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Turnovers a Big Deal in New Jersey Devils 2-3 Overtime Loss to Philadelphia Flyers

The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, is responsible for a lot of the success of the New Jersey Devils. Tonight, two turnovers by him were responsible for a 2-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. This is a frustrated recap of the defeat.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils
Unfortunately, the direct cause of tonight’s loss.
Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

Jack Hughes is The Big Deal. He is a top scorer and a big reason why the Devils have the wins that they do. He is also human. And he committed two killer turnovers in what would end up being a 2-3 overtime loss by the New Jersey Devils to the Philadelphia Flyers. He was a big cause for tonight’s loss for a change.

The first came in the early part of the second period. The Big Deal saw Tyler Toffoli streaking out of the zone so he decided to make a pass across the zone. The passing lane was not free. Hughes saw the target but his surroundings. Joel Farabee picked off that pass. He curled, he found Ryan Poehling across the way, and one pass later, it was 1-1. The Devils would make up for that. Jesper Bratt pounded in a power play goal on Samuel Ersson’s doorstep less than two minutes later, which did have a secondary assist by The Big Deal.

The second was the more painful one. It happened overtime. The man had the surest hands in an upbeat overtime as Philly could not get away with salting away five minutes of 3-on-3 hockey with keep-away. But Hughes made a very ill-advised decision to lay a puck for Luke Hughes. His younger brother was too far away. Owen Tippett was right on The Big Deal. Tippett took the free puck (to a loud “Oh no” by Ken Daneyko), skated in, and shot it past Vitek Vanecek to take the game and a massive second point.

I’m sure Jack Hughes is distraught about the turnover. I know I am. He was indeed a key reason why the Devils lost this game. Not just a rivalry game, but a game against an opponent they are chasing in the standings. Even if the Devils had won it in overtime, the night was a failure on that front. Philly would have received a point to be at 38 points. The Devils would have had 35 points - and still be behind the Flyers and Islanders in fourth place tied with Carolina, only ahead due to tiebreakers. The Devils got no help within the division tonight as all of the other Metropolitan Division teams won tonight. Yes, even Columbus). Going to overtime at all was not good for the larger cause of the Devils catching up. Dropping the second point to Philadelphia just poured more salt into the proverbial wound.

And there is much reason for the People Who Matter to be salty. The Big Deal helped Philly score goals tonight. He tried to do too much himself at times, although it was not like Erik Haula or Tyler Toffoli (who missed a near-gimmie at the end of the first period) were helping much. Jesper Bratt was bizarrely kept away from The Big Deal in 5-on-5 as a line of Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Ondrej Palat was just kind of “there.” The Dawson Mercer At Center Experiment continues to yield poor results. Timo Meier, whom Lindy Ruff admitted before this game that Meier was not 100% and playing through it was not helping, looked like a player who could not help much since he was not 100% and yet playing through it. Brendan Smith drew in for Colin Miller in the lineup, and Mr. Gritty Experience Man took a soft check in the neutral zone as he coughed up a puck that ended up being Ryan Poehling’s second goal of the night from the resulting 2-on-1 thanks to Smith’s turnover. Jonas Siegenthaler continued to underwhelm. The second period as a whole was underwhelming as it took 40 minutes before the Devils realizing they should just take shots on Samuel Ersson. This is to say nothing about referees, who let a lot go - including a very clear trip of Jack Hughes to open overtime.

The truly bright spots in this game were far and few between. The fourth line of Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Curtis Lazar were great. Bastian had a legitimately good play coming out of the corner to set up McLeod in front for the game’s first goal. The unit won their matchups with seeming ease. Lazar even got a shorthanded breakaway in the third. Kevin Bahl and John Marino as a pairing were good, even if Bahl took two penalties I wish he did not. Simon Nemec continues to show that he is a NHL defenseman today. Honestly, the team’s approach to the third period was refreshing after a lame second period, even if they did not score. Vitek Vanecek even made some big stops - it helped that Philly’s third period offense was mostly from breakaways - even if no one will remember them now given how the game went.

Only the haters and losers will dwell about Jack Hughes’ turnovers tonight. Awful as it was, I am confident a NHL top scorer will redeem himself rather soon. But this game had a lot of issues that the People Who Matter have become frustrated with for months now. And a lot of it has to do with Ruff and his coaching staff. Line shuffling despite legitimate success from mere games ago; keeping The Big Deal and Bratt apart was a bizarre one tonight. Continuing to keep Haula at wing in place of Mercer. Continuing to ice Timo Meier as he was admittedly not 100% by the coach, who weirdly got a shift in overtime. You know, the period where skating is more important. Including Brendan Smith for some reason in place of a perfectly acceptable Colin Miller. Letting players flip between being too passive, too aggressive, too selfish, or too selfless with little rhyme or reason. Sure, it is one thing to have this happen in October. It is Game #30 in December. By a team and staff that was largely kept together from last season. (No, I do not think Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, Miles Wood, Mackenzie Blackwood, or Yegor Sharangovich has a successful game plan in their possession. Andrew Brunette? Well...) Yet, the Devils keep finding ways to get in their own way.

Philadelphia, for all of their “interesting” gameplans tonight (like playing for breakaways in the third), played more like a team with an idea. The Devils played like they were still going to figure it out and on the ice. as if they had no idea to pull from any of the several wins they could pull from earlier this month. Instead, they found a way to pull out a loss.

Tonight, it was a killer turnover from the team’s best player, The Big Deal.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Game Highlights: Sportsnet on Youtube has them here.

Were the Fourths That Good?: Absolutely! Not only was there McLeod’s goal from Bastian’s sick play, the trio out-attempted and out-shot Philly by a good margin. You saw them late in a 2-2 game in the third period because they were cooking up good, tasty hockey all night long. Lazar and McLeod were legitimately good on the PK too. Before the game, if you told me Smith had to come in the lineup, then I would have preferred Bastian to sit. I am glad that choice was not made. Not that Smith really needed to be in this game.

Was Brendan Smith That Bad?: In 5-on-5 play, the Devils were even in attempts 13-13, out-shot 4-7, and barely out-xG’ed 0.47-0.51. That is not the worst possible stat line for a defenseman. But that reflects part of the issue with Smith. He adds very little to the offense. And with the Devils relying on their defense to make stops and good passes forward to start transition offense, Smith cannot do that. With the Devils wanting defensemen to activate, Smith is not going to activate nearly as well as his partner Luke Hughes. And with Luke Hughes still being a rookie defensemen, the younger Hughes would benefit with a stable partner. Miller was that partner. Smith, less so. Oh, and Smith helped create Philly’s second goal in the second period, so you can mark him for that.

I will say this for Smith: he did not take a penalty or lose his cool by slashing Travis Konecny in the arm. So there’s that. But Colin Miller could have added more, just by taking some of the pressure off Luke Hughes - who could really use that these days.

Was Vitek Vanecek a Problem?: Not that bad from what I saw? You would have loved a save on Tippett in overtime, but Vanecek did stop other breakaways in this game - including in overtime. Philly decided floaters and long shots were a thing to do and while the rebounds were an adventure, those were not what beat him. He and most goalies were not going to stop the Poehling goals. Giving up a breakaway at your own blueline from a turnover makes me fault the one making the turnover than the goalie, but to each their own, I suppose. Ultimately, those who do not like Vanecek much were not going to be swayed by this one. The stat of 3 goals allowed on 1.85 xG by the Flyers does not help either. I do not think the Devils would have won this one with Akira Schmid or Goalie To Be Determined in the net, though.

Was Jack Hughes That Bad?: The two turnovers were costly. On top of that, his 5-on-5 line was very non-Hughes like. 18-18 in attempts, shots at 6-7, and xG was 0.57 to 0.49. His line was not that great, but Jack Hughes was forcing a lot of pucks. This has been an issue at times where he will take on too many defenders himself or take an extra touch or force an extra pass. Other nights, it just limited the attack from his line. Tonight, it led to two goals against and a point lost in the standings. Normally, I would be fine because The Big Deal will make up for it in time. Let the top 20 NHL scoring talent do his thing. But this was a night where Lindy Ruff or someone on the bench should have said, “Jack, rein it in a bit. It isn’t your night.” It certainly was not. Although, the line did at least own the puck and out-shot the Flyers 6-3. It is small solace, though. Jack Hughes was quite bad based per his deservedly high standards by the fans. And probably himself.

The Real Worst Line: The Mercer line! Out-attempted across the board for Timo Meier, Dawson Mercer, Alexander Holtz! Shots created in 5-on-5 for the trio: One. One! Did they get scored on? No, but they had a snowball’s chance in an oven of scoring tonight. This line literally made no sense for the 7 or so minutes they were actually together. Holtz was hustling but could not string a pass on most plays. Mercer was unsure where to be on some shifts. Meier, we know he is not 100% and played like he was not 100%.

For all of the changes Ruff would do, this unit needed to be scrapped more quickly. Meier needs to sit and get closer to 100% since playing through the pain is not leading to much from the winger. Once he is actually capable, then the coaching staff can figure out what to do with him - something I am not sure Ruff & Co. have figured out. Mercer needs to play wing, period. Holtz needs to play off someone who can help facilitate plays. The Devils clearly have the capability for four good lines. Why the coaches have not identified how the puzzle pieces fit yet, I cannot tell you.

Do the Devils Overthink Things?: Honestly, during this game, I felt that way at times. Not just with the lines and pairings, but also with how they were playing. The first two periods saw a Devils team content to make an extra pass across or above or below before an attempted shot - despite a clear shooting lane. Bratt was especially guilty of this at times, even curling out of a potential one-on-one with Ersson in overtime. The Devils did correct this in the third period, but why the need to figure that out after 40 minutes and 2 goals that were scored on the goalie’s doorstep? With Philly clearly aiming to break ahead or get the Devils on their heels in one-on-one matchups with skaters, was there an adjustment made other than hope someone was back? It did not look like it to me. Even if the Devils took the game in overtime or got one through Ersson in the third period, John Tortorella’s keep it mostly simple stupid approach made more sense to me from what the Flyers were trying to do instead of Ruff’s just keep at it, you guys will figure it out maybe approach.

No, Lindy Ruff did not cough up the puck tonight in overtime. He did coach the team that got to overtime and be in a position to lose it there, though. At least they scored first for the eighth time this season. Which also means this is the first time the Devils dropped points after scoring first this season. Which is Bad.

Sort of related: that the Flyers are five points ahead of the Devils and sitting in second place tells you how valuable coaching can be even if the bulk of it is motivating the team and benching guys who step even remotely out of line (recall that Joel Farabee sat nearly all of the last Devils-Flyers game for “not listening). I think there is a lesson there.

No, the Devils Indeed Did Not Get Help Tonight: In addition to the Flyers taking two out of three points this evening, Our Hated Rivals, the Islanders (who played Thursday’s opponent, Edmonton), and the Hurricanes all won. The point does put the Devils in a tie with idle Washington in points - and the Penguins are three points back in seventh place. The Devils are in sixth place, dropping a spot. Most people would consider this to be Bad.

Yet, some of the People Who Matter are acting surprised that their fellow fans are unhappy about their favorite team, who is not in a playoff position, lost another game. The coping will come. What’s the cope now that 6-3-1 in their last 10 does not sound as good as 7-3-0 in their last 10, which was the cope after the awful loss to Anaheim? That they are a point back of a wild card spot with games in hand? We’re just going to pretend the Devils are not in a tie in points with Washington (who has two games in hand on New Jersey) and Detroit for that same wild card spot? And that if the Devils won tonight then they would actually be right there with Tampa Bay as well as pull themselves closer in a very tight Metropolitan Division? Just like Lindy Ruff’s coaching decisions, this coping leaves me underwhelmed.

One Last Thought: Normally, a team would be happy to have a week of games at home or a five-game homestand. With losses to Anaheim and tonight’s OT loss to Philly, the Devils are now 6-7-2 at home this season. The Devils now match San Jose in points earned at home with 14, pending tonight’s Sharks-Kings game. Only 5 teams have earned fewer points at home than the Devils: and one of them is the same Ducks team that beat them 1-5 on Sunday. Needless to say, the Devils underwhelming marketing team will leave this little fact out when trying to sell fans tickets.

More seriously, this is another strike against the coaching staff. How do you have last change and be this unsuccessful at home? League median home teams have a points percentage of 62-63%. Devils are at 46.67%. Come on, men. Play for the people who support you and pay a lot of money to do so live.

Your Take: Well, I am frustrated. You probably are too. And the Devils will get to do this again on Thursday night against Edmonton. Maybe they can win to help right some of the wrongs from the last two home games? Until then, I want to know what you think about this game. Who performed poorly in your eyes tonight for the Devils? Who were the best Devils? What would you have done differently if you were Lindy Ruff? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the overtime loss in the comments.

Thanks to Jackson for today’s game preview. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on X with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.