After a terrible October where the team went 2-5-3 in ten games, the New Jersey Devils needed to have a great November to get back to any kind of playoff contention. They did not have a great November as they went 7-7-1. On the surface, that is not bad. Sure, they won more games than they did in October. Sure, they did not lose more than two games in a row. Sure, there were some nights of real success. However, the Devils did not sustain it or go on any kind of run. More importantly, it was by no means the wildly successful month the team needed to get back into the playoff picture. They needed to way better than taking 15 out of a potential 30 points. Any success has to include qualifiers when the team needed more unqualified success. The result is that they will enter the final month of 2019 as one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Another busy month begins tonight in upstate New York. Before we delve into December, get a snack or a refreshing drink, take some time out of your day, and let us look back one more time to November in full detail.
The Games of November 2019
The month of November was a busier month than October with 15 games across 30 days. The schedule included four back-to-back sets, a five-game road trip that took them through Western Canada, and five games within the division. It was an up-and-down month to say the least. Let us begin going over the games of November 2019.
On November 1, the Devils ended a six-game home stand against Philadelphia. The game featured a blown lead. A small lead, but a lead nonetheless, in the third period. The game went to overtime, the Devils somehow survived it, but were felled in the shootout. Yes, they picked up a point but they ended the home stand with a whimper of a 3-4 SO loss. Hope in the Devils were low as the team headed to Raleigh on November 2 to start a five-game road trip. Carolina was (and is) one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the NHL. In a twist of fate, the Devils not only hung with them but battled back to take the game. The Devils answered each of Carolina’s first three goals and then broke the tie in the third period when P.K. Subban re-directed a shot by Miles Wood. The Devils held onto the one-goal lead and sealed the victory with an empty netter for a 5-3 win. It was nice that the Devils won a third period to take the game for a change.
It was even nicer in Winnipeg as Mackenzie Blackwood put in his best performance since the shutout win against Vancouver. He stopped 32 out of 33 as the Devils hung with Winnipeg all game long in a close affair. A shootout would be necessary to decide it and on this night, the Devils prevailed. The Devils won 2-1 with their first shootout win of the season. Perhaps the team was truly turning it around. Hope started to creep in the thoughts of the fanbase.
Then came the back-to-back set in Alberta, which crushed those hopes with goals against. On November 7, Calgary hosted the Devils and pretty much out-classed them all night long. They peppered Blackwood while keeping the Devils from not doing much. The score was close early, but the Flames pulled away with a four-goal second period that drove much of their win. A second period collapse is different from a third period collapse, but it was still a 2-5 loss all the same. On November 8, Edmonton hosted the Devils. Cory Schneider was in net and was lit up like Blackwood was, the Devils scored even fewer goals (zero), and Edmonton eventually ran away with the game from the second period onward. The Devils were shutout 0-4 in Edmonton. Any hope from the Winnipeg game was likely buried under the nine goals allowed from those two games. The question quickly became: Could the Devils at least salvage the road trip in Vancouver on November 10?
The answer was yes. On an afternoon game in British Columbia, Blackwood regained the form he showed in Winnipeg and from the last time he faced Vancouver. He was making all kinds of saves. He needed to as the Devils provided him two goals to work with. The Devils’ power play finally scored their first goal out of the previous ten attempts when Wayne Simmonds put one home at the crease. The second goal was a tip from Jesper Bratt off a Damon Severson shot. Both happened in the first period, and Blackwood did very well to be only beaten one time out of 31 shots. The Devils held on to win 2-1 and end their trip at 3-2-0. That seemed like progress in the bigger picture. It seemed like something to build on as the Devils returned home.
Unfortunately, there would be no building of success on November 13. Perhaps they built up more resentment and disgust, but definitely not success. The Devils hosted Ottawa, a team that one would think the Devils would need to beat to show they are not really among the doormats of the East. The Devils were up 2-1 going into the third period and they lost the game 2-4. The third period meltdown only served to confirm to many fans that the Devils may be worth watching at home. The good news is that the Devils would fare much better in their third back-to-back set of the season. Maybe something to build on.
It was not pretty on November 15 as Pittsburgh stormed the Devils and dominated the run of play. However, Blackwood was standing on his head that night and Lady Luck ensured no bounces or tips would go against the Devils. The Devils put up just two goals and it was enough for Blackwood to put the team on his back for a 2-1 win. It was by no means a well-played game by New Jersey, but at this point, a win is a win. The performance would be much better on November 16 in Montreal. The Devils were the ones racking up the shots against ex-Devil Keith Kinkaid. Montreal would stay up for most of the game and put the Devils down 1-3. But Nico Hischier scoring the team’s first shorthanded goal with a second left in the second made it close. In a very wacky third period with tons of penalty calls and Phillipe Danault trying to score a late game winner with his thighs, the Devils would get an equalizer on one of the many power plays of the third period. In overtime, the Devils would get one more power play thanks to Danault and Kyle Palmieri finished a killer pass by Taylor Hall. This meant the Devils won 4-3 in OT. The Devils finally won their first overtime of the season, they completed another comeback on the road, and won their first back-to-back set of the season. This would surely be something to build on.
Nope. The Devils returned home on November 19 to play Boston. Boston effectively took New Jersey to school in showing how much more structured they were as a team, how they can be aggressive on defense without giving up a lot, and how they never let up even as the lead mounted. The Devils were wrecked in a 1-5 home loss to Boston. Head coach John Hynes glumly admitted after the game that “It is what it is.” That’s how decisive the defeat was. But that was one night. Would the Devils rebound against Pittsburgh for the second week in a row? No. On November 22, the Devils went to Pittsburgh and were pounded in a 1-4 loss featuring two quick goals in the third period. Not only did that secure the lead for Pittsburgh, it sent Blackwood to the bench for Louis Domingue’s first minutes as a New Jersey Devil. Not that he faced a lot or that the Devils threatened enough to make the score look nicer. Pittsburgh cruised to the win as the Devils suffered a 1-4 regulation loss. The Devils would close out their week at home to the one team that was below them in the Eastern Conference standings at the time: Detroit. The (regulation) loser of the game would end up last in the East. Fortunately for the Devils, Detroit really earned their designation of being a last place team in the East. Domingue received his first start as a Devil and it went really well. After two periods of some struggle to score, the Devils opened up the gates of scoring in the third period. The Devils crushed Detroit in the final frame of regulation and scored four goals in the process, including a goal after an empty netter as an exclamation point. Thank you for that, Blake Coleman. The Devils won 5-1. Not that many fans saw the win as anything more than beating the arguably worst team in the East, but a win’s a win for this team. Plus, on paper, the final week of the month was winnable. Maybe now the Devils can finish the month strong and who knows what happens in December?
They did not finish the month strong. The Devils hosted Minnesota on November 26, another struggling team who has had some truly crushing third periods this season. Once again, the Devils had a game against an opponent who played the night before, did not play particularly great the night before, and the Devils had time off to prepare for it. You would not have known that by how they played. The Devils were at least tied going into the third period, but once again, the third period turned into a nightmare for the Devils. The Wild scored on Domingue, and the Devils, well, just played out the game. In a cruel twist, even the Devils’ first goal - the first of Jesper Boqvist’s career - should not have counted due to an official missing a puck played by a high stick in the neutral zone before the shot. Even with that non-call, it was still a very frustrating 2-3 loss. Things turned up on Thanksgiving night in Montreal. The defense did not show up for either side as Montreal slammed the Devils with attempts, shots, and chances. But the Devils had plenty of their own, generated many plays off rushes, and they actually finished off plenty of them. The Devils won 6-4 in Quebec and still had a chance to end November with a winning record. They just had to go out and beat Our Hated Rivals for the second time this season. Like Minnesota, Our Hated Rivals played the day before while the Devils were off. Like Minnesota, the Devils were coming off a win. Like Minnesota, the Devils had a disaster of a third period. They went 0-for-8 on the power play and allowed two shorthanded goals to turn a manageable 0-1 to a crushing 0-3 in said period. The game ended 0-4 in an embarassment of a performance that should lead to some firings. The Devils fans still left at the Rock as the third period winded down kept booing and chants of “Fire Hynes.”
That’s where we stand at the end of November. The Devils are just ahead of the very worst in the league in the standings; the fanbase is fed up and beyond with the lack of results; and nobody but maybe the haters and losers, of which there are many, are happy.
By the Numbers
The stats in November 2019 for the Devils: It stunk.
Glibness aside, the 7-7-1 record may be flattering for a team with these stats. Gaze upon these and cringe as you see fit.
All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned. I added expected goals to all three sub-sections now that it is fixed. I did add all situation expected goals to the 5-on-5 chart because it was the best place to fit them in and the expected goals model can be applied to all situations as well as 5-on-5 only.
5-on-5 Play: It stunk.
Look at all of the red and gasp. The only area the Devils really did well last month was preventing high danger chances against in 5-on-5 play. That’s it. That is also why the team’s expected goals against in 5-on-5 and all-situational play is also good. The biggest driver of the expected goals model is shot location so that the Devils were quite good in that sense means their xGA/60 is quite good and it results in a better looking xGF% than what all of the other stats imply. Which, by all of the red, it is clear that the Devils were really not at all good in 5-on-5.
The more disturbing part of this chart is how the Devils’ against rate stats were so high for shot attempts (Corsi) and shots on net. The Devils have tried to play low-event hockey and it clearly has not worked out that way. Instead of suffocating the opposition, they are just being held to less dangerous shots. That contributed to the Devils having fewer offensive opportunities - especially scoring chances - all together. Combine those few opportunities with a really low team shooting percentage and the Devils truly did struggle to score in November.
A big part of most of those seven wins last month was due to the goaltenders. The team’s save percentage did not finish among the bottom ten teams in the league. MacKenzie Blackwood had some excellent games and Louis Domingue’s short time has went well. That is progress. However, Blackwood has had some less than stellar games and the Devils lost most of those games too. Even with the improvements in net, allowing as much as they did led to the Devils allowing 32 goals, a large number in 5-on-5 play, in the month. The Devils were out-scored by eight goals in the most common situation in hockey while not producing or allowing goals at a rate near the expected goals model. It is further evidence that the team did perform all that well in 5-on-5 play, expected goals model and HDCA/60 aside.
Again, in short, they stunk.
Power Play Situations: On some nights it was crucial. On others, it stunk. Overall, it was not totally bad for the month.
This may ring a bit hollow given how inept the Devils’ power play was in the final game of the month. That game skewed the numbers a bit as the Devils had eight power plays, scored none, took just seven shots, and allowed two goals. Prior to that game, the Devils’ power play success rate was 17.4% (8 for 46) with no shorthanded goals allowed. That would have put the Devils ahead of the bottom ten teams whilst still being on the edge of the top ten in terms of power play situations and power play time. The horrid PP performance on November 30 dragged the success rate down to the bottom ten while boosting the situation and power play ice time count. Future people will look at this and point to how the Devils failed to take advantage of most of their power plays hurt them in November and in the season. It was arguably a little better than it looks; that one game was bad.
However, the underlying rate stats suggest strongly that the power play was not performing well in November even with a decent number of PPGs. The team was firmly in the bottom ten in the league in attempts, shots, and scoring chances - high danger and otherwise. The team’s shooting rate was in the bottom five for November, which lends creedence to the notion that the system has not been effective enough to get set up and create shots. The team’s scoring rate - actual and expected - was just outside of the bottom ten but neither inspire any confidence in the idea that the power play was good in the month. The only decent stat from Natural Stat Trick was the team’s shooting percentage - which again brings to mind the team’s low shooting rate. While the success rate in the month could be argued to be a bit better than it looks, the overall performances from the power play reflect a team that needs a lot of improvement.
In November, the adjustments seemed to be all personnel based. The secondary power play unit seemingly has not scored and the players have been shuffled between the two units. The defenseman on the first unit has become Sami Vatanen; Will Butcher, Damon Severson, and P.K. Subban have been on and off power plays entirely. Kyle Palmieri was used as a winger and then later as the “bumper” in the middle of the 1-3-1. Wayne Simmonds and Nico Hischier have swapped units as being the man at the crease. Nikita Gusev was recently moved up to the first unit. The only consistency in terms of personnel is that Hall is a winger on the first unit and the main choice to receive back passes in the neutral zone to move the puck into defenders and make a lateral pass for a zone entry that often leads to nothing. You would think the Devils would dump that time-wasting drop pass by now but you may have also thought the Devils could make other changes in their power play to generate more shots and scoring chances given these rates throughout the month - and they didn’t.
Penalty Kill Situations: It did not stink! At least, the underlying rate stats did not!
The success rate and number of goals allowed were not that hot in November. Not bad enough to be among the worst in the league but by no means dominant. The Devils did score their first shorthanded goal of the season - thank you, Nico Hischier - in November to get on the board there. The Devils came out ahead in power play/penalty kill differential by the month’s end, but that was driven by the eight power plays to two that happened on November 30. Prior to that game, the Devils had two more shorthanded situations than man advantage situations in the month. I could see how one would look at the penalty kill and think there could be improvements here too.
Then you look at the rate states and marvel. The Devils were a legit top penalty killing team in November based on the attempts, shots, and scoring chances they allowed. Sure, other teams would still take them but the rate they did was fewer than most opponents in the NHL. Dare I suggest that it was a return to how excellent they were last season? The rate stats from November were really that good.
Why was the penalty kill not more successful in November? The answer was goaltending. The team’s save percentage was not good in November. You cannot really blame Cory Schneider; he only played in one of the team’s 15 games in November. Although he only faced seven power play shots, Domingue did get beaten once and that also hit the team save percentage. Still, you cannot fault Domingue too much since he only appeared in three games. The issue lies largely with Blackwood. While Blackwood posted a 91.9% save percentage in 5-on-5 play in November, he posted a not anywhere close to decent 83.7% save percentage on the penalty kill in November as per NHL.com. That is not going to get the job done. Since he is now the team’s #1 goalie, he needs to be much more consistent in general. Since a penalty kill’s success is driven in part by the goaltender, Blackwood needs to be better in shorthanded situations. There is a lot of variation involved with special teams goaltending - number of situations, kinds of shots faced, etc. - so he could rebound in December. Hopefully the Devils skaters continue to be one of the best in terms of limiting opportunities against.
Additions and Subtractions
There were a handful of significant moves and roster actions in the month of November for the New Jersey Devils. The first was a trade that was announced during the Philadelphia game. The Devils acquired goaltender Louis Domingue from Tampa Bay for a conditional seventh round draft pick in 2021. Per CapFriendly, the condition is that the pick will be awarded if Domingue plays in seven games this season, one playoff game this season, or if he is traded before the 2020 NHL Draft. At the time, Domingue was in Syracuse, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, and so he reported to Binghamton when the trade was made. The B-Devils needed goaltending help and the veteran could provide it. He would, but only for a short while.
The second move was made on November 18. The Devils placed Cory Schneider on waivers and called up Domingue from Binghamton. This was a massive move. Schneider was definitely the #2 goalie in this season as Blackwood has taken the majority of starts. Schneider was also performing incredibly poorly. Despite a preseason where he looked like he was returning to his old form, he reverted back to his 2018 level of play. It was seen and discussed as an end of an era. Probably because it may be. Domingue received his first minutes with New Jersey in garbage time at Pittsburgh on November 21, received and won his first start over Detroit on November 22, and played well but ultimately lost to Minnesota on November 26. Domingue has been good in his two games and change with the Devils so far. But the move cemented that Blackwood will be the team’s #1 for better or for worse.
After the November 13 game against Ottawa, Kevin Rooney was held out for the next three games. On November 21, he was officially played on injured reserve with an upper body injury. While he was skating towards the end of the month, he was held out. The move to place Rooney on IR opened up a spot for a skater on the active roster. New Jersey recalled Brett Seney on the afternoon of November 23 before the Detroit game. Seney has been very productive in Binghamton as his 11 goals led the B-Devils and his 18 points is second only to Ben Street. Given that New Jersey’s offense has stalled out so many times this season, calling up a top scorer from the AHL affiliate made some sense. Seney did play in the Detroit game as well as the Minnesota game. He did not do much. His minutes came at the expense of Jesper Bratt or Pavel Zacha. He was scratched for the Montreal game and was sent back to Binghamton shortly thereafter.
The moves within the roster were more frequent given the Devils’ constant need to “find a way to get going.” Covering all of the different line changes would be too much. Here were the main changes. Defensemen Matt Tennyson and Mirco Mueller were in a rotation since neither really played well enough to warrant a regular spot. At forward, John Hayden, Rooney, Zacha, Bratt, Boqvist and Nikita Gusev would all be shuffled around at points during the month. Gusev’s time as a scratch was at the beginning of the month. Since November 5, he has been consistently in the lineup. Thankfully, Gusev’s game has not been as catastrophic away from the puck. As for Rooney, Zacha, Bratt, Boqvist, and Hayden, it has shifted based on the recent performances of players. You may hate to see Zacha, Boqvist, and/or Bratt involved in this, but truth be told they really did not make a great case for themselves on a nightly basis. At least their replacements failed to do the same.
The last notable injury was to Jack Hughes. He hurt his ankle from a blocked shot in Montreal. While he finished the game and he did skate on Saturday, he was held out from the 0-4 loss to Our Hated Rivals. It was more of a precautionary measure, as I understood it from the broadcast of that terrible loss. Hopefully, his ankle will be fine sooner rather than later. The Devils have not been a very effective offensive team on most nights. Losing a dynamic young center like The Big Deal for a length of time will hurt the offensive cause.
Devil of the Month
As with last month, the purpose for this kind of award is to highlight Devils players who have been consistently good throughout the month. Given how the Devils would follow losses, one or two at a time, with wins and wins, one or two at a time, with losses it is hard to identify anyone who has played well throughout the month. You may find these choices to be somewhat controversial but these are the ones I can make with at least a defense of some sort.
I will bring up two players who I did not choose first. One option, Jack Hughes was an option. According to Natural Stat Trick, when he was on the ice, the Devils had a CF% of 52.04%, an xGF% of 53.35%, an SF% of 51.53%, and a HDCF% of 55.56%. He had some outrageously good relative rate stats in those categories too. What that meant was when The Big Deal was on the ice, offense tended to happen for the Devils. The issue is that the offense did not lead to a lot of scoring. Hughes himself had only two goals and four assists in the month as his teammates failed to finish some absolutely great plays. Plus, his stat line in 5-on-5, while great, there were some areas - scoring chances - you would have liked to have been better. The points will come for The Big Deal but not a lot of it happened in November.
Another option was Blake Coleman. He did have 10 points in 15 games and led the Devils in goal-scoring in November with six. However, he was creamed in the run of play in 5-on-5 with an on-ice CF% of 43.14%, xGF% of 45.29%, and a SF% of 46.27% per Natural Stat Trick. Opposing players pinned back Coleman quite a bit. That is not at all good or worthy of praise. Especially for someone thought to be good in his own end of the rink. On a penalty kill? Great. 5-on-5? Not in November. Furthermore, his production was all in the second half of the month. Coleman put up nothing in the team’s first six games. He clearly got going on the scoresheet since then, peaking with a four-point night in the Thanksgiving game against Montreal, but this is the Devil of the Month not Devil of the Half-Month.
A more consistent producer who was not wrecked in 5-on-5 play is the honorable mention for Devil of the Month and it is everyone’s favorite Swiss forward: Nico Hischier. Hischier had three goals, seven assists, and was held scoreless in only five of the team’s fifteen games. His longest point-drought was three games long and two of those five games were shutout losses. Among his highlights in production were four power play assists, the team’s first and only shorthanded goal of the season, and an absolutely slick goal against Carolina. In 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick, Hischier had an on-ice of CF% of 49.58% (fourth best on team in November), xGF% of 54.95% (second best), a SF% of 50.5% (seventh best), a SCF% of 52.8% (second best), and a HDCF% of 59.25% (second best). Considering Hischier was moved around a bit among the top two lines and there were some real beatdowns in November, this is a very fine set of on-ice rate stats for a still young center. He still drew more penalties (4) than he took (1). He still goes to the net. Hischier is still burgeoning and so he is the honorable mention for Devil of the Month of November 2019.
So who took it? Taylor Hall. Before you get mad in the comment section, consider that no other Devil best represents the month of November for the team. Taken by itself, the month of November was not all that bad. The Devils did win seven games. They had some real big wins. Similarly, Hall was the scoring leader of a team that struggled to score more often than not. He still put up 12 points despite being horribly snake bitten at scoring goals himself. He still led in power play points with seven despite a power play that had some incredibly terrible and incompetent performances. He was held pointless for two games at most and that happened only twice in November. After a truly terrible October, Hall turned it around in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick: Hall’s on-ice CF% was one of two Devils who were above 50% at 51.46%, he was even in SF% at 50%, he was only behind Hischier in xGF% at 54.37%, and he was above 50% in both scoring chance and high-danger chance percentages. A big reason why I wrote about how disappointing he was last month was because his 5-on-5 numbers were not befitting of someone of his talent and the expectations of an offensive player. In November, they were. You cannot say Hall was a detriment on the ice like he was last month.
Yet, even with all of that stated, I can agree with those who feel all that is not enough. Being able to score just three goals on 48 shots, including one empty netter, is tough to swallow for the team’s top winger. He could have been a difference maker on most nights, but with how often he was denied on breakaways, one-on-ones, and such either by the goalie or the goal frame, it was not to be. We cannot ignore that Hall has committed some truly terrible turnovers and his work on defense is not always the best. The fact that the first power play unit revolves a lot around him - especially on breakouts - and so their struggles reflect badly on Hall. And the effort was not always there - although that applies to just about all of the skaters on the team at times last month. We can justifiably say he was better in November, but the team needed more from him among other players (nearly all of them). Just like the Devils as a whole in November. To that end, he best fits the title of All About the Jersey Devil of the Month of November 2019.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
Just before puck drop against Our Hated Rivals on November 30, Pierre LeBrun dropped some important news on Twitter: Devils general manager Ray Shero is hearing trade offers for Taylor Hall. Hall, his agent Darren Farris, and Shero did meet during the Devils’ road trip through Canada earlier in the month. Between that and the team’s lack of results, it appears to a safe bet that Hall will not be a Devil in the future. In a way, that is sad news.
Ahead of this season, I and many Devils fans were excited to see what the team could do. Not only did they add Hughes, they also added Nikita Gusev, Wayne Simmonds, and P.K. Subban. Adding those players to a team that should have a fully healthy Hall would surely give the Devils the offensive edge they were sorely lacking last season. That clearly did not happen. The team fell flat on their faces in October. They needed to be great in November to salvage the season. A potential shot at the playoffs would be the best argument to show Hall that he had a reason to stay in New Jersey beyond being a very rich man. That potential shot is fading fast as the team was not great in November with their 7-7-1 record. In two months into this season, not only are the Devils way on the outside looking in of the postseason, but any hope of retaining Hall to an extension has also faded as well.
On top of that, it appears that more and more fans are fine with this. I am even fine with this. I never would have thought that I would be in September. I never thought the Devils would be looking at another season of being sellers by the trade deadline and cheering on lottery balls. Not after last season’s slog, but things change and to quote John Hynes, it is what it is.
Over the month, I have not only noticed that change in sentiment but also a rising sentiment among the fans that Hynes should be fired. His staff as well. And more and more criticism has mounted against Shero for watching this happen and doing little about it. (Also: This is pretty much his team that he built, which is not reflecting well on his work.) Go back to that Additions and Subtractions section. The Devils added a goalie, demoted another goalie, and that’s really it. Oh, assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald was on the bench, played assistant coach for a few weeks, and then returned back to being a GM after presumably doing something there. I get it. I even agree with it. The arguments in favor of this team not being as bad as their overall record have waned as the team continues to falter in many of the same ways on most nights. A bad night is one thing. Struggling repeatedly in the same area is a bigger issue and eventually is an indictment on how the team is coached either in games, in practices, and in between. The last loss of the month I think was a real tipping point for fans still on the fence of wanting to see a change behind the bench. Yes, November was OK but it needed to be Great and not only was it not Great there was no sign that it will be any better in December. To put it another way and to quote a tagline from an AT&T commercial, just OK is not OK.
This is where we are with the 2019-20 Devils. Stuck in a purgatory of complacency for a team sitting next to last in the Eastern Conference. Get your tickets today.
Now I turn this over to you. What did you think of the Devils’ performances in November? Who impressed you the most among the Devils in the month? What was your favorite game? What was your least favorite game? What did you learn from this month in review? Do you agree that Hall is the Devil of the Month or at least the most fitting representation of the 2019-20 Devils? If not, who should it be and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils in November 2019 in the comments. Thank you for reading.