With the New Jersey Devils just barely playing above .500 hockey after last night’s victory, there’s certainly a lot of things that can be improved upon. The power play still stinks, the penalty kill is okay at best, and the team as a whole seems to struggle with consistency. Certain players who played well last season also are struggling now over a quarter way into the season. With so much going wrong though, that isn’t to say that nothing has gone right.
Pavel Zacha has been having a very good season in terms of goal scoring once again, which has certainly helped the team to win some games. Dougie Hamilton has come as everything the team expected him to be and, in a few games, even more than that. Jesper Bratt is proving to be an important piece of this team, and is scoring at an amazing pace right now. Yet despite these things going right, the Devils have had some instances where they’re trying to fix things that don’t need to be tampered with. Stephen touched upon some similar items in his article on the team’s recent struggles, but I think it goes beyond trying to fix what’s wrong; maybe it’s pressure from management to get results, but it almost comes off as actively sabotaging what has been found to work.
Take for example Bratt’s line with Dawson Mercer and Andreas Johnsson. That trio arguably was single-handedly carrying the Devils through some of their games earlier this season. Now maybe part of the reason (or even the entire reason) that line came to be was due to the injury to Jack Hughes; the fact remains that the line found both chemistry and success. So what does our coaching staff do? They kept the line together and figured out where they could put other players that would work of course! No...no wait, they broke the line up immediately in a move that resulted in less chemistry and a few less wins.
I would say this is the most egregious error, but the lineup choices have been head-scratching at times as well. I know players such as Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich have struggled this season, but does anyone think Mason Geertsen is the catalyst to get the pucks moving into the back of the net? I’m aware that he has only appeared in seven contests so far this season, but that’s probably at least six more than he should’ve appeared in. I understand not wanting to be pushed around, but adding a player who isn’t known for offense to a lineup that at times this season already has struggled to score just seems like making a change for the sake of making a change.
Going back to the lines, why wasn’t Hughes reunited with Kuokkanen and Sharangovich upon return? It certainly wasn’t broken last season, and with at least one other line playing well, they probably wouldn’t even have to do the lifting that they did last season! That would also leave Zacha - Nico Hischier - Tomas Tatar and Jimmy Vesey - Michael McLeod - Nathan Bastian as the other two lines, which are already at least somewhat familiar combinations this season. Keep the groups that are getting familiar with each other together for at least a couple of weeks and see what results come from it, rather than changing things after a couple of bad games and/or when someone returns from an injury. If there is an injury, slot in the most appropriate player possible, delegate playing time to the lines not affected by said injury (or injuries) and if that fails THEN make the changes.
The Devils certainly have their faults this season, and again some adjustments always need to be made; teams have coaches and captains for precisely that reason. I do think however that the Devils need to stop tampering with things that wind up working for them, even if the reason for doing so is because they believe it will improve the overall product. As splitting up Bratt/Mercer/Johnsson demonstrated sometimes that ideology can backfire, so maybe it’s best to not try and fix that which is not broken.
What are your thoughts on some of the recent decisions being made by the team? Do you believe this is all on coaching or do you think there’s pressure from management to win? Why do you think these changes are thought of and made? Do you think teams are more impulsive now than in the past in a more “what have you done for me lately” than ever league? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading.