Goaltending Losing a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and nine-time All-Star would set some teams well back, but the Devils should be in pretty good shape, even though Martin Brodeur is no longer with the club. That said, losing the security of Brodeur, who played 20 seasons with the club and was a linchpin on three Stanley Cup-winning clubs, will not be that easy. Devils fans should be cheered by the play last year of 28-year old Cory Schneider, who in 45 games logged a 1.97 GAA and posted a 16-15-12 record. His .921 save percentage was strong, and he was a sturdy goal-line presence on a team that ranked ninth in goals allowed last year. The Devils imported veteran Scott Clemmensen to back him up, although he has struggled the past two years. It’s time to see how well Schneider can handle a huge workload. There were times when Brodeur played 75 or more games. Schneider won’t have to do that much, but he will be in net quite often. Power Play After a 2012-13 season, during which Jersey converted on a woeful 15.91 percent of its power play opportunities, the team improved considerably, scoring on 19.5 percent of its chances. There isn’t one bigtime weapon on the man advantage; rather the Devils rely on a variety of people to score. The results—at least last year—are generally good. Adding Cammalleri to the mix should help. From 2005-09, he scored double-digit power play goals. Although his numbers have shrunk since then, he should contribute on the unit. Havlat hasn’t been that productive on the advantage either in recent seasons, but he has thrived there in the past. They’ll try to fit in with a group that includes Zidlicky (eight goals), Henrique (seven), Gelinas (five) and Jagr (five). The depth of Jersey’s options should put pressure on rival kills and allow the Devils to show a variety of different looks, the better to create uncertainty among opponents. Penalty Kill Just as New Jersey bumped up its power play success considerably last year, so too did the Devils get better stopping enemies from scoring with an advantage. It began in goal, where both Schneider and Brodeur were strong all year. But there was a lot more. Andy Greene played extremely well up top on the kill, which made it harder for rivals to initiate the passes that can lead Jaromir Jagr to good opportunities. Even though Bryce Salvador, another blue-line penalty killing stalwart, missed a good deal of time with a fractured foot, he was sturdy while out there. Jersey has a variety of forwards who performed well on this unit last year, beginning with Henrique and Elias. Even though Gionta was part of the third forward combination that tried to stop opposing power plays, he still performed well. Finally, credit assistant Mike Foligno with putting together a unit that was versatile and successful. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Three Questions 1.Can Schneider handle the load? It’s one thing for someone to be a part-time goaltender; it’s quite another to be The Man. With Brodeur gone, Schneider is the main man between the pipes, and he will get plenty of work. He has proven that he can thrive in a rotation. Now, it’s his job for keeps. 2. Will the scoring increase? It doesn’t matter how good the defense or goaltending is. If the Devils don’t improve on last year’s 27th finish in goals scored, they won’t be in the playoffs—again. The additions of Cammalleri and Havlat have to help, because the returning crew didn’t thrive last year. 3. Can the special teams shine again? The answer to that one is a resounding “Yes”. Barring serious injury to a variety of players—particularly Schneider—the Devils should again be strong on both the power play and the kill. Foligno does a good job with the kill, while there are enough options to create problems when Jersey is a man (or two) up. Prediction This is not a team that challenge for the Cup, but there is a good chance New Jersey will reach the playoffs, after a two-year drought and missing three of the past four years. The team has beefed up its offense, and the D should be solid again, particularly if Schneider can handle the demands of a full season in net. The Devils will make the post-season but don’t expect a long stay.
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