The New Jersey Devils had a good start to the season in October. This past month of November would be tougher on paper. There were more games; 14 on the schedule and 13 played with one game re-scheduled into December due to the NHL postponing three Ottawa games. There were more games on the road. After playing six out of seven in New Jersey during October, the Devils would be on the road for seven games out of the thirteen games that they did play in November. The competition would be tougher on paper with two games against Florida home and away, a road game against Tampa Bay, matchups against Minnesota and Boston, a road game against Our Hated Rivals, and a trip through three California teams that have exceeded expectations. November would reveal more about how good the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils really could be.
The Devils went 5-5-3 in the month of November. Their 13 points earned was 24th most in the NHL with two behind the league median of 15 for November. While they ended the month in sixth place in the Metropolitan, they were also on the periphery of the wild card race in the Eastern Conference. Their on-ice rates also suffered as well as their results. The general feeling about the Devils is low these days with how they performed, how they ended November, and how December continued their struggles. In order to establish where they are now as a team, let us look back at how November went for the New Jersey Devils.
The Games of November 2021
The New Jersey Devils began the month with a three-game trip through California. They were to play Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose. After a shootout loss to Columbus that closed October, the Devils began their trip in Orange County on November 2. Anaheim smacked them down. The Devils’ special teams were picked on and the general performance was just poor. The Devils were shutout in a 0-4 loss to the Ducks. Two days later, the Devils were in Los Angeles to play the Kings. The Devils did score in this one. However, Damon Severson took three stupid penalties and the last one nearly cost them the game with the Kings going up 1-2 late in the third. But Pavel Zacha managed to score within the final minute to force overtime. Alas, a Ty Smith turnover led to an Al Iafello overtime winner and a 2-3 loss for the Devils. The following night, the Devils would close out their trip in the Bay Area. This one was a little less sloppy and the special teams were another weakness. But the Devils were able to get another late equalizer in the third period, this time from Janne Kuokkanen among a broken play. The game went to a shootout and Damon Severson, of all players, emerged as the third shooter. He would score and the Devils won their first shootout in quite some time and won 3-2 to salvage the trip at 1-1-1.
The Devils returned to the Rock on November 9 to host the Florida Panthers. The Panthers, at the time (and still now), are among the league’s best teams. This game was filled with goals and favorable bounces for New Jersey. Despite Sam Bennett scoring first, Andreas Johnsson put home a rare PPG for the Devils and Nico Hischier scored his first of the season for a 2-1 lead in the first period. During the second period, Aleksander Barkov, Owen Tippett, and Johnsson combined for goals within the first two minutes to make it 3-3. That score stood until a late goal from distance by P.K. Subban in the second period. The game got even more out of hand when Zacha tucked home his own rebound off a rush for a second PPG in the game, Ty Smith scored off a Panthers’ glove, and Jimmy Vesey sank in an ENG. The Devils indeed rang up seven goals off one of the best teams in the league in a 7-3 win in their highest scoring game yet this season.
The Devils would carry on the good times against the New York Islanders on November 11. We now know that the Isles would slump throughout the month. At the time, that was not clear. In front of a lot of Isles fans at the Rock, Mackenzie Blackwood was the star as he stopped everything from the Isles. Kuokkanen scored a shorty, Tomas Tatar scored his first as a Devil as a Dougie Hamilton hit off his shin to bounce into the net for a PPG, and Dawson Mercer and Hamilton tacked on goals in the third period. The 4-0 win was an enjoyable result.
Unfortunately, it would be the last one for about a week. Against Boston on November 13, the B’s would prevail. Their Perfection Line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak picked on the Devils all night long. New Jersey had little answer to respond. They sagged in a 2-5 loss that snapped a then three-game winning streak. On November 14, the Devils went to the World’s Most Overrated Arena to play Our Hated Rivals. It was close. The Devils were down, Kaapo Kakko got away with plowing into Blackwood like he was Chris Kreider on a goal, but the Devils got something out of the game. Zacha provided another dramatic equalizer and the Devils survived to force overtime and a shootout. While the Devils scored in the shootout, Jonathan Bernier - who replaced Blackwood - was also beaten. After 7 rounds, the Devils were felled and took a 3-4 loss on the books. The Devils were supposed to play Ottawa on Tuesday, but that game was postponed and eventually re-scheduled for December 6. Therefore, the Devils remained on the road and went to Florida. On November 18, they visited the Panthers - who were a dominant team at home. The Panthers proceeded to decisively beat the Devils in a 1-4 game, mostly in the second period. The Devils were very good in the first, but the Panthers clawed them down in the second to make the third period an obligation instead of a competition.
With three straight losses, a game in Tampa Bay loomed on November 20. It seemed that the defending Stanley Cup Champions would make it four straight losses. The Devils went into the third period down 1-3 and looking lesser than their opponents, like in their previous game against the Panthers. I do not know what was said at intermission. Or what someone thought. But whatever it was, it worked. Mercer opened the period by rounding Andrei Vasilevskiy to make it 2-3. Later, Vesey was sprung for a breakaway by Subban and he finished it to make it 3-3. Yegor Sharangovich, who provided the Devils’ lone goal earlier int he game, scored his second of the season by beating Vasilevskiy low to put the Devils up 4-3. Blackwood was a wall in the third period - stopping a 2-on-0 of all things. Tatar sealed the game by negating an iced puck from Graves and putting it into the empty net. The Devils won 5-3 with a four-goal third period. Easily the team’s biggest comeback of the season. A game fans can be proud of.
The Devils would not be able to build on that big win. On Thanksgiving Eve, the Devils hosted Minnesota. They went down early, giving up the game’s first goal and a shorthanded goal for a 0-2 deficit. The Devils brought the shot volume and hit four posts throughout the contest. They also had four power plays yielding one goal against. But the goals would eventually come. Hischier set up Zacha in the right circle to make it 1-2. Hischier set up Sharangovich in the slot in a 6-on-5 situation to make it 2-2. Overtime was in control by the Devils, but a shootout was needed. And the Devils failed to even score in the shootout and ultimately took a 2-3 shootout loss. Disappointing as that may have been, it paled in comparison to Black Friday’s game in Nashville. The Devils came out listless. Their game plan was blown up by the Predators. The Devils’ compete level was as if they all ate a turkey before the game and needed a nap. While the Devils did put up two in the third period, it was too little, too late for a comeback in a 2-4 loss to the Predators.
The Devils finished up November with a pair of home games. On Sunday, November 28, the Devils hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. The on-ice performance was the exact opposite of the Nashville game. The Devils controlled the play, attacked a lot, and did a lot of good things. Hamilton and the line of Mercer, Johnsson, and Bratt were dominant. It was only close thanks to Martin Jones, the power play giving up a shorthanded goal, and an odd carom off a ref helping set up a goal for the Flyers to make it 2-2 in the third. But the aforementioned Mercer line would break the 2-2 tie (specifically Bratt from Johnsson), Hamilton would set up Nathan Bastian (yes, he’s back) for a 4-2 score, and Johnsson put home an ENG for his fourth point of the night and a 5-2 final result. Among all of the wins this month, this one felt the best between the quality of the overall performance, the dominance of Hamilton and the Mercer line, and that it was over a rival. The Devils avoided another three game losing streak. Unfortunately, the Devils failed to build on that. Even with the lift of Jack Hughes returning to the lineup on November 30, the Devils hosted San Jose and fell apart in most ways you can imagine in the second period. It was similar to the 1-4 loss to Florida, only with the Devils being beaten weakside three times in the second period to give the visitors a four-goal lead. While Tatar and Bratt scored in the third period, like the Nashville game, it was all for consolation. A Timo Meier ENG made it a 2-5 loss to end the night and the month of games in November.
Amid the thirteen games played by the Devils this month, there were some nights and moments where you could be proud to be a fan. There were also some nights and moments where you wondered if the team even prepared to play a game of professional ice hockey. While the 5-5-3 record is not great, the Devils did end the month with just two wins in their previous seven games. Thanks to other teams in the Metropolitan Division also struggling, the Devils are not totally out of the picture. However, they would need to do well in December to keep to a goal of playing meaningful games later in the season. Ideally, they would need to bounce back to start December in order to best help their cause. (Spoiler: They did not. They started December 0-2-0 with two bad losses in Minnesota and Winnipeg. But this is the November month in review and not the November plus two games in December in review.)
By the Numbers
Every month, I provide a snapshot of the team’s on-ice rate stats, with and without score adjustment, and their ranking among the league. I do this for 5-on-5, power play, and penalty kill situations each. Numbers in the top ten are in green, numbers in the bottom ten (23rd to 32nd). It is important to check on these numbers on a monthly basis to get a sense how the performances went as a whole beyond the results. To ignore them entirely is also unwise as they may point to some of the bad - and good! - things the Devils have done on the ice regardless of the score.
All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned.
5-on-5 Numbers: The Devils averaged 48 minutes per game in the most common situation in hockey, the 25th most in the NHL per Natural Stat Trick. After a strong October, things took a turn for the worse in November. Especially on defense:
The Devils have given up a higher rate of shot attempts, shots on net, scoring chances, and high-danger chances in November than they did in October. Of course, the Devils played more games in November and more games on the road. But this is not a mere decline. The Devils went from being around the league median or above it to being in the bottom ten in nearly all four stats mentioned. The Devils were a top-ten team in CF%, SF%, SCF%, and HDCF% in October. They only remained in the top ten in HDCF% for November, CF% is just above the break-even mark, and The Devils just missed out of the bottom ten in expected goals against per 60 minutes. If you were just watching the games and got the sense that the Devils’ defense - not their defensemen, but the team’s defense - was worse, then these stats back you up. They were objectively worse in this past month compared to October and among the leakier teams in these categories. I’m not going to add in the team’s two most recent games, but I will point out that those issues in those games really germinated in November. It is not a recent phenomenon.
There is good news here. For one, the Devils’ offense was still quite good in terms of generating opportunities. They were a top-ten team in generating attempts and shots prior to venue and score adjustments. They still finished in the top ten in HDCF%. Their expected goals scored rate was around the league median, and their actual goal scoring rate was not only quite good on its own but still ahead of their actual goals allowed rate.
For another, the percentages were more favorable for the Devils in November. After a month of the team shooting at under a not-nice 6.9%, they were a bit below 8.1% for the month - which is a nice bump in favor that leads to more goals. The Devils’ goaltenders were good overall in 5-on-5 play. Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier posted 92.4% and 93.1% save percentages in 5-on-5 hockey, respectively. Their actual goals allowed counts were close to their expected goals against counts. Whatever issue you may have with the goaltenders is your issue; but they did more than their share in the crease this month.
Third, the Devils did have some exceptional performers in 5-on-5 play in November. The line of Jesper Bratt, Andreas Johnsson, and Dawson Mercer led the team, in that order, in 5-on-5 points. When Bratt or Johnsson took a shift, the Devils were generally attacking and attacking quite a lot. The Devils were even more in control in 5-on-5 whenever Tomas Tatar, Nico Hischier, or Pavel Zacha were on the ice last month. Half of the blueline - Subban, Hamilton, and Graves - also had positive on-ice percentages when they were present too.
However, that last point also shows one of the flaws with the Devils in November. If the opposition saw one of the bottom six lines or a pairing that was not Hamilton-Graves, then they were enjoying their hockey for the most part. From Vesey to Michael McLeod to the many forwards given a chance to play, opponents controlled the run of play overall in November during their shifts. While opponents had favorable numbers in shifts against Severson and Jonas Siegenthaler, Ty Smith had especially awful underlying numbers during his shifts. They reflect his visible struggles to contribute on the ice. Throw in some mistakes or bad nights from the top six or that Hamilton-Graves pairing, and you can see how that could contribute to the Devils’ 5-on-5 numbers taking a tumble in November.
These numbers suggest to me that the Devils’ systems are starting to get beaten on in the run of play. The Devils tend to overload to the puck side/carrier on defense; San Jose basically won the game by taking advantage of that. The Devils seek out rush plays from quick zone exits; Nashville (among other teams) snuffed that out by focusing on long possessions on offense and keeping players back in the neutral zone. The Devils tend to go low-to-high when they do generate zone time; opponents are aware of it and try to block out or pick off those inevitable passes to the point or shots from there. Personnel can only do so much. Good talent cannot overcome a not-good gameplan. These 5-on-5 numbers suggest that the Devils need to make some adjustments to how they play away from the puck.
That said, it was not all bad in 5-on-5. There were positives and the Devils provided as much or almost as much offense as they were allowing. If you want something truly awful, then look to the man advantage.
Power Play Situations: The Devils went 3-for-18 in October, garnered boos at the Rock, and had really poor offensive rate stats that go with the reality that the Devils’ power play under Mark Recchi was not threatening to score. It was more of the same in November, only now with shorthanded goals allowed.
Technically, the Islanders had the worst power play in November with just one power play goal for the month and two allowed. But a team does not need to have the absolutely worst power play in the NHL for a fan to think it sucks. And it definitely sucked in November. The Devils’ power play had a goal differential of just +1 by the end of the month. Worse, the team scored power play goals in just three out of the team’s thirteen games and none since the 3-4 shootout loss in Manhattan. That is a goalless streak of six games which was extended to seven. The run of futility just ended on December 3 in Winnipeg when Tomas Tatar sailed a cross-ice pass through two Jets to Damon Severson, who tucked in a shot at the far post. Hardly a repeatable play as opposing penalty killers have enjoyed picking off Devils’ cross-ice passes in their 1-3-1 formation - when they even get set up in it.
There are real systemic issues with the power play and it has hindered the Devils throughout this season, much less this past month. This is both reflected in the results (4-for-38 in the month and the offense generated (bottom ten ranking in all stats except scoring chances for, a function of the Devils having someone in the circles). Opposing teams know full well that if they are aggressive on the puck that is almost always on the perimeter, aggressive after the zone entry, and hold steady down low to prevent the seam passes the Devils are seemingly look for, they will succeed. The Devils’ power play has been easy to play against both in this past month and this season so far.
We have seen a myriad of players tried out for the power play. But its continued failure tells me that it is not the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s, but the X’s and O’s that are at fault. Amazingly, there have been no noticeable changes to how the Devils breakout, gain the offensive zone, set up in their formation, or how they play within a 1-3-1 formation throughout the month. It is as if Ruff approves of Recchi’s system. At the least, he is not being held accountable for the failures. If your response to this criticism is “Well, who do you want to replace Recchi?,” then you miss the larger point. The issue is not that there is no immediate choice to replace him. The issue is that Recchi is not making changes to a power play that is not remotely close to consistently threatening to score, and the Devils are practically fine with it by doing nothing about the system. Which is odder considering they did change the other half of special teams and for the better.
Penalty Kill Situations: The passive diamond is now a thing of the past. Whether it was Lindy Ruff’s idea, Alain Nasreddine’s idea, or whatever, they have reverted back to the wedge-plus-one that the Devils found plenty of success on penalty kills under Nasreddine. As a result, the Devils’ penalty kill was very good in November:
Recall in October that the team killed just 72% of their penalties. That improved by nearly 14% in November. The Devils’ penalty kill success rate for the season is now closer to respectable. That is a result of the glow-up the PK units provided in November. The underlying numbers really point to the success. The Devils were the best in terms of preventing scoring chances and high-danger chances. They were among the best in preventing shots and attempts in general. Their expected goals against rate was the best, a fantastic 3.86 xGA/60. The return to the wedge-plus-one has been an excellent decision and the Devils are now a better penalty killing team for it.
There were two issues with it. One is the goaltending. The save percentage from Blackwood and Bernier finished just inside the bottom ten (Florida was 22nd at 85.45%). One could look at this and wish the goalies stopped an extra shot here and there. I am not so concerned about it. Partially because of their excellent 5-on-5 performances, I do not think this is part of a larger struggle for Blackwood or Bernier. Partially because this has a sum total of just seven goals against. After a month of giving up a PPG per game, the Devils cut that down to just over a half of PPG per game. I can live with that. The other issue is something I would like to see the Devils do better at: going shorthanded at all. The Devils were one of more penalized teams in the NHL last month. They had to kill more calls (43) than they drew (38). Even if the Devils did succeed in killing the penalty, it is time where the Devils cannot really attack. The Devils have enough issues with starting off games slowly or in the hole on the scoreboard, their power play, their depth, and others. Discipline is another one. It may not have caused a lot of pain in November, it could in the future. Eventually, a team will make the most of a given opportunity (e.g. that game in LA where Severson took three stupid and avoidable minor penalties).
Let me go back to praising the PK. What is also impressive about this turnaround for this side of special teams is who is involved. Here is the list of Devils who played at least 10 minutes of shorthanded ice time in November in order: Graves, Severson, McLeod, Siegenthaler, Vesey, Hischier, Kuokkanen, Frederick Gauthier, and Subban. First, notice how that list does not include Zacha, who was a great penalty killer in past seasons, or Hamilton. Second, notice how their on-ice rates are really good for shorthanded situations. Who would have guessed that Severson would be a leading penalty killer and be effective at it? Or that Siegenthaler would be even better at it? Or that McLeod would be more than just a faceoff guy on the PK? Or that Subban and Kuokkanen have done so well in spot duty that one could argue they deserve more minutes? Some of those names may be a surprise to you, but it has been working. The changes that Nasreddine (or whoemever) has made have worked. If they keep doing what they are doing, the PK should go from strength to strength in December. Which makes one wonder why none have been really made for the power play.
Additions and Subtractions
There have been plenty of movement within the roster in November. I apologize if I miss any, but here are the main ones.
First, due to the issue of the bottom six getting beaten on in the run of play, several Devils forwards have been called up to get chances to perform and take a spot. This has included:
- Alexander Holtz, who was called up ahead of the road trip, debuted in LA, was placed on the power play, did not succeed much, and was sent back to the Comets.
- Tyce Thompson, who was also called up from Utica, got hurt in his second appearance, and
was returned to Utica afterhas been on injured reserve since then.
- Fabian Zetterlund, who was called up from Utica and was sent down after three appearances
- Jesper Boqvist, who was also a call up from Utica, played a bit, got hurt, placed on IR, and was re-activated in December.
- Chase De Leo, who was called up from Utica and sent back down after a couple of games.
This menagerie of forwards also includes, Frederick Gauthier and Marian Studenic, who were with New Jersey to start the month, sent down to Utica, where they both remain. The latest attempt to address it came in the form of a waiver pickup. You even know who he is: Nathan Bastian. Yes, the player that Seattle claimed in the expansion draft was placed on waivers prior to Thanksgiving. The Devils claimed him on Thanksgiving and he immediately entered the lineup in the Nashville game. He already scored his first goal in the 5-2 win over the Flyers and remains on a line with Michael McLeod. I will say this about the Devils, they have been active in trying to find someone to solidify the winger position amid the bottom two lines. And whoever they called up was performing well for the hottest team in the AHL, the Utica Comets. The current hope is that Bastian is the one to stem some of the bleeding the depth forwards have done.
On defense, there were only three absences. Christian Jaros was injured early in the month and was effectively out for all of November. This led to Colton White being on the roster for a bit, which was a good as Dougie Hamilton had a minor injury in the loss to Anaheim that caused him to miss the next three games. Between Jaros and Hamilton, this led to White getting into some games and at least night of Mason Geertsen on defense. Hamilton did return on November 11 against the Isles and has remained in the lineup since then. Ty Smith’s poor performances did lead to some benchings and two nights being scratched. That also helped White get into a few more games. In general, though, the defense was largely healthy.
There were no issues among the goaltenders. Blackwood was drilled in the head by Kakko as Kakko scored against him on November 14. He was taken out of the game for the risk of a potential concussion. He cleared as Bernier finished that game. Blackwood was able to be available for all other games.
There was one major addition at the tail end of the month: The Big Deal, Jack Hughes. Hughes started to practice with the team prior to Thanksgiving. He traveled with the team to Nashville, but his status was just close. It turned out that the re-evaluation of his shoulder went well and he was cleared to return for the final game of the month against San Jose. He was slotted at winger for reasons not-fully-known and his return did not inspire the Devils to play a complete or fully competent game. Still, it is better that to see him back. And that was not all. Also on November 30, the Devils extended Hughes for eight seasons for a total $64 million. The Big Deal will be in New Jersey for quite a while.
Outside of the roster, but relevant to the team, the Devils did announce a third jersey. It is the first originally designed third jersey in franchise history, intended to be a third jersey to be worn in games and sold to the fans. It stinks. It is a lazy, boring design that is not at all the black jersey that some of the People Who Matter have clamored for years. But that’s my opinion on it.
Devil of the Month
Despite the uneven, at best, results and performances this month, there are quite a few worthy people for the honorable mention for this arbitrary award. Nico Hischier was a 5-on-5 force. When he took a shift in November, the Devils’ out-scored their opponents both in expected goals (2.22 to 1.97) and actual goals (2.33 to 1.67). Hischier himself put up nine points. Dougie Hamilton continued to show why he earned his massive deal with ten games of mostly sterling defense and more than enough support on offense. A case could be made for Dawson Mercer centering the team’s best line in November. However, I have to go with the other two members of that line.
The honorable mention goes to Andreas Johnsson. What a turnaround from last season. Between COVID-19, a shortened season, and a lot of poor luck at times, it was a bad 2021 campaign for Johnsson. The People Who Matter, the fans, would have loved it if Seattle claimed him instead of Bastian. Thankfully, the Kraken did not. In this past month, Johnsson was both productive on the scoresheet and in the run of play. When he took a shift in 5-on-5 play, the Devils took just over 55% of all shots, about 60% of all expected goals, and just over 70% of actual goals. The Devils’ on-ice rate of goals scored with Johnsson was a staggering 4.99 in 5-on-5 play. Those 5-on-5 on-ice rates for Johnsson in November are just bananas. And his counting numbers were close to bananas (plantains?). Johnsson put up five goals, seven assists, and 25 shots on net. Yes, he was shooting hot at 20%, but the seven assists point to him doing more than that. Also, all but one of those twelve points were at even strength. Johnsson may cool off a bit going forward, but he has proven he is indeed a top-six quality left winger on this team. For that, he is the Honorable Mention for the Devil of the Month of November.
The actual Devil of the Month pretty much has to go to his linemate, Jesper Bratt. Similar to Johnsson, the Devils’ on-ice rates with Bratt were both favorable and very, very good. Not as good as Johnsson’s, but still very good. Where Bratt really impressed was with his production. Bratt tied Johnsson for goals in November with five, but Bratt put up more assists with ten. His fifteen points in thirteen games led the team. Bratt also led the team in shots with 42 - even after Hamilton put up a ten-spot on Philly in the month’s penultimate game. He was no hot shooter - a shooting percentage of 11.9% is not that hot - Bratt was a consistent threat on offense. He was held pointless in just three games in November: the shutout loss to Anaheim, the shootout win in San Jose, and the loss to Florida. That was it. Even when the Devils had a poor performance, Bratt would make something happen on the ice to not only get himself on the scoresheet, but also dull some of the pains of the loss. And, of course, his production helped the Devils get points in the standings too. If that was not enough, Bratt was also the only Devil to score more than one power play goal in the month - he scored two. An indictment of the power play units, but also another point in favor of the winger. Jesper Bratt was incredible in the month and for that he is the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for November 2021.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
Ahead of the Philadelphia game, I had the privilege to speak with Kelly Hinkle of Broad Street Hockey about the then-upcoming Devils-Flyers game. Among her first questions, “With all of the moves the Devils have made, how come they have not won more games?” I cannot fully recall my answer, which likely was pointing out how the Devils did come close with three post-regulation losses to join the then-four games they won in November. However, I have been thinking about this question - especially after how the games went last week.
The Devils managed to sign Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, and Jonathan Bernier this offseason. Hamilton has been as good as advertised. After a goalless run, Tatar has performing much better and getting on the scoresheet by month’s end. Bernier’s save percentage in at least 5-on-5 situations was great. The Devils also saw the ascendency of Dawson Mercer, Johnsson getting hot, Bratt just being electric with the former two, and Nico Hischier being an effective center. The penalty killing units dumped the passive diamond in November for a superior system. With all of these positives, shouldn’t the Devils have won more games?
Sure, if the Devils were better in shootouts, then maybe they would have. If the Devils had a somewhat decent power play, then maybe they would have. If the Devils’ depth was not so cold (or inconsistent) in contrast to the hotter players at forward and defense, then maybe they would have. If the Devils were better on defense in this past month, then maybe they would have. These are legitimate issues, but even I am getting tired of something holding the team back.
The last few games in November were telling. The Devils were not prepared well enough to compete in Nashville, despite the 5-2 result a bad bounce put the Flyers in a position to go ahead in that one, and they laid an egg in San Jose. Throw in the team’s most two recent games - both bad losses - and one has to question what is going on with the team. Yes, the players have made some basic, fundamental mistakes that have cost them. Especially in their most recent loss. It is true that the coaches are not on the ice, but it is also true that preparing and motivating their team to perform before games and in intermissions is part of their job. These recent games combined with how the defense got lit up over all of November suggest that they are lacking in that department. A bad game is just a bad game. When it happens multiple times, especially after stating publicly how the effort was not there, then that suggests a larger problem - and that lies at the feet of the coaching staff.
I have noticed that many of the People Who Matter are frustrated. Some take it out on their favorite scapegoat. Some are frustrated with the losses. Some are at a point where they want to be proven right instead of seeing the Devils succeed - because they do not expect it. And it appears success may be unlikely. For all of the sentiment of “the Devils have to stay afloat until Hughes returns,” the Devils really did not with a 5-5-3 record in November. Sure, they are in sixth place. They are also on the outside looking in to a playoff spot. And fans have noticed that the 2021-22 team after 22 games is a lot closer to eight of the previous nine seasons of Devils hockey in terms of record and placement. And the exception was the one that made the playoffs. My goal for the season is a more competitive team. Yet, they are on the path to fading away from the picture by New Year’s Day - just as they did in 2018-19 and 2019-20. At some point, the rebuild has to be over. Losing seasons are going to be accepted less and less. There will always be overly negative fans, but if they are negative about how this season is going, then the facts of November and the first two games in December are collectively screaming, “They have a point, you know.”
What should the Devils do about it? I am not sure what the next step forward should be. I’d love to see just about anyone replace Mark Recchi as an assistant coach in charge of the power play. As much as the PK has improved, the defense from the skaters ballooned so much in November that I have to question Alain Nasreddine’s value to the organization. If the Devils continue to play lackadaisical hockey, then it could be Lindy Ruff’s time to be cut. But will that immediately lead to wins? If not, then what? The options are getting slimmer. Free agency is not really an option until next summer. The Devils’ issues are not going to be addressed by bringing in player(s) in a trade. If Jack Hughes returning cannot get the team up to play even 40 good minutes against San Jose, then (insert trade target) likely will not. As much as I liked the Bastian claim from waivers; the waiver wire is not likely to provide someone so good that they can help turn the tide in this season. I do not know what exactly should change. I do know that something has to change. And I do know - and by now, you should too - that how the Devils performed in November led up to their current situation.
It will add this final hopeful note. Even with their concerns, the Devils are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and not far away from Columbus in fifth place. They are not doomed to the bottom or near-bottom in the division or league standings. A short run of wins may not only make many of the People Who Matter feel better about the team, but it should get the Devils back in the playoff picture, at least. A winning record in December would be ideal; however, the Devils got off on the wrong foot in that endeavor. But it is still possible to salvage this month and help the Devils climb their way back up in the standings. It is possible. The issue is whether the Devils can make it happen.
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 players in this past 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 Bratt is the Devil of the Month? If not, who should it be and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils in November 2021 in the comments. Thank you for reading.