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The December 2021 Month in Review of the New Jersey Devils

December 2021 was a bad month for the New Jersey Devils. Prior to Christmas, they had one win in ten games. While they won their final two games, their 3-8-1 month all but turned them into doormats for opponents. Read on at length about the month that was for the Devils.

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NHL: DEC 31 Oilers at Devils
The pleasant ending to a terrible month
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As you are reading this, the New Jersey Devils are on their first three-game winning streak since November 11, 2021. They beat Washington for the first time since January 2020. There is reason to feel good about the Devils. But this is not about that. This is a month in review of December, largely written prior to yesterday’s game. How did the month go for the Devils?

It sucked. December 2021 sucked for the New Jersey Devils. There is your a month in review in a sentence.

Objectively, it sucked. Subjectively, it sucked. Whether you watched all of the games, listened to all of them, or make comments online saying that you did whilst your comment suggests you actually do not watch the games, or somewhere in between, it sucked. It just sucked. The Devils saw their fading playoff hopes nosedive to near-oblivion as they went 3-8-1 in December. It is tempting to put a positive spin on this post as they did win their last two games of the month. Then I recall that meant the Devils had exactly one win in December, which split a four-game winless streak and a six-game winless streak. The Devils’ seven points earned was the fourth-fewest earned in the month among all NHL teams. Their point percentage of 29.2% was the third-lowest in the NHL, better than only Montreal and Arizona. As of the morning of January 1, 2022, the Devils are seventh in the Metropolitan with eighth-place Islanders behind them by five points and five games in hand. I repeat: December sucked for the Devils.

November put the team at a kind of crossroad for this season. This past month, the New Jersey Devils showed that they were a doormat. Of course, like many things in life, the details are more interesting than a pithy statement. Let us review December 2021 as a 14-game - pending NHL schedule changes driven by COVID - January 2022 begins (which is already 1-0-0.)

The Games of December 2021

The month began with a back-to-back set that the Devils’ social media account termed as “Minny-Winny.” Or Minnesota and Winnipeg for those who prefer proper names. The start was auspicious. On December 2, the Devils visited the Wild. The defense was porous and effort to start the game was plainly poor. The Devils made it close for a few minutes in the second period before Minnesota pulled away in a 2-5 loss. The very next night saw the Devils go to Manitoba. They managed to give up three goals within the first eight minutes of the game, score four straight on one of the better goalies in the league in Connor Hellebuyck, and then concede five straight within the second half of regulation. The Devils lost 4-8 in what would be Jonathan Bernier’s only appearance of the month.

The Devils returned home to host Ottawa on December 6. This game was originally scheduled in November but the NHL postponed it due to a then-outbreak that cut the Senators’ roster short. They were more at full-strength in a game that was ultimately frustrating. Damon Severson scored 35 seconds in, Ottawa equalized, Nathan Bastian tipped in a shot in the second period, Ottawa equalized, and the offense for both sides fell flat. A shootout was needed and the Devils’ shootout woes yielded a 2-3 loss in what was thought as a “must win” game against one of the league’s weakest teams. Disappointing as that was, the Devils did make things more right on December 8 against Philadelphia. Despite their interim head coach, the Flyers’ performance was one of the saddest ones from a Devils opponent this season. The Devils cruised to a 3-0 win. It ended a four-game slide. For a day or two, there were higher hopes for the Devils. Reality had other ideas.

On December 10, the Devils hosted Nashville. While the Devils (Pavel Zacha) scored first, the Devils fell into a hole against the Predators whilst unable to finish their own plays or get anything from their power play. A late goal by Yegor Sharangovich made it a 2-3 final score instead of the 1-3 loss it was likely going to be. The very next night saw the Devils go to the UBS Arena to visit the Islanders. The Isles ended their slump earlier that week. They proceeded to beat the Devils in a very similar performance by New Jersey from the prior night for their first win ever at UBS. The Devils lost 2-4. But the next game would be in Philadelphia. Surely, the Devils would find relief against an opponent they have smacked down twice earlier this season, right?

No. Despite being sick, head coach Lindy Ruff started Mackenzie Blackwood (he said as such in the post-game presser). Blackwood was bad. So was the rest of the team. The Devils were creamed in a 1-6 beating to the Second Rate Rivals. On December 16, the Devils returned to the Rock to host Las Vegas. Jack Hughes scored first. Then the visitors tacked on four goals in succession. There was an attempt at a comeback featuring a rare power play goal and a rare shorthanded goal. But the hole was too deep. The game ended with a Devils consolation goal (a second one for Hughes) taken away after review, a stupid line-brawl featuring Mason Geertsen going after Alex Pietrangelo for Reasons, Robin Lehner smacking Kevin Bahl with his stick, and fans displeased with the 3-5 final score - with one fan throwing a jersey on the ice.

The losing continued on for a little more. On December 18, the Devils visited Detroit. Detroit has been real good at home this season. The Devils have been real bad this month. Mason Geertsen was legitimately one of the better Devils on the ice, as the Devils played short due to illness keeping Jesper Bratt out as a late scratch. (Yes, Bratt was too sick to play but Blackwood was not. Apparently.) The Devils lost 2-5 to the Red Wings. On December 19, the Devils returned to the Rock to host Pittsburgh. This performance was their best since their win back on December 8. It even had a power play goal. It also had a shorthanded goal allowed, a bad turnover yielding a game-breaking goal through a wide-open screen, and the Devils’ sixth-straight loss with a 2-3 final score. How much longer would the pain endure?

Due to a mass number of players entering the COVID-19 protocol across the league, there would be a break. Within 48 hours of that December 19 game, the NHL went from postponing certain teams’ games who were more significantly affected by the virus (or the potential of having it) than others to banning games that required cross-border travel to postponing nearly all games on December 21 and starting the holiday break on December 22. This meant that the Devils’ games in Pittsburgh on December 21 and December 23 at home against Montreal are moved to a day to be determined later. This also drove the NHL to opt out of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. The originally-scheduled break in February will be used to re-schedule the postponed games. As players reported back on December 26, the NHL postponed games one additional day; a game in St. Louis scheduled for December 27 will also be re-scheduled.

This led to the end of the month, where the Devils shined the brightest. On December 29, the Devils resumed their season against Buffalo. It was a game filled with long shots yielding results, a lot of attempts by the Devils, some bad breaks keeping it close, and big nights on the scoresheet for Bratt and Hughes. The Devils did manage to win their first game since December 8 and their second of the month with a 4-3 victory. Any win to break a losing streak is always welcomed. On New Year’s Eve, the Devils hosted Edmonton in a matinee that went in unexpected ways. Hughes, Connor McDavid, and Nico Hischier all scored within the game’s first five minutes. The first period ended at 3-2 in favor of New Jersey. The third period saw Edmonton go up 4-5 during a delayed penalty call that somehow continued despite Hughes and Dougie Hamilton touching the puck. After a 10-minute review, the referees concluded that the play could not be reviewed so the goal stood. But Sharangovich managed to get a tip-in on a Hamilton shot for a late equalizer with 32 seconds left. In overtime, Hughes took a pass from Bratt and fired a shot through Mike Smith that snuck over the line for the 6-5 win. A thrilling end to a game where the Devils were close to hanging another ‘L’ (this time thanks to the officials), and to close a month where the Devils were often the nail being hammered in.

By the Numbers

Every month, I provide a snapshot of the team’s on-ice rate stats, with and without score adjustment, and their ranking among the league. I do this for 5-on-5, power play, and penalty kill situations each. Numbers in the top ten are in green, numbers in the bottom ten (23rd to 32nd). It is important to check on these numbers on a monthly basis to get a sense how the performances went as a whole beyond the results. To ignore them entirely is also unwise as they may point to some of the bad - and good! - things the Devils have done on the ice regardless of the score.

For this month, it is worth noting that the Devils played in more games than most of the league due to the league’s various postponements. The Devils played in 12 games; only two other teams (Our Hated Rivals, Tampa Bay) played in as many, and only one played in more (Las Vegas, 13). This has helped the Devils reflect better and worse in some stats with out

All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and where mentioned.

5-on-5 Numbers: The Devils averaged just over 49 minutes per game in the most common situation in hockey, the 10th most in the NHL per Natural Stat Trick for December. The differentials were not bad, however there was a downturn in some offensive categories, and one big goaltending elephant in the room:

New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in December 2021
New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in December 2021
Natural Stat Trick

The Devils’ goaltenders were bad. Gave up too many goals. There’s your summary. Moving onto the nex-OK, no, I will not shortchange you like that. There is also more to discuss.

The good news is that the Devils did get better about giving up as many shooting attempts, scoring chances, shots against, and high-danger chances compared to last month. The bad news is that their offensive rate stats all went down except for SCF/60 - which is a bit out of place, but it is what it is. Compared within themselves, this is not bad. It suggests the Devils have been at least a decent team in 5-on-5. The expected goals model at Natural Stat Trick back this up. While the score and venue adjustments were all unfavorable for the Devils, they show similar findings with only one stat (SA/60) dropping into the red.

But the team’s percentages, which were sweet for the Devils in November, went sour in December. The team’s shooting percentage dropped about a full point from 8.08% to 7.05%. That is unfortunate. The goaltenders were collectively good in November with a team save percentage of 92.6%. They were collectively terrible in December with a 1980s-level 86.97%.

This was a bad month for Mackenzie Blackwood, who ended up playing the majority of games in December with 9 appearances. One of which - the 1-6 loss in Philly - he was sick as a dog for and was given the start by Ruff in spite of it. Blackwood also missed some time due to a neck injury, which he recently came back from. His last two appearances, where he gave up three goals and four goals (and one that shouldn’t have counted), were not confidence-inducing. His 5-on-5 save percentage of 87.4% speaks for itself. So why did he get so much time? One, Jonathan Bernier - who stopped 21 out of 26 shots in his only game in December - was put on IR for what is known a significant hip injury. Bernier never got a chance to make up for that bad game and he was signed to be the veteran goaltender . Since he was not available to play, that meant more work for Blackwood amid a team slump. Two, Akira Schmid was brought up and was put to the proverbial sword with a 87.1% save percentage in three appearances. It would not be fair to fault the rookie to not be immediately great. However, his faltering led to the Devils to seek out a sixth goalie option for this season - Jon Gilles, who played once and has since been unavailable due to COVID protocol - and further reliance on Blackwood.

Third, and this is a larger point for the 5-on-5 section, Blackwood being good would not have necessarily led to a far better team. I know this because that is what happened last month. Blackwood and Bernier were legitimately good goalies in November and the Devils won all of five games. For December, the Devils’ lack of goalscoring doubled-down on the pain from goals allowed. It is worth noting that their 21 goals scored in 5-on-5 was boosted big time by the six they scored against Buffalo and Edmonton. Prior to those two games, the Devils only scored more than once in 5-on-5 play in four games this month. And they went 0-3-1 in them, which included the botchery in Winnipeg. The goal support was not often there. After all, Jack Hughes led the team with 5-on-5 goals with just four - and only four other Devils scored more than one 5-on-5 goal all month. (Related Aside: And only Hughes and Bratt scored at least 5 points in 5-on-5. Some players like Johnsson and Mercer went cold.) Even with better goaltending, the Devils were usually not scoring enough to take many more games.

Fourth, and this is more of a systemic point, I think the on-ice rates for the Devils in December flatter them. A lot of the goals allowed in December were also a direct cause of one (or more) of the skaters making an error or the Devils’ system being beaten. Just look back to the December 31 game against Edmonton. For an example of an error, Marian Studenic coughs up a puck on defense. The turnover led quickly to a tip-in goal by Kailer Yamamoto, which tied up the game at 2-2 at the time. For an example of the system being beaten, look to the last legitimate goal Blackwood allowed to Edmonton. Ryan McLeod gets ahead of Ty Smith and goes to the corner. Because Lindy Ruff and Alain Nasreddine want the Devils to overload the puck carrier in 5-on-5 defensive zone play, Smith chases McLeod and P.K. Subban heads to the corner, leaving the net front wide open. Devin Shore crashed to the net, McLeod saw him heading that way, pass-shot-score. Sure, it would have been nice if Blackwood made the point-blank save. A more traditional, less aggressive defensive system would have had Subban stay at the net and that would have prevented the goal from even occurring. The Devils’ having a good looking xGA/60 or a really good looking HDCA/60 does not tell you whether the opposition created great, close shooting opportunities or if the Devils helped make it happen. The latter has been hindering the goaltenders and the Devils all season.

These points do not absolve Blackwood. Or the other goaltenders. The Devils’ goaltending performances were really bad. There will be continued slumps and slides without improvement. As much as I will agree that Blackwood (and Schmid and Bernier) need to be way better, I cannot agree that, say, a 92% from Blackwood in 5-on-5 hockey alone would have turned December around and have us talking playoffs. It is not that simple for the points brought up. At least, the Devils as a whole were not getting creamed in the run of play. That continues to be a development.

Power Play Situations: The Devils ended December with three power play goals in three games. And the rate stats were not as dire as they were last month. Is it good? No. It is better than rock bottom, which is about where they were in November.

New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in December 2021
New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in December 2021 and Natural Stat Trick

In November, the rate stats half of this picture was nearly all in red. Now, it is mostly in the black to indicate the team was at least among the middle 12 teams in the NHL. That is progress. That is, I guess, a sign of execution improving. Stubbornly, the Devils have continued to stick to their 1-3-1 system wherein three out of five players typically move the puck to each other in the zone. But they have cycled through different players. Nathan Bastian was given a chance in the Pittsburgh game to be the one to be in front of the net. And a goal was scored, so they continued it. Another long shot in the Buffalo game for a PPG led to Bastian staying in front for Edmonton. A Jack Hughes one-timer went past Bastian and the goalie, so it will likely continue. This recent success has some of the People Who Matter thinking that their issues have been solved. They found the Net Front Presence(TM) - despite that the Devils constantly had one on their power play all season.

I am not convinced. The systemic flaw of the Devils leaning too hard on the perimeter and settling for long shots is suggested by their decent CF/60 and their not-at-all decent SF/60. Sure, you may get lucky that the shot gets through the traffic and the Net Front Presence(TM) to the goalie. More often than not, the Devils have seen those shots blocked or go wide. I can buy that Bastian may be better at getting in front of the goalie without getting in the way too much - think Patrick Maroon - than other Devils like Nico Hischier, Andreas Johnsson, Tomas Tatar, Pavel Zacha (who is big), Dawson Mercer, and others tried out in that spot of the formation this season. I am not ready to buy that the Devils’ power play is not a significant issue of the team. Again, the last few games of the month helped make things look better than they were for a majority of the month. The Devils’ power play scored all of three goals in December before their current PPG streak. The team was (and is) still prone to giving up shorties - thanks to Philly, the Devils were not last in this category - and they still waste a lot of opportunities, which has held them back multiple times earlier this month. But I will agree that the power play in December was better than what it was in November. That is true.

Penalty Kill Situations: Due to the constant losing, it has gone under the proverbial radar that the Devils were one of the league’s most successful penalty killing teams in December. Seriously. These numbers say a lot of good things.

New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats for December 2021
New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats for December 2021 and Natural Stat Trick

The penalty kill was marvelous in December. Giving up just four goals all month along with some of the league’s best on-ice rates is just incredible to look back on. The only issues with November’s penalty kill was the goaltending - which was barely in the bottom ten - and that the Devils took a lot of calls. In December, the goaltending turned out to be adequate and the Devils’ discipline was a lot better. They ended up drawing more calls than they took, which is always a plus. I do not have much more to add to this other than, please, keep it up. And use whatever lessons here for 5-on-5.

Additions and Subtractions

In terms of injuries, the biggest one would be the one suffered by Jonathan Bernier. Bernier played in part of the 4-8 loss to Winnipeg. That would be his only appearance in the month. He would be placed on injured reserve on December 10 due to a hip injury. There has been no update since about his status or when he may be able to return. Again, Bernier was brought in to be the veteran goaltender to do well when he starts and provide support for Blackwood as needed. He cannot do that now.

This was a factor in the Devils’ sole trade in the month. During this month, Blackwood did miss a few games due to a neck injury. This meant a little more action for Akira Schmid and a need for another goaltender in the organization. On December 15, the Devils acquired Jon Gilles from St. Louis for Future Considerations (read: nothing much of value). Gilles made his Devils debut in the 2-3 loss to Pittsburgh on December 19. That appearance remains his only one as he was placed on COVID protocol before the NHL resumed its season. He has been removed from the protocol on January 1. Gilles’ one game makes him the sixth goaltender to have appeared in the net for the Devils at one point or another.

The COVID protocol was the most significant impactful factor for the Devils this month. While players did get sick aside from the virus - it led to a late scratch for Bratt - the source of the global pandemic forced multiple Devils to miss multiple games. Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, P.K. Subban, Jesper Boqvist, and Christian Jaros all missed games due to the protocol. As they returned, Tomas Tatar and Gilles entered the protocol on December 26. Jimmy Vesey entered it on December 29 prior to the Buffalo game. On that same day, the NHL did announce that teams can carry a taxi squad of up to six players to be available up until the All-Star Game break. As of the morning of January 1, the taxi squad had three players on it: Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote (added that day), and Alexander Holtz (added that day). When the Devils had players enter the protocol, there was no taxi squad. So they had to call up players as needed. This led to games for Boqvist and Jaros (before they entered the protocol), Geertsen, Bahl, and Studenic.

Lastly, one coach entered the protocol at the end of the month: Lindy Ruff. This was reported prior to the game against Edmonton. Alain Nasreddine was put in charge in his place for that game and will continue to do so until Ruff returns.

Devil of the Month

The Devils won three games out of twelve this month. One could argue that no one was consistently excellent to warrant such an award. One could also argue for an anti-award to be given who was consistently poor throughout December (my pick: Michael McLeod). However, to not do this would be to not highlight what was the best amongst a lot of not very good. And to do an anti-award would seem mean. So let us do this anyway with what we have.

The honorable mention will go to Jack Hughes. Out of the entire NHL - and acknowledging that many teams missed games due to postponements - only 52 players put up ten or more points in December. Two of them were New Jersey Devils and one of them was Jack Hughes. Hughes shined the brightest in the team’s two wins to end the month as he scored the game-winner against Edmonton and he put up three-point games in each. He also led the team in 5-on-5 goals for the month with four, finished one shot behind Dougie Hamilton for the team lead in 5-on-5 shots, and the Devils’ on-ice rates were quite good when Hughes was on the ice. Which is notable as Hughes had a variety of partners and started December at wing. Did he make mistakes? Sure. Who didn’t on this team in December? Unlike those, he would redeem the errors overall as The Big Deal finished December with six goals, five assists, and on a path for an even brighter January. That would be great for all involved if he could do that. And so he is the Honorable Mention for the Devil of the Month of December.

But I have to give the actual prize back to Jesper Bratt. Yes, he got it in November. I would argue that Bratt was one of the few consistently good things about the Devils in December. You want him to make something happen? He can do that. He can try. He can put in that work. And he did what he could amid a month filled with poor performances and bad results. What were Bratt’s results? A very good (and better than Hughes’) 5-on-5 line of on-ice rate stats wherein he was the only Devil to have an on-ice xGF/60 over 3 when he took a shift in December. The team lead in 5-on-5 points with eight: three goals and five assists. Joining Hughes as the only forward with at least 30 shots on net. Joining Hughes as the other Devil with over ten points in December with three goals and eight assists. And he was only held pointless in four out of twelve games in December. Whereas multiple Devils went cold, turned invisible on the ice for periods at a time, or were just not good, Bratt was a pleasure to watch. If the Devils are going to have a better January, then they need to do whatever it is to keep #63 going. For the second straight month, Jesper Bratt is the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for December 2021.

Concluding Thoughts & Your Take

Let us go back a month first. Back on November 16, 2021, Corey Masisak published one of his last articles about the Devils at The Athletic($). It was about how General Manager Tom Fitzgerald oversaw the after effects of the Taylor Hall trade made in 2019. One of the picks was used in the trade for Jonas Siegenthaler. Here is what Fitzgerald stated about that deal in November:

“I’ve said, look, I don’t want to be a doormat and getting a young player like Siegenthaler who can help us but wasn’t getting to play...yeah, let’s do that. Trades are hard on individuals. I lived in. Because you just want to impress and you squeeze (your stick) and sometimes less is more. He came in and it’s a new system, completely different - there’s no another team in the league playing the D-zone we have so it’s complete unorthodox. He was thinking too much. I remember Nas (assistant coach Alain Nasreddine) saying it doesn’t look like he’s that good of a skater. But we knew he was a really good skater. We just hadn’t seen it yet.”

The first sentence of this quote speaks to the doormat theme for this season. In December, the Devils were very much a doormat team! Even with decent looking on-ice rates, the Devils were not scoring many goals. And they were allowing many goals if/when the goaltending faltered and/or the defense was blown up. Even with recent successes, the power play has otherwise been as strong as a plastic bag in a windstorm. The penalty kill has been great but we know from 2019-20 that a great PK cannot elevate a team from being really bad on its own. Again, the Devils went 3-8-1 in December. Their three wins came against a Philadelphia mired in its own slump at the time, a Buffalo team that didn’t have their head coach behind the bench along with other players, and an Edmonton team that has had its own struggles, form and management-inflicted. And the Devils needed a late tip to force overtime and a Hughes shot to go through Mike Smith to win that Edmonton game. They hardly had any statement wins. The only dominant performances were really in those first two wins as opponents of all kinds found ways to beat the Devils over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. Sorry to say, but that makes any team resemble a doormat until proven otherwise. I could be meaner and reference a mouse, but companies like Disney tend to make changes when things are going real bad, real fast instead of doing nothing. Which is what the Devils management has done amid the failures.

The second part - about Siegenthaler getting used to New Jersey - speaks to a larger issue with this team. As good as the on-ice rates may look, the Devils have been exposed at a cost with their tendency to overload on defense. It asks much of the forwards to backcheck and jump into spaces at a moment’s notice. It is aggressive and if it works quickly, then the Devils can counter-attack just as fast. But if it does not, either a goal against is coming or a long, painful shift endures. The NHL is a copycat league not because of a lack of creativity. It is because most teams find systems that work and just stick to that. They look for adjustments and leverage various strengths and hide weaknesses as they see fit. One would have thought that a blueline that became larger and a team that became a little more experienced together would be more fundamentally sound on defense. Instead, the creases are clear for the opponents to set screens and bang in goals at close range. They don’t need a lot of high danger chances if they convert on the first few. Why there has not been a change to this apparently “unorthodox system” 32 games into the season as teams continually beat the Devils silly on their weakside, I do not know.

And I really do not know what will happen next. Through the team’s official website, Tom Fitzgerald spoke on December 20 - back when the Devils were 1-8-1 for the month - and stated that the issues with the team must be addressed from within the locker room. No public admonishment for the coaching staff. Regardless of how ill-prepared the Devils were to start some games. Or how they were crushed in second periods. Or how their power plays were wastes of time at best and a goal against at worst. Or even just the record, which has all but taken the Devils out of the playoff race barring a miracle run in 2022. To me, I’m still stunned that Ruff openly stated he started a sick Blackwood who proceeded to get shelled in Philadelphia. That alone could have justified a firing. Nope. Fitzgerald came out about a week-and-a-half later and pointed a finger at the skaters for the losses. If this past month was not enough to even just change a power play coach, then - short of a public scandal - this coaching staff is here to stay for 2022. So I cannot expect that to happen.

Given that the same coaching staff has shown an unwillingness to change anything about how they do business this season, I cannot expect a whole lot better for the Devils. Sure, the Devils players could play better. We could see Bratt and Hughes continue to go off. We could see Hischier continue to do good things and get little respect from some of the more vocal People Who Matter about it. We could see a return to form for Johnsson, Mercer, Tatar, or Sharangovich. We could see anything better from Janne Kuokkanen and McLeod. We could even possibly see Ty Smith revert to his rookie form instead of whatever this is. And we could see good goaltending. Again, Blackwood showed he was a good goaltender in November. Again, the Devils received good goaltending in November. They won five games with it. To write him off entirely after December or fault him entirely for a 3-8-1 December is disingenuous. You can think otherwise. I cannot agree. But this is a lot of “coulds” for a lot of players stuck in systems that have been continually beaten like a drum in December and in multiple games in November. January begins with Washington (which the Devils did well, but also needed OT to win as Blackwood shot the team in the foot for that one), Boston, Columbus twice, and Tampa Bay. Do you think they or anyone else will see how the Devils play and get worried. I think not. They probably know what to expect and can make life difficult for the Devils. I expect the Devils to not be as bad as they were given their 3-8-1 December, but I am not expecting a winning month either. Because if the past two months did not lead to changes to their defensive zone play or power play (or anything else), then why should I think they’re going to do anything about it now? The holes will continue to be dug and possibly even deeper.

I would love to be proven wrong as another poor month of results and second-rate performances would nail this season shut. It already feels like the 2019-20 season. And the 2018-19 season. And the 2016-17 season. Seasons where the Devils had not much to really play for in the new calendar year. Before you write, “But John, they’re four points back of a playoff spot as of January 1” remember that they are also behind four other teams and they have to keep getting results to stay ahead of them. It is not as simple as gain four points and you have playoffs. Also: mediocre teams are in a playoff bubble. The Devils are not in one. Ergo, this is not a mediocre team. It is not good. And many of the People Who Matter know this. Without some wins to even hang on to faint hopes, more and more will continue to check out of the season early. Just as they did in 2020, 2019, and 2017. And more and more may not get so excited after the Summer of 2022. I can’t blame them either. Yet another December of disastrous results have put the Devils in a familiar, yet unwanted spot. I don’t like it anymore and even I am getting really tired of it.


I’ve ranted enough about this awful month of games. Now I turn this over to you. What did you think of the Devils’ performances in December? Did anyone really impress you? What did you learn from this month in review? Do you agree that Bratt is the Devil of the Month? If not, who should it be and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils in December 2021 in the comments. Thank you for reading.