The 2019-20 regular season for the New Jersey Devils is now three games old. In their first game, the Devils accomplished an incredibly rare task by blowing a four-goal lead to lose their home opener through a shootout. In their second game, the Devils were blown out and lost by five goals. The Devils had three days off, two practices, and plenty to discuss ahead of the third game, which took place tonight. The Devils faced off with the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the Devils who looked second rate as Philly bossed them around for the better part of sixty minutes. The Devils lost tonight 0-4. The season in short: a massive choke job, getting blown out, and getting shut out decisively.
I am not happy with this. Neither are the many Devils fans all around the world. The People Who Matter vary between being outright irate to just being disappointed or moving towards despondency. The larger point is that no one is pleased with how the Devils have played tonight. And they should not be.
The sticking point for me at least is that after the 2-7 loss to Buffalo, head coach John Hynes proclaimed that the team was “too soft, too easy to play against.” He was right. They were. They lost by five and were not really competitive for much of the game. So knowing that, the coaching staff and the players changed things up, they had practices (plural), they had time to get their minds right - and this was tonight’s result. To say it is unacceptable is an understatement.
It is one thing to be shut out in a game. It is another to be out-attempted 48-33, out-shot 24-19, out-scoring chanced 30-13, and out-high-danger scoring chanced 9-4 in 5-on-5 play alone. The numbers get worse when you add in other situations (e.g. 40 to 15 in scoring chances). It is one thing to not convert on a power play. It is another to generate only one shot on net in multiple 5-on-4 situations and three shots on net in a 5-on-3 that included a rare full two-minute two-man advantage - all the while giving up two shorthanded shots because the aggressive penalty kill continued to stay aggressive and no adjustment was made. It is one thing to get scored on a penalty kill. It is another to concede eight shots, one goal against thanks to a screen by the not-that-large Oskar Lindbolm and a second in part because no one picked up Kevin Hayes after a faceoff. It is one thing to want to get “energy” going. It is another when the “energy” players take penalties and do not add anything to the run of play. It is one thing to have an “off night.” It is another when every single line and pairing had miscues at moving the puck from the myriad of icing calls to getting denied on a zone exit to giving the puck up in distance because the teammate could not/did not receive the pass. It is one thing to give up a goal. It is another when you respond to the goal against by either nearly hanging the goalie out to dry to give up one more or actually hanging the goalie out to dry so he gives up one more. It is one thing to be losing going into the third period. It is another to treat being down one goal is like being down three - and proceeding to give up three more goals in the third period. It is one thing to lose a game. It is another to do so when the other team seemingly out-classed you in all respects of it.
And quite a bit of what I saw tonight was what I also saw against Buffalo and parts of what I saw in the third period against Winnipeg. This is not a bad game in the midst of a slump in December. This is the third game of the season. This is after multiple days off for rest and practice and preparation. The Devils came out and were soft as ever. It was as if they learned nothing at all from the Buffalo game. It was as if being just competitive was too much of a challenge.
I will and do blame John Hynes, his coaching staff, and the players for tonight’s “performance.” After calling out the team as being soft, they might as well have been sponsored by Charmin tonight. Similar to John MacLean before him, Hynes seemingly did not make any substantive adjustments for his charges as Philly pinned them back and poured on the pressure. He may not think so, but given how consistently the team responded so poorly to each goal against is definitely a function of his skills as a coach. Maybe other coaches respect Hynes so much because he is easy to coach against? As the Flyers shredded through the neutral zone, the defensive zone, and both sides of special teams, the coaching staff continues to cover themselves in mud instead of anything like glory. The proverbial seat may not be hot, but it should be warmer than what it was on October 1. (Related Aside: This decision by Ray Shero is looking worse in retrospect.)
Of course, the game is played by the people on the ice and pretty much all of the Devils stunk tonight. From Taylor Hall all the way down to John Hayden, the forwards did not threaten Carter Hart nearly enough. No, one jaw-dropping save on a one-timer is not enough. They kept forcing passes through the bright-orange clad opposition thinking the puck would somehow elude them. They didn’t. From Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes trying too many moves they should not do at this level yet to Blake Coleman and Wayne Simmonds being largely so anonymous that they had no moves themselves. The defensemen were picked on yet again as a unit as the Flyers were able to get close and dangerous with many shooting attempts. Connor Carrick entered the lineup as Mirco Mueller took a well-earned scratch. To account for the balance, Sami Vatanen was moved to play on his off-hand and next to P.K. Subban, Philly pounded that pairing as Vatanen was notably out of sorts on the left side. The other pairings were not as pinned back but they had plenty of shifts where they played a lot on defense - which is not the point of playing the position, it is to not need to play a lot on defense. There is only exception from the blame game on the players. But as much as the coaches failed in preparation, adjustments, and tactics, the players failed in execution and effort.
A lot of Devils fans were very excited from the offseason and, to an extent, the preseason. A lot of fans justifiably expected the Devils to be better than the squad that finished 29th in 2018-19. The 2019-20 Devils have not shown that they are better yet. That is the main reason why so many fans are upset about this game and the short season so far. I do not and will not blame them. Please consider this before writing and/or telling me or any other Devils fan that this is only three games into the season. I know. I am aware. It does not negate the sentiment or wipe away from the fact that these are not just three losses but three really bad losses.
The Opposition Opinion: Should you want to read the thoughts from the other side of this rivalry, then you should go read Mike Dusak’s recap at Broad Street Hockey.
The Exception: Cory Schneider.
Yes, the Devils give up four tonight. It could have been seven or eight given how the Flyers were swarming it up whilst being fast, attacking, and supportive. Sure, Schneider had some post luck as Claude Giroux found iron in the second period on a wide-open shot and Michael Raffl found the outside of the post on a breakaway also in the second period. Sure, Schneider would probably want Hayes’ PPG back. But Schneider was largely unflappable when the Flyers would get in close or have a free shot at them. He controlled his rebounds reasonably well. Schneider was even good at handling the puck with his stick. He was also quick to cover pucks when danger was sensed. He resembled the Schneider that was also doing quite well before cramping up in the home opener. That is the lone positive from this awful game by the Devils.
Unfortunately for Schneider, it is still four goals against him on the record. He cannot control Lindblom screening him (GA #1), multiple Devils unable to pick up Sean Couturier in a netmouth scramble (GA #3), or Kyle Palmieri losing an edge in front of him and Travis Konecny slamming in a puck immediately (GA #4). His numbers will tank because of this game. So others will conclude that he is still not good enough, and so he will get blamed despite being the only Devil to show up and play like he wanted to win from the first shift onward. Ironically, he is the one I blame the least for tonight’s performance. He at least showed up and did the best he could. Life is like goaltending; it just is not fair sometimes.
Wait, Palmieri Falling...?: That play was farcical. Palmieri turned to take a loose puck on defense, he loses an edge in front of the crease, and Konecny swooped in to put home the puck. That sequence was this game in a nutshell.
By the way, that was the most notable thing Palmieri did all night in a game where he was credited with five shots on net. Yes, even Palmieri’s shots were forgettable tonight.
What of the Fourth Line: Ah, yes, I do not want to forget. I cannot blame Pavel Zacha or Jesper Boqvist. They did not play tonight. Kevin Rooney and John Hayden entered the lineup for them and played with Miles Wood as the fourth line. Plenty of Devils fans did not like this decision as they expected this line to get creamed. They were indeed creamed. Hayden and Rooney added nothing and Wood’s major contribution to the game was taking a stupid roughing penalty in the first period and drawing a slash in the third period.
That said, the makeup of the fourth line did not cause the Devils to get shut-out by four. The trio played less than ten minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. They were not good but the Devils’ woes tonight go well beyond whenever they were on the ice. I agree that Zacha and Boqvist should have been in the game because they are better hockey players than Rooney and Hayden. I do not agree that it would have changed the outcome of this game. assuming all other aspects (effort, execution, gameplan, motivation) stayed the same.
I Hate to Type This But...: Yes, the Flyers looked great tonight. Congratulations to Carter Hart for a relatively easy first NHL shutout. I am eating some crow on this based on my comments on Broad Street Radio about doubting him. Although I still contend that Flyers Goaltending History is on my side in being doubtful of Hart’s future. Maybe he will not be the future Brian Boucher. The Devils had no real answer for Sean Couturier (six shots!) and Travis Konecny among other forwards. Hall, Nico Hischier, and Gusev were dominated by Couturier’s line. Lindbolm was impressive as a lesser-known Flyer. Ivan Provorov and Justin Braun bossed the Devils around on defense. Their game plan was proven to be effective early on and Alain Vigneault did not overthink it so they kept going to it. He and the squad should be quite pleased with tonight’s results: a 4-0 win in their home opener. I hate the Flyers so I hate praising them. But this is a game recap and so I must be honest and give credit where credit is due. Hopefully the Devils will be the proverbial windshield instead of proverbial fly their next meeting.
System? System: Don’t take my word for it. Take Greg Wyshynski’s word from this tweet during tonight’s game:
The Devils are again getting slaughtered in possession. Since 2016, they're the fifth-worst 5v5 Corsi team in the NHL and seventh from the bottom in xG.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 10, 2019
(whispers) Maybe it's the system.
One Last Thought: I think there will be plenty of changes for tomorrow against Edmonton. I am expecting a far better performance. I am not alone in this expectation.
I hope the Devils staff who reads this blog understands this and heeds not only this recap but the many justifiably angry comments about how the team has started this season. Fans can understand competitive losses. Getting destroyed is bad for business.
Your Take: The Devils were blanked 0-4 by Philadelphia and were not really competitive in suffering this loss. I am not happy. You are probably not happy. What are your thoughts after a game like this? What would you change before tomorrow’s game against Edmonton? Can the Devils turn this around? Please leave your answers and other thoughts for tonight’s shutout loss in the comments.
Thanks to Jenna for game preview. Thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented during the game, tweeted at the blog, did both, or just followed along in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading. You all deserve better than what the Devils did tonight. I wish I could make it better for you. Alas.