New Jersey Devils: 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

Alex BaconCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2013

New Jersey Devils: 5-Step Plan to Avoid a Slow Start to 2013 Season

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    The New Jersey Devils started off the 2013 season with wins against the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers and will want to stay focused moving forward.

    If the Devils want to start the season hot, they will need to pick up right where they left off. Even without Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Petr Sykora on the team, the Devils can still play the same level of hockey they did last May.

    Peter DeBoer will once again coach the defending Eastern Conference champions, making it the first time the Devils have had the same coach in back-to-back seasons since Brent Sutter in 2009.

    DeBoer is no longer coaching alongside Larry Robinson and Adam Oates this season. Instead, he is joined by Matt Shaw and Scott Stevens.

    If DeBoer and company want to start off this season hot, they need to follow this five-step plan.

1. Convert on the Power Play

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    Last year, Adam Oates did some great work on the Devils’ power play, and this season Matt Shaw needs to at least match Oates’ success.

    Shaw, who was an assistant coach on the San Jose Sharks last season, did an amazing job conducting the power-play unit. He and the Sharks finished in second place in the NHL, converting on 21.1 percent of power plays.

    Shaw may not have the same personnel on the Devils that the Sharks had last season, but the Devils do have a few top offensive players who can—and should—put up great power-play numbers.

    If Shaw can bring the best out of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias on the power play early in the season, then the Devils will be winning a majority of their games.

2. Generate Offense from the Third and Fourth Line

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    A huge factor that contributed to the Devils’ success during the playoffs last season was their offensive depth.

    Not only did the Devils’ top two lines score goals, but the third and fourth lines did as well.

    The Devils’ fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier contributed for a total of 10 goals and 21 points during last season’s playoff run.

    This year, these three have been bumped up to the third line and will have more pressure on them. If they can play as well as they did during last year’s playoffs, then the Devils will get out of the gates early.

    With these three on the third line, the Devils have opened up space on the fourth line and would like to see some offensive contributions from there, too. As of now, Stefan Matteau, Cam Janssen and Jacob Josefson make up the fourth line, but things can change with Adam Henrique’s return.

    Matteau and Janssen both will bring grit, but if they bring offense too, then the Devils can climb the standings quickly this season.

    Janssen doesn’t have much offensive capability, but Matteau and Josefson are both first-round picks, and both can potentially contribute offensively.

3. Have Solid Goaltending

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    The Devils haven’t had to worry about goaltending for the past 18 years with Martin Brodeur between the pipes.

    This season may be different, though.

    The compact schedule may be tiring for the 40-year-old goaltender, which means that backup Johan Hedberg needs to play well when called upon this year.

    The Devils have a total of nine back-to-back games this season, so expect Hedberg to get the nod in net at least nine times.

    Hedberg isn’t a young goaltender either—he is 39 years old. DeBoer needs to find a happy medium between Hedberg and Brodeur if he wants to get the most out of the Devils’ goaltending.

4. Keep Last Season's Penalty Kill

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    Last season, the Devils set the record for the best penalty kill in the history of the NHL with an 89.5 percent efficiency.

    The Devils are hopeful that they can at least keep their penalty kill at about 85 percent this year after returning all the same defensemen from last season.

    The only missing piece from last year’s penalty kill is Zach Parise, who did an amazing job at the top of the box. If the Devils can replace his defensive play, then the team’s penalty kill can contribute to the team’s success early in the season.

    Not to mention that they will have Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens behind the bench to administrate the unit.

5. Stay Healthy

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    The only injury the Devils have to deal with to begin this season is Adam Henrique, who will return in about 10 days.

    If the Devils can stay healthy—which will be hard to do with a compressed schedule—then they will see success early on this season.

    The Devils are fragile. They are the only team whose average age is over 30 years old.

    Players like Jacob Josefson, Bryce Salvador, Henrik Tallinder, Martin Brodeur and Anton Volchenkov have all faced significant injuries within the past couple of years and need to stay healthy if the Devils want to play well to start the season.

    Patrik Elias, Danius Zubrus, Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene also are all injury-prone, considering that they are all over 30 years of age.

    Health played a huge factor in the Devils’ playoff run last season, and if they want to continue that success, they need to avoid injuries.