The Devils had a red-hot start to their season for the first four games, picking up four regulation wins and largely dominating the run of play in them. Since then, the Devils have now dropped three straight, falling to 4-2-1 overall on the season. That record is probably a bit more reflective of what the Devils are as a team right now, but the losing streak forces us to take stock of what some of the issues are for the Devils to this point in the season. Last night, which featured members of the top trio of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Nico Hischier intimately involved on all three goals, pointed to the one that is likely going to be a concern for the Devils all season: scoring depth.
As a team to this point, the Devils have 67 individual points to go around; 27 of those, or 40%, belong to the top line. Of the Devils’ 25 goals scored on the season, one of Palmieri, Hall, and Nico has been in on 15 of them. So 60% of the Devils goals thus far have included a point from one of their top three. The ratio has gotten more stark since a fairly balanced attack in the first couple games of the season. In the last five games, there have only been three goals scored without one of the big three pulling the trigger or assisting, so almost 80% of the Devils goals over this uneven five-game stretch have involved a point from one of Hall, Palmieri, and Hischier.
One angle here is that the Devils are getting start performances our of their stars, an objectively good thing. Hall has only one goal on the season, but he has been everywhere as always and seems to be the one dishing the passes on half of the good chances the Devils produce. Hischier was goalless in his first four games, but now has three in his last three and has been on the doorstep for seemingly countless chances this season (he has a preposterous 20 (!!) individual high-danger scoring chances so far). Palmieri has cooled off from his early 164-goal pace, but continues to be involved, with four assists in his last three games. Again, those are all good things, and there’s certainly evidence that Hall and Hischier haven’t even found their groove yet, production-wise.
The unfortunate flip side of all of that, is that the Devils are just not getting enough production from the non-Hall-Hischier-Palmieri portion of the roster. Damon Severson, who in spite of his detractors has had a very strong start to his season, leads the way among the rest with six points (2g, 4a). No one else has eclipsed four points to this point, despite the Devils putting up 3.5 goals per game so far. The next leading forwards in scoring at the 7-game mark are Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle, which is nice for them, but also highlights that some of the players expected to be the secondary scoring punch have not found it yet.
If you were looking to point out a few players who were hopefully going to provide the secondary scoring this season, the group I think people would land on (accounting for Jesper Bratt’s absence to this point) is Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha, and Miles Wood. To this point, that bunch has a total of one goal and five points between them. That is just not going to cut it for a team that wants to compete in an Eastern Conference that may be shaping up to be pretty tough. Wood has probably been the best of the three, and he has had his opportunities, he just has yet to finish his chances. Johansson has seemed okay in stretches but also has often looked out of sorts in what has been a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a bounce-back year for him. Then there is Zacha, who — at the risk of making this a Zacha Thing — has not been good, and remains with a goose egg in points and just nine shots in seven games with underwhelming on-ice numbers to go with it. A continuation of this state of affairs would mean the Devils are a team without a second line.
Beyond that “secondary scoring” bunch, many of the other role players have gone cold after the first couple games as well. After three goals in his first four games, Jean-Sebastian Dea has turned into a pumpkin after being moved up in the lineup. The Texans, Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen, have just two points a piece — one point combined over the past five games — and have been lackluster in the run of play at evens (though Coleman has at least looked like himself on the PK). They don’t need to be world-beaters but the Devils do need those guys winning or at least coming close to break-even in their ES matchups and it hasn’t happened so far. John Quenneville’s three shots in five games have to qualify as disappointing as well, though he at least has very good on-ice numbers to this point.
With so many underwhelming performances behind the top three guys, the 4-2-1 record the Devils sit at is probably as good as you might expect. If this team wants to continue competing, though, they are going to need some of their non-top players to step up. Outside of Zajac, it’s hard to find a forward that isn’t Hall, Hischier, or Palmieri who has been consistently solid and productive in this early stretch. With Jesper Bratt’s return imminent, perhaps a rising tide lifts all boats in the bottom-nine, but that’s a lot to put on the young Swede. Ultimately, the Devils will need more from their role-players as the season progresses, one way or another. Otherwise, the team may be headed for disappointment.