The 2021-22 New Jersey Devils were mathematically eliminated from the postseason by the end of March and practically eliminated from it by Christmas 2021. As many of you, the People Who Matter, know all too well in recent Devils season, the last couple months are the equivalent to water circling down a drain. You know the games were all for nothing. I know the games were all for nothing. The Devils went into April with a 5-9-0 record in March and a general, familiar feeling of malaise. The Devils did their best to inspire other feelings throughout April. Disappointment, disgust, and dejection. Those are feelings. They count. I certainly felt them.
Here are some key facts about the Devils’ performance in April. The Devils went 3-8-4 to earn 10 out of
15 30 points. They had the third-worst record in the month in the entire NHL. They won zero wins at home all month out of eight games. The power play that was collectively outscored over this past month. The Devils finished the season with the worst points percentage in the salary cap era in franchise history (63 points out of 82 games, 38.4%) and the worst since the 1985-86 Devils. In short: This month sucked. Let us go over it and move on with our lives.
The Games of April 2022
The Devils had fifteen games to play in April. The Devils had eight at the Rock and seven away from it, including a five game trip. As the Devils “earned” the worst road record in the NHL as the month began, I would have expected the Devils to get creamed on the road . The Devils, well, they defied my expectations at least. But not after stomping all over the spirits of the People Who Matter in a four-game home stand at the beginning of the month. They do not deserve paragraphs. They only deserve bullets:
- On April 2, the Devils hosted Florida. Andrew Hammond made his Devils debut as he was healthy enough to play. The Devils thrilled the Rock and the People Who Matter around the world as the Devils went up 6-2 on the East-leading Panthers going into the third period. Then Hammond and the Devils collectively filled their pants as they gave up four goals in thirteen minutes. Overtime was needed. And the Panthers won it all in overtime for the Devils to suffer 6-7 loss that just should not have happened. A loss that everyone hated in some way or form.
- On April 3, the Devils hosted the New York Islanders. Nico Daws was back in net. So was former Devil Cory Schneider. Schneider played great. The rest of the Devils? Well, Jack Hughes was injured, Nathan Bastian was injured, P.K. Subban was thrown out of the game, and Justin-Gabriel Pageau put up a natural hat trick. Jesper Boqvist and Tomas Tatar pulled the Devils within one, only for former Devil and always Pride of Montvale, New Jersey Kyle Palmieri to pull the game back for the Isles. Nico Hischier made it a one-goal game late, but it was too late. The Devils lost 3-4.
- On April 5, the Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals. In an arena clad in blue and booing Subban every time he touched the puck - despite not doing so on March 22 - the Devils put up a performance best described as “sluggish.” Even though Yegor Sharangovich turned a Jacob Trouba turnover into a score, the visitors broke through and kept the Devils from doing much (with the Devils’ help) to attack. The Devils lost 1-3.
- On April 7, the Devils hosted 32nd place Montreal. Surely, the Devils would do well against them, right? Andrew Hammond was abymsal. The game was close until it was not and Montreal dropped a touchdown and kicked an extra point at the Rock. The Devils lost 4-7 to the worst team in the NHL at the time.
The Devils not only went 0-3-1 at home to start the month, but they found ways to crush the spirits of the People Who Matter who wanted to see, you know, some competitive and successful hockey from New Jersey. With a five-game road trip looming and knowing the team had a horrid road record, there was a reason to think things would go from bad to worse somehow.
The Devils surprised many in Dallas on April 9. They held the playoff-fighting (and now playoff-bound) Stars to just one goal with Nico Daws playing well. The Stars did not bring their A-game and the Devils made them pay in the third period. Ty Smith provided an equalizer. Nico Hischier broke the tie with a late goal on a highlight reel-worthy play. Pavel Zacha scored ten seconds later to really put the Stars down. The Devils won their first game of the month and dealt a temporary blow to Dallas’ playoff chances with a 3-1 win. The Devils rolled onto Glendale, Arizona on April 12. Fabian Zetterlund and Kevin Bahl each scored their first goals. Tomas Tatar and Jesper Boqvist scored on back-to-back shifts late in the second to blow the game wide open. A brace by Yegor Sharangovich ensured a big 6-2 win over Arizona. The trip started well.
Difficulties would arise. On April 14, the Devils visited Colorado. While the Devils beat the Avs earlier in the season, there would be no repeat. Andrew Hammond got the start and was not unwatchably bad. But the Avs flexed their dominance in the second period for three goals. That was enough for the final result, a 1-3 loss. On April 16, the Devils visited Seattle for the first time ever. The first period went well enough with goals by Jesper Bratt and Jesper Boqvist putting the Devils up 2-1 early. The second period was familiar in how the Devils lost the lead to Carson Soucy and Matty Benier’s first NHL goal. A Damon Severson strike in the third period tied it up. Yet, a shootout was needed to end the slow-paced game and the Devils lost that for a 3-4 final score. The trip could still be won - but it would come down to one big game.
The end of the road trip was in Las Vegas. In theory, the Golden Knights had the incentive to crush New Jersey. They had their playoff lives to play for, and the Devils lost their last two in addition to being one of the five worst teams in the NHL. Surely, the G-Knights would take care of business. Hammond provided a different reality. He turned into Eddie Lack in Tampa Bay as he frustrated Las Vegas for much of the game. The Devils went up 3-1 in the third period with the second one featuring Boqvist’s best goal ever so far as he broke Alex Pietrangelo’s ankles and froze Robin Lehner on the shot. The Knights made it dramatic late with a goal with over a minute to play. But the Devils held on. Las Vegas’ playoff odds took a big hit (around 20% at the time). The Devils won 3-2. They went 3-1-1 on the trip, which is a lot better than what I and many expected given how they played before the trip and on the road this season.
April 18, 2022 would be the last time the Devils won a game this season. The Devils had six games in nine games to play to close out 2021-22. They did not win any of them. Once again, bullet points for most of them.
- On April 21, the Devils returned to the Rock to play Buffalo. Andrew Hammond went from being the hero in Las Vegas to being a goat at the Rock. Buffalo scored not one, but two shorthanded goals on the same power play. While the Devils brought the game back within one thanks to Nikita Okhotiuk’s first NHL goal, Owen Power’s first NHL goal and Jeff Skinner secured a 2-5 loss.
- On April 23, the Devils hosted Carolina in an afternoon game. Both teams did not come out on fire, which played into the Devils’ hands. Jon Gillies was excellent. The Devils went up 2-0 with a power play goal by Sharangovich (a deflection on a Boqvist shot) and Nico Hischier scoring in Brady Skjei’s face. But in the final five minutes, a Skjei shot hit off Bahl in front and went in. With the extra skater, Nino Neiderreiter got behind the Devils and tied up the game. A turnover in overtime led to Seth Jarvis ending the game; a 2-3 overtime loss in another collapse.
- On April 24, the Devils hosted Detroit in another afternoon game. The Devils played it as if it was a preseason game. Oskar Sundqvist’s first period goal was all that was needed as the Devils failed to seriously threaten the visitors on offense. Two empty netters made it a 0-3 loss that made everyone in attendance and at home regret watching the game.
- On April 26, the Devils went to Ottawa. Mackenzie Blackwood returned to the crease for the first time in months. But this game was not one for the goalies. It looked like Ottawa was taking the game from the Devils. They scored first, they scored second, and they responded to Nolan Foote’s first of the season with a PPG. Foote scored a late goal in the second period. Ottawa scored shorthanded later, but the Devils finally came back with two goals to tie up the game: thank you Zacha and Sharangovich. Yet, in overtime, Ottawa were the better team by far. Drake Batherson turned out Ty Smith and beat Blackwood low for a 4-5 OT loss.
- On April 28, the Devils visited Raleigh for their final road game of the season. Carolina already clinched the division and rested some players. This did not deter the Canes from bossing the Devils around in their end of the rink. They scored three goals in the first 13 minutes and never looked back. Carolina ended up dropping six on Andrew Hammond, who was finally replaced with the last one. Any goal the Devils scored was for consolation. The Devils lost their final road game, 3-6.
And it all came down to April 29, 2022. The Devils’ season ender against Detroit at the Rock. It was Fan Appreciation Night. This fan would have appreciated a win. A win to end the then-five game winless streak. A win to have at least one win at home this month. A win to make up for whatever that nonsense I saw on Sunday. Did they do it? No. They tried. But the game featured a lot of what was bad about the 2021-22 Devils. The goalie - Blackwood in this case - being beaten? Check. The defense being caught out of position which “helped” the goalie being beaten? Check. The Devils chasing the game to no avail? Check. A power play that helped nothing? Check. The fans booing as they left the game? Check. The Devils tied up the game three times but the last goal allowed of the season was a Pius Suter shot that just got through Blackwood and crossed the line just before Dougie Hamilton could clear the puck. The Devils lost 3-4. They went 0-6-2 at home in April, they ended the season on a 0-4-2 slide, ended April at 3-8-4, and ended the season at 27-46-9.
Thanks to Philadelphia losing their final game and Seattle dropping points, the Devils secured 28th place, or the 5th worst record in the NHL. No meaningful games were played in 2022, much less in March.
By the Numbers
As is tradition in these monthly reviews, this section looks at how the team stacked up in 5-on-5 play, power play situations, and penalty kill situations with respect to the rest of the league for the month. Numbers in the top ten are in green, numbers in the bottom ten (23rd to 32nd). All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned. I put the numbers together on the night of April 30. The May 1 game between Seattle and Winnipeg will not significantly impact the Devils’ stats for the month.
5 on 5 Numbers: The Devils did actually show some improvement from March in terms of allowing attempts and shots. Not that anyone noticed since their offensive rates sank like a stone in the month. Here are the numbers from Natural Stat Trick.
The Devils managed to get hot enough shooting and some sharp finishing to score a whopping 40 goals in 5-on-5 play. That was the seventh most in the entire NHL in April. They even managed to out-score their collective opposition in 5-on-5. (Of course, the Devils were a bottom ten team in goals allowed.) That the Devils went 3-8-4 in April should clue you in to what made the difference in so many games in April. If you would like a second clue, check out the expected goal differential rates. In terms of expected goals allowed in 5-on-5 and all situations play, the Devils were pretty good. In terms of expected goals scored, the Devils went from below league median in 5-on-5 to one of the worst in all situations. Spoiler: Special teams.
As for the 5-on-5 stats, seeing that the Devils shot at an astounding 11.3% makes me lament that they put up shots at a rate of 28.34 per 60 minutes in April. For contrast, the Devils put up shots at a rate of 33.16 per 60 minutes in March. Had the Devils mustered up more offensive opportunities to put pucks on net, then they could have had even more goals. Maybe even some more wins. Like one at home. Adding to the frustration of these numbers, even the Devils’ goaltenders were not The Worst in 5-on-5, despite some absolutely abysmal nights by Andrew Hammond. They were by no means good or something to be celebrated. Still, there were eight teams with an even worse team save percentage in April. Including some teams who had a good April like Buffalo (8-6-0), Carolina (9-5-0), Los Angeles (7-4-1), Washington (7-3-2), and Florida (12-3-0). Coincidentally, Buffalo, Florida, and Carolina (twice) all beat the Devils.
That the offensive rates from CF/60 to HDCF/60 were within or close to the bottom ten speaks to how the team really faded as the month went on. The illnesses forcing a reliance on call ups from Utica certainly did not help. But it also points to a team that knew full well that the season was going to be over soon and did not do as much as they could. The venue and score adjustments hammered the Devils in that category to drive them all into the red for April. It was not so good for the defensive rates; but those were not too different from past months. If it was not for the high shooting percentage, then the Devils could have been really in the mud when it came to scoring in 5-on-5 in this past month. After all, they were out-performed by their collective opposition in April except for HDCF% and xGF%.
But I can see you not asking me: John, what does a team put up if they have bad on-ice offensive rates and a low shooting percentage? I give you: The April 2022 New Jersey Devils power play.
Power Play Situations: Here are the numbers from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com. I will be brief: Mark Recchi needs to be let go A.S.A.P. If this happens before this post goes up, then great. Good job, Devils. If not, then they better do it because no one, and I mean no one, can justify results like this for a month of games at any level of professional hockey.
The Devils’ on-ice rates during man advantages were almost as bad as they were in March; only the Devils’ in April couldn’t even buy a goal. The end result is that the Devils were out-scored on the power play over the 15 games in April. Out-scored 1 to 3. Once again: Fire Mark Recchi.
P.S. The Devils did indeed lead the league in shorthanded goals allowed with 14 this season.
Penalty Kill Situations: The Devils’ penalty kill took a turn for the worse in terms of success rate. It finished at 27th best for April. The Devils’ rank is worse than their on-ice rates would suggest. Again, from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com:
When it came to preventing shot attempts, shots on net, and scoring chances, the Devils were great. The Devils also did well to limit themselves to 39 shorthanded situations, something four other teams also did in April. The one concerning bit with the PK units was with high danger chances. They were relatively high, which was a surprise. That may have contributed to real issue: Goaltending.
Penalty kill save percentages tend to be highly varied. The Devils’ goaltending has been consistently bad since November, but their PK save percentage in March was not so bad. In April, it was the second worst. They only slightly edged out Las Vegas, which may be a partial reason why they are in the draft lottery with New Jersey this season. Surprising to me, Hammond was not the issue here. He stopped 18 out of 19 shots in shorthanded situations. Nico Daws was lit up on the PK for six of those nine goals allowed and Mackenzie Blackwood was beaten for two PPGAs out of four shots over his two games. Both poisoned the team save percentage to be as low as it was for the month. As a result, the team’s actual GA/60 rate was both relatively bad and higher than the team’s pretty good expected GA/60 rate.
In a month where the power play was a total waste, the team’s penalty kill not succeeding due to the people between the pipes hurt. With bad special teams (also throw in three OT losses and a shootout loss) and 5-on-5 play that was often unfavorable for the Devils, the Devils’ putting up three wins out of fifteen games in this past month is not so difficult to fathom when that is considered.
Additions and Subtractions
The Devils were hindered by a few injuries and a run of non-COVID illness in the final few weeks of the season. Combined with the fact that the Devils had nothing to play for, there were several callups made in the month.
The most significant injury was to the Big Deal. Jack Hughes was injured in the Islanders game at the beginning of the month. The Devils shut him down rather than risk further injury. I can understand the decision to not have him get worse or force his body to suffer through games that now mean nothing. He was sorely missed as the month went on and the offense dried up. The next to most significant injury was to Jonas Siegenthaler. He ended up breaking a hand and missed the remainder of the season. There is hope he could play in the World Championships, but the timeline is tight for that. That hurt a defense that could have used some more stability.
During the month, Nathan Bastian and Jimmy Vesey also suffered injuries that caused them to miss some games. They did recover and return to action by the end of the month. Miles Wood played one game but then was shut down for the remainder of the season as to not risk exaggerating his hip injury.
The illness was more pervasive. I may be a missing a few and I am sorry for that, but the players impacted included Nico Hischier, P.K. Subban, Andreas Johnsson, Pavel Zacha, and Tomas Tatar. While announced with an “undisclosed” issue, Janne Kuokkanen and Ty Smith were out for the final game of the month.
As a result, several Utica Comets were brought in and saw action. Among them, Fabian Zetterlund made the absolute most of his call up. He got into 11 games, scored 3 goals, put up 5 assists, and played very well in 5-on-5. Nolan Foote was brought into 5 games, scored 3 goals, and also did well. Nikita Okhotiuk played very well in his first two games out of five played. A.J. Greer showed sparks with two points in four appearances with limited minutes. Kevin Bahl played in 11 games and surprisingly averaged over 17 minutes per game despite his performances. Alexander Holtz was called up for the team’s final two games and, well, did not do well at the bitter end of 2021-22. Reilly Walsh was also called up but only played in one game - the April 26 game in Ottawa. Spares Mason Geertsen and Colton White each played in two games and, well, they were there. The larger point remains: a lot of different faces suited up for the Devils throughout April; up to 29 different skaters saw action at some point with New Jersey.
As for the goalies, four of them saw action. Nico Daws played in six games. He was sent back to Utica ahead of Blackwood’s announced return to the crease. Hammond was healthy enough to play in April and, well, it was not very good with two exceptions. Gillies was relegated to backup duty; he made one (good) start and one fill-in appearance for Hammond. Blackwood played in Ottawa and in the season ending game against Detroit. Did any of these four play well? Only Gillies posted a save percentage over 90% in April. So not really.
Devil of the Month
With the Devils getting “thinner” in terms of talent in April combined with the lost season and the realization by the players that this was all for nothing, one has to scratch their head when it comes to identifying players who were excellent all month. It also did not help that opposing teams knew they could just target lines with Jesper Bratt and/or Nico Hischier (when available) in match-ups to kneecap the Devils offense. As such, even Bratt and Hischier - two very fine players in 5-on-5 - got picked on in this past month. Or that opposing teams knew that forechecking and pressuring the Devils in their own end can expose the Devils defense. Not that anyone would clamor for a defenseman to be highlighted in this section. Definitely not a goaltender. That all said, two come to my mind that deserve attention.
The first is the honorable mention. While Hischier finished with two more points, no Devil came close to Yegor Sharangovich in terms of goals. He put up 8 goals and 2 assists in 15 games. It could have been nine, but an offside challenge wiped away a goal from the first Detroit game for #17. He also led the Devils forwards in shots on net in the month with 38. His on-ice rates in 5-on-5 were not great, but unlike Hischier and Bratt, he broke even in CF% and was only below 50% in xGF% by a little bit. Without Hughes and various holes in the lineup throughout the month, Sharangovich (and Bratt and Dawson Mercer etc.) received extra attention. That he was able to put up eight goals and the Devils were not completely creamed in the run of play when he was on the ice is impressive to me. Plus, he scored the one and only power play goal of the month - even if it was a touch-off from a Jesper Boqvist shot. To me, that is enough to name Yegor Sharangovich as the Honorable Mention for Devil of the Month.
I am going a bit off the board with the actual award for April. This is not always the award given to someone with the most points or the most goals. I try to aim for a player who was consistently great throughout the month. Someone who brought it to the rink even on the nights where the team stunk. Despite the three-win month, someone did that better than anyone else. That someone was Fabian Zetterlund. Since being called up, the Swole Swede did his best on and off the puck to showed that he belonged in this league. Production? Three goals and five assists in 11 games as he was moved up in the lineup. He can also say he scored the final goal of the 2021-22 season; a finish on a rush with Hischier and Bratt. He also finished second among Devils forwards with 33 shots on net. On-ice play? When Zetterlund was on the ice (per Natural Stat Trick), the Devils had over 53% of the shot attempts, nearly 53% of the shots on net, over 59% of the scoring chances, over 64% of the high-danger chances, over 61% (!!!!) of the expected goals, and over 66% of the actual goals with a GF/60 rate of 5.03. Those are staggeringly good numbers in 11 games, especially knowing he moved up in the lineup in the process. Zetterlund absolutely took this opportunity to excel in a month where more Devils were content to just play out the season. If the Swole Swede is not on New Jersey’s roster in some capacity on opening night in October 2022, then I will be shocked. At the least, he has earned this accolade for April 2022. I name Fabian Zetterlund the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for April 2022.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
I will reiterate what I wrote earlier in this post. Thanks to this past month of futility, the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils finished with the worst record in the salary cap era of the franchise in terms of points percentage. In terms of just points alone, the 63 points earned is fewer than even the 70 points earned by the then-clearly-rebuilding 2016-17 roster. (Before you write in about 2021, 2013, or 1995, those were shortened seasons.) You have to go back to the early 1980s to find Devils teams with worse results than the 2021-22 Devils over a full season.
Sure, we can search for positives. Jesper Bratt had a monster season. Nico Hischier further established he is a top center. Jack Hughes was ferocious when on the ice. Dawson Mercer made the jump from the ‘Q’ and put up just over 40 points in his first NHL season. Sharangovich bounced back from an ice-cold start to finish with 24 goals (a third of them scored in April). Contrary to most Devils seasons, the team scored plenty of goals. And the team was hurt badly by ghastly goaltending, a pathetic power play, and injuries. This is all true and no one is arguing that these were not factors as to why this month and this season went the way it did.
However, this almost makes this season even worse. Even with all of these facts, the Devils won just 27 games and took 38.9% of the possible points. One would expect a lot more results given what has gone right for the team. Or at least a team that took a better percentage of points than the 2021 team did (40.2%) now that pretty much everyone is a year older and supposedly wiser. As much as the Devils were hurt by a lack of it, even league average goaltending would have not made this team be anywhere close to the playoffs. The 2021-22 Devils were that bad.
To me, this places more blame on management and the coaching staff. This is Tom Fitzgerald’s team. He may like this team. Opponents liked it even more as the Devils crashed into the end of the season with a six-game winless streak and three wins in April. If the issue is really with the players, then the GM who acquired them is at fault. And before writing that Ray Shero is really to blame, recall that Fitzgerald was his assistant. He at least had a say about those moves. The coaching staff - Lindy Ruff, Alain Nasreddine, Mark Recchi, Chris Taylor, and Dave Rogalski - was all present as this season got worse and worse. The game plans they put in place largely stayed the same; the aggressive style of the Devils’ play often ended up being what held them back. What they didn’t do about it may end up costing them. Few of the People Who Matter will argue against any decision to change this staff. The larger point is that something absolutely has to change in New Jersey for 2022-23 if the team wants to improve. This past month confirmed to me (and further confirmed to some of you) that something has to change. Due to the nature of hockey contracts and the league, there will be some player changes. Will there be changes among those in charge of the 2021-22 season? I think so. Will it actually happen? We shall see.
But if Fitzgerald, Ruff, and Ruff’s staff all return, then I do not see a realistic path for the Devils to even be a playoff bubble team unless they radically change how they do their jobs.
I would like to be wrong, but I doubt it. I doubt that Ruff and his staff would change their ways given their extensive experience. Experience that somehow did not help a young team get better as a team. I doubt Fitzgerald wants to effectively admit the team he is responsible for has put up worse records than even his previous bosses’ teams. And I doubt ownership, by way of a team president, will force any hands unless absolutely necessary. What that is, I could not tell you. Josh Harris and David Blitzer may be too preoccupied buying another team anyway.
To reiterate, the Devils end April and this season with the same general, familiar feeling of malaise that was present at the end of March. Only with more disappointment, disgust, and dejection.
First, I would like to thank the staff of All About the Jersey for continuing to do what they do during this season. I want to thank the weekly writers: Brian, Stephen, Gerard, Mike, and Alex. I want to thank Nate for his thrice-per-week Devils in the Details posts. I want to thank Dan for taking care of Garden State of Hockey, the Devils podcast for this site. I want to thank the previewers and recappers: Jared, Chris, Jenna, and Matthew. Thank you all for helping to ensure that All About the Jersey is a site for the People Who Matter: the Devils fans.
Second, I want to thank all of you for reading this site. Whether you read it and comment every day or read it regularly and recommend it to others at games and other places or read it once in a while or checked it out once, I appreciated that you gave us some of your time and attention over the season. You really are the People Who Matter.
Third, and for the final month in review for the 2021-22 season, I turn this over to you. What did you think of the Devils’ performances in April? What did you learn from this month in review? Do you agree that Zetterlund is the Devil of the Month? If not, who should it be and why? What changes would you make to the front office, the coaching staff, and the roster if you were in charge? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils in April 2022 in the comments. Thank you for reading.