Last year’s run to the Stanley Cup by the New Jersey Devils was characterized by three key elements. First, the Devils got healthy at exactly the right time, as Travis Zajac rejoined the roster in time for their deep playoff run. Second, the Devils found chemistry and lines that worked at the perfect time. Lastly, New Jersey utilized the most aggressive forecheck in the league to fluster their opponents while excellent goaltending allowed them to attack without fear.
Right now, the New Jersey Devils barely resemble the team that won the Eastern Conference last year.
For starters, the Devils aren’t healthy. They’re playing without Ilya Kovalchuk, and they’ve been without a top-six forward in Dainius Zubrus for most of the year. Martin Brodeur missed time with a pinched nerve, and his absence led to utter disarray. As the Devils collapsed, other teams caught up, and New Jersey is struggling to keep pace in the playoff race.
Line combinations have failed, and New Jersey seems at times to be searching for a replacement for Zach Parise. The top line isn’t nearly as talented as it was during their run to the Stanley Cup, and the Devils simply aren’t producing offensively. On defense, a rotation of eight different players fails to produce stability. Voids in the top line, failed defensive combinations and struggling scorers throughout the lineup overshadow the four-line depth that led to the Devils’ success.
Lastly, Peter DeBoer‘s sometimes-reckless forecheck bewildered opponents down the stretch last year. New Jersey abandoned a fourth line that was comprised almost entirely of enforcers in order to adopt a more aggressive approach. Finesse and tenacity led to wins as the Devils applied ferocious pressure and attacked defensemen while they handled the puck. New Jersey forced mistakes and won games, while Brodeur was able to make up for the occasional break down in the system.
This year, New Jersey isn’t surprising anyone with the forecheck. They also lack the elite skill that made their pressure so suffocating. Other teams may have figured out the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils can still get hot and make a run, but they’re struggling right now for obvious reasons. Coaching is refusing to adapt, the offense has gone cold and this team lacks chemistry. As they try to battle through injuries, the Devils roster simply isn’t deep enough to be competitive without Kovalchuk now, or Brodeur earlier in the year.
If they get healthy, this could be an incredibly dangerous team. Right now, the Devils are hemorrhaging points in a tight playoff race.