When a team is hot, it seems like they are doing everything right. That is not actually true, but fans of that team do not want to really hear it. Conversely, when a team is cold, it seems like everything sucks and it will never end. That is also not actually true, but not many fans of that team want to hear that either. The New Jersey Devils have been as cold as ice. It is true that they won yesterday to end a five-game losing streak. That is fantastic news. They still have won just four games out of their last twelve. They have went from being in sixth place with games in hand to possibly crash the playoff picture in the East Division to seventh place only ahead of a Buffalo team that is both a total mess and beat the Devils twice within those last twelve games. Whatever hope generated after January has spoiled even with yesterday’s win. Fans have been a feeling a mixture of frustration, anger, disappointment, and disgust among other feelings. It is a little better today because of the win in Boston. But as the Devils followed up a win in Buffalo with five straight losses at home, I think it is fair to say that all is still not that well with New Jersey.
It would be easy to leave it there. But this is All About the Jersey. It is a hockey blog. I think it would be better to go through all of it. The results. The performances. The criticisms. The vitriol. And a reminder that yes, it is bad, but no, it not likely the worst thing you have ever seen.
This is not going to be a well-received post. That’s fine. I expect some (most?) of you to disagree with a lot of this. All I ask is that you do not take it personally. This is my response to all the of main takes and reactions I have seen over the two weeks of Devils games. Some of them come from the Gamethreads. Some of them in other posts here. Some of them are from other areas where the People Who Matter congregate such as Twitter and Reddit. I am not going to point any fingers at anyone; I will be addressing what has been stated - not who stated it. I request that you do not act like I am picking on you because I am not.
Also: Most of this was written prior to the Boston game. If you’re feeling better about the Devils now that they won a game for the first time since February 24, then great. I am too. But I am not going to believe the slump is over until more positive results happen.
Are You Going to Use Stats?
Of course. What kind of hockey blog do you think this is? One that sticks its head in the sand to avoid going into what we would not like to see?
Isn’t This is the Worst from the Devils?
Again, when a team is on a losing streak and struggles mightily, some may feel that this is the team hitting rock bottom. Have the Devils hit rock bottom?
I hope the five-game losing streak was it for this season. But this is far from the worst I have seen the Devils play. It is not even the worst the Devils have even played in the last two seasons. The 2019-20 Devils started the season choking away a four-goal lead in their home opener to start what would be a six-game losing streak that killed off the legitimate excitement fans had that Summer. That season also saw the Devils go on a seven-game losing streak where John Hynes was fired (whatever happened to him?) and that ended with Taylor Hall getting dealt to Arizona. That team also had four separate 3-game losing streaks, while short, just compounded the pain. That squad was also regularly looked like scrubs in 5-on-5 play given the brilliant acumen of Hynes and interim head coach Alain Nasreddine. As bad as the Devils’ current streak of losses has been, this team is already in a better place for future success than they were in 2019-20.
And those fans who proclaim they have been a fan since the 1980s should jog their memories a little harder as there have been worse runs of futility and/or worse seasons than this current one. For example, the first season of Kirk Muller in 1984-85 saw the team lose 60% of their games (48 out of 80) which included a six-game losing streak and an eight-game losing streak amid a run where the team won just five games since February 14, 1985. Yes, the 2021 Devils’ losing streak stunk and I am glad it ended in Boston of all places. It is not the stinkiest.
But This is Unwatchable!
Well, that’s just like your opinion, man.
I mean that. If you think this is such a tough thing to watch, then do not watch it. You are not obligated to pay for a ticket or spend your time watching a Devils game that you think is not worth it. I am not going to blame you for doing so. I do not know why you would need to tell me that. Or tell me you’re turning the game off but, somehow, continue to have complaints about the game you supposedly turned off. But if it is that bad, it’s that bad.
Personally, I do not think it is unwatchable. I agree that they have not been easy to watch. I agree that it is not something I look forward to. But I have seen and written about far worse teams and performances. Like a lot of games in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2018-19, and 2019-20 - squads where they would need at least two games to even get 30 shots on net, or allow over 30 in a majority of their games. Worse than those four seasons, there were the John MacLean-coached Devils in 2010. The Rock cheered the re-arrival of Jacques Lemaire for a reason. And even the good Devils teams - or any good hockey team - has just horrible nights that are intrinsically hard to watch. But this is all my opinion. If you hate this current run, then go do something else if you can and return when it ends.
As a related point, I will also agree that the MSG broadcasts have made the games even more of a challenge to watch. I know not everyone here is a New York Red Bulls fan and his approach to commentating is an acquired taste to put it nicely, but I would love it if Shep Messing did a Devils game during this run of failures. If only to introduce the phrase “absolutely shambolic defending” to the hockey public. It would certainly apply to the Devils in some of their recent losses. Whereas Ken Daneyko and Bryce Salvador (whom I think is fantastic as an analyst and I would like to replace Daneyko sooner rather than later) are too sympathetic and too careful of their criticisms, Messing is as subtle as a brick to the face. During a losing streak, I would rather see the kid gloves taken off here and there. Daneyko, in particular, still commentates as if it is 1985, 1995, or 2005 as some of the things he says in games literally do not match up with what just happened to the Devils on the ice. Even some of the storylines put out by Steve Cangelosi have rankled. For example, prior to Thursday’s game against Our Hated Rivals, he stated that the hope is for Mackenzie Blackwood to rebound with a better performance after a night off against the Islanders. Steve, the Devils have scored all of four goals in the weekend against Washington and just one consolation goal against the Isles. Even if Blackwood could be better, the lack of scoring is the biggest issue with the team. I know that is not all on Steve alone, that involves the MSG producers and such, but I will agree that their lipstick-on-a-pig approach to calling games just makes the game-watching experience worse. We know the Devils are in a bad place right now; just say so!
Can We Blame...
A lot of fans are quick to find a player or a staff member or even an owner to proclaim as the reason why everything is terrible. I will address as many as I can recall.
...P.K. Subban? - Subban gets a lot of attention, he has one of the highest cap hits in the NHL at $9 million, and he is one of the highest paid defensemen in the NHL at $8 million. He also has been easily seen not making long shots work, making slapshot fakes that few people buy, and committing errors that are hard to forget like he was Damon Severson. Given the Devils’ lack of scoring, the defensive issues stand out even more.
Subban has not been abjectly terrible like, say, Matt Tennyson; but he has not been good and certainly not worth his massive contract. I do agree that he probably should have some of his minutes cut until he and his defensive partner can tighten up in 5-on-5. I will even go as far as suggest he will not finish his contract in New Jersey; if you’ve been listening to Garden State of Hockey, then you know. That stated, the Devils’ issues do not go away if Subban would play so much better than he has been. I think some of the criticism levied at him is fair but the volume of it, less so. But that tends to happen with any highly paid player in any sport.
I would agree that Subban really should be better than this and that the coaching staff should use him more appropriately. I do not think Subban and Subban alone is the cause for the team’s woes - or that if Subban played better the team would suddenly start winning. He did put in a good game in Boston yesterday. More of that from him would go a long way towards all sides being happier about #76.
...Travis Zajac? - Memories are apparently short because Zajac has played really well in January. He took on tougher match-ups that would not be ideal for a line centered by, say, Jack Hughes or Michael McLeod. And the Devils won those matchups. Miles Wood’s hot streak of production was helped out by Zajac. Zajac was more than perfectly fine in January.
However, of all of the Devils since the Coronavirus Outbreak in early February, Zajac has been among the poorer performing Devils. His lines can barely buy a goal, they tend to give up a lot of high danger chances, and his usage on special teams stands out among the team’s really bad special teams. Zajac is in the final season of his contract, so this could be the end of his time in New Jersey anyway. Lamenting how this 35-year old player is active seems shortsighted since the issue may be resolved by the Summer. The Devils are already a very young team with multiple inexperienced players used at forward regularly. Zajac’s presence is not blocking anyone who deserves to play - and Binghamton is currently showing there are few deserving to play right now in the NHL. His usage on special teams is a function of A) being a really good penalty killer in the past and B) being fine to take power play faceoffs and sit in the middle of a 1-3-1 formation wherein they need to draw attention instead of getting the puck. You would not want, say, Jack Hughes to be surrounded by opposing players and not get the puck on his stick. You would want him to create the opportunities.
In any case, I think the Devils coaches are trying to get something out of Zajac because Zajac was giving them quite a bit of good hockey as recently as January. Without someone actually being ready to replace his roles, it is not like he can be sat for someone else and the team will be better off for it. I would like Zajac to play better, but his presence is not why they entered Sunday’s game with five straight losses either.
...Kyle Palmieri? - Montvale, New Jersey may still be proud of him, but few Devils fans are at the moment. If you think you’re angry about the Devils now, then think of Palmieri’s agent. Similar to Zajac, the expectation for Palmieri was to be the experienced winger that can score a bunch of goals and take the pressure that a younger player may not be ready for at the moment. He started off the season with zero goals in his first nine games. While his on-ice numbers looked good, it was not necessarily because he was driving the play either. Despite scoring two in Boston in their 3-2 win, Palmieri has returned to going oh-for in the goal department with no goals in nine games entering Sunday’s game. And no points in seven games either. He was credited with a goal yesterday to end those streaks. The problem is that he did not actually score the goal; Pavel Zacha took a shot and the puck hit off his leg in front before it went in. While Palmieri has been shooting the puck, his luck has been horrid and, unfortunately, he has not made enough of an impact off the puck to help the team.
Of all the players, Palmieri may best represent what I think has been happening to the Devils in their current losing streak. He’s been creating shots and scoring chances throughout 2021 with little to show for it. His finishing actually appearing would be really helpful for the Devils to end this slide, be it in 5-on-5 or power play situations. It would be even better if he can be more pro-active in all three zones to try and offset some less-than-impressive 5-on-5 rates. Similar to Zajac, I get why the coaches want to put him in a favorable situation to get his game going. I also think it is fair to expect more of him as he is one of the veterans on a young team. But Palmieri’s goalless run alone is not the sole reason. It speaks to a larger issue, though.
...Will Butcher? - Ah, the defenseman who has played 8 games and averaged 17:08 per game. He is clearly the problem. That is sarcasm, by the way.
Butcher has not been all that good over his eight games. He has been victimized in his own end. While he is not big or particularly quick, defense in hockey (and soccer and basketball and football and so forth) is about effort more than anything else. Butcher’s could be better, certainly. I do not think he has fully earned regular minutes on a healthy blueline. That stated, the Devils’ losing streak is not the result of a defenseman who has played fewer than half of the team’s games and has played limited minutes. Also, he was just scratched for a returning Ryan Murray and Butcher only entered the lineup out of necessity in February, so it is not like the coaches hold him in high regard either.
...Sami Vatanen? - See Will Butcher, but with better 5-on-5 numbers and less offensive production. I agree he has to be better than he has been. He got rocked again in 5-on-5, although a lot of that was to Boston’s top line who can make the majority of the league’s defensemen look bad. But a third-pairing defenseman is not the sole cause of the issues the team is facing.
...Jack Hughes / Nico Hischier? - Usually this argument goes: The Devils won two draft lotteries but since neither Hischier or Hughes are Connor McDavid, it is unfortunate the Devils won those drafts since neither are in the conversation for The Best Player in the World like McDavid is in. And in Hischier’s case, the Devils started this slide when he returned so, clearly, he bears responsibility - especially as he is now the Devils’ captain.
To put it nicely, these are a stupid takes. Hischier returned to the team with a broken fibula that kept him out of an already truncated training camp. It would take a few games to get him to speed, but he got there after a couple of games, his production started to come. We would see more of an impact from Hischier, but an accidental slapshot by Subban hit off Nic Dowd’s stick shaft and broke his sinus, so he is sidelined again.
As for Hughes, he leads the Devils in shots and he’s up there in scoring chances and high-danger chances. He is also just behind Pavel Zacha in points, who just had his own hot streak of points from January 31 to February 28. Hughes has been a reason to still pay attention to the Devils despite their losing and changing linemates. If anything, the other forwards would do well to play more like him in going forward.
...Mackenzie Blackwood? - Blackwood was near-perfect in January. Since then, he has not been near-perfect. I did cover the save percentage thing earlier, so apply that to this. But Blackwood has not conceded many soft goals or ones he would want back. (Aside: This statement implies the goaltender gave up something they should not have. Spare me the literal interpretation of goaltenders wanting all goals back.) More importantly, the Devils have struggled mightily to score goals and kill penalties. No matter what anyone wants to think, a goaltender cannot make their team score goals. And the goaltender can only make saves on a penalty kill. If the goalie is getting beaten on his flank or facing shots from exposed areas, then that falls on the penalty killers - which have been bad this season. So while I would like him to play out of his mind whenever possible, I do not really fault Blackwood for this run.
...Alain Nasreddine? - Nasreddine was brought back to the Devils specifically to run the penalty kill. It made a lot of sense as the Devils’ penalty kills were largely great during the Shero/Hynes Era of the team. This season, the penalty kill has been a dumpster fire in a landfill currently being raided by disease-carrying geese. It has been so bad, it does not make much sense at all. Sure, they killed both calls in Boston yesterday. That still required Scott Wedgewood to rob Nick Ritchie and Reilly Smith on separate chances that on most other nights would have yielded yet another PPGA because the skaters left those areas open. The success rate is still a woeful 65%. The PK suddenly does not become good or even decent or even halfway-decent after one successful game. The seat under Alain Nasreddine should be red hot for the PK’s performance over this season. If the PK is his job, then he has been failing miserably at it. It would be a warranted decision if it comes to that.
...Mark Recchi? - Recchi was brought into the coaching staff by Lindy Ruff, primarily to take care of the power play. The Devils’ power play has not been particularly effective and far worse at creating offense. While their breakouts and zone entries have actually not been bad, the Devils have lost too many pucks too easily just after gaining the zone between bad decisions to pass the puck, relying on reversing the puck around the boards, and failing to complete what should be simple passes. Given that Recchi is still new to the organization, I can understand giving him a longer leash than Nasreddine. But somethings have to change with man advantages. Otherwise, Recchi may need to be jettisoned as well.
...Lindy Ruff? - Ruff has been superior to Hynes if only because the Devils are not getting creamed in 5-on-5 play. Complain as much as you would like about how 5-on-5 rate stats do not matter, but part of the reason why the Devils are still in this re-building state is because the Devils spent the last five-seasons getting outplayed in most games in the most common situation in hockey and not making improvements. Under Ruff, there have been improvements. So the Devils should not throw him out soon either.
I will state that Ruff would do well to be more judicious in his changes amid the lineup. It is common for changes to be made after losses. And I get it if players make mistakes, then they get demoted or scratched. But some of them are odd. I can understand Jesper Bratt spending a game on a fourth line after he stood and watched Anders Lee score an important goal on a shift where Bratt put in a lazy effort on defense. I do not understand not seeing changes to the defensive pairings after games where one or two defensemen get lit up. I know that in a compressed schedule, there are few opportunities to practice and coaches are limited to what they can actually change. But I think some of them as of late have not been smart ones.
...Tom Fitzgerald? - He is the General Manager and this is his team, after all. If the goal for this team was to show them taking a step forward, then a losing streak like this one suggests they are not. That stated, Fitzgerald can only bring in (or out) players - it is on the players to perform. That Palmieri (and Gusev) are not performing well will make it harder for him to deal him in April. I think his judgment day will be in May to see if the team has taken even a small step forward.
...Josh Harris / David Blitzer / Ownership? - The owners are at the top of any organization and so they do bear some responsibility regardless of how involved they actually are. There has always been this odd criticism that shows up when the Devils are not doing well of the current ownership. Usually around how they are not spending enough. I find this to be odd because one of the worst things you can do with a bad team is to deny them any flexibility under a hard cap. If the Devils are a bad team, you would want them to have as much space as possible.
Furthermore, this is the same ownership team that greenlighted Ray Shero to bring in talent with some pricey deals in 2019 when Taylor Hall made it publicly clear he wanted to see improvements in the team. The owners were fine with bringing in Subban and his hefty deal. The owners were fine with trading picks to bring in and give Nikita Gusev $9 million. They were OK with Wayne Simmonds getting over $5 million for a season. They surely approved Hischier’s contract extension. For this season, they were fine with adding the not-small contracts of Ryan Murray and Andreas Johnsson in trades and signing Corey Crawford (who retired), Dmitry Kulikov, and Sami Vatanen. The Devils have the most cap space in the NHL right now and they have over $72 million spent in salaries. This is not really an ownership group that is pinching pennies and keeping the Devils from making moves. I can sort of agree with a larger complaint about the GM not being aggressive enough to improve the team. But the decisions of Harris and Blitzer are not the reason why the Devils are in this losing streak, either.
...The Supposed Lack of Physical Play? - This take about how the Devils are “soft” or do not hit enough people or somesuch frequently comes up during every losing game or after every loss by someone. The Devils’ penalty kill has a success rate of 63.9% prior to Sunday’s game, which is the worst in the league by at least 6%. Why in the world would you want the Devils to possibly take more penalties by being more physical? That would not end the losing. Do you honestly expect the Devils to kill those calls? I do not, not with how they have been not killing calls in 2021. And even if they do kill them or they do not call penalties, how would that make the Devils score more goals? It would not. This “old school” thought is more of a fantasy. Being bigger, throwing more hits, playing meaner, or however it is dressed it up will not make the Devils play any better or have them win games they have been losing. Just because the Devils are getting results like they did in the 1980s does not mean they should play a 1980s style game to fix their issues in 2021.
...Faceoffs? - The Devils won most of their faceoffs in recent losses to the Islanders and Our Hated Rivals. So, no, I do not.
...Special Teams? - Hell yes. They have been a net negative this season. Knowing that the PK is more likely than not to give up a score hurts the team’s mentality and morale. They make the game more difficult for the Devils, who really do not need to make things more difficult then they already are. The penalty kill in yesterday’s win in Boston was an exception, not the rule. Knowing that the power play will not likely generate offense does the same, which is more painful as of late because the team has struggled to score goals in general. This was the same case in Boston and had the Devils dropped points in that game, their 0-for-3 performance would stick out like a sore thumb. They continue to waste opportunities. This is why I think Nasreddine’s seat should be very hot right now and Recchi’s seat should be very, very warm.
...Breakouts and Zone Entries/Exits? - I do think what the Devils do after their zone entries on power plays has been a source of pain for their power play failures. I agree with that. I do think their breakouts and zone exits need to be improved, especially in the face of forecheckers. That stated, before yesterday’s games, the Devils are a top-ten team in terms of shot attempt rate, shot rate, expected goals rate, and scoring chance rate and they are just below the league median in high-danger chance rate. The 2021 Devils cannot be bad at breakouts and zone entries/exits and create a lot of offense in 5-on-5 play. The stats suggest that this is not the problem and I agree. I am all for improvement, especially in dealing with forechecking pressure. But this is not that big of a deal no matter how much you may say so.
...The Schedule? - The schedule is not kind to the Devils. They are playing four games every week from Sunday to Saturday until the end of March. And that last week of March where April begins is the only week where they will play three games that week. The Devils could arguably use some time off to practice or even just get their minds right. However, I think this is not really a cause of the issues. Everyone in the East has a compressed schedule. All eight teams are playing four out of seven this week, in fact. I agree that a stretch of bad games is more likely to be extended with so many games in succession. But the Devils will not get any sympathy from other squads as they are going through the same.
...The Rock? - The Devils have been weirdly unsuccessful at home this season. They just lost five straight in five straight home games. They have the worst home record in the NHL at 2-9-1. This is odd because being the home team gives the decided advantage of having the last change. In today’s game, coaches seek out match-ups for specific lines and pairings. Being able to make that decision after you see the opposition send out their players is helpful. This has not helped the Devils at all. Though if that was the case, that would be Ruff’s fault as opposed to the building itself. It is not like the rink at the Prudential Center is any different from the rinks in, say, Buffalo or Boston. I do not understand it.
...The Reverse Retro or Any Retro Jerseys? - Of course. Burn the 1980-styled jerseys.
I am kidding. The Devils have proven to fail just as well in their normal uniforms over the last two weeks. I am still not a fan of this cash-grab for nostalgia of an era where the Devils only made the playoffs twice from 1982 to 1990. But that is just me.
...The Fans or Bloggers Like You? - Please. If it were up to me, the Devils would never lose and beat Our Hated Rivals by at least six goals. This is not up to me. And it is not up to you either. I know you, one of the People Who Matter, would like something similar. I get that you’re unhappy about the Devils losing and how they are playing. Do not take it out on me or others, be it online or in person. We are not causing the losses or bad performances anymore than we cause the wins or good performances.
My Conclusion: You can for some more than others, but the correct answer is that the team’s losing streak is the fault of the team as a whole.
What Exactly Do You Think is Happening to the Devils?
The short answer is that they are in a slump. If you want a one-word answer, there it is: slump.
In January, the Devils went 4-3-2 and generally looked quite competitive in most of their games. Add a 5-2 win over Our Hated Rivals and a 3-2 win in Boston, which was Boston’s first regulation loss at home of the season, right after the team returned to action after a Coronavirus outbreak, and Devils fans had reason to be hopeful. However, there were real issues plaguing the team then. Special teams were abysmal as the penalty kill put itself in historical lows for success rate and the power play had the power of a wet paper bag. The team was still reliant on the goaltenders playing utterly fantastic to keep them in games. But the Devils were doing well enough in 5-on-5 and if they could minimize the impact of special teams, they could get a result. They were also shooting at 8.33% in 5-on-5 in January, which was a bit above the league median and it meant they were scoring at pretty good rate.
That fell off and fell off hard in February and it has yet to recover in early March. Since then, the Devils’ shooting percentage has been a woeful 5.42% per Natural Stat Trick prior to yesterday’s win. That is the third lowest shooting percentage in the NHL since February 1. League median is 8.33%. To put it another way, the Devils have scored just 15 goals out of 277 shots in 5-on-5 play prior to Sunday’s game. If the Devils were still converting 8.33% of their shots, they would have scored roughly 23 goals. Given how close some of the Devils’ games have been amid this seven-game losing streak, an extra 8 goals could have led to some victories. The losing streak would then not likely be as long, a lot of you would not be so unhappy about the team, and this post would be about something else. But the Devils’ finishing has tapered off in a big way. In other words, the Devils really are in a slump.
What did not taper off were the other issues with the team. The Devils’ penalty kill remains as the least successful in the NHL by far. The Devils’ power play continues to fail to generate an attack that can threaten opposition teams. A good set of special teams could help reduce the impact of a shooting slump in 5-on-5. Getting a few PPGs or being confident the team will not allow a score when down a man could have stopped the team from spiraling into losses for two-plus weeks. The Devils do not have this and it has shown.
Additionally, the Devils’ goaltenders have not been as fantastic. In January, the work of Mackenzie Blackwood, Scott Wedgewood, and one game of Eric Comrie yielded an astounding 94.63% save percentage in 5-on-5. That has fallen off as the combo of Blackwood and Aaron Dell since February 1 provided a 5-on-5 save percentage of 90.33%, which is well below the league median (around 91.8%). This has only compounded the pain of failing to finish in 5-on-5. I am admittedly more sympathetic to the goaltenders because they could have been near-perfect, and the Devils could still have this losing streak as the skaters have failed to score goals. When the goaltender is playing great, a lot of fans love them. When they hit some struggles, a lot of those same fans begin to hate them and act as if the greatness never existed.
In any case, the Devils’ recent lack of results coincides well with their shooting woes. This is an especially frustrating problem because there is not a whole lot a team can do about to fix it. While I think several players on the roster should be playing better than they have been, this is not an issue with just one, two, or three players. The problems plaguing the Devils are team-wide issues. These did not go away in full with yesterday’s win in Boston. They won it primarily because Scott Wedgewood was red-hot in the crease, the Devils’ penalty kill did well for most of the kill and luckily had a red-hot Wedgewood near the end of a few, and a rebound try by Zacha went off Palmieri’s leg and into the net for the only goal of the game. The Devils’ shooting slump is still active. The power play woes are still active. The PK has a long, long way to go to become anything respectable again. Planning on Wedgewood or Blackwood or any non-wood goaltender to be near-perfect is not sustainable. There is still much that has to happen to get the Devils out of the mire that they are in. I can only hope the win in Boston will help lead to more success, but I thought the same
I do think there are some things the Devils should do differently.
What Do You Want to See the Devils Do Differently Then?
Unfortunately, fixing a shooting percentage is far easier said than done. I have written about shooting percentages back in November and one of the key points is that while a really low or high shooting percentage is not likely to last, we have no idea when it will actually end.
Frustrating as this will read, all the Devils can really do is to keep trying to shoot out of their slump. You cannot score goals by not shooting pucks, after all. Since we know the power play has been a waste, it is encouraging to see the Devils at least generate attempts and shots on net in 5-on-5 play even during this slide. They could work on trying to create more scoring chances and high-danger chances, which would include shots in the slot, at the crease, and specific situations (e.g. breakaways). Their one win in the last two weeks saw the Devils take 33 chances and 17 high-danger chances in Buffalo. As disheartening as Thursday’s 1-6 loss to Our Hated Rivals was, the Devils will be better off by trying to create a large number of scoring chances and high-danger chances as they did that night with 26 scoring chances and 13 high-danger ones. Throughout this run of futility, the Devils rarely surpassed 20 scoring chances in 5-on-5 play and 10 high-danger chances.
Creating those are hard, but I think it is going to pay off more than just firing away freely and hoping for a good bounce or a deflection - which is what I have annoyingly heard on broadcasts over the last two weeks. I do not want the Devils to suddenly only take those “higher quality” shots, but I want them to make more of them amid their current volume of offense in 5-on-5. This would mean fewer shots from the point - looking at you, Subban - and seeking for closer shots in general. I was pleased to see the lone goal yesterday created by Subban taking the puck to the net instead of launching it from 50 to 60 feet away with next to no chance of getting past the goaltender - assuming it would get to him at all.
Likewise, the Devils’ defensive woes can help if they can just defend the area in front of their net better. The way Ruff’s systems are structured, the responsibility in front falls more on the wingers than other teams. As defensemen are given the greenlight to engage, a forward has to drop in to support. Centers are supposed to do that already, so wingers need to come in there. I can agree that some players with some really high HDCA/60 rates like Subban and Ryan Murray really need to shape up, but the forwards in general have to be more committed to defense. If they can do that to better protect their “house” in their zone, then that can ease some of work on the goaltenders and lessen the damage they have been taking on the scoreboard. The Devils did a good job of this yesterday in Boston. The players should review the tape of the game closely and recognize that they can do this. If they can replicate it in future games, then that would only help their cause to win future games.
Special teams have to be better. They just have to be. As they are structured, they have been utter disasters. I would argue both of them need a total re-think. Leave all options out on the table. It would be hard for the Devils to be even worse than they have been so try everything. If it means dumping Nasreddine and/or Recchi from those responsibilities and giving it to someone else, then go do it. If it means doing something wacky with the formation or personnel, then you might as well try it. There needs to be more success than what they have provided.
Lastly, and weirdly enough, the whole squad needs to relax. I understand that with a losing streak like this, we would want to see coaches flip out, players get angry, and read/hear quotable quotes made to the media about how they are mad as hell about this and they are not going to take it anymore. I think this would be counter-productive. I think getting frustrated will make them more likely to make mistakes on the ice and reduce morale even more than it may be. It can extend the losses and/or worsen the ones they are taking. Cliche as it may be, the coaches and the leadership - especially the veterans, who have surely experienced stretches like this one in their careers - need to keep focus on doing well for the moment. Do not worry about winning a game, worry about winning a period first. Do not worry about being down a goal or two early, just work to close the gap - like they have done here and there in the past. Do not worry about a PK failure, try to make the next one work. Do not worry about a PP failure, try to make the next one work. One of the worst things the Devils can do to try to end this slide is to get further down on themselves when things do not go to plan. So they need to relax a bit. Ending the losing streak yesterday should release some of the pressure. They have to be careful to not put any extra on themselves if things go south again.
And so should we. Again, you and I are among the People Who Matter, but we are not the players or the coaches or the management directly involved.
Shouldn’t the Devils Be Better Than This?
Yeah, I think the Devils should have been better than they have been. Certainly to be more competitive. I want them to be more competitive and successful than this. Do I think they should be expected to be in the playoff picture? No.
I did not expect that before the season. I predicted that the Devils will finish seventh in the East. The Devils are currently seventh in the East. Most of the other writers on this site had a similar prediction. Even after the 3-2 win in Boston back in February, Dan cautioned on the Garden State of Hockey that we should temper our expectations. He was prescient for saying so. There have been fans here and elsewhere who are looking at this season in a larger view with similar thoughts, and so they are not as bothered about the losing as much as others. They are not happy about the recent games either, but they did not expect the Devils to compete for the playoffs anyway. This sentiment does exist among the People Who Matter and this is acknowledging that. As indicated with my pre-season prediction, I agree with that. This team has ways to go.
Can We Discuss the Re-Build?
Yes, but in another post. I will state that re-litigating the past six-plus years every time a loss in 2021 happens or a goal is allowed in a game is not really constructive.
I am sure some of you will take issue with some of these thoughts and takes about my thoughts and takes surrounding the Devils’ recent slide. So what do you have to say about any of this and the slide in general? Please leave it in the comments. Thank you for reading.