When John Hynes got fired by the New Jersey Devils, it was regarded by many Devils fans (including this site) as an earned firing. The Devils were struggling out of the gates, with Cory Schneider’s injury and return to sub-mediocrity, MacKenzie Blackwood’s initial shakiness, Taylor Hall’s not-so-great return to the team, and the failure of moves made by Ray Shero in improving the team. Some, however, felt that John Hynes had already done a good job guiding the team to a competitive state despite a horrid roster in his early seasons, while falling victim to said goaltending troubles this season. Today, I hope to provide a bit of focused post-mortem on Hynes’ tenure with the Devils, with a focus on how he fared against division teams.
The New York Rangers, since John Hynes was hired by the Devils, have also had through two coaches. Alain Vigneault led the team to two straight playoff appearances, winning 46 and 48 games in 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively. That was followed by a 77 point season after which Vigneault was fired and replaced by David Quinn. David Quinn led the team to a 78 point season last year, and had 79 points in 70 games this season prior to the COVID-19 stoppage.
The 2015-16 Season
In that first season, John Hynes’ Devils had 84 points on a 38-36-8 record. That placed the Devils 7th in the Division, and 12 points from the nearest Wild Card team (the Philadelphia Flyers). That season, the Devils went 3-1-0 against the Rangers, scoring 11 goals and only allowing seven. The first of those games was the second win of John Hynes as a Devil, in which the Devils won in overtime. They came very close to losing at points of the overtime, too.
As the Greene-Larsson pairing and Cory Schneider prevented many goals in 2015-16, John Hynes was able to carve a decent record out of a lineup that lacked depth. Lee Stempniak, who was very productive in the first 50 or so games of that season, scored his first goal as a Devil after Greene’s save and another shot by Derek Stepan that hit the post.
But in terms of performance, did the Devils deserve to win that game? Their shots were spread more around the offensive zone compared to the Rangers, who fired on Cory Schneider from the slot all game. The Devils only had two shots recorded in the area immediately surrounding the crease - both by Adam Henrique, who scored once. This is reflected in the Devils’ relatively poor expected goals counts, from @Evolving-Hockey.
Fortunately for John Hynes and the Devils, goaltenders matter too, and Cory Schneider kept them in the game. Over the 2015-16 season, John Hynes’ Devils had a cumulative 10.62 xGF and a 10.27 xGA, despite only leading the Rangers in xGF in their final matchup on February 23, where they beat the Rangers 5-2, and had an xGF advantage of 4.01 to 1.31. So aside from that game at the end of February, the Devils had a 2-1 record against the Rangers despite being outperformed at a 6.61 to 8.96 xG ratio. Cory Schneider, in total, saved 109 of 116 shots, good for a .940 save percentage and a 1.75 goals against average. His seven goals allowed versus an expected 10.27 goals against was incredibly beneficial to the team. The Devils won the first two games each by a margin of one, and lost the third match by one, before winning the final game by three goals. Had Cory Schneider not been in net, the Devils likely would have lost the first two games.
The Devils, for what it’s worth, were a competitive team for parts of the 2015-16 season. Even as the team floundered, games against the Rangers seemed to be a refuge from their mediocrity - at least in terms of result. In the 13 game span from January 26 to February 25, the Devils faced Metropolitan Division teams 10 times. In total, the team went 5-6-2 in those 30 days. Against Metropolitan Division teams, they went 3-6-1. Two of those wins came against the New York Rangers. After the February 23 win, the Devils did not beat another Metropolitan Division team until they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 20.
In the 2015-16 season, notable cumulative performances among skaters include Adam Henrique’s goal and four assists, Lee Stempniak’s three goals and an assist, Joseph Blandisi’s goal and two assists in three appearances, Damon Severson’s three assists, and Andy Greene’s three assists (out of nine on the season).
The 2016-17 Season
As the 2016-17 season was much rougher for the team, which finished 28-40-14 en route to a first overall pick, the team did not have as much luck against the Rangers. The team scored seven while allowing 13 goals as they went 1-1-2. Across their four games against the Rangers, the 2016-17 Devils had a total xG ratio of 10.55 to 13.07. Their expected goals, compared to real scores, are listed below:
- December 11, 2016 - 1.7 xGF to 4.18 xGA (0-5 loss)
- December 18, 2016 - 4.19 xGF to 2.52 xGA (2-3 shootout loss)
- February 25, 2017 - 2.83 xGF to 2.94 xGA (3-4 overtime loss)
- March 21, 2017 - 1.83 xGF to 3.43 xGA (3-2 overtime win)
Throughout the 2016-17 matchups against the Rangers, Cory Schneider performed much closer to league average given the expected goals against. That season, Schneider went 20-27-11 with a .908 save percentage and 2.82 goals against average. Against the Rangers, Schneider saved 125 of 138 shots, which comes out to a .906 save percentage and 3.12 goals against average. His performance against the Rangers was not necessarily below average, as the Rangers had an expected goals of 13.07 compared to a real goals count of 13. While Schneider allowed more goals than expected on December 11, 2016 and on February 25, 2017, he outperformed the expected goals against counts on December 18 (two goals allowed during regulation and overtime) and on March 21, 2017. That game in March was a very interesting one for the whole Devils team, as the game got quite lively when Miles Wood was hit into the stanchion at the end of the second period.
In Blake Coleman’s first season as a Devil, his appearance in this fight stood out as one of the highlights of his season. Only scoring a goal and an assist in his 23 games in 2016-17, Coleman was really more of a physical and defensive presence at the time than anything. As for the rest of this game, John Quenneville scored his first NHL goal while on the power play in the second period off assists from Joseph Blandisi and Pavel Zacha, and Joseph Blandisi scored an overtime winner off a pass from John Quenneville. They were only in the game because of the performance of Cory Schneider, which you can view some saves from here. It was not an easy game for Schneider, as this was the shot map at even strength for the Rangers from @IneffectiveMath.
In total against the Rangers in the 2016-17 season, the top producers for the Devils were Kyle Palmieri’s two goals and three assists, P.A. Parenteau’s goal and assist in three appearances, Taylor Hall’s goal and assist, Joseph Blandisi’s goal and assist in two appearances, and John Quenneville’s goal and assist in one appearance.
The 2017-18 Season
As the Devils finally rose after years of mediocrity and bad hockey, the Rangers fell in the standings during the 2017-18 season. The Rangers were not a threat for their playoff spot, but every win counted for the Devils as they squeaked into the playoffs. The Devils went 3-1-0 against the Rangers that season, winning one game in a shootout. The Devils scored 14 goals and allowed 12 in those games. Their expected goals, compared to real scores, are below:
- October 14, 2017 - 2.4 xGF to 2.32 xGA (3-2 win)
- December 9, 2017 - 2.28 xGF to 3.39 xGA (2-5 loss)
- December 21, 2017 - 4.6 xGF to 4.34 xGA (4-3 shootout win)
- April 3, 2018 - 2.79 xGF to 1.81 xGA (5-2 win)
As the Devils stopped relying on their goaltending for wins, their results actually matched their performances in the 2017-18 season. Their cumulative xG ratio was 12.07 to 11.83. This season was particularly fun to watch - right from the first game, as the Devils finally had some offensive flair to show off.
The Devils would not, and frankly could not play a passive offensive game given the downward trend of Cory Schneider. In three games against New York, John Hynes turned to Keith Kinkaid, who went 2-1-0 with 85 saves on 94 shots for a .904 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average. Cory Schneider’s lone game came on December 21, 2017 - his third to last win of his regular season. In that game, Schneider saved 25 of 28 shots for an .893 save percentage.
Also notable from that game was the performance of Brian Boyle, who tied the game in the third period with a power play goal with a smooth backhand in front of Henrik Lundqvist. He then provided the game winning shootout goal.
The Devils beat out the Florida Panthers for the final playoff spot by one point that season. In April, the Devils played their 80th game of the season against the Rangers, coming off a 5-0-1 streak in which they played Metropolitan Division teams four times. On April 3, Taylor Hall pushed the Devils past the Rangers with a two goal, two assist night.
The importance of this game cannot be overstated. Contrary to the stretch in 2015-16 where the Devils went 3-6-1 against Metropolitan Division teams for a whole month (with two wins against the Rangers) as they finished 12 points out of the playoffs, the Devils in 2017-18 went 4-0-1 in the critical late-season stretch from March 23 to April 3 against Metropolitan Division teams (and won two more games against Atlantic Division teams in that span). Prior to that run, the Devils had gone 15-18-2 in the 2018 calendar year, and were in danger of losing their playoff spot. John Hynes deserves credit for keeping his team together during crunch time.
Notable producers against the Rangers among skaters that season include Taylor Hall (two goals, three assists), Will Butcher (two goals, three assists), Kyle Palmieri (three assists), Blake Coleman (one goal, two assists), and Miles Wood (two goals). Adam Henrique scored a goal in his only appearance before being traded.
The 2018-19 Season
The 2018-19 season was difficult to watch. After a four game win streak to start the season, the Devils went 15-23-7 before facing the Rangers in the 50th game of their schedule. Because of how late in the season the Devils played the Rangers, Taylor Hall did not make a single appearance in their rivalry series. Of the goalies, Keith Kinkaid played the first game, Cory Scheider played the second and third games, and MacKenzie Blackwood was the starter in the final matchup. In total, the Devils scored 11 and gave up 15 goals. Here are the expected goals counts compared to real results:
- January 31, 2019 - 2.19 xGF to 2.85 xGA (3-4 loss)
- February 23, 2019 - 1.73 xGF to 4.01 xGA (2-5 loss)
- March 9, 2019 - 1.35 xGF to 4.77 xGA (2-4 loss)
- April 1, 2019 - 5.16 xGF to 3.4 xGA (4-2 win)
In total, the xG ratio 10.43 to 15.03, and the Devils gave up just as many as expected. For what it’s worth, Cory Schneider was not terrible against the Rangers. In the February and March games, Schneider allowed seven goals on 73 shots, good for a .904 save percentage. Prior to the empty net goals in both of his appearances, the xGA allowed by the Devils sat at just above three on February 23, and just above four on March 9. If you were to exclude the empty net goals from the xG counts, then Cory Schneider still performed slightly above average. Here is the expected goals chart from March 9, 2019.
By comparison, Keith Kinkaid allowed four goals on 25 shots (.840 save percentage) in his loss to the Rangers. Had Kinkaid performed like an average goaltender, the Devils could have at least taken that game to overtime. Alas, his third period goal allowed to Mika Zibanejad (for a hat trick) was too late to answer.
MacKenzie Blackwood had the best performance of all three goalies (obviously). He faced a barrage of chances in the slot and only allowed two goals compared to 3.4 expected against. Here is the even strength shot map that MacKenzie Blackwood had to deal with.
Despite the difficult shots put on Blackwood, the Devils were able to get a late-season feel-good win that did not prevent them from winning the lottery for Jack Hughes. After getting out to a quick lead that game, the Rangers tied the game by the end of the second period. Connor Carrick provided the game winner, which was sealed by a Joey Anderson empty net goal.
In the 2018-19 season, the top scorers for the Devils included: Nico Hischier (one goal, three assists), Kenny Agostino (one goal, two assists in three games), Travis Zajac (one goal, two assists), Damon Severson (one goal, two assists) Marcus Johansson (one goal, one assist in one game), Connor Carrick (one goal, one assist in two games), and Michael McLeod (two assists in two games). Kyle Palmieri only had one assist in three appearances.
The 2019-20 Season
John Hynes only faced the New York Rangers twice behind the Devils bench in the 2019-20 season. While the team went 9-13-4 in his 26 games behind the bench, they split their games against the Rangers. The expected goal counts from those games compared to results are below:
- October 17, 2019 - 3.25 xGF to 2.25 xGA (5-2 win)
- November 30, 2019 - 2.84 xGF to 1.89 xGA (0-4 loss)
The Devils seemed to have bad luck compared to their expected goals rates in the beginnings of the 2019-20 season, and they had mixed results against the Rangers. While they outperformed their xGF count in the October game, they considerably underperformed in November on both ends of the ice. While they scored five and allowed six, the total xG ratio was 6.09 to 4.14 in their favor. So, while the Devils had average or better goaltending in each of the prior seasons under John Hynes, the goaltending collapsed at points of the 2019-20 season.
With the Devils only scoring goals in one game against the Rangers under John Hynes during the 2019-20 season, their top scorer with Hynes was Matt Tennyson with two assists (both secondary). Blake Coleman, Nikita Gusev, Kyle Palmieri, Miles Wood, and P.K. Subban all scored in the 5-2 win, while Jack Hughes and Travis Zajac were the only players aside from Tennyson to get assists. Three of the goals (Palmieri, Gusev, Subban) were unassisted. In that game, MacKenzie Blackwood stopped 29 of 31 shots (.935 save percentage).
The game at the end of November felt like the end of the John Hynes tenure. Frankly, I thought he was a goner after the game - but Shero fired him after the game in Buffalo on December 2 instead. In the game versus New York, the Devils defense happened to be very good at even strength. Here was their shot map against from that game:
Instead of beating the Devils at even strength, the Rangers scored a power play goal in the first period from Adam Fox, followed by two shorthanded goals in the third period (Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast), and an empty netter by Brady Skjei. If you wish to subject yourself to the awfulness that transpired that night, you may watch below.
I’m not sure if there was any way John Hynes could have gotten his team to win the game. By that point, his position with the Devils felt like a hopeless situation and I cannot help but feel his team would not have made as bad mistakes in any of his previous seasons. After a game misconduct for an elbow/boarding from Chris Kreider at the 5:21 mark of the third period, with the Devils down two goals, the Rangers were the only team to score in the Devils’ power play, which was partially negated with a slash committed by Nikita Gusev. Even with the opportunity for a five minute power play, this was the special teams shot map for the Devils from that game:
The Devils missed the net nine times on special teams, compared to just seven shots on goal. Their inconsistency and poor shot selection doomed the power plays, and doomed John Hynes. Fittingly, when John recapped that game, it was titled, “There Should Be Firings After New Jersey Devils Failed to Perform Against New York Rangers, 0-4”. Frankly, I’m surprised looking back that Rick Kowalsky was not fired. What a terrible start to a season.
I think that John Hynes did a good job limiting the defensive issues with the team the first few years that he was coach as a result of him being able to rely on players such as Cory Schneider and Andy Greene. As they declined, Hynes became reliant on the offensive force of the team. When that offense failed to convert many of their chances in the beginnings of 2019-20, and the goaltending allowed more goals than expected, Hynes’ system was no longer working. Regardless of whether he is a worthy NHL coach, his time with the Devils could not continue. The team was performing in such a pathetic manner at the start of the season that it was probably best for both the team and John Hynes’ career that he be fired.
In his 18 games coached with the Devils against the Rangers, the team went 9-7-2, with a total goal ratio of 46 to 54 and an expected goal ratio of 49.76 to 54.34. Importantly, John Hynes’ Devils performed best against the Rangers in the season the Devils made the playoffs, and also won three of four games in John Hynes’ first season, where the team was not too far out of the playoffs, especially considering their roster. However, John Hynes did not fare well when his scorers or goaltending slumped, and was not able to make quick enough adjustments to make the team competitive in games they either seemed destined to lose from the start (November 30, 2019), or in games where they coughed up a lead due to an onslaught from the opposition (March 9, 2019). If Hynes were to have stayed Devils coach, he needed to learn how to stop the team from falling flat in those types of games.
Your Thoughts: What did you think about games against the Rangers under John Hynes? Were you confident in him? How do you feel now with Nasreddine the most recent behind the bench? How did you feel about Hynes in his first couple of seasons compared to the end of his tenure? Which was your favorite game against the Rangers with him as coach? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.