Devils’ penalty kill is struggling

Pat Pickens

A strong penalty kill has always been a hallmark of the New Jersey Devils success.

And a year ago, the Devils had arguably the greatest penalty-kill of all time.

The Devils killed an NHL-record 89.6 percent of power plays against and scored 15 shorthanded goals. New Jersey surrendered just 27 man-advantage goals a year ago.

Yet, through just 16 games of 2013, the Devils penalty kill has been an

Andrew Theodorakis Daily News/ Two of John Tavares' three goals Saturday night came on the power play. New Jersey's allowed seven power-play goals in four games against the Islanders this year.

Andrew Theodorakis Daily News/ John Tavares scores one of his two power-play goals on Saturday night. New Jersey’s allowed seven power-play goals in four games against the Islanders this year.

outright disaster.

Sure, New Jersey is 9-3-4 through the abbreviated-season’s first third. But New Jersey’s stance as an Eastern Conference power– and perhaps even a playoff team– could quickly dissipate if the Devils can’t kill penalties.

New Jersey’s PK entered Monday’s game with Ottawa with the 20th-ranked PK in the NHL, killing just 80 percent of its man-down situations. The Devils have allowed power-play goals in five of their last six games– eight power-play goals against in that spell– surrendering three in their 5-1 loss on Long Island Saturday night.

Perhaps last year’s postseason was a precursor to New Jersey’s penalty-killing problems. The Devils made Florida’s power play look downright dominant in round one, and that was just the beginning of their nightmares. New Jersey killed just 73.2 percent of power plays against last postseason– and many diehards will also recall the Kings’ three PP goals on Steve Bernier’s boarding major, which doomed New Jersey’s Stanley Cup chances in game six last June.

Whatever the reason, those failings have carried over to this year. The Islanders have been the Devils’ staunchest adversary, potting seven of the Devils’ 14 power-play goals against in four games thus far. Loyalists could point to the Isles’ standing as No. 2 PP in the entire sport, but a cynic could make the case that they’re getting fat off New Jersey’s PK failings.

One also could make the case that taking unnecessary penalties– like Bryce Salvador’s in the second period Saturday– leads to more power play chances. True. But taking penalties is an inevitability, and New Jersey simply must be better on its kill.

The Devils killed all four PPs they faced in their 2-1 shootout loss to the shorthanded Senators Monday. Maybe that’s a start.

Pat Pickens is a New Jersey native and lifelong Devils fan. Follow him on Twitter here.