Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The Unspecial Teams
The question that Brent Sutter and the Devils must answer is: what must change to improve the Devils' penalty killing and the Devils' power play?
First, the penalty kill. The most important thing, I think, on any penalty kill is awareness. The Devils appear to play a passive box style of penalty kill. By slotting the four players around the slot, the Devils allow the other team to pass around the perimeter but not to get a clear shot on net or a clear pass across the slot. From what I've seen, where the Devils have failed is in being aware of who is moving around the box. This is almost as true on regular defense - opposition forwards have found ways to get into the slot and be free to do as they wish. In my opinion, the Devils need to start stepping up when an opposition player sneaks into the slot from the corner or if the opposition starts to perform a triangle style of power play. Instead of waiting until the play turns the players way, the Devils should attempt to clear the crease. No, they can't hit them - that would be interference - but there's no rule against taking away space from the player by closing in on them. That may yield a shooting lane, but if it's done right, Martin Brodeur or Kevin Weekes would be able to see the shot as they won't be screened; and the probability of a deflection or the opposition taking the requisite rebound will be greatly reduced. In short, I think the Devils need to be more assertive upon any opposing player looking to get closer to the crease on defense in general. I think it would force the opposition's attack to remain on the outside looking in and yield less traffic in front of Brodeur/Weekes. I'm not sure how that wouldn't be an improvement.
For the power play, I've noticed the Devils are looking to employ an umbrella formation with an offset point man, a man at the center of the point, and three more up front. I know Patrik Elias has a great shot and having him at the center of the umbrella would lead to many more options - a pass up front, a hard shot into traffic, a dump into the corner, or a pass to the other point man (usually Paul Martin). I haven't seen it too much, so I don't think it's a bad idea for Sutter to consider such a set up more often. But overall, I think the power play needs more options on offense. Too many times the power play seems to be a matter of just setting up a shot at the point which is usually ill-advised because the opposition's defenders are right there to block the shot or because there's so much traffic in front that the chance a shot would get on net would be slim at best. Not every power play should be an umbrella; Sutter should explore different formations at different points in the game. If the other team is being beaten silly around the boards, the Devils should cycle the puck in the corners while looking for an open pass. If there is a mis-match in coverage, the Devils should play a positional-based power play. If the goalie tends to give up lots of rebounds, overload the slot and just fire away at open shots. Even if it doesn't yield more goals, the Devils can find some new methods on how to approach a power play, generate offensive scoring chances and momentum, and use that to carry on through the rest of the game. Sticking to the same old thing, the Devils taking shots where opposing penalty killers are in positions to block said shots, has yielded little production. Mixing it up may yield a lot more. I think now is the time to take some chances.
The season is not over for New Jersey. But that doesn't excuse Sutter or the team for performing better. I think Sutter realizes this, as one can infer from Tom Gulitti's post Pittsburgh-debacle post. Still, I emphasize that the issues with the special teams must be addressed. Perhaps what I just wrote are terrible ideas; but given the results so far, the current approaches on special teams are just not working.
GET YOUR VCRS/DVRS READY: Per Tom Gulitti's blog, Fox Sports NY is honoring Scott Stevens with tomorrow's pre-game programming schedule. Yes, 7 hours of Stevens-related coverage. Why? Because he's Scott Stevens. Also, because he's going to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday to get inducted. Awesome.