Despite being out of playoff contention, the New Jersey Devils put up a fight against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being without key players Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, and Kris Letang, the Penguins managed to take home two points in a 7-4 goal fest.
After being down 1-0 and being outplayed for the first part of the first period, the Penguins got gifted a goal off of a careless pass in the Devils zone, thus waking them up and helping the team realize they were losing to the worst team in the conference. Soon after, the Penguins began to hit their stride and extended their dominance over the Devils, despite a gutty performance from the young Devils team.
As the season draws to a close, the Penguins and Devils are heading towards different directions, one to the playoffs and the other to the offseason. Here are my thoughts on how legitimate a Penguins repeat this year is and what the Devils need to focus on in the offseason.
Pittsburgh Can Still Repeat, But It Isn’t Likely:
After winning the cup last year by out-skating every team and being unstoppable on the offensive end of things, the Penguins have played similarly well as of late. However, the problem that the Penguins will be facing this playoff season will be can they keep the puck out of their net.
Goalie Matt Murray, playoff hero a year ago, hasn’t been up to par as of late and has had a 3.00 GAA over the course of the past five games. Now everything can’t just be blamed on the goaltender because the game of hockey has defensemen for a reason. With star defenseman Kris Letang out for the playoffs with a knee injury, Pittsburgh will need to find a way to sure up the defense.
Giving up four goals to the worst team in the conference is not a good sign heading into the playoffs for the Penguins, and that needs to be fixed if the Penguins want to get past the likes of the Capitals, Canadians, or anyone for that matter in a tough Eastern Conference.
Despite that, the Penguins do still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two of the best players (one of which is arguably the best in the league for the past decade.) If there ever were a player to win a series on his own, it would be Sidney Crosby.
If you don’t believe me, just watch this clip of what he did last night.
The Devils Need Help, and a Lot of It:
As the worst team in the Eastern Conference, it is already clear that the Devils need some help. But, what specifically do the Devils need to do to get back to the glory days? Here is my checklist for the Devils this offseason
Add a goalscorer winger
The Devils need more goals and Taylor Hall, and Adam Henrique cannot do it all. Ideally, the Devils should look to bring in a goalscorer who cannot put the puck in the back of the net, but maybe even put some butts in the often empty Prudential Center seats.
The defense needs to be fixed, but not Cory Schneider
Schneider is a great goalie despite not having the best statistical season. What needs to happen though is the Devils need to get a pair of defensemen who do not make silly turnovers in front of their net. Last night, we witnessed that way too many times, and by adding a pair of veteran defensemen that are careful with the puck, the Devils could see a drastic increase in goal differential.
Young Is Good But Develop It
The Devils have a relatively young roster, and that is a good thing for a rebuilding team. What worries me is this though, the talent isn’t showing throughout the entire set of youngsters. When you are rebuilding, it is okay to have young guys play and for them to make mistakes. But, if you want to improve, you have to, over time, turn those mistakes into great plays. This year, I haven’t seen that too much from the Devils (other than Hall to name one) and going forward, coach John Hynes needs to get the most out of his youngsters if the Devils want to be good shortly.