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The Roller Coaster Ride

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A look at the lows and highs of the New Jersey Devils season, and what needs to change to sustain success in the future.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at San Jose Sharks Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 New Jersey Devils season has been a roller coaster; from the lows of the initial expectations, to the high of having one of the best records in the Eastern Conference, to the current low of lifelessly clinging to the final playoff spot, it’s certainly not the season any Devils fans had planned for.

No, if anything, the team was expected to continue rebuilding and stockpiling in hopes of being a contender in the next few years. General Manager Ray Shero has made some shrewd moves to continue to improve the team, though acquiring players at the deadline for picks and prospects is now seeming like a fool’s errand. What’s happening and what needs to change?

Daylight Fading

The old Counting Crows lyric, “Daylight fading, come and waste another year” may wind up being appropriate for this team. With single digit games remaining, the Devils are in danger of falling out of a playoff spot for the first time in a long time this season. The Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets have unfortunately started playing well at the right time, and the Philadelphia Flyers are playing crummy, but not crummy enough to fall out.

The old Counting Crows lyric, “Daylight fading, come and waste another yet” may wind up being appropriate for this team. With single digit games remaining, the Devils are in danger of falling out of a playoff spot for the first time in a long time this season. The Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets have unfortunately started playing well at the right time, and the Philadelphia Flyers are playing crummy, but not crummy enough to fall out.

Unfortunately for our Devils, the schedule turned toughest at the wrong time of the year. At the same time, they haven’t seized control of their destiny; the current 6 game road trip started well, but the team has played poorly in the past 2 games, including Tuesday’s San Jose game where they came in fairly rested. With 9 games remaining, I estimate the team needing 13 points to make the postseason; with the way they’ve played as of late, it will be easier said than done.

The Defense Cannot Come Back As Is Next Season

One of the largest problems with the tail off this year has been the state of the defense; Sami Vatanen has been fabulous, Will Butcher has been good in stretches as has Damon Severson, and then it just falls off of a cliff. Andy Greene is regressing rather quickly it seems, John Moore is the definition of an adventure in his own zone and Ben Lovejoy is at best a third pairing defender, of which we have plenty.

While the team acquired Mirco Mueller, he hasn’t done much of anything while in the lineup, and apparently isn’t making enough of an impression in practice to displace anyone who is having a rough stretch. Steven Santini has been wasting away in the minors since the start of February, and I can’t see why. The team accrued 60 points in the 50 games that Santini was available for (he appeared in 36 of them) and since that time, they’ve only earned 22 points in 23 games played. While his advanced statistics weren’t pretty, the team was getting the job done with him available, leading me to wonder why the powers that be never decided to bring him back.

If the team continues to trot out these players game in and game out again next season, we will see much of the same results that we’ve seen these last 23 games. That would make life difficult for Taylor Hall, our talented young forwards, and most of all, our goaltenders.

Goaltending Questions

Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid? If anyone had asked this question prior to Schneider’s injury, I think the response would have been unanimous. Now, the choice and corresponding performance is anything but certain. Again, having a porous defense does not help anything, but your starting, $6 million goaltender allowing 4 goals on 14 shots doesn’t either. Kinkaid has been red hot for the past few weeks, and should be starting most of the remaining games right now, but if he cools off to his season averages, and Cory doesn’t rebound, then the season is sunk. The Devils may need to find a way to solve their woes in the crease, as sadly with Schneids struggling, he may not be the long term solution in net.

Coaching

As a brief aside, John Hynes may have another season on his contract, but is he the right choice to continue to try and lead this team forward? While the team has certainly improved every season under Hynes, how much of it can be attributed to his coaching? If he does stay, I certainly can’t see any reason for Geoff Ward and Alain Nasreddine to stay, as the power play and defense have both been awful. Coaching is another topic to wonder about for the foreseeable future.

Your Take

Now I’d like to hear your take on the Devils season, both now and going forward. Do they make the playoffs? Have they wasted too many opportunities up until this point? What would you do about the defense and goalies going forward? Is coaching part of the problem or solution? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!