If we were to go back to just a mere three months ago, prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, almost no New Jersey Devils fans would have predicted them to be where they are right now. Mired in mediocrity at sixth in the divisional standings and 10th in the conference, the Devils find themselves sitting outside of any playoff spot as the calendar year winds down. While it’s not a death sentence for the season (there are a number of teams in front of the Devils by only a few points that they have multiple games in hand on) it’s not inspiring confidence to see them this far down at this juncture.
The problem of the Devils this season is twofold: the goaltending and bad mistakes by the other skaters. Technically, the two problems are not mutually exclusive either, as a lot of the gaffes are leading directly to goals against. As we as writers, and you as readers have said though, it would be nice to see the goalies bail out the skaters when necessary and said bail outs are few and far between. As both of these problems blend together and have led to the Devils’ woes in the standings, I started to wonder: would Devils fans be okay if we were only experiencing one of these issues this season?
For example, what if our goalies were making saves when the players in front of them made mistakes? What if Vitek Vanecek made one save on the two turnovers by Jack Hughes from Tuesday’s game? If the goaltending could bail out the skaters, the Devils could be higher in the standings and we wouldn’t be here having this discussion. Even if it was just one of the two goalies that were playing well, we still probably would have at least five more points and be occupying a wild card spot. One goaltender playing even league average hockey could alleviate a lot of the pressure on this team.
Conversely, the same could be said of the skaters and the mistakes they’re making. While there are a couple of guys playing hurt (Timo Meier has been mentioned recently) there are some perfectly healthy players that look like they’re handling grenades on the ice. I’ve written before about how the Devils seem to struggle with passing, and the eye test this season is providing the same results. I’m not sure if it’s the coaching, the system, a combination of those two, or the players just executing when they’re on the ice, but something isn’t working. Even with the skill the Devils have, if they’re trying to play the game faster than they can think it, things are going to go wrong, as they are right now.
I think the goaltending struggles, particularly with high danger chances, require the Devils to change what they’re doing right now. The team still needs to use their speed to their advantage, but they need to player lower risk hockey. The fancy passes that are getting picked off need to stop; the stretch passes from players who can’t make them need to stop; the unnecessary pinches and other sloppy decisions need to stop. If the Devils get back to a bit simpler of a game, we might see them stop bleeding high danger chances that end up in the back of the net, and we could see them start climbing back up the standings.
If they don’t? Then we might see some seats heat up between now and the end of the season. And that may lead to some changes being made. This team is too talented to see multiple seasons go down the drain due to bad goaltending and bad skater mistakes.
What are your thoughts on the skater mistakes and poor goaltending; do you think one is a direct result of the other? Do you agree with me that they’re two separate problems that are causing a disaster when combined? What can the Devils do to get back to basics and correct the course that they’re travelling on? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading.