Another game last night, and another New Jersey Devils loss. It seems lately like the team has fallen back to its old ways, as even though they’re outplaying the opposition on most nights, they’re still finding ways to add another mark in the loss column. While the Devils are dealing with some injuries, that’s something every team has to deal with, so while it may be affecting play, it doesn’t excuse the result. Additionally, the goaltending hasn’t been the biggest issue, as there have been some nights where only one or two goals go in and the team still loses.
I would say that this recent skid has exposed the Devils’ need for some more consistent finishers. It’s not the ONLY area where the Devils could stand to improve, but right now it seems like the area that is sticking out like a sore thumb. In the team’s last seven games, they’ve only scored more than two goals in two of them; in today’s NHL that’s just not going to win you a lot of games. The Devils need to get back to scoring three, four, five goals in games so that even in those games where their goaltending is a bit shaky, they still have a chance to win.
If you look at the Devils goal scorers this season, Jack Hughes is leading the way with 18, so he’s not the problem. Ditto that for Nico Hischier at 14 and even Jesper Bratt at 12 despite the fact that he’s cooled off massively from his hot start this season. I’ll even give passing grades to Yegor Sharangovich (10), Tomas Tatar (9), Dawson Mercer (8) and Miles Wood (7) right now. But wait, I can hear you ask, that’s seven players with passing grades. They’re all forwards, so how can it be that the Devils need more goal scorers?
Well see, outside of Hughes and maybe Hischier, nobody on the team has been consistent. The other five forwards mentioned above have been solid contributors this season, but some of them could get pushed down the lineup if the Devils can find or acquire someone who can put the puck in the net with regularity. Others (looking at you Bratt) need to rediscover their game, and quickly. Additionally, there’s a number of forwards I haven’t mentioned yet who just aren’t cutting it this season. Beore I get to them though, just a quick mention that Ondrej Palat, Nathan Bastian and even Alex Holtz aren’t being included here due to the number of games they’ve missed/not appeared in.
So who’s in need of replacing or being pushed in the lineup? Fabian Zetterlund has had a ton of Top-6 ice time this season, and while he has complemented his linemates well, his own offense has dried up. The Devils however, still have a whole line’s worth of forwards to be more disappointed in though, starting with Michael McLeod. I don’t care how many faceoffs he’s winning anymore, he’s only contributed three assists all month. Certainly seems like a lot of his production was due to Wood and Bastian.
Jesper Boqvist has been even worse, with zero points to show for all his game time this month. He’s not the most used player in terms of ice time, but he’s starting to look like another guy who is good at the AHL level but not the NHL. Then there’s Erik Haula, who granted has contributed a decent five points in December. My biggest issue with him is the two goals all season (one in December) while spending a good portion of it with Jack Hughes! How many games have we all watched where Haula has a perfect opportunity, or an open net, and the shot misses, or he flubs it? How can the coaching staff justify keeping him on Jack’s line? If you want someone on the line to protect Jack, maybe go with Miles Wood who at least can put the puck in the net!
So maybe the issue here isn’t lack of scorers after all, but rather foolish line combinations that don’t maximize what the team currently has. At the same time, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see the Devils try and shake things up, using the assets they have to try and bring in a goal scorer. I do understand that with the recent slide, they may also be trying to see where they stand closer to the trade deadline before making acquisitions. If they want to get back to their winning ways from earlier, I don’t think they can wait. If there isn’t anyone available yet though, then at least shuffle lines in a way that makes some sense and gives the team a shot to win. The Devils have been defaulting to “what worked during the win streak” and right now that’s not working either, so let’s try something else.
What are your thoughts on the Devils scoring woes; do they need to go out and acquire a consistent goal scorer? Do they just need to shuffle lines and move down the underachieving players? Do you think the team is just in a slump they’ll break out of? Is this possibly just an overreaction due to how tight the Metropolitan division is? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!