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Game Preview #13: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals

After a grisly game in Colorado to close out their road trip, a weary and battered Devils team returns to Newark to host the Washington Capitals.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: New Jersey Devils vs. Washington Capitals

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: MSGSN, MNMT2

Key Takeaways

  • The Devils escaped a nightmare game in Colorado without any injuries, which was its own small miracle in a game that saw a violent crosscheck and two separate boarding plays on Devils players.
  • Though they fell 6-3 to the Avalanche, it was the kind of game you burn the tape from and move on—except for one specific detail.
  • The Devils gave up double-digit odd-man chances against the Avalanche. It’s just too much from Akira Schmid or Vitek Vanecek to stop so many Grade-A scoring chances.
  • Against a slower, older Washington Capitals team, this is the Devils chance to slow the game down in the neutral and defensive zones and play a defensively responsible game against the one other team that’s scored six on them this season.

Common Themes From Two Six-Goal Losses

The Devils have played the Capitals recently, last facing them October 25 and losing 6-4 in a game that Chris characterized as “sloppy, infuriating.” That sounds a lot like the recap that I wrote the other day after the Devils surrendered 6—much like they did against the Capitals—against a surging Avalanche team.

Some common threads from that game and the Devils’ most recent in Colorado: though it Akira Schmid started in net against Washington and Vitek Vanecek against Colorado, both goalies had rough nights between the pipes in their respective six-goal losses. Schmid found himself pulled after the first period against the Capitals, so Vanecek was responsible for three of those goals, albeit through one more period than Schmid warranted.

Tyler Toffoli scored goals against both Washington and Colorado. Don’t look now (hey, I said don’t look), but Toffoli is now a past point-per-game with eight goals and thirteen points through twelve games. He’s become the Devils most consistent scorer, but he can’t do it all himself. Before, I was writing about how someone other than Jack Hughes needed to step up. Toffoli did. Now, I must write the follow-up: someone other than Toffoli needs to step up.

Another theme I noticed from Chris’s recap and re-watching the game highlights (or low-lights, from a Devils perspective) was summarized in these section titles from the Washington recap: Lapsed Coverage and Goalies Need to Make More Stops. Now, I imagine that 90% of games where you’ve given up six goals involves a fair amount of lapsed coverage, unless you’ve surrendered ninety shots and played five overtimes. But Washington only managed 25 shots (New Jersey even fewer at just 22) in three periods of play. Colorado mustered slightly more, a respectable 32 shots on Tuesday night.

Against Washington, Kevin Bahl and John Marino were exposed multiple times on defense, lapses that neither Schmid nor Vanecek could cover up. Against Colorado, they were the worst defenders not named Brendan Smith in CF%, and among the worst players on the team in xGF%. Against Washington, Schmid and Vanecek should share equal blame, or perhaps 23 goes Schmid’s way for getting them off to such a bad start and only playing twenty minutes. Against Colorado, the blame—such as it is—goes Vanecek’s way.

The Devils’ defense is not working. At a certain point, it comes back to Lindy Ruff and the way they’re being coached. I neither hate nor love Lindy Ruff and his tenure with the Devils. He oversaw the end of the dark times, and he’s overseen their (sometimes rocky) resurgence as a Stanley Cup contender. He deserves credit for getting a team that’s had such inconsistent goaltending to the playoffs and through a round. And thus far this season, the Devils do not have a bad record—despite goaltending that’s been even worse.

But how much of that is Lindy Ruff and how much of that is Jack Hughes playing out of his mind? Hughes seems to love Ruff. That might be all the job security he needs, and Devils’ fans might have to accept that the price of Jack Hughes scoring 120+ points a year is that Ruff is a package deal (and makes Hughes comfortable enough to perform at his best).

But the defense . . . whether it’s the pairings not gelling, the system not working, or the defensemen not executing, it all eventually comes back to the coaching staff. Because if the players aren’t executing the system after twelve games, then maybe they’re not being taught correctly.

Or maybe they don’t have the right personnel in the lineup (in which Tom Fitzgerald would share in some of the blame).

Whatever the solution, they need to figure it out if they’re going to survive the coming weeks.

The Devils’ Lineup:

If New Jersey’s practice lineup remains the same against Washington, then there’ve been no changes made from the team that torpedoed itself against Colorado.

I question the wisdom of that decision. I did say to burn the tape and move on from that loss. But that’s for the players. For the coaching staff, I expect something. If not lineup changes, then a new plan of attack, a new system, a new method of defending. Some sort of game plan.

Let’s hope they have something to show us tonight.

Your Thoughts

Would you have given the same lineup another chance, or would you have changed it up? Should Vanecek start against his former team? What will it take for the Devils to win tonight? Let us know in the comments below.