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Devils Doomed by Poor Defense, Nonexistent Offense in 7-2 Loss to Sabres

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In the second half of a back-to-back to start the season, the Devils were blown out.

New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres
Hapless defense.
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

First Period: The Hischier line began the game with a faceoff win that was played into the benches. On the second draw, Andy Greene dumped into the zone but the Devils could not get on the puck. The Devils got one shot attempt on the shift, from Taylor Hall. Travis Zajac’s line followed, and MacKenzie Blackwood froze play just after a minute into the game. Vladimir Sobotka made a power move on Blackwood after the Sabres won the puck back on the forecheck, which Blackwood stuffed with the pad. The Devils iced the puck shortly after.

The first penalty of the game came a minute and 35 seconds into the game. Will Butcher went off for holding Jack Eichel. It was a bad penalty.

Jeff Skinner got a good shot on Blackwood that was kicked out, but the rebound shot went wide. Nico Hischier got onto the penalty kill towards the end of the first minute and made a play at the blueline that knocked the puck out of the zone. However, the Sabres took the lead with a goal from Victor Olofsson. Eichel skated towards the goal line, and sent a pass through the crease that cane to Olofsson around the edge of the faceoff circle, and he sniped it past Blackwood. Rasmus Dahlin got the secondary assist.

Jesper Boqvist had a pretty good shift, where he picked up a puck of a fallen Sabre and fired a shot goal from the slot. It created a chance for the Devils, but Gusev couldn’t finish.

With about seven minutes remaining in the period, Jack Eichel was stripped of the puck from behind by Travis Zajac, who led the Devils down the ice - but the Devils could not get a good shot on goal. On the following shift, MacKenzie Blackwood froze the puck with traffic in front. Severson made a good breakout to Jesper Boqvist off the faceoff, but Nikita Gusev could not get the puck on the dump-in as the puck went just past his stick.

Miles Wood made an inexplicable pass to nobody with the whole Devils team in the offensive zone on the following shift. He literally just backhanded it to nobody at the left defense spot, and the Devils re-entered on a waved off icing, but nothing came of it. Because Wood killed the zone time for no good reason.

Wayne Simmonds got his first great chance as a Devil, as after Andy Greene got the puck deep in the zone and fought off a Buffalo defenseman below the goal line, the puck made its way to P.K. Subban, who blasted a slap shot on goal. Simmonds turned the puck to his forehand, but the shot went wide of goal. The Devils were immediately after called for a penalty. Blake Coleman was called for holding.

Jack Eichel scored a bad goal off the second faceoff of the penalty kill. Damon Severson could not clear the puck around due to an uncalled hold, and Blackwood dove to cover the puck, and it was poked into the open where Eichel tapped it in. It was a stunning display of poor refereeing. You have to call those offensive zone holds both ways - especially when the uncalled team is already advantaged.

However, Blackwood needs to know to never do that. If he can’t reach the puck with his glove, he needs to use the stick. Even if it’s not on his stick side, at least he can maintain some semblance of positioning while getting to that puck if he’s using the stick.

Just...confusing form there.

After one period, the Sabres led 2-0 and led the Devils in shots 14-4.

Second Period: After an intermission, the Devils returned to the ice. For a man who is as known for his intermission anger as much as his confusing defensive pairings and line combinations, I was hoping for a John Hynes spark.

It started decently enough. The Hall line did not allow the Sabres possession, and Nico Hishcier danced around the back of the Sabres net and got the puck to Taylor Hall, who zipped it from the corner to Kyle Palmieri, who one-timed it past Carter Hutton - who suddenly had an .800 save percentage in the game.

It did not continue as decently. The Sabres had the puck in their offensive zone, and a point shot by Rasmus Dahlin was redirected into the net by Kyle Okposo less than three minutes into the period. Blackwood was way too far out of position to stop the redirect.

The Sabres were finally called for a penalty almost five minutes into the period, as Colin Miller was called for boarding Kyle Palmieri. It was a pretty blatant penalty. The Devils got plenty of shots on the power play, including a particularly chaotic sequence where Taylor Hall had an open net following two Simmonds jam attempts. Nonetheless, they were unable to convert.

MacKenzie Blackwood made a great save on Jack Eichel eight minutes into the period. Sam Reinhart sprung Jack Eichel on a breakaway after a shot was blocked at the top of the circles, and nobody was around Eichel to impede or pressure him - but Blackwood got the shot with his glove.

However, the defense would continue to suck. Alain Nasreddine’s head - I am calling for.

Marcus Johansson made more moves successfully around the Devils than he made with them, finding a wide open Jeff Skinner on the rush, who went top shelf on Blackwood. Someone needed to be there, with multiple Devils in the defensive zone already (on the other side of the ice). Defensive coverage no longer exists - even with a 40 goal scorer coming down on the rush.

The Devils took another penalty, as Jeff Skinner was tripped up by Blake Coleman. Coleman was unhappy with the call, as he thought Skinner dove (which he might have), but Coleman made two bad penalties in the game against a power play that was as of that moment perfect on the season.

It remained perfect.

Victor Olofsson got his second goal of the game to make it 5-1, as he received a cross ice pass from Jack Eichel, and got two shots from the faceoff circle to the right of net.

Following the goal, Jake McCabe threw a huge hit at Taylor Hall that sent Taylor Hall to the dressing room. It should have been a charging penalty for leaving the feet, but the calls remained uncalled for the Buffalo Sabres. McCabe got into a scrum with Wayne Simmonds, but the damage was already done. And for a team that was up 5-1, I can’t say the things I want to say about that hit. McCabe went high on Hall and left his feet on the hit, who was low and trying to make a play along the boards.

Inexplicably, the Devils got back on the penalty kill. Frankly, I didn’t have the energy to care. It was what it was. Simmonds got four for roughing, versus two for McCabe. P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds got misconducts, along with Kyle Okposo. Very evenhanded officiating as Taylor Hall went into the concussion protocol. The Sabres, fortunately enough, finally did not get enough going on the power play to get a goal.

After two periods, with the score 5-1, the Sabres were up 27-12 in shots.

Third Period: Taylor Hall returned from concussion protocol to start the third period. Taylor Hall threw a shot on Hutton from the corner trying to create a rebound attempt about 30 seconds in, but the Sabres got the puck out of the zone.

Travis Zajac got his first goal of the year on a partial two-on-one, where Marco Scandella screened his goalie and Zajac shot the puck rather than pass to a cutting Miles Wood, who had a defenseman on his trail. It was a nice shot, but it was still 5-2.

The Sabres made it 6-2, because of course they did. Sam Reinhart had all the time he wanted in the world, as Sami Vatanen screened Blackwood rather than play defense. The shot went high past Blackwood, and the dead horse of Nasreddine and Hynes’ broken defensive stategy was beaten once more.

The Devils continued to play the pairing of Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson, and it sucked. Once, Damon Severson was burned by Kyle Okposo, whose shot was turned away by Blackwood. They let up two-on-one minutes later, which was stopped and frozen.

The Sabres took a penalty with around seven minutes left in the game. Conor Sheary tripped Will Butcher on the forecheck. It was a terrible call, quite honestly. I’m not sure if Sheary’s stick even touched Butcher - it looked like Butcher just lost an edge while Sheary’s stick was close to him.

The Devils’ power play was atrocious. The Devils could not get any sustained zone time until the last ten seconds, where Jack Hughes took a shot in the faceoff circle before being knocked into the boards by McCabe. For the record, that hit was fine.

Jesper Boqvist made an amazing feed to Miles Wood as he cut, wide open to the net, but Wood could not finish. Wood promptly crashed into the boards. In the same shift, P.K. Subban lost the puck at the blueline and Sam Reinhart got a totally pressure-less breakaway. 7-2.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: The happier recap will be over at Die By The Blade.

Warm Up Those Seats: The Devils have played two games, and in those games have both blown an un-blowable four goal lead, and then got blown out 7-2. The moves have been made - P.K. Subban, Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev...for the most part, anyone could just let the record speak for itself in arguing for Alain Nasreddine’s dismissal. There are no more excuses to be made for John Hynes and his defensive assistant coach. The New Jersey Devils now have a bona fide top pairing defenseman to go with a solid (Butcher, Severson, Vatanen, Greene) group of middle pairing and supporting defensemen. This is not a talentless group.

Yet, at many times, it looks to be exactly so. Does some of that fall on the forwards? Absolutely. When Miles Wood is sending backhanded passes to nonexistent defensemen in an offensive zone set during a pairing change, it would be wrong to pin the sheer attempt differential on the defense.

The shots finished 36-20: who was on the ice for the worst of the Devils play?

Mirco Mueller led defensemen in negative relative possession score, with a -17.78 relative corsi for percentage, and a pure CF% of 26.67 in 14:03 . It would stand to reason that other defensemen would be similar, right? You would be forgiven for making that mistake in assumption. The next worse was Sami Vatanen, who had a 35.71 CF%, and -8.29 relative score.

The best in possession? Andy Greene. He had a 53.85 CF% - the only Devils defenseman to break even tonight. His +19.23 relative score was followed by Damon Severson, who had a 48.28 CF% and +11.54 relative score. Andy Greene, along with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, was one of three and the only Devils defenseman to not be on the ice for an even strength goal against.

Why does this matter?

In 7:58 of even strength time with Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson had a 30.00 CF% and a goal against. In the other 8:05 that Damon Severson played, his CF% was 57.89. Nobody that played more than 1:01 with Mirco Mueller (Andy Greene) posted an even or positive possession differential in that time. In four minutes and 12 seconds, Mueller’s pairing with Sami Vatanen was on the ice for zero shot attempts for.

The Wood-Hughes-Bratt Experiment: Two shots. Seven against. One goal against. A -35.14 relative expected goals for percentage for a grand 8.21 xGF%.

I don’t need to say more than that.

John Hynes changed his lines, without any good apparent explanation, while the Devils were up four goals last night. The resulting changes gave the bottom six a corsi for percentage that hovered around 20.00% for the final period of the season opener. This line played nine minutes and 25 seconds together. They played nearly as much as Nikita Gusev, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Boqvist - who were not good in possession but did not give up any serious chances against (and actually had an amazing 0.04 expected goals against). They played the most at 9:34.

Why did the Hughes line play so much together? Nothing other than an incomprehensible stubbornness or outright unwillingness to see that things need to change could have kept them together so long.

Jack Hughes is an 18 year old center who needs to adjust to the physicality and skill of the NHL. He will be good - probably very soon. But for the sake of those who are sacrificing their eyes to watch Jack Hughes’ line in John Hynes’ system - he needs at least one defensively responsible linemate and preferably two linemates that play well off the puck. The only player on the Devils and perhaps one of the only in the NHL that can have both Miles Wood and Jesper Bratt on their line and not absolutely drown is probably Travis Zajac, a 34 year old who might pass the 1000 games played mark this season, and is a good bet to get at least a few Selke votes from year-to-year.

Blackwood: MacKenzie Blackwood has had a terrible 25 hours or so. First, he is called on to relieve Cory Schneider in the midst of the Devils blowing a game and loses, and then the Sabres get 36 shots on goal with multiple breakaways, power plays, and a total lack of defensive coverage when 6-76 was not on the ice at even strength. It’s hard to blame most of the goals on him.

But he needs to be a lot better if this team is going to win. He put himself out of position a couple times, and was overwhelmed by the Buffalo attack. There were multiple times - especially in the first period - where he gave the Sabres good rebounds, and he needs to be more attentive to that. To be fair to him, I think the Devils have much bigger problems elsewhere. No goaltender could be expected to have won this game, and I can’t take any notion that being outshot 2-1 isn’t going to lead to blowout losses seriously. Still, he needs to be better if Cory Schneider is at risk of cramping every game.

Your Thoughts: What did you see tonight? Who didn’t look terrible? Why did that Hughes line stay together? What changes do you want to see in the lineup? How long are you giving John Hynes? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you followed with us during this pitiful game on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, or in the gamethread, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.