‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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The New Jersey Devils’ 2011-12 regular season penalty kill percentage of 89.6% was the greatest of all NHL teams since the 1968-69 season. It was their biggest strength during the season and even more vital than their well-balanced scoring depth.
Through three playoff games versus the Florida Panthers, their penalty kill percentage fell to an embarrassing 40.0%. Despite leading 3-0 before the midway point of the first period, the Devils gave up three powerplay goals and were eventually defeated 4-3 in Game 3.
The Devils have always prided themselves upon their strong penalty killing, intelligent defensive awareness, taking minimal penalties and the excellent goaltending of Martin Brodeur.
Devils fans saw none of these hallmarks when they returned to the Prudential Center on Tuesday night.
Brodeur was pulled early in the second period after giving up a couple of uncharacteristic ‘soft goals.’ Backup Johan Hedberg stepped-in and gave the Devils solidity between the pipes but by that point, New Jersey’s offense dried-up. Devils’ head coach Peter DeBoer explained his reasoning for the switch following the game:
“We’re up 3-0 and they pull their goalie, it’s a momentum-changing tactic and it works for them. The come back to 3-2, we go into the break after the first period and I thought it was an opportunity for us all to catch our breath and get our game back in order,” he said.
There isn’t any goaltending controversy according to DeBoer who told the media post-game, “No, Marty will start.”
Inside a somber Devils’ locker room, Patrik Elias was particularly hard on himself. “It started with me. I just made a stupid (decision) there. We were up three nothing, we got the momentum going and everything. I took a totally uncalled-for penalty,” he said.
Elias continued, “We were battling hard in our zone and then I just threw the puck away and it cost us another goal. You cannot put yourself and the team in such a position.”
Zach Parise sounded bullish in comparison to Elias. “The penalty kill was fine. They scored on some point shots but it’s not as if they were picking our penalty kill apart,” the Devils’ captain stated.
“We’ve got to learn. We’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. That’s the only way they’re generating offense, on their powerplay. That’s how they’re scoring their goals. We have to stay out, we can’t give them those opportunities,” Parise concluded.
The Panthers certainly possess talented powerplay lines and a terrific ‘powerplay quarterback’ in Brian Campell and a rocket point-shooter in Jason Garrison. Still, there’s no way the Devils’ penalty kill has suddenly become obsolete. They haven’t changed their system and are carrying the same personnel.
Is it a short-term scare? Maybe. Will the Devils’ penalty kill continue to struggle over the course of the series? I highly doubt their PK unit will perform as poorly in Game 4.
Will the Devils rediscover their penalty-killing form? Do you expect the Devils to advance to the next round? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to@HartnettWFAN.