The New Jersey Devils gained a ton of goodwill from their fans this season. They went from a team that was annually noncompetitive and a doormat to, all of a sudden, a top 3 team in the NHL. They were expected to compete soon, given the growth of the new core, but this year was seen as a building and growth year coming in, not as a year to compete for something greater.
In shattering those expectations and showing us fans and the greater hockey community that they were here and were making a loud and bold statement, they endeared themselves to the fanbase. They made us believe that they were legit, that they were ready now, and that this team was something real. Their regular season records for most wins and most points in Devils season history backed this up. If they could win more regular season games than those teams from 2000-2003, then they were definitely legit. This was a serious infusion of goodwill into the fanbase. We went from a group that was chanting to fire Lindy to a group that seriously showed up to the Rock in games 1 and 2 when it is historically not easy to overpopulate our home arena in red when playing against New York. We were loud, passionate, and ready to see some winning hockey. Or, at the very least, competitive hockey.
What have we gotten instead? Nothing short of garbage. And that includes every part of this organization. The coaching staff proved in game 2 why the fanbase wanted Lindy Ruff fired at the start of this season. He benched Jonas Siegenthaler who had a 65.52 CF% in game 1 and was on the ice for 19 Corsi attempts for versus only 10 against at 5 on 5 and subbed in Brendan Smith who has no idea how to do much other than hit people. He watched Miles Wood lose the game for the Devils in game 1 by taking that first penalty, in the offensive zone no less, which led to the ensuing powerplay goal that changed everything and decided to promote him to a better line in game 2, only to watch him take another dumb offensive zone penalty. Oh yeah, he also had the 3rd worst CF% on the team in game 1, so it wasn’t like he played well in that game outside of the penalty. How about on a better line in game 2? He ended the game with the worst CF% on the team. Good call Lindy.
However, the coaching staff is not the sole reason for what has taken place. Lindy could’ve made the same wrong decisions and the Devils still could have won if the players were better. Plain and simple. For a team to have exactly 0 shots on 4 power play attempts in a game says nothing about the coaching staff and everything about execution. Put pucks on net, please. But they were too focused on the extra pass, on the perfect shot, and credit to New York, they game planned perfectly and knew how to frustrate this team, and the Devils had no answer.
And let’s please not say that playoff experience is the sole difference here. Does it matter? I think so, to a degree. But not to the point where the team that is analytically better on paper gets smacked around 5-1 in two consecutive games on home ice. Just look at Seattle. First ever trip to the postseason and they win game 1 and are leading in game 2 in Colorado before the defending champs come roaring back for a desperate win. That is a very competitive team, but they aren’t overly experienced in the playoffs either. The Devils don’t have much playoff experience, but the two losses so far go way beyond that. Plus, the guys that do have that experience aren’t helping. You paid Ondrej Palat all that money to show up right now, for these games. He was subpar in the regular season, but if he showed up now, it would all be ok. Instead, he had 0.1 expected goals in game 1 across 16 minutes at 5v5, and 0.176 in game 2 across 15:53. That is your playoff experience right there.
I know this is a lot of complaining right now, but the point is simple. The Devils built up a lot of goodwill with their fantastic regular season, and they truly endeared themselves to the fanbase. If you lose game 3 tonight, however, that basically all disappears. You cannot go down 3-0 to a bitter rival in the first round and quickly bow out of competition. You simply cannot do it and maintain positivity around the franchise. Lou Lamoriello would clean house after something like that, and while he was sometimes way too trigger-happy when it came to firing coaches, it would be justified in this situation. When I wrote that piece last week about expectations and taking it one game at a time, I simply assumed that the 2022-23 Devils would perform better in the playoffs than the 2017-18 Devils. And they still might, but it starts with winning game 3. Going down 3-0 in this series is a death knell, and it simply cannot happen if there is to be positivity regarding this season. Win tonight, and let’s get competitive.