The old saying goes, offense puts fans in the seats, defense wins games. But to really get a good team together, they really have to play together in the right style and system.
The New Jersey Devils are a good example to follow here. I know they are in 5th in the Metropolitan, just wait, I’ll explain.
There is a reason that this team, who’s among bottom 5 in goal scoring, has a winning record of 20-18-11. They have a system and mission objective every game, and keep to it.
Their previous 5 games, before last night’s defeat in the shootout (a point I’ll make later on), they went 3-0-2, and had a common theme in each of the 5 games; they dressed 7 defensemen. Not only that, they had perfectly serviceable wingers as healthy scratches, they deliberately dressed 7 D-men. Why? It works with their system. The Devils pride themselves on team flexibility. They often have 2 natural centers on the ice, for example, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus, or Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias. Just like that, 7 defensemen opens up for flexibility, with some guys like Eric Gelinas and Marek Zidlicky, who are power play specialists, to Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov, who are great killing penalties, and Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, Jon Merrill, and whoever else, who can play well anywhere.
Also, the Devils have always been a notoriously stingy defensive team, always defending first, and attacking when they are allowed a chance. It’s why Cory Schneider’s record doesn’t match his other stats, and it’s why the Devils have fewer goals scored. The slam-dunk point to make here, is that in the shootout, what many call a skill competition, the Devils have a grand total of 1 goal in 25 shooters, and have lost all 8 shootouts this year. They are still very much in contention for a playoff spot, and their team chemistry and system are exactly why.
Looking at the opposite end, you can have all the talent in the world, and still look miserable on the ice. The Edmonton Oilers are a prime example of that. They have a sparkling young core of talent, led by a number of high draft picks like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, I could go on for a while. They always seem to have an offense that could potentially outscore their mistakes. Unfortunately for them, that requires a scoring level that rivals the Blackhawks (as of this article, the Oilers actually have let up more goals than the Hawks scored, and the Oil have played one more game). Their defense has been a blaring issue since day 1 of their rebuilding mode after their miracle Cup Finals run in 2006. Their goalies have been an issue, despite just trading for Ben Scrivens in a series of trades. They don’t seem to have a defensive structure, though, and are too offensively minded to be able to win games.
The New York Rangers also had their struggles. Many experts had them rivaling the Penguins in the division, but that hasn’t been the case. They had a coaching change, and brought in Alain Vigneault, who previously coached the dynamic offense in Vancouver. The team was built for the style of John Tortorella (current coach in Vancouver, coincidentally), which was more defensive and systematic. The adjustment period was apparent, and people even started questioning goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and if he’s still got it (he does, ease up Ranger fans). But they have it figured out, seemingly, gotten healthier, and they are now toward the top of the Metropolitan, where many said they belong.
Systems and team chemistry is what brings the Cup home to your city. It doesn’t matter if your team signs the next big superstar winger who can score a million goals, if he doesn’t fit the system in place, and doesn’t mesh with the other team members, as much as a million goals will help as well. Trust me, I grew up watching the Devils in their hay-day, and they still didn’t have an offense back then and won 3 Cups in 8 years, due to the notorious Neutral Zone Trap they employed night in and night out. That system worked, and they won without the big flashy stars.
Your team can too, if the shoe fits.