The New Jersey Devils followed up a 2-3 loss to Nashville in Newark on Friday night with a 2-4 loss to the New York Islanders in the brand new UBS Arena on Saturday. The Islanders went into this week with a massive winless streak. The Isles won their first game in a calendar month back on Tuesday when they won in Ottawa. However, the Isles were still searching for their first win in their new building. In came the New Jersey Devils: a team that apparently knows its issues, is aware of their deficiencies, and proceeds to do little about them. The negative-minded fans and pessimists among the People Who Matter grumbled about a potential historic loss. They turned out to be right.
Of course, the phrase is more of the same and not exactly the same. There were some differences between the two games. Mostly with the roster:
- Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves were late scratches as they entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol process. The Devils were one of a few team who did not have anyone out due to the protocol all season until last night. Their status remains unknown, but losing one of the team’s best players and Dougie Hamilton’s defense partner is never a positive.
- Due to Hischier and Graves being out, Jesper Boqvist and Christian Jaros entered the lineup. This would be Jaros’ first game since October 21. He was out due to a hand injury.
- Jonathan Bernier was put on injured reserve due to an apparent serious injury. The Devils called up Akira Schmid from Utica and started him tonight for his first NHL game.
- Nathan Bastian was scratched. Mason Geertsen entered the lineup.
The results were a team playing its second night in a back-to-back with effectively 17 skaters as Mason Geertsen played 2:51 for the night. His sole contribution was taking out Noah Dobson with a headshot and getting wrecked by Zdeno Chara in a fight afterwards. I understand some of the People Who Matter will claim that Geertsen did not hurt the cause. This ignores the fact that he cannot help the cause, did not again this season, and ignores the well being of Noah Dobson. Further, Christian Jaros went in and played 8:36 over 12 shifts. So the Devils played the majority of this game with 11 forwards and 5 defensemen. Jaros coming in was a necessity, Geertsen less so. Remember that when head coach Lindy Ruff laments the lack of performances. Potentially more on that tomorrow.
Also: the Islanders seemingly enjoyed playing against Boqvist and Jaros as when either was on the ice, the Islanders were attacking.
What about Akira Schmid’s debut? The call up made sense as the young man was on fire in Utica. Unfortunately, it was a night to forget. While Damon Severson added to his Inadvertent Own Goal total, Schmid also gave up an unscreened shot from distance by Andy Greene and a five-hole goal to Zach Parise on a shorthanded breakaway. This is not to say that Schmid alone cost the Devils this game. And Schmid very much has a bright future. But it was not enough this evening.
What was also different was the lack of a spirited response late to make a game of it. Sure, the Devils pulled Schmid for a long 6-on-5 session. Unlike the Nashville game, there was no consolation goal coming. When J-G Pageau scored in the third, the game was effectively sealed short of an Islanders meltdown. Ilya Sorokin made sure of it on all 13 shots the Devils took in the third. Prior to the 6-on-5, the Devils were matched in both attempts and even out-shot by one in the period. Hardly a stirring performance to try to claw back from a one and later two goal deficit.
That all stated, the performance in general was a lot like several of the games the Devils played in their run of three-wins-in-their-last-14. The 5-on-5 play ended up being close to even, both in terms of attempts (47-44 in favor of NJ), shots (26-26), and goals (2-2). Special teams was a net negative with the Devils conceding a power play goal in the first period and an ultimately back-breaking shorthanded goal in the second period providing the difference on the scoreboard. Fans are understandably fed up with the power play as it was a literal -1 for the night (could’ve been a net zero but a post denied Pavel Zacha in the second) and generated four shots out of the 32 the Devils had that night. The penalty kill has been legitimately better than where it was in October, but it too was not perfect. The goals the Devils did score came from the few that have been frequenting the scoresheet: Jesper Bratt opened it up in the first and Jack Hughes slapped in a response to the PPGA. The Devils even had a 2-1 lead - which was of course lost in the second period.
It gets tiring. After an offseason of legitimately good and well-praised moves, the Devils are not appreciably better where they were in recent seasons. It can be true that the Devils’ slump never really stopped despite a 3-0 win over then-slumping Philadelphia (they won two games now, so beware Tuesday night, maybe). Perhaps it is. Still, prior to that loss, my reaction to these losses have devolved into “something’s got to change.” I’m increasingly in favor of changes behind the bench. Absolutely starting with Mark Recchi; good efforts cannot overcome bad processes and systems and the power play did it again. Yes, I am aware that the coaches do not play the games. Head coach Lindy Ruff gets quotes about effort highlighted in post-game pressers by the team, the players talk about a lack of execution and how unhappy they are, and yet nothing is really done to address this. Hard practices were more for PR purposes than seemingly getting better nights out of, say, Janne Kuokkanen. Even if you did not expect playoffs, I cannot imagine too many of the People Who Matter wanted the team’s shot at it to be next to over by Christmas yet again. Yet, this is where they are.
Last night, the Devils became an answer to some trivia. The most obvious is who lost to the Islanders for their first home win at UBS Arena. The less obvious is who lost a game where they allowed two crucial goals to ex-team captains (Greene, Parise). But it does not feel like a special loss or an especially poor performance. I would argue we saw worse against Nashville on Black Friday, the second period against San Jose on November 30, and their “Minny-Winny” set. No. It was more of the same. And it stinks.
The Opposition Opinion: The Islanders fans were understandably jubiliant about the win. They won their first home game in their new building! They should be! And they did so by out-performing a local team. Dominik has the recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
Your Take: No. I’m not going any further. I normally do, but what is the point? You know my general thoughts on this one. I am sure you have plenty about this one. It may not be December 23, but I encourage you to air your grievances about this loss in the comments. Thank you for reading and I apologize for a less-than-timely recap about the latest failure by the New Jersey Devils.