The New Jersey Devils went into Tuesday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center with a chance to sweep the season series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Instead of playing inspired with a COVID-depleted roster, they no-showed tonight’s game and got steamrolled and embarrassed on the road in a 6-1 loss to the Flyers.
The Devils lost the opening draw and got pushed into their own zone before the puck was played out to center for Jack Hughes. Hughes got it to Pavel Zacha, who got the puck tied up in his skates. Dougie Hamilton shot the puck at Carter Hart who deflected it out of play. The Devils forced a turnover in the offensive zone with Marian Studenic firing the puck off the glass before Philadelphia got a clear. The Flyers got their first legit scoring chance three minutes in with Mackenzie Blackwood turning away a shot by Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton sending the rebound wide. The teams went back and forth for the next few minutes with the lowlight being a defensive zone turnover by Damon Severson, but the Devils bounced back and got a clear.
The Devils eventually gained the zone with Andreas Johnsson dropping the puck off for a trailing Severson, who fired wide. Icing was waved off and the Flyers worked the puck to Ivan Provorov, but Blackwood made the stop. Moments later, Travis Sanheim found a seam as PK Subban was out of position and slipped a wrister between Blackwood’s arm and pad for a 1-0 Philadelphia lead and his first goal of the season at the 9:14 mark.
The next few minutes were uneventful until around the 12 minute mark when the Flyers got the puck in deep and Cam Atkinson rapid fired against Blackwood, but Blackwood stood tall with a trio of saves. Philadelphia got another chance moments later as Ty Smith lost the puck in the offensive zone and the Flyers came back with a 3-on-1 for Laughton that was sent out of play with 6:44 left in the first.
The Devils finally got another shot on goal against Hart to snap a run of nine unanswered shots on goal by the Flyers. The Devils top line of Zacha-Hughes-Bratt finally started buzzing with Zacha and Dougie Hamilton being turned away by Hart. Tomas Tatar and Travis Konecny each slashed each other away from the play and went to the box with 1:49 to go. The Flyers controlled the puck with Atkinson chipping the puck past Jack Hughes to Sanheim. Sanheim worked it over to Ristolainen who found Atkinson alone to Blackwood’s right and the veteran forward punched it past Blackwood for the 2-0 advantage. It was not exactly a defensive clinic by Pavel Zacha, who was floating in the defensive zone and put himself out of position. It also wasn’t a defensive clinic by Jack Hughes, who tried to cover the middle of the ice and left Atkinson all alone on that one. The Devils continued to play reckless with the puck with a defensive zone turnover and Blackwood needing to make a stop on Laughton. Yegor Sharangovich fanned on a feed from Ty Smith the other way as the first period expired. The Devils got things going in the final minutes leading up to the coincidental minors, but with Philadelphia outshooting the Devils 10-6 and a 6-1 edge in HDCF%, they thoroughly outplayed the Devils over the first 20.
Philly continued to pin the Devils back to start the second period before Cam Atkinson tripped up a streaking Pavel Zacha. The Devils got the puck down low with Johnsson moving the puck cross-crease for Bratt, but the puck got tied up in his skates and Hart covered up. The Devils got some decent puck movement with Johnsson one-touch passing it to Zacha, who ripped it over the net. The Devils worked it down low for Johnsson once more and got turned away by Hart. Philadelphia sprung Atkinson out of the box for a breakaway attempt that Blackwood cut down. Jesper Boqvist and Jimmy Vesey had the Flyers caught in transition on a 2-on-1. Boqvist wasn’t sharp with his pass though sending it behind Vesey and Hart made the save. The Flyers finally gained control and added to their lead, winning a 2-on 1 board battle against Ty Smith. Philly worked it around to Oskar Lindblom, who passed it it to Justin Braun. The defenseman fired it towards the net and whether Dougie Hamilton partially screened Blackwood on the fluttering shot is irrelevant. 3-0 Philadelphia.
The Devils finally got on the board after the first TV timeout as the Flyers worked the puck along the walls but over to Michael McLeod, who sent it to PK Subban. Subban fired it on net and past a partially-screened Hart to cut the deficit to two.
The Devils nearly gave the momentum right back with a neutral zone turnover by Subban as James van Riemsdyk stripped him but missed the net. They nearly got scored on again on a breakaway that Ty Smith played well enough defensively on Cam Atkinson. The pace of play slowed down over the next few minutes until Sean Couturier went to the box for tripping Jack Hughes and the Devils go back to the power play.
The Devils wasted most of the first minute of the power play as they had Jesper Boqvist (?) and the second PP unit start it, despite the television timeout beforehand. Predictably, the Devils got nothing going with the man advantage. Also predictably, the Flyers found a way to spring Cam Atkinson for the shorthanded goal. This is the fifth short-handed goal Mark Recchi’s power play has surrendered on the season and the Flyers are up 4-1. The Devils gave the puck away again in the defensive zone with an outlet pass going off Ty Smith’s stick right to Oskar Lindblom, who roofed it for the 5-1 Flyers lead. The Flyers slowed the pace down in the closing moments of the second and got a well-deserved standing ovation by their home fans.
Akira Schmid relieved the struggling Blackwood to start the third. Rasmus Ristolainen took Tomas Tatar down along the boards and got nailed for interference to give the Devils power play another chance to fail. The Devils didn’t generate a whole lot on the power play, but they also didn’t give up a shorthanded goal, so I guess they made some progress? Not enough though as the Flyers poked the puck away from Jesper Bratt and pinned the Devils back deep in their zone. The Flyers kept the play alive with Claude Giroux finding Atkinson, who put it past Schmid for the hat trick and a 6-1 lead.
At this point, I noticed the Devils switched up the lines and defensive pairings, as Boqvist and Vesey started a shift with Bratt and Hamilton was with Subban. Steve Cangialosi mentioned on the broadcast that Jack Hughes’s shifts were limited in the third period as he was on the ice for four of the Flyers goals against, so I guess it’s all Hughes’s fault. The two teams seemed content to run out the clock until Travis Konecny cross-checked Michael McLeod in the back for no good reason. The Devils finished this game with one more pathetic effort on the power play and the Flyers easily defeated the Devils 6-1.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Broad Street Hockey if you want to read the Flyers perspective on tonight’s game.
Again, When is Enough Enough?
I asked in my Sens recap last week when is enough enough in regards to Lindy Ruff and his coaching staff, who appear to be in over their heads at this point. I asked this because my patience with this inept brand of hockey was wearing thin. After tonight, I’m asking the same questions again because my patience is running out.
Since that game, the Devils have scored a power play goal, believe it or not. Unfortunately, they’ve given up two with the man advantage, and the total of short-handed goals is now up to five on the season. Giving up one short-handed goal every five games, on top of having the worst power play in the league, is not acceptable. The Devils have also been thoroughly outplayed by the Preds, Isles, and Flyers, and have now won 3 of their last 15 games. For a team that is hoping to play meaningful games late in the year, that is also NOT ACCEPTABLE.
(I’m aware Arizona entered tonight 32nd but the Devils are trying and Arizona is tanking, so as far as I’m concerned, the Devils are the worst)
If you want to make excuses for the Devils being sick and/or shorthanded, be my guest. Lindy Ruff did postgame.....more on that in a minute. From what I saw tonight, it looked like the type of effort from a team begging for a coaching change. Perhaps the Devils should pull a page from the Panthers playbook and leave Ruff, Recchi, and/or Alain Nasreddine at the loading dock at Wells Fargo Center. If they do, I’ll pay for the Uber home.
The worst part is that it didn’t need to come to this. The Devils made the inexplicable decision to retain both Recchi and Nasreddine in the offseason. That decision looks worse by the day. Recchi’s power play has regressed from bad to “worst in the league” and while Nasreddine’s penalty kill has been better, the Devils have not gotten better defensively, despite adding one of the five best defensemen in the league this offseason. I’m starting to think the Devils could have Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Cale Makar, and Adam Fox in addition to everything else and still be terrible on specials.
Ultimately, this poor power play and lacksadical play with the puck is going to be what makes Lindy Ruff the ex-coach of the New Jersey Devils. The only question now is if that’ll happen in-season, if we have to sit through another 55 games of this garbage, and if Tom Fitzgerald will be allowed to pick the next coach. The longer this goes on, the more he and ownership are culpable for this mess.
Seriously, What Are We Even Doing Here?
Why are Michael McLeod and Jimmy Vesey among the Devils leaders in even strength time on ice? Why do the Devils continue to have so many defensive breakdowns? Why are Jesper Boqvist and Kevin Bahl getting power play time? Seriously. Look at this! Why? Why are we picking tonight to try to send a message to Jack Hughes about defensive play? Why are we playing sick players? Why does Lindy Ruff refuse to use a timeout before these games get out of hand? Why do the Devils never make any adjustments and keep throwing the same stuff at the wall and seeing if anything sticks?
What are we doing here?
Nobody was Good Tonight for the Devils
The Flyers did whatever they wanted over the first 40 minutes of the game, which was the only part of the game that mattered since the third period was a glorified scrimmage. I don’t really care that a few Devils finished with positive CF% numbers in the third since they were terrible when the game mattered.. Ty Smith was terrible and careless with the puck and dragged down Dougie Hamilton on the top pairing. The other two defensive pairings were bad as well. The Hughes line did nothing of note. The Boqvist line was invisible. A couple players tried here and there, but overall, the team looked lethargic and lifeless.
The only Devil who looked decent in my opinion was Blackwood, and even he didn’t look good. The Sanheim goal was one he needs to stop and I think he would say as much. The Braun goal was a flutterer that he might’ve been partially screened on, but he needs to come up with. If you want to give Blackwood credit for it not being a 9-1 or 10-1 loss, I guess I get it. He did make some big stops. He was also nowhere near good enough. I don’t want to pin this all on Blackwood though, who clearly wasn’t 100 percent.
Ruff’s Postgame Comments
“All you can ask is to give what you have. You can’t expect anything else.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 15, 2021
Lindy Ruff speaks after falling 6-1 to the Flyers tonight. pic.twitter.com/7HiCRobLBL
Lindy Ruff mentioned that Mackenzie Blackwood was one of the sickest players on the Devils but ran him out there anyways. Again, why? YOU’RE the head coach of the team! Isn’t it YOUR responsibility to protect the players from themselves? We’ll understand if you start Akira Schmid and say after the fact that Blackwood couldn’t go unless it was an emergency because he’s got a stomach bug or whatever his ailment is.
If there were as many sick players as he seemed to suggest, why not bring up some more players from Utica and IR a player or two? I can think of at least one player on the active roster who shouldn’t even be on the team in the first place and should’ve been sent to Utica months ago. Not that it would’ve mattered, as being sick isn’t why the Devils made the same mistakes with the puck that they typically make.
Aside from that, I think it was your typical Ruff postgame comments. He took some subtle digs and not-so-subtle digs at the players for not executing and accepted no responsibility for not having the Devils ready to play. He looks like a coach who continues to not have any answers, and the Devils looked like a team typically looks when they’re trying to get somebody fired.
Should the Devils Have Even Played Tonight?
As I mentioned earlier, the Devils played tonight shorthanded. They had three players in COVID protocol, as well as others that played “under the weather” due to a non-COVID illness going around the team.
If you’ve been paying attention, COVID cases are up nationwide as the omicron variant is spreading rapidly The world of sports hasn’t been spared as COVID protocols have impacted the NFL, the NBA, and yes, the NHL. Fortunately for the Devils, they only have a handful of players in the protocol at the moment. Unfortunately, we could’ve said the same thing about the aforementioned Hurricanes or Flames. We could’ve said the same thing at one point earlier this season when the Isles and Senators dealt with this. All of those teams eventually got shut down (although the NHL sure took their sweet old time getting around to postponing Islanders games).
I’m not a medical expert. Three players in COVID protocol doesn’t seem like enough to me to postpone games, but again, I am not an expert. I’m putting my faith in the doctors that are advising the NHL and NHLPA that they’re making the right decision in regards to whether or not the Devils should have played hockey tonight. But then again, I would’ve said the same thing last year when the Devils played that now-infamous back-to-back in Buffalo right before their season was paused for two weeks. Hopefully, things won’t get to that point with the roster fully vaccinated, even though we can’t rule out that this is where this is ultimately heading. Either way, whether or not the Devils should have played tonight is a question worth asking.
The Devils were far from 100 percent going into tonight’s game, but make no mistake. Their poor play, bad passing, and awful power play was as big a reason as any they didn’t win tonight and they got the result they deserved.
What did you think of the game tonight? Are you as done as I am with this coaching staff? Are you buying the excuses the team is trying to sell? Did the Devils do anything good tonight you can hang your hat on? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.