If this isn’t rock bottom, what is?
The New Jersey Devils had one last opportunity prior to the All-Star Break to get in the win column and feel good about themselves before getting a few days off to regroup and reset. After being embarrassed with four unanswered third-period goals 24 hours ago to blow a 4-2 lead and lose 6-4 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Devils had a chance to get back out there the following night on home ice and flip the script. Unfortunately, the Devils didn’t bother showing up and looked disinterested as Toronto jumped on them early and often and ran them out of their own building in a 7-1 rout in Newark, their sixth consecutive regulation loss.
The game got started with a Ty Smith icing 22 seconds in. The Devils lost the defensive zone draw and the puck was cleared to center ice, where Jesper Bratt got a sharp-angle shot that Jack Campbell stopped for a whistle. Jesper Boqvist lost a neutral-zone draw against Pierre Engvall, allowing Toronto to get the puck in deep. Jon Gillies misplayed the puck behind his own net, and Engvall found Jason Spezza for his second goal in two nights as the Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:13 into the game.
Wayne Simmonds tripped Janne Kuokkanen and the Devils got their first power play of the night. New Jersey was fortunate not to get scored on short-handed yet again as Damon Severson misplayed a pass from Jack Hughes. Thankfully, Gillies made the stop on a streaking Mitch Marner. The Devils gave up another short-handed rush in the waning seconds of the power play, with Ondrej Kase sent the shot wide of the cage. Nate Bastian and Ty Smith got a shot each on Campbell the other way. Gillies bailed out Hughes again with a key save, as Hughes lost the puck and Marner got a point-blank opportunity.
Shortly after the TV timeout, Andreas Johnsson lost a board battle to Marner, who punched it to Michael Bunting. Bunting sent it back to Marner, who found Auston Matthews alone in the high slot. Matthews fired the puck high glove side past Gillies for a 2-0 lead. Moments later, the Leafs got the puck in deep again. PK Subban overcommitted and lost an edge in the corner, so Ilya Mikheyev fed David Kampf for the 3-0 advantage. Alain Nasreddine, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, called a timeout to try to settle the Devils down.
Unfortunately, that timeout didn’t help matters and didn’t help the Devils play better along the boards. Toronto kept piling on as they continued to outwork the Devils down low. Auston Matthews stole the puck from Damon Severson and found Mitch Marner in front for the 4-0 lead as the boos rained down at The Rock.
Pavel Zacha tripped Ilya Mikheyev with 3:32 left in the first for the Leafs first power play. Jimmy Vesey showed nice patience on a 2-on-1 opportunity short-handed but couldn’t finish. The Devils did a decent job on the kill until Damon Severson recklessly cross-checked Bunting into the boards to give the Leafs a 5-on-3 advantage for 20 seconds. The Devils killed off the remainder of the Zacha penalty and were fortunate not to give up another goal in the period as Rasmus Sandin fired the puck off the post. The horn sounded and the Leafs would go to the dressing room up 4-0 and with nine seconds remaining on the power play.
The Devils killed off the remainder of the Severson penalty to start the second period. They didn’t generate much of anything offensively though for the first few minutes aside from a Dawson Mercer wraparound attempt. Hughes fed Ryan Graves for a scoring chance but Campbell turned him aside. Toronto added to their lead as Hughes, who was at the tail end of a long, poor shift, sent an attempted cross-ice pass in the neutral zone off of David Kampf’s skate, leading to a 2-on-1 the other way and Michael Bunting ripping the puck by Gillies for the 5-0 lead.
Alex Kerfoot caught Ryan Graves with a high stick in the neutral zone for the Devils second power play opportunity. TJ Brodie cross checked Nate Bastian for some reason behind Campbell’s net and the Devils let the Leafs touch up for 1:46 of 5-on-3 power play time. The Devils decided to waste most of the first minute of that two-man advantage as Hughes wiped out while nonchalantly receiving a pass and Hughes deciding to keep passing back and forth with Severson instead of working the puck down low and shooting. The Devils finally did work it down low with Hischier and Hughes feeding Bastian, but the Devils didn’t finish and certainly didn’t score. Kerfoot and Brodie exited the box as Tatar sent a shot wide and more boos rained down at Prudential Center for Mark Recchi’s patented lackluster power play.
The Leafs continues to have their way with the Devils as they won an offensive zone draw. Colton White tried to chip the puck out of the zone but wound up passing it right to former Devil Wayne Simmonds, who found Pierre Engvall for the 6-0 lead. The Devils continued to not generate much of anything as the second period came to an end.
Akira Schmid came on in relief of Gillies to start the third, but Toronto seemed mostly content to sit back and protect their six goal lead for the first few minutes of the third. Hughes did a nice job knocking down a pass from Yegor Sharangovich in the neutral zone and denying Jack Campbell a shutout with a wicked wrister to get the Devils on the board.
The Devils continued to play poor defense though, as for some reason they couldn’t corral the puck along the boards despite having four players beyond the goal line. Marner controlled the puck and ripped it by Schmid for Toronto’s 7th goal of the night and his second of the game with 14:03 to go. The Leafs seemed content to park the bus and not allow the Devils too good a scoring chance the rest of the way The Devils obliged by never really seriously threatening to tack on another consolation goal. The Leafs fans remaining in attendance chanted “Go Leafs Go” as the final seconds ticked off the clock and Toronto got an easy 7-1 victory over the hapless, lifeless Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Pension Plan Puppets if you want to read the Leafs perspective on tonight’s game.
Everybody’s Play was Bad and Everybody Should Feel Bad
Where do we even start?
Do we start with the goaltender? Jon Gillies gave the Devils no chance tonight, which shouldn’t be too surprising since he was mostly posting a .924 over the previous four outings through smoke and mirrors. His defense did him no favors, but that didn’t stop Gillies from being repeatedly beat clean against an explosive offensive team like Toronto.
What about the blueline? Only the White-Subban pairing finished on the positive side of possession, not that that matters a whole lot in a game you lost by six goals, but that didn’t stop them from having defensive lapses they’d like to forget. Damon Severson continues to be an enigma, with flaws that get exposed when he is leaned on this heavily. I don’t put a lot of stock into +/- as a stat, but there’s something symbolic about every Devils defenseman finishing -2 tonight. A better stat would be Toronto having a 10-2 HDCF edge through two periods when they scored six times. Anyway you slice it, Toronto dominated possession over the first two periods and collectively, it was a poor defensive effort overall.
What about the forwards? They weren’t good. There were not a lot of quality scoring chances for the brief timeframe where the game was close, and things didn’t get a heck of a lot better once the game was out of reach, as Toronto sat back and protected the lead. Yes, Jack Hughes scored a nice goal. He also got caught up doing bad Jack Hughes things where he tries to do too much. Some of those mistakes didn’t come back to bite him, but one did on the Bunting goal.
But the issues are larger than Hughes with a defensive lapse with the game already out of reach. The forechecking and backchecking in this game was awful. The Devils consistently got outmuscled and outworked along the boards. The passing wasn’t sharp. Jack Campbell made 31 saves, but I can’t recall a lot of tough saves he had to make tonight. The power play was unacceptably poor tonight between the short-handed chances Toronto got on the first penalty and the passive approach on the 5-on-3. Once again, none of the other lines outside of the Hughes line did much of anything. I get that the options are limited, but enough of Jimmy Vesey on Nico Hischier’s wing. Enough of Pavel Zacha and Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich sleepwalking through games. The Kuokkanen-Boqvist-Bastian line got destroyed by any and every metric you want to use.
I’d get on the coaching, who should’ve all been relieved of their duties months ago, but what else is there to say at this point? The Devils came into tonight unprepared to play, got punched in the mouth once, and in typical Devils fashion, folded. They looked disinterested and looked like a team that would rather be anywhere than at the Prudential Center facing this Toronto team again. I hate to be so blunt but I’m also not going to sugarcoat what I see watching the games. The Devils looked like a team that mailed it in tonight, postage stamp and all, and flat out quit. They looked like a team going through the motions and looking ahead to a few days off for the All-Star Break to just get away from hockey. They played with no energy and no sense of pride. They continued to make the same mistakes they typically make because they play with no structure. Those issues are further compounded with them being outgunned and outmanned from a talent perspective. It’s a recipe for disaster, and it makes you question what exactly can you take away as the Devils continue to play out the stretch?
Tonight, there were no positives to take away from this game. And that is quickly becoming a recurring theme with this Devils team that is trying to figure out how to win when all they know is how to lose.
Do Something, Fitz
I wonder what’s going through Tom Fitzgerald’s head watching these games.
Fitzgerald doesn’t strike me as a stupid man, but he does strike me as a man who thinks he has a lot more job security than he actually does. I’d love to have that kind of confidence in my job security if my record was 34-55-12 since having the interim title removed as the team’s general manager, but I didn’t assemble this awful roster or hire this awful coaching staff.
In fairness to Fitzgerald, the roster has flaws that he has tried to address. And I get it, nobody asked for the two goaltenders he brought in the last two offseasons to contribute next to nothing. Nobody asked for injuries to key players, COVID, or regression by certain key players.
That said, the Devils are now 5-10-0 and have won once in their last ten games since Fitz said “the answers are in that room”. Injuries happen to everyone. COVID has happened to everyone. Guys around the league go through slumps. Yet, the Devils continue to show that the answers, in fact, are not in that room. They never were in the room. They don’t have the depth nor the mental fortitude to push through when the first sign of trouble pops up, which explains why they are where they are in the standings.
After bringing in Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, Ryan Graves, and Jonathan Bernier this offseason, the expectation was that the Devils would play meaningful games later in the season. Where even if they didn’t make the playoffs, they’d at least be competitive. That they would show progress and give you reasons to believe they’re on the right track. Instead, the Devils season effectively ended sometime in December while they were running an injured goaltender into the ground and we’re left to get these types of efforts as the Devils are playing out the final 37 games on the schedule and throwing away yet another season.
I want to be clear. The issues with the Devils are bigger than any one player on the roster. They’re bigger than this terrible coaching staff. They’re even bigger than Fitz at this point. The Devils have build a culture of losing, where these results are acceptable. Until that changes, nothing changes. Until there is accountability.....until there is actual leadership shown, nothing will change.
None of this absolves Fitz from doing nothing. We might be at the point of the season where any changes are akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but status quo can no longer be acceptable. Make a trade? Send a player down to Utica to send a message to the room? I don’t know what the answer is, but continuing to do jack squat is not acceptable. I’m not the one being paid a handsome salary to have the answers like Tom Fitzgerald is. Unless Fitz is planning on being fired along with Lindy Ruff and the rest of the coaching staff at the end of the season, I would implore Tom Fitzgerald to do something.
Where is Rock Bottom and Can we Finally Hit it Already?
I’ll leave you with this.
When you are a doormat with AHL-caliber goaltending and a terrible defensive structure like the Devils, the rest of the league is going to laugh at you while they embarrass you. And rightfully so.
It’s tiring coming on here and writing the same thing over and over in these recaps about poor goaltending, poor defense, poor effort, etc. I’d like to think every time the Devils sink to a new low, that’s it and they can’t possibly sink lower. Things can’t possibly get any worse. And yet, here we are yet again as the Devils continue to defy expectations and prove me wrong. I suppose it is indeed too much to ask the Devils to at least play with some pride instead of thinking about their Carribean vacation plans this weekend.
What did you think of the latest loss tonight? Are you as fed up with everything as I am? Who, in particular, has drawn your ire on this evening? Please feel free to vent in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.