The Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils started their rebuilds around the same time several years ago, but they appear to be two teams heading in completely different directions. While the Red Wings appear to be making progress as they hope to return to prominence and relevancy, the Devils continue to look like a team that has no clue what they’re doing. Add to that a couple more Devils players entering COVID protocol, a neck injury to Mackenzie Blackwood, and an illness to Jesper Bratt, and tonight was a perfect storm of bad events that led to a well-deserved 5-2 loss for the Devils.
The teams felt each other out over the first few minutes before the Devils got a decent look as Michael McLeod tried to feed Jimmy Vesey along in front of Red Wings goaltender Thomas Griess, but the pass was led out a little too far and Vesey couldn’t get a shot off. Damon Severson sprung Jack Hughes for a chance before the first TV timeout but Hughes couldn’t slip the puck by Greiss. The Devils continued to apply pressure with Marian Studenic making a brilliant pass in tight to Dawson Mercer that Greiss stopped. Detroit finally challenged Akira Schmid with a couple shots that he turned aside. Dougie Hamilton caught a Red Wings shot on his hand that stung him a little bit but was back out there for his next shift. Detroit finally got on the board as Filip Hronek fired a long pass off the boards behind Schmid. The puck took a weird bounce as Schmid came out of the crease to play the puck. Dylan Larkin easily fired the loose puck into the net past an out-of-position Schmid for a 1-0 lead.
The Devils had a response before the end of the first as Michael McLeod fired a fluttering rising puck past Greiss, surprising him and everyone in the building.
Detroit pushed hard in the closing seconds of the first to tie the game as Pius Suter hammered away at a loose puck in Schmid’s pads. The Devils finally got a clear as time expired and went to the dressing room after a solid 20 minutes, but Detroit found their footing after a rough first half of the period, so the Devils would need to be better. Unfortunately, you know by now that they wouldn’t be.
The two teams played at a glacial pace over the first few minutes of the second until Kevin Bahl held a streaking Vladislav Namestnikov who closed in on Schmid. The Devils got an early clear to start the penalty kill and did well defensively over the first minute to keep the Red Wings from generating much of anything. Dougie Hamilton got called for cross-checking Tyler Bertuzzi into Schmid, giving Detroit a 5-on-3 advantage for :49 seconds. McLeod failed to get a clear but eventually did clear it after Jonas Siegenthaler blocked a shot off of his leg. Akira Schmid made a big save off of a one-timer as Bahl rejoined the play. The Devils got a short-handed opportunity with Vesey feeding McLeod, but Greiss made the stop. New Jersey mostly played keepaway as the Hamilton penalty expired and they successfully killed off the 5-on-3. Mason Geertsen did something positive for a change as he blocked a point blank shot before we finally hit the first TV timeout at the 10:23 mark.
The Devils struggled to get a clear after the commercial break and Detroit finally made them pay. Namestnikov fed the puck in front for Larkin who snapped the wrister by Schmid for his second of the night and a 2-1 Red Wings lead. They would add to their lead seconds later as Damon Severson made a bad outlet pass that was interecepted by Moritz Seider. The rookie blueliner showed great patience and poise and chipped the puck ahead to Tyler Bertuzzi who fired it home for a 3-1 advantage. Lindy Ruff used his timeout to try to settle the team down, which is a rare departure from his usual approach of doing nothing and hoping things would get better. That didn’t appear to accomplish a whole lot as the Red Wings continued to attack after the TV timeout. Larkin put the finishing touches on the hat trick as he collected a pass Kyle Criscuolo along the boards in the defensive zone. Larkin reached behind him to corral the puck, skated in all alone on Schmid, and fired it by Schmid for the 4-1 lead.
Frustrations finally boiled over for the Devils as McLeod cross-checked Filip Hronek in the back and they went at it. The officials felt that McLeod deserved the double minor for roughing instead of five minute fighting majors for each player, so Detroit would get another power play. Ummmmm....ok? Looked like a fight to me, but whatever.
Dawson Mercer got a breakaway off of a saucer pass from Damon Severson that deflected off of a Red Wings player. Greiss got a piece of it, but not enough as Mercer got the Devils back within two. It was basically the last good thing that happened to the Devils tonight.
Mercer Mania in Michigan. pic.twitter.com/bbZfUZJGcP— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 19, 2021
The final two and a half minutes ticked off of the clock and the second period finally came to a merciful end, but not before the Devils repeatedly got hemmed in defensively, made bad pinches, made bad passes, couldn’t protect the middle of the ice in front of the goaltender, and couldn’t do basic things like chip the puck out of the zone. It was a lot of the same old, same old bad hockey we’ve come to expect from this group.
The Devils pushed a little bit early in the third period but Vesey’s backhander was turned away by the veteran Greiss. Detroit gained the zone and had sustained pressure for a bit but Pius Suter missed a wide open point-blank opportunity off of a deflection in front. The Devils continued to not generate much of anything over the next 8 minutes despite being down two. Mason Geertsen actually did something positive again and goaded Tyler Bertuzzi into cross-checking him. Of course, it’s a Mark Recchi power play, so you know the Devils didn’t do much of anything. At least they didn’t give up a shorthanded goal.
The Devils continued to play without much of a sense of urgency despite being down two before Tyler Bertuzzi put the final nail in the coffin for the 5-2 lead and his second of the night. New Jersey did nothing of note as the Red Wings continued to out-everything them and won the game 5-2. 14th loss in 17 games and 5th L in a row for the Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Winging It In Motown if you want to read the Red Wings perspective on tonight’s game.
If Mason Geertsen is One of your Better Players, You’re Doing it All Wrong
Here is some rare praise for AATJ punching bag Mason Geertsen. He was one of the Devils better players tonight.
And therein lies the problem.
Take a second and watch Ruff’s postgame comments below.
“We’ve talked about puck management over and over and over. Until we get it, we’re just hurting ourselves.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 19, 2021
Lindy Ruff speaks following tonight’s loss to the Red Wings. pic.twitter.com/IprchZ4Tgc
Lindy Ruff might be in over his head and clueless and playing with just clubs and diamonds when he needs a whole deck of cards, but he is not wrong. The Devils best players were nowhere near good enough tonight to the point where MASON GEERTSEN stood out in a positive way.
The Hughes line did nothing of note tonight while the Red Wings top line combined for all five goals. The top pairing of Ty Smith-Dougie Hamilton struggled to the point where Ruff switched things up in the third, but by that point, you’re just grasping for straws and rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Damon Severson had a costly mistake that led to a goal against.
Ruff sounds like a coach who would’ve already benched half the team if he could. And he wouldn’t be wrong to do so. Ty Smith should probably be in the AHL with how he has played this year. Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich would probably be there as well if there was any chance either could clear waivers. The Devils don’t have any answers in net right now unless the question is “Which guy is gonna give up 5 goals tonight?”. It’s just bad right now and there appears to be little to no progress being made. And that’s the most alarming thing with all of this.
I already referenced how the Red Wings started their rebuild right around the same time as the Devils. Detroit looks to be further along in the process despite not having two #1 overall picks to work. So are the Anaheim Ducks. So are the New York Rangers. Meanwhile, I continue to watch this Devils team and they can’t even do basic things like clearing the puck out of the zone. Or completing a pass to someone 10 feet away without them bobbling it. How many boneheaded giveaways do we have to see? How many times is this team not going to cover the middle of the ice in front of the goaltender before you acknowledge what you’re doing is not working? And that’s before I get into the dumpster fire that is the power play.
I’m glad that Ruff finally got around to accepting some responsibility for this mess. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but if the system is too complicated, dumb it down so our players can grasp it. If you’re gonna continue to have shoddy goaltending, maybe tweak things where the defensemen aren’t straying too far in so they’re caught in an odd-man rush, which happens on a regular basis. But its too little, too late at this point.
When the on-ice performance is so bad that Mason Geertsen is a guy the coach is highlighting postgame, you know things are bad.
Dougie Hamilton And Jack Hughes are Irrelevant Right Now
It didn’t even take 30 games for the Devils to turn Dougie Hamilton from a Top-5 defenseman in the NHL to a guy who is totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The Devils haven’t yet gotten that Year 3 leap from Jack Hughes either.
If that’s not a glaring sign that this thing is rotten to the core, nothing is.
We know that talent isn’t an issue with either player, so what gives? Are they trying to do too much right now? That would appear to be the case with Hamilton. I don’t think Hughes has played poorly, although I do expect more from him and Pavel Zacha continues to look like an odd fit on his wing as he floats through these games. I do agree with Ruff that they weren’t particularly hard to play against, but I could say that about a lot of guys tonight.
Again, Should the Devils Have Even Played Tonight?
I wrote in my Flyers loss recap earlier this week that I had reservations about the Devils playing that night with 3 players in COVID protocol and a bunch of other players under the weather. Since then, the Devils have added two more players to COVID protocol, bringing their total to five. Jesper Bratt was unavailable tonight due to a non-COVID related illness that was announced an hour before the game, and Mackenzie Blackwood is day-to-day with a neck injury, so the Devils were forced to play short-handed with 11 forwards and six defensemen.
Steve Cangialosi pointed out on the broadcast that between the two teams, there are 13 people in the NHL’s COVID protocols. None of this is ideal as the league continues to deal with a nationwide COVID outbreak where five teams have had their seasons paused through Christmas.
I had questions, like why did the Devils not call up reinforcements. Fortunately for us, San Jose Sharks beat writer Corey Masisak from The Athletic got to the bottom of things.
A little added context for why the Devils are playing a man short tonight:— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) December 19, 2021
Utica played last night, but needed PTO reinforcements to field a full lineup. Comets put more players in COVID-19 protocol today. If Belleville hadn’t PPD the next game, Utica likely would have.
This would explain why the Utica Comets deleted a tweet earlier today that said that Reilly Walsh and Nikita Okhotiuk were being called up. If Utica is the latest AHL team to deal with a team-wide outbreak, it would make sense that they weren’t in a position to help the parent club.
That said, I question the wisdom behind having both the Devils and Red Wings play in the first place with both teams dealing with significant COVID issues. I don’t want to make excuses because this is stuff everyone is dealing with but Ruff pointed out postgame how it was unfair to both the team and the fans that the Devils had to play short-handed. I would think having only 17 skaters and literally not being allowed or able to call up anyone from the AHL would be enough to warrant a pause, but the NHL feels otherwise. So until the NHL gets around to it, the Devils have no choice but to continue playing uninspired and non-competitive hockey.
The Devils were shorthanded tonight, but they also continued to make the same mistakes that have plagued this team in the Lindy Ruff era and they got the result they deserved. They are now 3-11-3 in their last 17 games and look like a team that has nothing to look forward to aside from ping-pong balls. So much for playing meaningful games later in the season.
What did you think of the loss tonight? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.