DGA's Devils Daily

Welcome to a new feature on Down Goes Avery (even though it isn't new anymore): the Devils Daily section.  Each day, I'll post a brief write-up that reflects my opinion and the state of the team, without any limited sarcasm.  I'll sound off on some things, I'll go on rants, I may write something longer than a novel or as short as Mattias Tedenby.  Who knows, maybe I'll even praise the Devils.  Well, probably not, but you get the idea...

MARCH 6th, 2013: Some thoughts in the midst of the worst slump since MacLean
  • First of all, let's get down to basics: the Devils don't look comfortable playing in front of Johan Hedberg right now.  When used properly, Hedberg is one of the elite backup goalies in the league, but he's struggling right now, and combined with the team's play, he's putting a lot of pressure on himself, and it simply isn't working.  He needs a break or this slump is not going to end soon.  No one on the team will admit it, but they look nervous playing in front of him right now.
  • Last regular season, throughout the playoffs and early this season, Pete DeBoer had the pulse of the Devils.  He seemed to figure out how to get the most out of everyone.  The players responded to him and he usually responded to the players.  Somewhere after the weekend when the Devils swept the Penguins home-and-home, he lost them.  It started with a sloppy loss to Carolina.  It wasn't noticed immediately, because the Devils rallied to beat the Flyers, but then they started to consistently play worse, possibly bottoming out last night against Tampa Bay.  The decisions he's making now are simply puzzling.
  • This season is too short to let things work themselves out.  The Devils are barely holding onto a playoff spot right now just weeks after watching the rest of the Conference look up to them.  I'm not sure how much longer the Devils can wait with DeBoer right now.  If the team isn't responding to him, a change is necessary to salvage this season.  It feels ridiculous to even suggest this after DeBoer took the team to the Cup Finals last season, but I think the team detects a sense of urgency to win a 4th Cup with Martin Brodeur still around.  The bottom line is that the rest of the league figured out DeBoer's forechecking game and Dave Barr's penalty kill.  It's not invincible anymore and DeBoer seems to be unable to adjust his system accordingly.  DeBoer has also not shown that he gets the most out of the younger players on the team.  Even last season, the way he treated Adam Larsson was a bit concerning.
  • Now, on to other problems.  Special teams have been another problem lately.  The power play has been mediocre for most of the season, which is a concern, but the penalty kill is operating at under 80% for the season.  The defensive breakdowns aren't limited to 4-on-5, though.  The Devils, who looked strong overall defensively early in the season, are breaking down much more often and they aren't getting the quality of goaltending they got earlier in the season to compensate. 
  • But if you ask DeBoer, offense is the reason the Devils are struggling.  He's partially right.  However, I believe that when your defense keeps breaking down, you spend more time in your own end and can't generate any offensive momentum.  This cycle eventually takes its toll on teams.  With that said, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zajac and David Clarkson have to contribute more than they have been offensively.  Since the Pittsburgh weekend, Clarkson has been virtually invisible.  Elias has had more down's than up's, Zajac has been extremely quiet and Kovalchuk has struggled as well.  In Kovalchuk's case, he simply isn't getting any puck luck.  Perhaps that's cost him some confidence, but he's something like 2 for his last 40 or so shots on goal.
  • So, the Devils have a lot of problems.  Some of them will work themselves out (Kovalchuk's shooting percentage will increase), but many of them won't.  If the Devils lose to Buffalo on Thursday, can they afford to leave things alone if they want to salvage this season?  I'm not trying to overreact, but I think a change is absolutely necessary.