Being that the Devils are at the half-way point of the season (OK, a couple games past it but cut us some slack), we decided to do some “grades” for this team. Originally, this was supposed to be one full post, but after compiling them, it seems better to break them up into different pieces today. Earlier, we gave you our grades for the forwards, the defensemen, and then the goalies. Finally, we end with the coaches.
(Disclaimer: All “grades” comments are usually entirely too general and tend to omit more detail than normal, so apologies in advance if we left a player out.)
Corey: Let me get this out of the way to start: I like Pete DeBoer. Having spent some time around him on the Devils beat, I am a fan of the way he operates. I like how he views the game and how his demeanor only really shifts between “really calm” and “kinda irritated.” He’s a smart, sensible coach who knows how to handle the media and a panicked fan base and isn’t all that worried about anything or anyone affecting his coaching style. Look back at his comments and his expressions from when the Devils were winning (a lot) at the start of the season and compare them to about a week ago when the team seemed prepared to fall off a cliff. There’s a difference, but not much more than an obvious urgency in this shortened season. Pete DeBoer is the definition of even keel.
My favorite part of DeBoer (besides he demeanor) is not just his willingness to push buttons and tweak lineups, but that he does it with a purpose. You won’t just see him bury Ilya Kovalchuk on the fourth line because Kovy blew an assignment like a certain gloomy Gus across the Hudson has been known to do. DeBoer moved Travis Zajac off the top line because he and Kovy weren’t clicking and DeBoer wanted to find a linemate that would get Zajac’s offensive game in gear. He’s able to do this because DeBoer shows no favoritism between his first, second or third line. If you’re skating with Kovy or skating with Steve Bernier on your wing, the only thing that matters to DeBoer is that you forecheck hard and always remember your defensive responsibilities. It’s what allows him to move Adam Henrique from second-line center to first-line left wing to third-line center within the flow of a period. It’s not an easy skill to master and DeBoer seems to have his finger pretty well stationed on the Devils’ pulse.
If I did have one complaint about DeBoer, it’s that he tends to be a little stubborn at times with certain players. His early-season omission of Adam Larsson and refusal to start anyone other than Johan Hedberg for the past three weeks stand out as shining examples. Of course, both players have rewarded DeBoer’s stubbornness with better play as the first half went on, but he very well could’ve put the Devils in precarious positions both times. Specifically with Hedberg, there’s a decent chance a well-placed appearance from Keith Kinkaid during the skid would’ve stopped the losing streak and recharged Moose far earlier than this past weekend. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but I am saying sometimes a changeup is necessary when a team’s been seeing 87-mph fastballs for six games straight.
Outside of DeBoer, the one thing this staff has clearly struggled with has been the departure of assistant coach Adam Oates. With Oates went the Devils’ power play and it took weeks for the team to start picking up the system under new power-play specialist Matt Shaw. It seems to be working better of late, not coincidentally at a time when the Devils have learned to constantly throw pucks at the net instead of trying to get fancy with the puck movement. The Devils’ penalty kill has also seen a regression this year, although that’s had a lot to do with poor defensive zone discipline than coaching. All in all, it’s been a strong first half for the Devils’ coaches despite the slide, which coincided with a rash of injuries. … GRADE: A-
(Editor's note: Pat's grades were written prior to Wednesday's game.)
Pat: Maybe it’s DeBoer’s easy-going nature with media. Maybe it’s his affability. But whatever it is, I really love the job he’s doing.
He’s mixing and matching. Honestly, what can you do? Could DeBoer have started Kinkaid or Frazee during this horrible stretch? Yes. He came back with Hedberg Sunday and wound up smelling like a rose— Moose was outstanding in the Devils’ 3-2 shootout win at Prudential Center, his ninth straight start.
He’s mixed and matched lines due to injuries. He’s gotten more out of Andrei Loktionov than the Kings managed to. I believe the Devils are a playoff team thanks mostly to DeBoer. He doesn’t fret when his team loses games. He doesn’t alter lines for the sake of doing so— like that coach across the river. He understands that teams go through down spells during seasons, and that it’s only a matter of time before the Devils re-gain their form. ... GRADE: B