DeBoer: Kovalchuk-less Devils have a big challenge

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New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer wasn’t trying to fool anyone today when asked about the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk for the KHL.

According to DeBoer, next season’s Devils team will be a far different version than the one that made it to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

“Sure it’s different,” DeBoer said, per the Star-Ledger. “You take out a (Zach) Parise and you take out a Kovalchuk. Those are players who single-handedly can do some things that only a handful of players in the world can do. We’re going to have to be a different team.

“We’re going to have to play more of a team game. Our five-man units and our systems are going to have to be air tight. Our special teams are going to have to be better. Goaltending is going to have to be top notch like it has been. There is going to be an emphasis on all those areas because you’re taking out a couple game-breaking players.”

The Devils missed the playoffs in 2013 (though they were perhaps a bit unlucky in that regard), so clearly they have a pretty big challenge facing them next season.

They should, however, be better in one area, and that’s goaltending. You’ll recall that Martin Brodeur was hurt for a lengthy stretch of this past season, during which Johan Hedberg really struggled to fill in. And let’s be honest, Brodeur wasn’t exactly unbeatable when he was healthy, finishing with a save percentage of just .901.

Now, after Cory Schneider came over from Vancouver, the Devils have a legitimate competition for the starting job.