season. I hope.
- March 15, 2022, at Vancouver - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Hischier in the corner but Vancouver getting a puck past him. Quinn Hughes sees his brother Jack Hughes coming after him, but Quinn found a wide open lane to Bo Horvat heading out of the zone. He nails Hortvat with the pass in stride. Hamilton is backchecking but before he could catch up to Horvat laterally, he is by the top of the right circle. Horvat froze Gillies with a hard wrister off the left post and in. This was more of a case of the PK finding a hole in the Devils’ power play after they failed to have possession.
- March 23, 2022, at Toronto #1 - SHGA Video - The clip begins with Subban skating the puck towards the New Jersey blueline and making a long drop pass to Yegor Sharangovich. Sharangovich skates the puck through the neutral zone, trying to get around Ilya Mikheyev - who was the forechecker who backed off from the drop pass. Mikheyev’s teammate, Kerfoot, was at the blueline. He was in a perfect position to stop Sharangovich, force the turnover, and make a short pass to Mikheyev. Mikheyev gets past Subban, goes around Daws, and puts home the shorthanded goal. Another zone entry failure leading to a SHGA.
- March 23, 2022, at Toronto #2 - SHGA Video - The clip begins with a breakout led by Bratt. Bratt drop passed the puck to Hughes at the red line. Hughes passed the puck back to Bratt to carry the puck in over the line. Ilya Lyubushkin steps up on Bratt and streches out his stick. Bratt tries to drop pass it back to a teammate. While Severson was behind Bratt and Hughes was not far away, the drop pass missed both. Pierre Engvall picks up the loose puck and charges ahead for a 2-on-1 with Alex Nylander against Hamilton. Hischier skates hard to catch up to Nylander. Hamilton decides to go down to his belly and stretch out his stick to surprise Engvall and knock the puck away. Engvall read the dive, pulled the puck back to protected, recovered his forehand, and then ripped one past Daws’ left. Another zone entry failure and, honestly, not a great goal to allow.
Across these 11 goals, I noticed several things.
- Multiple Devils were involved in the mistakes involved. Just as no one goaltender has been more liable for shorthanded goals against, this is not a case of one or two players being particularly awful. Defensemen involved in getting beat or making an error included Subban, Severson, and Hamilton. Forwards involved included Hughes, Bratt, Hischier, Zacha, Johnsson, and Sharangovich.
- A common phrase I kept typing is “zone entry failure.” Whether it was in the act of crossing the blueline or just after gaining the zone, a turnover or bad pass or bad read often went the other way. Five out of the eleven shorthanded goals were created in this manner.
- Related to this, I counted eight out of the eleven shorthanded goals being created high in the opposition’s zone, above the dots.
- Another common phrase I kept typing was 2-on-1. The clips show some shameful 2-on-1 defending. That the shame comes from experienced, veteran defensemen like Severson and Hamilton is telling.
While all 11 of these plays featured real errors and failures to execute, that certain ones happened multiple times and multiple, different players made these failures mean that this is not an issue of solely execution. Remember, the Devils are not just the league leaders in shorthanded goals allowed; they are also among the “league leaders” in shorthanded attempts, shots, and scoring chances too. This cannot be explained by just a whole heap of bad moments.
Why Do the Devils Allow a Lot of Shorthanded Attempts, Chances, and Goals?
The short answer: the plays the Devils run for its breakouts and power play formation lends itself to those execution errors being so costly. In other words, it is the system as defined, drawn up by, and coached by Mark Recchi.
As a refresher, here is the system that they have run for the most part this season:
- The Devils typically break the puck out of their zone with one or two players. Often, the first player to carry the puck will drop it back for the second. It does vary whether this is before the Devils leave their own zone or it is done in the neutral zone. The other forwards go ahead and wait for the puck carrier to make the decision on the entry.
- The zone entry is typically with control, either by the puck carrier skating into the opposition’s zone or a pass made to someone waiting at the blueline.
- After the zone entry, the puck carrier often seeks to make a move. This can be a short drop pass to someone just gaining the zone behind them. This can be a short pass nearby to get past a defender. Earlier in the season, you would see a reverse - a dump-in along the boards to move the puck to the other side. The Devils have gone away from reverses in recent months. The goal is to get the puck to enough space with enough control for the team to set up in their formation.
- The formation is a 1-3-1, a common power play formation in the NHL. This means one player is back by the blueline, roaming from side to side. Three players are in the middle of the zone - one on each side and one in the middle as a “bumper” to draw attention or crash the net as needed. The bottom one is someone in front or by the net.
- Lots of teams run a 1-3-1 formation. The details make a big difference as to how each team uses it. What the Devils typically do is move the puck between the two side forwards and the defenseman. The “bumper” player remains mostly in the middle to try to keep the penalty killers honest about covering the slot. The bottom one would be someone to stand in front of the net; this was Nathan Bastian for the past few months until recent games. The two side forwards would look for seam passes to create cross-ice one-timers/shots. Any long shots from the defenseman would be aided by the traffic caused by the man in front of the goalie (and possibly the bumper).
- Also until recent games, the Devils would play with four forwards and a defenseman. Since the trade deadline ended, the primary unit has now featured both Severson and Hamilton - two right-handed shooting defenders. The secondary unit against Our Hated Rivals had Ty Smith with P.K. Subban. Personnel may change as needed.
On paper, this does not seem too out of the ordinary. However, that detail about who often touches and moves the puck is a big one. It is a big reason why a team with Hughes, Bratt, Hischier, etc. has so many unblocked shots coming from the defenseman’s spot on their power play. Once again, here is that heat map. You would think a power play with the Devils’ talent would be more like Toronto’s heat map, but no, the Devils’ heat map is far different.
The NJ Devils mostly seem like a decent team getting terrible goaltending, but also this PP viz is wild. Compare it to, I don't know, some team chosen at random. pic.twitter.com/500sW6ZoYC— draglikepull (@draglikepull) March 24, 2022
Opposition penalty killers know this and therefore their forwards often put a lot of pressure on the side forwards and the defensemen to stop plays. A bad pass, an interception, a block, or just a miss this high up in the opposition’s zone can easily create a glorious opportunity for the shorthanded team to counter-attack. Sure, the Horvat shorthanded goal and Sturm shorthanded goal show how they can still be made from deep in their own end, but it is not a coincidence that a turnover or a lost puck in the upper half of the zone has cost the Devils so dearly.
Likewise, the Devils’ zone entries leave a lot to be desired. Whether it is in the neutral zone or in their own end, the drop pass is supposed to allow the receiver to find space in the opposition to make the entry in theory. In practice, the Devils are prone to just playing into the opposition’s hands. Whether that forces a dump-in at best, a denied zone entry, or, worse, a turnover or lost puck that the opposition can jump on, the zone entry process has been risky for New Jersey. Opposing penalty killers know that one player can force the drop pass on a forecheck and they will have enough time to drop back and have four players defend the blueline. This makes it hard for the Devils to cleanly get through the zone, which contributes to their relatively low amount of offense created with a man advantage. And, again, when opponents make a play to force a turnover or a Devil makes a mistake, then it quickly becomes a dangerous situation. If you are lamenting why so-and-so made a drop pass after gaining the zone or tried to beat a penalty killer head-on, then you need to understand that the players are following orders. And to not a lot of success either. The risk involved in their zone entries has not been worth the reward so far.
Furthermore, if players are executing poorly on defending 2-on-1s or making passes, then it is contingent on the coaches to sort that out. Whether that is through video sessions, drills, meetings, practices, or even changing personnel. I can understand, especially in a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush, that it is a heat of the moment situation and a lot of energy is often spent just to keep up. Bad decisions may be more likely. But, again, the defenders involved have been in the league for a while and the coaches behind the bench have also been in the league a while. With all of this experience, a solution needs to be figured out. The solution is not figuratively throwing up your hands and saying “Well, they messed up and it was stupid and that’s why they gave up a shorty/lost the game.” More needs to be done.
Unfortunately, I would not that expect to happen. The Devils are 64 games into their 82 game season. While there have been some minor (e.g. I am seeing fewer reverses upon zone entries), not that effective tweaks to the power play, the coaching staff seems more interested in changing personnel around instead of trying to address the systemic issues that have led the Devils to bleed so much shorthanded offense. Again, this past week saw the first unit drop Bastian to put two right-shooting defensemen out there. You would think with the bad goaltending and relative-to-the-league low power play success rate they would at least want to stem the bleeding. Then I see what happened on Toronto just two days ago and realize that is not happening.
Between 11 shorthanded goals allowed, being at or near the bottom in shorthanded offense allowed, a relatively low power play success rate, and players with experience making a lot of mistakes that are not being corrected, it is clear that what Mark Recchi has set this team up to do on power plays is not working. Given that the majority of the shorthanded goals allowed have been costly, the 11 allowed have cost the Devils precious points in the standings. I am sure some of the People Who Matter are running to the comment section to defend Mark Recchi for some reason. I honestly do not know how anyone can defend this as good, acceptable, or even not that bad. The power play results are not there unless you pretend entire months of the season do not exist. The stats are worrisome to put it lightly. The process is flawed enough that even I, a mere hockey blogger, can explain the flaws and how it leads to their shorthanded issues. And, again, the Devils have allowed the most shorthanded goals in the league. I my view, I do not see how this is acceptable at all. Mark Recchi cannot continue coaching this team’s power play if the Devils want to have an actually good one. Or at least one that is not giving up costly goals to penalty killers.
I understand he may not be fired now. Fine. It can be done after this lost season. Then he can go become one of the many talking heads on TSN6 to talk about his experience as a player, and stop hindering the Devils. Or he can get a burner account online and trash talk bloggers like me. Or coach the Rangers’ power play and tell Jacob Trouba to jack up fifty-footers whenever possible. I don’t care what Recchi does. I bear no ill will for the man. I just do not want him in charge of the Devils’ power play anymore after this season.
OK, So Who Should Be In Charge Then?
Great question. I would think General Manager Tom Fitzgerald and his staff is going to be more familiar with coaches who are coming out of contract and coaches who would jump at the chance to coach in the NHL and/or coach Hughes, Bratt, Hischier, and Hamilton on a power play. This is not exactly public information like a player’s contract coming out of contract. I have some ideas on where they can start to look at least. Some brainstorming, if you will.
Consider the American Hockey League. NHL teams all have affiliates there and many use their minor league teams to try out concepts and plays as well as develop personnel both on and off the ice. There are two teams there in particular I think the Devils should look to see if any of their coaching staff would be interested in making a move to the NHL sooner rather than waiting for the parent club to give them a shot.
The first is San Jose’s affiliate. The San Jose Barracuda currently has the fewest shorthanded goals allowed in the AHL with two. This is not to say their power play is an issue. No. At 51-for-240, they have a solid 21.3% success rate. Roy Sommer has been an AHL head coach for a supremely long time. Outside of a midseason stint as an associate coach in 2019-20, Sommer has not been in the NHL since he was an assistant in San Jose since 1997-98. Sommer is likely unavailable as he appears to be a franchise lifer; but if one of his assistants is in charge of that power play - Jimmy Bonneau? Michael Chiasson? - then the Devils should at least inquire.
The other is the Ontario Reign, who already clinched a playoff spot in March. They are Los Angeles’ affiliate and the team has plenty of young players for the future (e.g. Alex Turcotte, Akil Thomas, Samuel Fagemo, Jaret Anderson-Dolan) supplanted with veterans. The Reign are the current leaders in the AHL in terms of power play success rate, 26%, with just three shorthanded goals allowed. Their head coach is John Wroblewski, who is in his second season with Ontario after being the head coach for the USNTDP (2 for U-17, 2 for U-18) and USHL rosters from 2016 to 2020. Jack Hughes, among others, probably knows him well. Unless he has been promised something in L.A., it would not be the worst idea to see if he’s interested in moving up for his first NHL job with a different organization. Again, if it turns out his assistants, Chris Hajt or Craig Johnson, have been more responsible for the power play, then perhaps that should be the direction. Again, I do not know if they are actually available; but it is a suggestion on where and what the organization can look for.
Of course, the Devils do not need to look to other team’s minor league squads for new ideas. They can simply look within. The Utica Comets’ power play has not been too shabby either with a success rate of 20.7%. Their 36-for-174 rate could be better if the Comets were able to draw more man advantages; 174 power plays is the fewest in the AHL. Regardless, the Comets’ power play has also given up just three shorthanded goals all season. Kevin Dineen has become a name that some fans would like to see replace Lindy Ruff. After all, Ruff has coached the Devils to a record that could be their worst in the salary cap era while Dineen has bossed the Comets to the top of the North Division with at least 11 points ahead of second place. If management is not comfortable with Dineen getting another shot in the NHL right away, then why not as an assistant? Likewise, if the Comets power play is more under the control of the assistants Sergei Brylin - who has been an AHL assistant for a long time - or Ryan Parent, then why not give them the promotion? At the least, the Comets who could become Devils in the near future would know what to expect from them.
Lastly, the Devils could always trawl the NHL for assistants becoming free agents from fired coaching staffs. It may be a re-tread option. However, given that the Devils have one of the least productive power plays in the league and have allowed the most shorthanded goals, it would be hard to find someone with less success than Recchi. I would recommend the Devils avoid whoever has been coaching the power play in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or Montreal. All three teams have worse success rates than the Devils this season (15.9%, 13.4%, and 13.9%, respectively) and have allowed a lot of shorthanded goals too (9, 8, and 8, respectively.)
I apologize for not having a laundry list of names, but these are some areas to look at from the professional level. I am open to suggestions from college, junior, or European leagues for those who want someone well outside of the organization for the power play. Something I am very willing to accept given that the current voice of Recchi has not yielded an effective power play in New Jersey.
To briefly summarize all of the major points in this post:
- The Devils have allowed the most shorthanded goals in the NHL with 11 as of Wednesday, March 23, 2022.
- The Devils have also allowed a lot of shorthanded offense in the NHL. They are among the worst or the worst when it comes to allowing attempts, shots, chances, and expected goals during their power plays.
- A majority (9) of those 11 shorthanded goals allowed were costly in the games when they were scored in. A majority of them (8) were all scored in the second half of periods, too.
- There did not appear to be a difference between the quality of the opponent scoring the shorthanded goals. Only Toronto (3) and Philadelphia (2) have scored multiple shorthanded goals against the Devils this season.
- No one goaltender has given up a majority of shorthanded goals so far this season.
- Most of those shorthanded goals were created high up in the opposition zone, with five of the eleven coming off zone entries gone awry or denied.
- Multiple Devils skaters made errors that have led to these goals, which suggests that it is not just one or two players performing poorly or making repeated errors more than most.
- The systems the Devils use to break out on their power plays, gain the zone with a man advantage, and attack on the power play are reasons why they have given up as much shorthanded offense as they have as well as the shorthanded goals against them.
- Options to replace Recchi include AHL teams with successful power plays not getting lit up in their own end, including the Devils’ own affiliate in Utica. NHL options will likely be available after the season; the Devils should avoid coaches who were in charge of the handful of power plays worse than the Devils with nearly as many shorties allowed.
- Mark Recchi should not be the coach of this power play. The results, on-ice stats, and the continued errors driven at least in part by his systems all justify it.
Thank you, Mark Recchi, for the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils power play and their league-worst 11 shorthanded goals allowed. Now, please stop.