Six of the last seven New Jersey Devils games have been an absolute, utter disappointment to watch. Not just because those six games were losses, but even more because of the ways the team was finding to lose games. With this shortened season starting out so promising, watching the team throw away 12 points in a difficult division so quickly was frustrating. The start of 2021 looked like the Devils were beginning to turn things around, but inconsistency and inexperience have reared their ugly heads; it’s not too late to fix it, but time to do so will run out faster. Where did it all go so wrong?
The initial loss of the “six of seven” against the Buffalo Sabres wasn’t a big deal; sure it stung, but the Devils did not have their best game and that’s hockey for you some times. No, I think the unraveling all seemed to begin with the blown lead against the Washington Capitals the next afternoon; watching a 2-0 lead evaporated into a 4-3 regulation defeat (with the Devils’ 3rd goal coming in garbage time) seemed to destroy the confidence and momentum the team had built so far this season. We’ve all seen what has followed: another loss to Buffalo, followed by a win against them, and now three straight, with two more dropped to the Caps and the most recent to the Islanders.
So what do the Devils do to stop the bleeding? There may not be one easy answer, but I think there are a few things that can be done to be able to find some better results. Coach Lindy Ruff has already begun to tinker with the lines at practice yesterday, and it looks like there may be a name or two sitting that upsets the fan base, as Jesper Bratt and Nikita Gusev were practicing on the fourth line and seemingly rotating in and out for one another according to Amanda Stein.
Here’s the thing about it: both of those guys have underachieved so far this season, particularly Gusev, with three of his five points coming after the game had already been decided. Our best players not named Pavel Zacha, Jack Hughes, Damon Severson and Ty Smith are just not playing well enough. Scratching a guy to wake him up isn’t always the most constructive strategy, but when Bratt, Gusev, and Kyle Palmieri are all struggling, along with a few of the role players, you can’t just hope they all magically break out of their slumps at once.
Having Nico Hischier injured again is not helping either. One of the most important and valuable forwards on the team has only appeared in five games this season; it’s difficult to find chemistry among the entire team with a player like Nico missing so much time. This second injury is more disheartening, because he looked like he was starting to rediscover his game after no training camp and no early season games. His return cannot come soon enough, though there is no time frame at the moment.
The defense needs to sort itself out too; there are way too many odd man rushes happening right now and they seem to be winding up in the back of the net, no matter who the goalie is on any given night. I understand Ruff’s system encourages defenders to get involved with the offense, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of seeing up an easy tap in for the opposition. So again, not an easy answer to this whole conundrum, but I think getting important players reengaged, having a healthy lineup and sorting out the lapses in coverage could go a long way toward fixing the current situation.
What are your thoughts on the Devils recent struggles? Are you a fan of the steps that our coaching staff is seemingly taking to try and right the ship? What problems are you noticing and how would you fix them? Leave any and all comments below, thanks as always for reading, and let’s beat Our Hated Rivals tonight!