With the current abysmal road trip coming to an end with tonight’s New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets game, the hope was that the Devils would have a strong showing and gut out a win in a close-fought game.
The first shift of the first period started off well; the tweaked top line of Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac started off the game with a strong shift. They made some crisp passes, got an attempt or two on net, and kept the Jets hemmed in their own zone for roughly a minute.
Then it appeared everything would fall off the rails.
Winnipeg would strike twice within a span of :29; you read that correctly, 29 SECONDS. The first goal would come courtesy of Dustin Byfuglien picking off a Damon Severson outlet pass attempt. Severson would play between Byfuglien and Jack Roslovic rather than committing to either (and to be fair, Stefan Noesen didn’t really hustle to catch up to Roslovic) resulting in Roslovic rifling his first of the year over Schneider’s blocker. Following up would be Mark Scheifele’s eighth of the year; another failed outlet/clear saw Nic Ehlers wind up with the puck, and pass it to Blake Wheeler next to Schneider. Zajac would move towards Wheeler, and even upon seeing this, Andy Greene converged on him as well, inexplicably leaving his side of the ice open. Wheeler hit Scheifele, puck went over Cory’s glove, 2-0 Winnipeg and over 16 minutes left in period 1.
The Devils would fight back and would do a better job pushing the puck towards Connor Hellebuyck. Damon Severson would punch the puck deep off the side board to Jesper Bratt; Bratt skated out on the other side, found Brett Seney in the slot and in one felled swoop, Seney had both his first NHL goal and the lead shrunk by a goal.
The Devils would see the first two power plays in the game following the Seney goal (one in the first period, one in the second) with no fruit coming from either. Ben Lovejoy would do his best Andy Greene impression moments after the second power play ended, as he left Scheifele alone, and the puck found him on a strange bounce to restore the two goal lead. The theme of the game continued to be quick goals, as Severson would make an excellent breakout pass that Blake Coleman would convert just 47 seconds after Scheifele’s second tally.
The Jets would get their first power play on a weak cross-check call on Stefan Noesen and as the Devils cleared the puck early in the PK, Byfuglien decided to go head-hunting on Brian Boyle. Reverend Lovejoy did the right thing and stood up to Big Buff even as Boyle rose to his feet and sought his own revenge. The call took a while to sort out, but the power play was negated; Buff would remain in the game, and the Devils would do nothing with an abbreviated power play to start their PP 0 for 3.
The Jets would continue to make the most of opportunities; with a delayed penalty coming, Scheifele would miss out on a hat trick, but Ehlers would cash in and restore the two goal lead again. The Devils would have a great chance stopped before it even started about 11 minutes into the second period, as Johansson sent Bratt in on a breakaway deemed to be offside. The video review was showed how awful a call was; Bryce Salvador couldn’t believe it, as the play was onside and it wasn’t even close to questionable. The Devils have had enough bad luck recently; said bad luck made this terrible call ridiculously hard to swallow.
And then Cory Schneider would let in his seemingly usual soft goal to Mathieu Perreault; yes it was an odd man rush, yes the defense AGAIN played too loosely, but the puck essentially went right through Schneider.
The third period was nothing to write home about; the beginning of the period saw both teams held without a shot for a few minutes. It was a line matching nightmare for Jersey’s Team however (more on that below) but no matter which combination got on the ice, it didn’t matter. The Devils tested Hellebuyck a couple of times, but nothing would beat him again. While some players were busting their humps (the Coleman-Seney-Anderson line gave their everything), there were some noticeable floaters on the ice as well. The score ended 2-5 same as it did after 2 periods.
The Opposition Opinion: Nothing yet, but we will update this section with the recap from Arctic Ice Hockey when they publish their piece.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com as always, but I don’t recommend watching it. Come on, do you really want to subject yourself to anymore punishment?
Seney’s First: Congratulations go out to Brett Seney on his first NHL goal in this game. It was a heck of a shot and one of the few things that I can honestly say was a bright point to take away from this game. Again, his entire line was attempting to drive the car for the Devils tonight and it’s a shame they couldn’t drag this corpse of a hockey team to a W on the night he got his first.
Nico-less Nightmare: Somewhere along the way in the middle period, the Devils lost the services of Nico Hischier for the remainder of the night, which resulted in the Devils’ lines being messy in the third as mentioned above. The broadcast wasn’t able to pinpoint the exact moment of injury, but did note the moment he appeared in discomfort on the bench. Hopefully more information will come tomorrow, since we got the usual “questionable to return” message during the broadcast.
Dump the Defense (or at least their coach): I’ll say what anyone who watched this game is thinking: the defense flat out sucked again. While the players have to share some of the blame, I don’t think anyone here during the Hynes Era has said that the defensive coaching is making any of our young players better defenders.
Damon Severson and Mirco Mueller (tonight’s healthy scratch) have been better this season, but the system as a whole is not working. I’m not sure how many times in NHL history an assistant gets shown the door while the rest of the coaching staff remains, but I’ve seen enough of Alain Nasreddine’s defense system for a lifetime.
Yakety Yak: Egor Yakovlev finally got to make his Devils debut tonight; overall, he was pretty invisible, which is a compliment, as I can’t think of anything he did terribly. He made a couple smart pinches, and broke up a couple of plays as well. I’d say he’s a slight upgrade over Mueller, but not enough of one to push the needle for this team.
To be fair, he and Severson were the best defense pair on the ice tonight, and Damon picked up 2 points during the game as well. While he’s the new whipping boy to some, I’d say there are definitely some suspects (read: Ben Lovejoy) who should be picked on for some defensive inadequacies.
Forcing It: Speaking of moving the needle (negatively in this paragraph), I have never seen a team in all my years watching hockey try to force so many plays and shots as this year’s Devils team. Maybe it’s due to the amount of recent losses, but players are forcing plays when they shouldn’t or trying to make individual efforts when they have teammates available. Taylor Hall has been one of the biggest culprits this year, and other teams are realizing this and keying in on him for an easy turnover. For a team preaching brotherhood, they’re playing like brothers that have just finished fighting over a toy and now aren’t talking to each other.
Pathetic Passing: Related to the above thought, this team’s passing is just miserable, and I have to think it’s more a coaching/system issue than a personnel issue. The Devils have never seemed as crisp with passing as other teams in the league during any point of the John Hynes era. The lack of tape to tape passes wrecks this team on a nightly basis as does the lack of puck possession. If that can’t be fixed by the coaching staff, then maybe Ray Shero needs to find some new coaches.
A Final Thought: Break up Hall and Palmieri; they’re just out of sync with each other too often to be truly effective on the same line.
Your Take: This game was another stinker, though not nearly as bad as the Toronto one. John Hynes did get out-coached again as our John mentioned from that game’s recap and it feels as though Hynes may not be the 8th longest tenured NHL coach (as seen on the broadcast) for much longer. Please leave any thoughts and or comments that you had from this travesty of a contest below.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview, to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and all of those who commented in the gamethread. Thank you for reading.