We’re already a quarter into the second-half of the season as we head into the all-star break. After seeing their four-game winning streak snapped by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils are out of the playoff picture by a mere hair, but have 32 games left to change that. Devils Army Blog staff writers Alex Chauvancy, Brett Minieri, and Nick Papadimas share their thoughts in this edition of Writers Roundtable, on what they’ve seen from the Devils in the early stages of the 2016 section of this season. Our writers weigh in on the Devils power play, what to expect from Adam Larsson, and how to handle Cory Schneider down the stretch.
One of the less-favorable highlights for the Devils this month, were the results they yielded on the power play. After spending the majority of the season with one of the top-ten power play corps in the league, the Devils only converted on 4 of 31 opportunities in 2016. Why have things gone south for the Devils on the man-advantage?
AC: It’s no coincidence that the Devils snapped an 0/19 slump with the man advantage when Josefson returned against Ottawa last week and helped set up two power play goals. Even though he doesn’t rack up points, he plays a pretty important role on the power play. He sets up along the half wall and usually makes pretty good decisions with the puck. It enables the power play to get going and allows Palmieri to move back to the left side, which makes the man-advantage much more effective for the Devils.
BM: Offensive players go through slumps. So too, do offensive units. For my money, the Devils simply haven’t gotten the dirty goals. Tips, deflections, rebounds, second, third and fourth attempts, etc. There’s no Toews or Ovi or Benn on this team—this lunch pail group has to get down low and get in the mix. Some of it’s been a bit of bad luck—a great save here, a hit post there…but as any coach would tell you, sometimes you create your own luck.
NP: Over the past month prior to New Jersey’s 6-3 win against Ottawa, the Devils’ power play was unsuccessful during games. This was mainly due to the team missing firepower from forwards Mike Cammalleri and Jacob Josefson. With Josefson and Cammalleri back in the lineup, as we saw against the Senators, the Devils power play improved greatly.
I wrote in a recent article that the Devils could expect another big second-half from Adam Larsson. He has a goal and six points in his last nine contests, which almost matches his entire scoring output in the first-half of the season. I’m curious to see what everyone’s expectations are on Larsson between now and the end of the season?
AC: It certainly seems that way. He played some of his best hockey heading into the break and continues to be the Devils’ best defensemen this season. The Devils will need him to contribute offensively going forward. A big reason they won 4 of 5 heading into the break was because they were getting contributions offensively from Larsson and the rest of their defensemen. They’ll need more of it coming out of the break.
BM: I believe so. While many would argue his development hasn’t been as rapid (or consistent) as the Devils have hoped for, the 2011 #4 overall pick has been steadily progressing and playing solid hockey as of late. As with most young players, the key to cracking (and sticking) in the lineup is consistency. He’s got a good shot when he’s confident enough to launch it and makes solid outlet passes out of the zone. But for all the offensive potential he’s shown, defensive responsibility and sound positioning are the keys to a coach’s trust—and thus, staying in the lineup. He’s shown he’s capable of making the most of it. I hope his play continues to progress on this current trajectory. I’m sure the Devils do, too.
NP: As one of the top defensemen on the roster, Adam Larsson is without a doubt primed for another big second half playing alongside New Jersey Devils captain Andy Greene. The top defensive pairing of Andy Greene and Adam Larsson has averaged a combined 45:19 per game and they will continue to play big minutes each night heading into the push towards the the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With 42 appearances, Cory Schneider is tied with Corey Crawford for the most starts of any NHL goaltender this year. Cory has clearly carried the majority of the team on his back this season, and will play an instrumental role in how far this team will go in their final 32 games. If you’re Coach Hynes, how do you handle Schneider’s workload after the all-star break?
AC: If the Devils are still fighting for a playoff spot, which it certainly looks they will be, you’re going to have to work him as much as you possibly can. The Devils have a bunch of matchups with divisional opponents in the coming weeks and it’ll most likely determine whether the Devils will be in the playoffs or not. As long as, they’re in that position, just keep using him.
BM: Great question. Fatigue can affect players logging big minutes over the course of a season and if/when you’re making a playoff push, you want your most important player to be on the op of their game. To this point Cory has shown his ability (and desire) to be a workhorse just like Brodeur was. Starting 70 games isn’t out of the question for Schneider. Obviously you don’t wan to risk burn out and he’s still new at this “full season as a #1” thing…but he’s made himself an elite backstop in this league and a deserved All-Star. Having Cory fresh for any hopes of a playoff push is important, but I also believe he’s earned the right to play when he feels like it. The Devils have 5 back-to-back tilts in the second half so I expect that’s at least 5 chances for some rest. Fortunately, Keith Kinkaid has performed admirably when called upon and the Devils may have a nice asset for the future as well.
NP: Given that the All-Star Game is going to take a lot of energy out of Cory Schneider due to the new 3-on-3 format, Coach Hynes should split the workload evenly between Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid. With a tight schedule after the All-Star Break and a game the day after break concludes against our Hudson River Rivals, there is absolutely a good amount of opportunity for Keith Kinkaid to get some playing time while Schneider rests.