After a surprisingly successful start to their season, the New Jersey Devils were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday afternoon against the Rangers. It was a disappointing end to the season for Devils fans, but looking ahead to next year, there are some things they can do to have a better run next time around.
Put the puck in the net. Shooting was not the issue for the Devils. It was getting the puck past the goal line. In their last 13 games, they outshot their opponents 401-257, and still only managed to win two of those games. They were also shutout for 3 of those losses. Clearly they’re getting the chances, but with Ilya Kovalchuck out for most of those games, no one else was able to step up and turn the shots into goals. Including in overtime. Ilya was the only Devil this season to score an OT goal. Come on Devs.
Hope the stars stay healthy. Speaking of Kovy, it’s crucial for the Devils to stay healthy. Of course, this is something they don’t have much control over, but it was a significant issue for New Jersey this season. Goalie Martin Brodeur was out for 12 games in the middle of the season with a back injury and soon after, forward Ilya Kovalchuk was out for a few weeks with a separated shoulder. Without Marty, the Devils were 3-7-2. Without Kovalchuk, the Devils were 1-6-4. It’s tough to put all the weight on one or two guys, but it’s evident that the Devils were desperately missing their top players.
Fix the goaltending situation. Devils fans have been loyal to Marty Brodeur for more years than a lot of fans have even been alive. But it’s nearing time they find someone new. With Marty going into the last year of his contract next season, the Devils really need to start searching for their new man in net. Backup goalie Johan Hedberg is only one year younger than Marty, so there’s no use in looking to him, either. Being the oldest team in the league, the Devils need to use the upcoming draft and off-season to gain some youth.
Figure out overtime. The Devils had a league-leading 10 overtime losses this season.
Get back to being tough. The Devils are no “Broad Street Bullies” or “Big Bad Bruins”, but they are perfectly capable of playing a tough, physical game. So far in this shortened season, the Devils are tied for 28th in the league with only 16 fighting majors. There have certainly been times when the Devils could have used a spark in their most recent losing streak—a solid fight could have been just the thing to get a game back on track. They have plenty of guys that can land a big hit or drop the gloves; next season they need to find their hunger again.
Something they did right: They New Jersey Devils have an incredible 11 short-handed goals this season. The average for the rest of the league is about 4.