Pete DeBoer's team is struggling to find chemistry on the first line
The New Jersey Devils have lost four straight games, including a 5-1 shellacking on Saturday in Pittsburgh, leaving head coach Pete DeBoer searching for answers. DeBoer has shuffled lines and defensive pairings, seeking to find the right chemistry between players in this shortened season, particularly on the crucial first line.
The Devils have utilized five players—Mattias Tedenby, Dainius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, Stefan Matteau and, most recently, Adam Henrique in the left wing position on the top line. It's a hole that was created when Zach Parise departed to Minnesota via free agency last July, and DeBoer hasn't been able to find the right player to jell with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk so far this season.
As DeBoer said in news conference, via YouTube, when asked what he's looking for from the left wing on the top line.
Some chemistry, some consistent production. It's not even someone that's going to score 50 goals. You're always looking for line chemistry like the Gionta-Carter-Bernier line have. So we'll move around until we feel we get that.
The lack of shots on goal has been an issue all season for the Devils, particularly in the first period, and Saturday's loss was no exception. They registered just 16 shots, including 13 in the first 55 minutes of play.
The defensive pairings have also been suspect, particularly the partnering of Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov. New Jersey's defensive corps has an average age of 30, and no pairing has looked slower or more out of sync than the 36-year-old Salvador and 30-year-old Volchenkov, who have combined for a minus-3 rating this season.
After the Devils were dominated by Pittsburgh, Martin Brodeur told northjersey.com:
It looked like their speed gave us a lot of issues. They threw some cross-ice passes with guys coming with a lot of speed, so our gap was hard to keep. They made plays and they got bounces off of us.
Fortunately, DeBoer will have another weapon to work with for Sunday's matchup vs. the Islanders, as New Jersey has called up Bobby Butler from Albany. Butler, who spent part of last season with the Ottawa Senators, has been making noise in the American Hockey League, registering 16 goals in 37 games. He has scored five power-play goals for Albany this season and was named to the AHL All-Star team last month.
If Butler's scoring prowess (which includes a four-goal, five-point performance on December 12 vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) can translate to the NHL, DeBoer will welcome the much-needed offensive production to a squad struggling to find its identity.