The New Jersey Devils have been fighting hard during the current playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning; after last night however, they’ve fallen down three games to one and Tampa can look to finish the series at home on Saturday. While I’m not ready to throw in the towel on this team, I do think there are lessons to draw from the four games so far that can help the team both now and in the coming years. Here’s the short list of what I have so far:
1.) NHL Consistency is a Joke...Even (Especially?) in the Playoffs
I have to say I love how the NHL’s alleged message is that they want to protect players, yet every action we see from their officiating teams seems to demonstrate the opposite.
I understand stick infractions (mainly slashing) are a heavy focus this year due to incidents such as Sidney Crosby destroying Marc Methot’s finger, and the entire Minnesota Wild team taking liberties with the wrists of Johnny Gaudreau, leading to a fractured finger. At the same time, I don’t see how you ignore blatant other penalties that could also impact a player’s long-term well being.
With the Devils having a lead in Game 3 of the series, Tampa Bay decided to start tasking some liberties. The first instance was an obvious missed spear from Victor Hedman to Nico Hischier; I understand that it wound up being missed since it was away from the play, but how is there no supplemental disciple for that inexcusable action? Hedman wasn’t even attempting a play on the puck; it was simply a dirty cheap shot.
I assume there will also be no supplemental discipline for Nikita Kucherov’s hit to Sami Vatanen’s head last night. While Kucherov does not have a reputation (and the head may not have been his intended point of contact) the fact remains that he blindsided a player and connected with his head. Those are the hits the NHL claims they want to take out of the game; let’s see if they do anything about this one; I’ll assume no since it is a star player.
Also by no means am I saying the Devils have been perfect angels during this series, but we haven’t taken any shots to attempt to deliberately injure anyone either.
2.) Andy Greene is No Longer a Top Pairing Guy
I think we all sort of knew this from the regular season, but Greene has been exposed time and time again this series and if he is still the top lefty next season, I don’t see the Devils having the same success next year as they had this year.
I fully believe Andy Greene can still be a somewhat effective NHL defenseman, but he has to be subjected to the “Ben Lovejoy Rule” meaning that he doesn’t play top pairing minutes; also he and Lovejoy need to be far, far away from each other on the PK.
The Devils need to go out and get Sami Vatanen a new top pairing partner this offseason, because if Greene keeps declining, that pair is going to get lit up often next season.
3.) The Defense as a Whole Just Won’t Cut It
It’s unfair to blame Andy Greene alone for the struggles of the Devils defense situation. Ben Lovejoy and John Moore (as usual) should be shouldering some of the blame as well as defense coach Alain Nasreddine. Lovejoy is limited usage has been “alright” at best; he’s still not a great defender and still makes many a mistake on a nightly basis. Moore has been speedy through the neutral zone...and that’s honestly about it since around mid-February. For a guy branded as an “offensive defenseman,” 2 points in your final 25 regular season appearances just isn’t good enough.
I feel piling on Moore, but his defense and decision making have been atrocious as well, and if he’s not bringing offense to the lineup, then what exactly is he in for? The Devils have needed a physical presence in this series, and I can’t understand why after being used so often to start the season, that Steven Santini hasn’t been given another shot in a more limited role.
I feel a lot (maybe all) of this falls on Nasreddine; the guy wasn’t exactly Scott Stevens during his own career, and it seems as though he hasn’t really helped our defenders adjust or grow all season long. While I feel John Hynes has done a pretty good job overall with this team, I wouldn’t lose sleep if either Nasreddine or Geoff Ward (or both) didn’t come back next season.
4.) Our Coaching Staff Continues to Make Poor Choices
Speaking of Geoff Ward, how about the second powerless play unit? I understand that the loss of Vatanen last night wasn’t easy, but his replacement (Pavel Zacha) wasn’t my issue with the second PP unit. Ward (and possibly Hynes) continues to trot Brian Boyle out as well as Drew Stafford. I will complement Stafford in that he was skating well last night and did beat a few Lightning players to a few pucks, but that’s as good as I can do.
Stafford and Boyle are inconsequential on offense; I understand Boyle is out there to screen the goalie, but he’s not even effectively doing that! Why not try Zacha in front of the net? Why not allow Miles Wood (who had almost as many goals as Stafford/Boyle combined in the regular season) to have some power play time? Why not Blake Coleman and/or Stefan Noesen, both of whom have contributed more both during the regular and postseason?
Again, if the team wants to grow and continue being successful for years to come, sounder decisions need to be made.
5.) T&T is Playoff-Built
Even if the Devils make some additions (or subtractions...looking at you Michael Grabner) up front for next season, I don’t want to see the line of Travis Zajac and the Texans (Coleman and Noesen) broken up. They produced in the regular season, and they’re playing their hearts out in the playoffs. While they only have 5 of the team’s 22 points (and to be fair, Taylor Hall has 6 alone) they’re not expected to be a scoring line since they routinely get matched up against other teams’ best lines. We play them for their defense and ability to cause havoc; the fact that they’ contibuted more than our current “second line” (no matter who you pick, Zacha, Wood Marcus Johansson and Patrick Maroon have combined for 0 points) is probably the only reason we haven’t been swept.
6.) Get Taylor Hall Some Help!
Going to keep this short and simple; the man needs another player as explosive as he is and he needs it now. Nico Hischier is something special, but he’s still a rookie and has some growing to do. Hall needs someone else to help ease the load; I don’t know what Ray Shero can do, but he’s surprised me before, and no matter the Devils’ fate this postseason, I look forward to seeing further roster improvements this summer.
What are your thoughts on the series so far? Do you think the NHL should work this offseason on consistency for important calls? What are your thoughts on the defense and/or the coaching staff? Do you enjoy the T&T line of Travis and the Texans? Who would you look for to get Taylor Hall some help? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!