In a season full of disappointment, one thing that was been uplifting has been the blunt points made by New Jersey Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff during his post game press conferences. Contrasted against the rather sedated responses that would be given by prior coaching regimes, Ruff’s pressers show his desire for accountability from his players. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some controversy to go along with some of his comments though.
Particularly, I took issue with one of the one-liner snippets following Tuesday’s crazy game against the Pittsburgh Penguins:
#NJDevils Lindy Ruff : “We flat out need better goaltending.”— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) April 21, 2021
Now, maybe this was about Tuesday’s game in particular, and if that’s the case, well then I would say Ruff is correct. While Aaron Dell had an okay relief showing, Scott Wedgewood was a mess (though he was far from the only player who fits that adjective) and just did not give the team much of a chance to start that game strong. The reason I took issue with this quote is because this is not the only time Ruff has been hard on his goalies. He had some similar words about starter MacKenzie Blackwood earlier in the season.
Now all of the team’s goalies have had their struggles in 2021, but I think Ruff is oversimplifying the problem here. Anyone who has watched the games has probably yelled “Make a save!” or something similar by this point. However what’s been more apparent to me is the number of defensive breakdowns and odd man rushes against per game. Maybe it isn’t every game, but there’s been a pattern from the beginning of the year with the Devils giving opponent’s these high danger chances and it seems like the attitude is that the goalie should be making the save.
I hate to break it to anyone reading this who might think otherwise, but hockey is a team sport. Yes there’s times when individuals need to step up (hence why I’m not absolving our goalies totally of wrongdoing), but to put the blame on the net minders when footage repeatedly shows defenders (and forwards who should be playing some form of defense) either completely out of position or being made to look absolutely silly tells me that maybe there’s a bigger problem.
Maybe our defenders shouldn’t be pushing the opponent into our goalie, particularly after said opponent has already put the puck in the net partly because of blown coverage, Maybe our defenders should be positioned correctly so that when they miss breaking up a cross ice pass. they don’t spin themselves to the ice looking like a fool while the puck zings past them. Maybe some forwards who have had a rough go of it for the past, oh 30-ish games should cover someone!
Losing Travis Zajac, Dmitry Kulikov and even Kyle Palmieri around the trade deadline has definitely diminished the Devils ability to play defense. Injuries and players entering Covid-19 protocol as of late has not helped either. Yet, we have heard less from the coaching staff about the poor defense than we have about the goalies; again I’m not claiming the tenders are completely innocent here, but when the defense isn’t doing it’s job well (if at all) it becomes very difficult for a goalie to do their job.
I understand the team is limited on personnel post-deadline, but you mean to tell me that adjustments cannot be made? That Matt Tennyson is a better choice than legitimately anyone else after that gaffe which probably resulted in Blackwood missing Tuesday’s game? I know that Josh Jacobs isn’t going to be a regular NHL contributor, but supposedly he has had a solid season for a bad AHL team. Should he not have earned a call up over the guy who was hemmed in his own zone all the time to begin the season?
I will agree that the Devils could use a legitimate backup goaltender, or at least one that can play a larger load of games to alleviate the pressure on MacKenzie. I don’t agree that goaltending overall is the team’s biggest problem, especially when Blackwood and Co. keep getting left high and dry. Accountability among your players is fine, but when the same issues have persisted all season, maybe it’s not the goalies...and just maybe it’s not even the terrible defending...
Maybe that’s when the coaches should take a good long look in the mirror at themselves, their systems and possibly even the need to find something to take the blame off of said systems.
What are your thoughts about Ruff’s quote; is goaltending the biggest issue for the Devils? Do you think the collective struggles to defend opposing players is the true culprit? Is this something that goes beyond the players and extends to the coaches and their systems? Which area should be the focal point for the Devils to not repeat this season’s errors? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!