The drop-off just one season removed has been drastic. It was only last year that the Devils led the NHL with the best penalty-killing unit. Better yet, they were the best of all time, their 89.6 percentage the highest in league history.
So the present state of the Devils’ penalty kill, albeit just 15 games into this season, may be unexpected, but the unit remains resiliently confident. There is an acknowledgement that something is wrong, but also the belief that it will get fixed. Their record of success makes them believe as much.
"The good news is that it’s been consistently very good this year and in the past," coach Pete DeBoer said of the unit. "We believe it’s correctable, but we’re definitely going through a tough phase right now."
That may be an understatement, and a nod to the volatility of their penalty kill this season. After killing 19 straight penalties, they have given up at least one power-play goal in five straight games. Saturday night in Long Island, the Islanders rocked them for three power-play goals in a 5-1 victory.
The Devils now own the 19th-best penalty kill in the NHL as they’ve killed off 80 percent of opponents’ man-up opportunities. Over the past four games, they’ve allowed seven goals in 15 tries.
Yet, their captain, Bryce Salvador, coolly heads off any indication of systemic trouble.
"I think maybe last year where we were a little off we still found a way to maybe still get a stick in front of the shot or something," he said.
"I don’t think overall it’s a concern, we’ve just had bad outings against a few teams."
While Salvador could not offer a reason for the troubles, a few theories abound.
"We try and kill with an aggressive mind-set," DeBoer said. "Sometimes when it becomes over-aggressive, you get yourself out of position. And the same time, we’re not good when we’re passive, so we have to find that fine line."
Devils trying to figure out issues on penalty kill
Newark Star-Ledger | Feb 18