The Time: 5:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
Bench Sami Vatanen, No Matter The Replacement
Sami Vatanen has been the worst player on the ice for the past several New Jersey Devils games. He’s an offensive defenseman without any offense to offer at this point - and is thus a waste of a roster spot and a total liability on the backend. On the game-winning goal last night by Kieffer Bellows, Sami Vatanen stood at the edge of the crease and did nothing, allowing the puck to deflect off his skate past MacKenzie Blackwood. To add insult to injury, Sami Vatanen had the worst xGF% among defensemen last night with a paltry, inexcusable 12.61% at five-on-five. Considering it was a game where the Devils outplayed the New York Islanders at even strength, this stood out even more.
Sami Vatanen does not play on the power play anymore. And with him on the ice, the Devils had 0 scoring chances last night. Killing the team’s offense for 12-18 minutes a game is not a winning strategy. There is no conceivable way that Reilly Walsh would be a worse option at this point, considering he has seven points in nine AHL games this year. It’s not like the loss of physicality is a concern, as Sami Vatanen is both a terrible skater and completely lacks a physical element to his game, as seen on the Bellows goal last night.
Pathetic Special Teams
The box score says that this team went 4/4 on the penalty kill last night and 0/3 on the power play. Yes - the team “killed” all four penalties - but one of the Islanders’ three goals last night came just as Jesper Bratt came out of the box. The Devils need to fix their special teams if they hope to win a game. Just a single power play goal in any of their last three games could have been the difference. If Mark Recchi wants to keep his job, he needs his group to start clicking yesterday.
Shoot the Puck
The New Jersey Devils had four shots in the third period last night - and just one with the goalie pulled. Even as time ran down to 20, and 10 seconds, the Devils continued to look for the extra pass - always ending up back at the point, where their shot would be blocked away. Their performance in the third was sickening, and if they just kept moving forward they might have actually created an opportunity for themselves.
Stop Turning It Over
On the note of moving forward, the Devils need to stop gifting the opposition puck possession with useless dump-ins, blind passes from behind Blackwood’s goal on the breakout, and plays like that stupid backhanded spin-o-rama pass Subban made on the blueline with four minutes to play last night. There’s not much to be said here - just hold onto the puck, don’t dump-in when the Islanders already have three or four guys in their defensive zone, and don’t look for the extra pass. Just shoot it.
Give Hughes More Time
Jack Hughes only played 16:49 last night. In all situations, he had a 95.37 xGF%. He had a beautiful backhanded goal on Thursday against the Islanders - so why not give him more ice time? This Devils team couldn’t buy a shot, let alone a goal, in the third period, and seemed to be sending out Michael McLeod just as much as Jack Hughes. With Travis Zajac and his line functioning quite well the past few games, the lines we need to worry about are Zacha’s and McLeod’s. Pavel Zacha might be a good option as one of Jack Hughes’ wings - but I’d be hesitant to break up that line after how much better they seemed last night. A Zacha-Hughes-Bratt line might be necessary, however, if the Devils fall behind this evening.
What do you think about this evening’s game? Is it possible for the Devils to win at home? Are the right people running this team? Who should even be here after this season? How many players are getting traded at this rate? Who is even worth keeping? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.