The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
Remembering How to Play Hockey
At the end of my recap on Thursday night, when the Devils lost 5-2 to the Wild, I said:
And I mean - hey - the Devils got themselves to within one tonight. Then they forgot how to play hockey again.
What happened on Friday night? The Devils got themselves the lead after being down 3-0. Then they forgot how to play hockey again.
The Devils are five points out of the nearest playoff spot, as of right now. The Penguins are at 27 points - though the Devils have two games on hand. The Devils are 2-6-2 in their last ten games. Lindy Ruff needs to get his team back to the basics. The team cannot waste their puck possession with long stretch passes from defensemen who are incapable of making them. They need to be making short and sweet passes, drawing oncoming Senators to the puck carrier and creating space ahead. Incapable defensemen making long stretch passes to forwards for one-on-one rushes is not the way this team scores. They simply do not - aside from maybe Sharangovich, Zacha, and Bratt - have the ability to beat the defender and the goaltender with a long-range snipe.
Additionally, the defense has been a mess of late. Coverage has been breaking down close to the net, and opposing teams have had the ability to jump on rebounds without being fought at the netmouth. This is what this team traded for Ryan Graves and Jonas Siegenthaler for - to defend around the net. Instead, I have mostly been noticing Graves and Siegenthaler trying their hand on the offensive end, taking long-range shots that sometimes waste the hard work of the forwards to gain the zone.
The Lines in Practice
Sam Kasan posted the lines in practice yesterday.
#NJDevils line rushes for practice...— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) December 5, 2021
Zacha - Hischier - Bratt
Johnsson - Hughes - Sharangovich
Tatar - Mercer - Vesey
Kuokkanen - McLeod - Bastian/Boqvist
Graves - Hamilton
Siegenthaler - Severson
Subban - Smith
Geertsen - Jaros
Everyone keeps focusing on the forwards, noting that Ruff has broken up the Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt line, and is not playing Kuokkanen with Hughes and Sharangovich. I am not as concerned with this as I am the bottom four starting defensemen. There is simply no reason to keep those pairings together after the crap show that was the 8-4 loss to Winnipeg. Siegenthaler and Subban were a fine defensive pairing, as Siegenthaler allowed Subban to pursue some more of what’s left in his offensive tank. Instead, Subban is now saddled with Ty Smith, who is in dire need of a pick-me-up - and won’t get any help on defense from Subban. Damon Severson and Ty Smith played top pairing minutes last season - against top competition. It is a mistake not to let them try to find their footing in lesser minutes. While Severson has been fine analytically, the results have not been there and the Devils are too deep into the schedule to let that trend fester. Smith, meanwhile, has been terrible on all fronts. I had hoped Smith would have a little more mojo to his game with Hughes back, but Ruff has not made the decision to pair a Smith-Severson back end with the Hughes line on offense since Jack’s return. This is just an easily avoidable mistake, as you could drive play with Hamilton backing the Hischier line, and take defensive responsibility off Mercer’s shoulders with a Siegenthaler-Subban pairing.
The Senators are a rough team, but they have a good streak going for them now. They just beat the Avalanche on Saturday, and the Hurricanes on Thursday. Beating those teams is no joke, and the Senators might just be finding their footing after a hard COVID outbreak that saw little help from the league in the way of canceling games. There is plenty of young talent in the team in Tim Stuzle, Brady Tkachuk, Joshua Norris, Drake Batherson, and Thomas Chabot. However, the Devils need to - for once - take advantage of the terrible Ottawa goaltending. Anton Forsberg is 3-4-0 with an .893 save percentage and 4.13 goals against average. Filip Gustavsson is 3-6-1 with an .899 and 3.64. Matt Murray, now sent down to the AHL, is 0-5-0 with an .890 and 3.26. The Devils cannot leave points on the board tonight, no matter what the Senators just did to Carolina and Colorado.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will bounce back? Will Nico Hischier build off his goal last game to start scoring again for the team? Will Mercer be alright without Johnsson and Bratt? Will Ruff ever change the defensive pairings back to what they should be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.