It’s time to look in the mirror for John Hynes and his young bunch.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ ; Radio - WFAN 101.9FM/660AM ; Digital Audio - The One Jersey Network
How We Got Here: Somebody correct me if I’m mistaken, but I believe that this is the first time the New Jersey Devils have been outside of the top-3 in the Metropolitan Division this year. That’s the reality we’re living in at present thanks to a 3-1 New York Islanders win over the Washington Capitals Monday night. There’s a fair amount of blame to go around, too. I’ve seen criticisms of John Hynes’ lineup decisions, and there’s been talk about Devils defensemen just not cutting it. The fact is those things have validity to them, but they change nothing.
The NHL regular season is a grinding torrent of 82 games laid out across 7 months. It’s absolutely grueling. And there’s not a team in the league who will make it to April without it’s peaks and valleys. New Jersey is in one of those valleys right now. Since we flipped the calendar to December the offense has looked lost, averaging 2.2 goals per game in the five games played thus far and not having outshot the opposition once yet. The sample size may be small, but those are ugly numbers. So, let’s expand the sample size and see how the New Jersey offense fairs then. The answer is: not much better. Since the start of November, New Jersey has averaged a little over 2.5 goals a game. The top-10 teams in the league standings (New Jersey is 11th) all have a higher goals-for-per-game average than the Devils for the season. This is a Devils team who at the end of October was averaging 4 goals-per-game. A team who everyone knew would not be able to rest on it’s defensive laurels for any extended period of time, and that is starting to show. The numbers play off of each other. If the New Jersey defense can’t get the puck across it’s own blue line cleanly, the chances for the offense to operate diminish greatly, and that is a huge issue for this team, who seemed to strive off of making life hell in the opposition’s end earlier this year.
I realize all of this comes across as very pessimistic, but numbers never lie, and scoring is the name of the game. From the November 27 game in New Jersey against the Panthers to the December 2 debacle in Arizona, this looked like a team out of sorts. A loss on home ice against a team in the bottom-6 of the conference? That’s a power rankings anchor. Next, the Devils narrowly escaped Denver, Colorado with two points, hanging on to beat the Avalanche in a 2-1 nail-biter. Then there’s the game in Arizona. Man, that was ugly. The defense was deplorable, the offense was non-existent, and the score represented that accurately. As John Fischer put it in his recap of the game, the Devils “stunk it up” in Glendale. Truly their worst performance of the year. In the three games since that nightmare in Arizona, the Devils have really only played one good game, their 4-1 win in Columbus last Tuesday.
Evaluating the Opposition: The Los Angeles Kings seem to have re-found their footing after a few off years in between now and their previous Stanley Cup victory. They’ve been neck and neck with who else but the Vegas Golden Knights for most of the season, battling for first in the Pacific Division, while quietly being one of the league’s top teams. They come into tonight’s game with an 8-game winning streak, a run which includes wins over the likes of the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. L.A. is number four on USA Today’s weekly power rankings, and they owe that in no small part to their offense, who ranks 11th in the league at 3.06 goals-per-game. With that said, L.A. has also had the gift of a healthy Jonathan Quick in the early stages of this season. Quick has already played more games this year than he did all of last season. (He tore his groin in the season opener on October 12, underwent surgery, and returned to the lineup on February 25) In his 24 games thus far he’s posted a sparkling .930 SV% and a 2.18 GAA, the sort of numbers that top-notch goaltenders provide when healthy and playing on a team as defensively sound as the Kings have been for years.
Closing Thoughts: Per Andrew Gross, the Devils will likely take the ice tonight sans Marcus Johansson, who left last game against Our Hated Rivals after blocking a shot off his ankle. Kyle Palmieri is still skating alone in practice after breaking his right foot on November 20, he hasn’t practiced with the team yet. John Hynes has said Cory Schneider will get the start in net, and the Devils’ and Kings’ full lineups should be revealed some time later today.