Despite not playing their best hockey so far in 2013, the New Jersey Devils have managed to start the shortened season with a 3-0-1 record.
Although this is the best start the Devils have had since the 2002-03 season, most players and coaches agree that they are not doing enough things right early on. While every point counts with only 48 games to play this season, New Jersey knows they have to fix their issues in order to contend for a Stanley Cup.
DeBoer was unhappy with the Devils' first period again. "That’s three games in a row, so that’s something we have to fix.”— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) January 28, 2013
One of the biggest problems for New Jersey so far this season has been their penalty minutes. New Jersey currently ranks 23rd in the NHL with 31 penalties through four games, and it has gotten to a point where late mistakes are costing the team games.
The Devils threw away two games this weekend because of late penalties, but only one actually led to a loss. New Jersey blew a 2-0 lead in the third period against Washington on Friday because of two penalties and also lost last night's game against Montreal after Andy Greene committed a penalty in overtime that led to a goal.
New Jersey also has an issue finding a complete first line. Peter DeBoer has used three different players with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk in the past three games, but those changes have fallen through by the third period each time.
Mattias Tedenby and Stefan Matteau were given chances this weekend to prove themselves on the first line, but neither finished the game on the line they started with. While these two skaters are young and have a lot of potential, it doesn't seem like they are ready to play top line minutes.
Who Should Play on the Top Line with Kovy and Zajac?
Dainius Zubrus seems to be the best fit to play with Kovalchuk and Zajac, but he also seems to have the best chemistry when he plays with Patrik Elias. Zubrus had the game-tying goal last night against Montreal while Elias and David Clarkson each had three point nights.
New Jersey might not have an answer for their first line until Adam Henrique comes back from injury. Adding another center to the lineup may allow DeBoer to use Elias or Zubrus on the top line, but nobody will know that for sure until they see how Henrique rebounds from surgery.
Although there have been negatives so far this season, the Devils are still undefeated due largely in part because of the play of Martin Brodeur.
Despite taking the loss last night against Montreal, Brodeur is still 3-0-1 with a miniscule GAA of 1.69 and one shutout. DeBoer has personally called out Brodeur's play after the last two games, and it is unclear what the team's record would be without the future Hall of Fame goaltender in net.
New Jersey has also gotten great performances from their offense despite losing Zach Parise and missing Henrique until February. David Clarkson, Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk have combined for seven goals and 17 points through four games and each player is coming up with big goals when it counts.
Due to the lockout and the lack of preparation going into this season, it is no surprise that the New Jersey Devils have some flaws that need fixing. However, a 3-0-1 record to start is nothing to be disappointed about and the Devils have a lot of great things to look forward to early on in the season.
Teams are eventually going to evolve and we will start seeing the true talent levels of every team around the NHL. The Devils are off to a great start, but they will have to fix their issues if they want to return to the playoffs.