The month of May is far from over. However, it is over for the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils. They moved onto the second round to play the Carolina Hurricanes. With a Jesper Fast tip-in power play goal in overtime, the Devils were eliminated from the playoffs on May 11, 2023. The Devils had their exit interviews and cleaned out their locker rooms yesterday. The “Thank You Fans and Only Devils Fans” message was sent by the team on Twitter. The 2022-23 season is over. The 2023 offseason has begun. As such, the month of May is effectively over for the New Jersey Devils. While it may be fresh in your minds, let us look back at the first time the Devils played any games in May since 2012 and summarize their clear-out day.
The Playoff Games of May 2023
The April month in review was written and posted prior to May 1, 2023. The Devils were coming off a loss in Game 6 at the World’s Most Overrated Arena. They were to host Our Hated Rivals in Game 7. A game both terrifying and exhilarating in concept and in practice. It would all come down to one game and it was against the one team you, as one of the People Who Matter, know you do not want to see the Devils suffer a loss to. Given the circumstances, memories would be made. I closed that post with a simple: “And, please win Game 7, Devils.”
They did it. They won Game 7. They did more than beat Our Hated Rivals. They flat out demoralized them. “Torpedo” Akira Schmid returned to form after a not-so-hot Game 6 and was perfect in the net. His glove was in great form. He would sink the chances of Our Hated Rivals. All he needed was a goal. He got it in a technically shorthanded situaiton where Ondrej Palat sonned Chris Kreider and Adam Fox on a forecheck after a 4-on-4 ended. He won the puck and fed Michael McLeod, who went around Shesterkin for the game’s first goal. A shorthanded goal by the midpoint of regulation. Later, John Marino had an astonishing shift ending with a killer feed to Tomas Tatar to make it 2-0. While the game was not over, the quit level in Our Hated Rivals soared with each passing minute of the third period. As was often seen from Game 3 onward in the series, Igor Shesterkin was one of the few to excel and keep OHR in games. The dagger came with just under six minutes left. A 2-on-1 (actually a 3-on-1, Marino jumped up) led by The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, set-up Erik Haula for a banger of a one-timer. It beat Shesterkin, it hammered off the center post in the back of the net, the Rock erupted once more, and just about everyone knew it was over. It was so over.
From then on, the visiting fans at the Rock left in droves. The People Who Matter, myself included, were on their feet all the way through to the handshake line. Our Hated Rivals played like they wanted to just go to the golf course as soon as possible. Jesper Bratt added an empty netter just to put an exclamation mark on the game. Gerard Gallant ended up coaching his final game in Manhattan. The Devils won and won big, 4-0. The Devils won their first playoff series since 2012 and would be moving on. The Devils played their most important game in over a decade and won decisively. I loved it and I can only hope there are fans who will remember Schmid’s shutout, Haula’s one-timer blast, and McLeod’s SHG on the same level as CBGB in Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals and Adam Henrique’s second series winning overtime goal in Game 6.
Then came the Carolina Hurricanes. I predicted a close, hard-fought series that would go the distance. I could not have been more wrong. Rod Brind’Amour, arguably the league’s best defense, and a Lemaire-Devils-esque blend of talent, work ethic, speed, and hockey smarts at forward had a very different approach to the series.
Game 1 would be two days after the glorious win over Our Hated Rivals in Raleigh. Carolina did not take long to show that the second round would be different and the Canes are vastly superior to James Dolan’s Hockey Team. The Devils were rocked by Carolina’s aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck and constantly got rushed down. They conceded three goals and had Akira Schmid pulled for Vitek Vanecek within the first 22 minutes. Nathan Bastian catching Shayne Gostisbehere for a one-on-one goal in the second period gave the Devils a semblance of a chance of a comeback at 1-3. Then the Canes roared back, Brady Skjei provided a dagger in the third period, an empty netter was allowed, and the Devils were blown away by the Hurricanes in Game 1. They lost 1-5 in what could be charitably described as a rude awakening. Surely, Game 2 would go better, right?
No. To reference Mythbusters, failure is always an option and the Devils were even worse in Game 2. After surviving the first period at 0-0, the Devils’ failure to capitalize on some early power plays would come back to haunt them. Their failure to deal with Carolina’s tactics in all three zones would wreck them in the second period. Schmid was rocked for four goals, including two within the final three minutes in a 4-on-4 situation that could be best described as a disaster. Vanecek would come in for the second period and get rocked for two more goals from rush plays. Miles Wood snuck behind three Canes to finish a loose puck for a consolation goal early in the third period. The Devils were completely discombobulated in what ended as a 1-6 loss in Game 2. Yes, the Devils went down 0-2 in the first round and made a comeback. But Carolina was different. They are a far better team than Our Hated Rivals.
Hope sprang in Game 3. When the Devils beat Carolina in the regular season, it was helped by Canes making mistakes and their goaltenders being bad. At the Rock, the Devils buried Carolina early in goals to throw them off their game and ultimately won a goal fest. Jack Hughes set up Timo Meier at the left post for his first goal of the postseason. Then Hughes sniped a feed from Brendan Smith to make it 2-0. A shorthanded rush and individual highlight for McLeod and a bad, bad goal to allow by Frederik Andersen made it 3-0. A greasy, greasy, greasy goal early in the second between Bratt and Nico Hischier ended with Hischier potting in a loose puck in the crease to make it 4-0. Out went Andersen, in came Pytor Kochetkov.
Sebastian Aho had a puck trickle through Vanecek, who started this game over Schmid, to make it 4-1 to give Carolina some kind of a shot. Something that went away when the playoff debut of Luke Hughes and Damon Severson created a great attacking play that ended at 5-1. Alas, a power play turnover by Luke Hughes yielded a breakaway for Jordan Martinook and a dubious penalty shot called on Dougie Hamilton. Martinook finished the penalty shot to make it 5-2. Would this keep the Devils from going forward? No. Skjei, who had a terrible game along with Brett Pesce, crashed into his own teammate which sprung Miles Wood for a breakaway. Wood actually finished it to make it 6-2. Then Hughes caught Kochetkov unaware at the goalline to make it 7-2. A set of power plays would normally be good. Only that the Devils conceded back-to-back shorthanded goals to Jordan Staal and Seth Jarvis that Vanecek and the PP units looked real bad on. Ondrej Palat at least finished the last one for the Devils’ first power play goal against Carolina in 2022-23. That ended the game at 8-4. The Devils cracked Carolina. It was a great sight outside of Vanecek’s play in the net and the three shorthanded goals allowed. They just had to get them off their gameplan. Could they do it again in Game 4?
No. It started off quite well. A Timo Meier shot hit off Jack Hughes’ shin to make it 1-0 early. Andersen looked questionable in net. But it started to fall apart later in the first period. The forecheck was back. The defensive coverage was back. A turnover by Michael McLeod in at the red line led to a make-shift two-on-one where Martin Necas one-touched a puck from Martinook to make it 1-1 late in the period. Then the Canes raged on the Devils for five straight goals in the second period. Necas one-touched a feed from Pesce to make it 1-2. Pesce finished a shot from the high slot to make it 1-3. Jesper Fast took a puck that was blocked down in front and rounded Vanecek to make it 1-4. Lindy Ruff used his timeout. No matter, the Canes roared back and scored a fifth goal within six minutes thanks to Brent Burns finishing a shot from the left circle. Vanecek was cooked and was finally replaced at 1-5. To add insult to injury, Martinook broke away and roofed a shot past Schmid within the final minute to make it 1-6. It was as if Game 3 never happened and Game 2 repeated itself all within one period. A chance to tie up the series ended with not only a loss, but another blowout loss. Forget belief, the Devils needed something - anything - to stop Carolina’s tactical and practical (read: execution of hockey plays) superiority on the ice.
Game 5 would be the only close game of the series. Schmid returned to the crease to start the game and his form was much better than it was in the first two games. The Devils struck first on a beautiful play from the defensive zone out that ended with Meier feeding Dawson Mercer for a back-door shot to make it 1-0. The score would hold until the second period when a Jaccob Slavin shot went off a Devil (originally thought to be Martinook) and past Schmid to tie up the game. The Canes were surging as they did earlier in this series and in Game 4 and the Devils had to hold on. Until Jesperi Kotkaniemi punched Curtis Lazar and got a penalty. The Devils won a faceoff, Jack Hughes set up Dougie Hamilton, Hamilton fired a low shot down the middle, and Meier pounded in the rebound. A 2-1 game. What’s more, the Devils would pin Carolina back. It would be the Devils forcing Carolina into uncomfortable spots. It would be the Devils creating chances for the next 13 minutes or so. But they were not finished. Not by Bastian. Not by Bratt. Not by Lazar. And, most infamously, not by Timo Meier when he had an open net thanks to Jack Hughes. And the equalizing gut punch would come in the last minute. Palat could not win a puck, Bratt would not sell out for a block on the pointman, and Burns’ shot found its way through for a 2-2 game.
The third period would remain scoreless but it felt very much like an overtime period. the next goal would win the game. Schmid would do his best. McLeod and Hamilton would deny potential game-winning scores. The Devils had few shots of their own, but Palat had one opportunity thanks to Bratt but Andersen was bigger. Overtime would be needed. This did start well for the Devils. A Jonas Siegenthaler blast from the weakside was really promising - only for Aho’s stick to deny the puck getting on net. Unfortunately, Siegenthaler would be central to what would be the final minutes of the season. A stupid, stupid, stupid back pass by Tomas Tatar to the defenseman put him under pressure. So he cleared it away. Out and over the glass. An indisputable penalty. The Devils had to kill it. They got some exits. They got a couple out of play. They held on. Then their second unit came on. Gostisbehere found Kotkaniemi flashing to the top of the left circle. Hischier went out and tried to make himself big for the block. He took a rising shot and Jesper Fast tipped it in past Schmid. The PNC Arena erupted in joy. The People Who Matter were disappointed. The Devils were done. They lost Game 5, 2-3 in overtime, to be eliminated. The campaign ended with 94 games played and 57 wins.
Clean Out Day Realizations
Before going into the numbers of what was just six games in the month, I am focusing on clean out day instead of the traditional Additions and Subtractions section. While there were changes in the lineup - Luke Hughes in! Ryan Graves had a minor injury! - no one was brought into the games that were not already on the roster. The Devils called up a heap of players from the Utica Comets after they were eliminated in their playoff series by Toronto, but they did not see any action. So this will focus on what is learned in clean out day and with final exit interviews with the media.
Traditionally, this is where we get some hints about how a player feels about their chances for returning and what injuries the players played through. The Devils’ Youtube page has a lot of the exit interviews from May 13’s clean out. Some longer than others - Nico Hischier’s is the longest, the shortest is with Vitek Vanecek - but worth your time. Here is a summation of the major bits from the day.
- Dougie Hamilton had a wrist injury from the series against Our Hated Rivals and it could require surgery as initially tweeted by Sam Kasan. Per Mike Morreale, it was bad at the end of the series. This may explain Hamilton’s not so significant performance against the Canes. While a wrist injury may not impact positioning, the pain certainly can throw someone off and a shooter like Hamilton would absolutely be impacted by it. This kind of realization is not uncommon in the playoffs. It forces a tough question: Is a less than 100% Hamilton better than a more 100% depth player? The Devils and Hamilton figured it was. Hindsight suggests otherwise, although that depends on that depth player.
- Speaking of the end of the series against Our Hated Rivals, Jacob Trouba took out Meier in the third period with a legal yet morally-dubious high hit. Meier confirmed that the hit broke his nose. As a result, he played with a full faceshield. He also confirmed that he will not go to the World Championships. Which makes sense given his nose injury and his contract status (he will need one).
- Nico Hischier and Jonas Siegenthaler will go to the World Championships. Akira Schmid may want to, but he wants to talk with the Devils training staff first per Stein.
- Palat is not going to the World Championships. Per this Czech tweet by Robert Rampa, he is hurt. He did not disclose an injury at clean out day unless I missed it.
- It was not made clear what Ryan Graves’ injury in the Carolina series was. He did play in Game 5. The major line out of him was “I know there’s a business side of things. We’ll see what happens,” as per James Nichols. That does not bode so well about a return, but plenty can change between now and July 1.
- At least Graves had an exit interview. Tomas Tatar was there but left before seeing the media as per Nichols. Which I do not quite believe given how long Tatar has been in the NHL. Not a great sign for his return.
- There were little to no tweets about Miles Wood, but he did have an exit interview. It was just on the Devils’ official website and not on Youtube last night for whatever reason.
- And speaking of signs, here is a fun quote from goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood via Mike Morreale:
I’ve been here for my entire NHL career so far. I love the team. I love all the guys so it’s be hard to leave that but at the end of the day, you want to go where the opportunity is. So it depends on a couple of things. Right?
Given that Blackwood did not even dress for the playoffs, I think that opportunity is not in New Jersey. Incidentally, he suffered a MCL and groin injury this season.
- Here is the opposite of such sentiments. Erik Haula absolutely wants to stay. Per Kasan, he called the team “my family.” Per Nichols, he wants to get a deal done with Tom Fitzgerald. And also per Nichols, The Big Deal endorsed Haula by saying he is a fan of Haula. Between this and four goals against Our Hated Rivals in the playoffs, more and more of the People Who Matter are enamored with Haula. Will Fitzgerald be among them? We shall see.
- As far as Jack Hughes go, he would not disclose his upper-body injury as per Amanda Stein. Per Novozinsky, Hughes said he feels “good” after his injury. Lindy Ruff would not clarify what it was but stated it happened in Game 4 and he was not sure he could finish that game (he did) or play in Game 5 (he did albeit in far fewer minutes than usual). Hughes’ interview, starting at 2:58, had an interesting and not so subtle shot about some guys who want to come back to just sign a deal. He followed that up by saying it would be great for “Bratter, Haulsy, and Timo” to come back. Lastly, Jack Hughes had this all-timer of a quote via Stein.
I think I (...) established myself as a really good player in the league. Maybe the goal-scoring a bit, I don’t know if anyone expected me to score 40 in my career, let alone 3 yrs after everyone was calling me the biggest bust ever, you know.
Given the number of comments - even by the People Who Matter - I have had to endure for the last three years about people not respecting The Big Deal due to his size, his pedigree, his draft position, his defense, his puck-handling, his toughness, and other laments about what he is not and perceptions of what he is, he is right to call out those who doubted him. The Big Deal is indeed The Big Deal.
- As for the other Hughes, Luke Hughes is aiming for a full-time spot in New Jersey next season per Nichols. I say he does it.
- Lastly for players, here is a key quote from Jesper Bratt via Stein: “I have full confidence in my agent and Tom that we’ll get (my contract) done.” Not exactly confidence inducing given past negotiations, but Nichols had this more encouraging quote: “we’ll get it done. I’ll see you guys for the next couple of years to come.” I will be coy and state that if there is no deal done by the last week of June, then the rumor mill will be on fire for #63.
- As for Lindy Ruff, Mike Morreale’s post-exit interview article at NHL.com has a headline about wanting to return. However, Ruff himself was coy about his own future based on the quote inside. This is the final season of his contract. It remains to be seen whether Tom Fitzgerald extends him, signs him to a different role, or lets him go. I would think that bossing the team to the biggest turnaround in NHL history in an 82-game season, setting a franchise record for wins and points in a season, and even vanquishing Our Hated Rivals would warrant even a one-season extension. Just as a reward. Then again, this is a business where Andrew Brunette was deposed after similar runs as an interim head coach in Florida all because Tampa Bay swept his squad in the second round. So we shall see whether Fitzgerald thinks Ruff can take the Devils higher or if this is the most he can do.
By the Numbers - April & May 2023 Playoffs
Rather than limit this to one game against Our Hated Rivals and likely four out of five hideous game stats against Carolina, I am including both series in full here. All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned.
A quick note on the ranks. The ranks for the stats from the first round include the entire first round (16 teams) and were pulled on May 2 after the Devils prevailed in Game 7. The ranks for the stats of the second round were pulled as of the morning of May 14. For those, top 4 ranked stats are in green and bottom 4 ranked stats are in red. The second round did not end in the Western Conference, so the ranks may shift over the next three days (last possible game is on May 16). Those ranks are out of 8; the top 2 ranked stats are in green and the bottom 2 ranked stats are in red.
5-on-5 Play: It was a tale of two series. The first round was great for the Devils save for some awful shooting luck and Igor Shesterkin playing to his best. The second round was a constant beating by Carolina except for Game 3.
The one consistency between both series, other than the Devils being outscored, was that the Devils got inside when they attacked. The Devils absolutely generated scoring chances when they were able to attack The issue was different in both series. In the first round, the Devils did not play as much at 5-on-5 as they could and when they did, there was a man named Shesterkin being a Problem. In the second round, Carolina’s 1-2-2 aggressive forecheck, man-to-man defense, and general approach to swarming just kept the Devils from attacking period. So even with a high rate of high danger chances, scoring chances, and a shooting percentage best described as decent, the goals were just not there because the attempts and shots were so few. With Carolina, if you are not shooting, then the Canes are shooting and it really showed in the series.
The Devils’ goaltending also swooned in the second round and only avoids the bottom two ranks because the goaltending in the Dallas-Seattle series has been surprisingly bad. Vitek Vanecek picked a bad time to go cold; he posted a miserable 84.8% save percentage in seven appearances and conceded about five more goals than expected. Akira Schmid shined even with getting the hook in the first two games of the Carolina series. Schmid finished up his postseason with a 92.5% save percentage in 5-on-5 situations, stopped at least two fewer goals than expected, and finished second all-time in playoff shutouts in franchise history just in the first round alone.
If you want to look to player-specific 5-on-5 stats, then here they are by round. In the first round, the value of Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dawson Mercer was in the run of play but less so in terms of production. At least they kept Our Hated Rivals to a minimum. The points came from Jack Hughes (acceptable in 5-on-5) and Erik Haula on a surge (not so great in 5-on-5) with little contributions spread throughout the lineup. The less said about Ondrej Palat, Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, and especially Miles Wood in 5-on-5 play against Our Hated Rivals, the better.
For the second round, it was considerably worse across the board. Only seven Devils finished above 50% in CF% and they provided little in production outside of Game 3: Bratt, Damon Severson, Hischier, Palat, Kevin Bahl, Haula, and Curtis Lazar at exactly 50%. Expected goals were not as kind to Haula or Severson, but were to an injured Hamilton, Siegenthaler, and Luke Hughes. Of course, the Devils needed more actual goals against the Canes; but they needed more actual offense and over half of the roster getting pinned back regularly hurt that cause. Especially Mercer, Meier (!), Tatar (after being a 5-on-5 king for the season), and even McLeod I can appreciate McLeod constantly buzzing about but he spent way more time in his own end of the rink so even if he had a hot run of points, it was limited because of that. Carolina crushed it in 5-on-5 as a team so it is not a surprise to see so many Devils players deep in the red in 5-on-5. And since the Devils were more disciplined and referees were a lot more lenient, they got to play more in 5-on-5. Not that special teams helped the Devils all that much in the second round.
Power Play Situations: Lackluster is a great word to describe the post-season power play.
The Devils had the same success rate between both series, which was not that good. The Devils did not have many power play opportunities as they did compared to the first round. However, they failed to convert a 5-on-3 and embarrassingly gave up three shorthanded goals to Carolina. It was all in the same game and it did not impact the game much - it was the 8-4 win in Game 3 - but still not good. Likewise, one of the two power play goals scored against Carolina in the series (and all season, the Canes’ PK was perfect against the Devils in the regular season) was also non-impactful as it was the eighth goal in an 8-4 win.
The rate of offense generated was poor in both series. It was true that Our Hated Rivals had a strong penalty kill and Carolina’s was one of the best. It was also true that the Devils just tried to do the same thing to both teams. Both just stacked the line on breakouts, applied pressure to the center point-man and wings, and kept filling in lanes even if the Devils established possession, typically after a faceoff win. Yes, the Devils needed a down-low presence. They often had one. The issue was often getting the puck there to do anything with that player. The Devils needed something different to change it up more than just giving Luke Hughes some power play ice time. Andrew Brunette’s postseason power play was an issue in Florida and it was an issue in this year’s playoffs. Please show us something a little different going forward.
Penalty Kill Situations: The series-ending goal against was against the penalty kill. It was just the second time it was beaten all series. After a horrid start against Our Hated Rivals, the Devils’ PK was much more successful in the postseason.
The lack of whistles from the refs in the Canes series plus fewer stupid fouls helped a lot in keeping the PK off the ice in the second round. Overall, they did well even if Carolina just bombed away pucks during their man advantages. That the Devils PK had the highest CA/60 rates and one of the lowest SA/60 rates speaks to Carolina’s accuracy issues on their power plays. Which the Devils did not mind. The shorthanded goals scored in the playoffs were meaningful. The first was a dagger in Game 5 in the first round, the second was the game winner in Game 7, and the third in Game 3 in the second round just threw Carolina off their superior gameplan. The PK did well; they just were used too much in the first round and got ripped apart in the first two games by Adam Fox and Chris Kreider. Even though the final goal allowed of the 2022-23 Devils was a power play goal against, the penalty kill was not a problem for the Devils over the whole postseason.
Devil of the Month
A Devil of the Month for six games in May? Well, the pickings are slim, but why not?
I will hold my nose a bit and make special mention to Michael McLeod. He has received a lot of praise from the Carolina series and in Game 7. He skated hard! He worked a lot! He kept moving! The Devils needed more McLeods! And McLeod was productive in May. He had two shorthanded goals, both of which were valuable in the games he scored in. His assist on the Mercer goal was important. Only one player out-produced McLeod in May. There are some arguments against McLeod. His two other assists in the Carolina series were for consolation goals that only denied Frederik Andersen shutouts in Games 1 and 2. His vaunted faceoff prowess did not happen much in May as McLeod won 48 draws and lost 47 of them. McLeod was absolutely picked on in the run of play with the Devils having an on-ice CF% of 38.80% (worst on the team among regulars) and an xGA% of 34.57% (worst on the team among regulars). McLeod (and Bastian and Wood) have Schmid and Vanecek to thank for the team not getting lit up when they were on the ice. These are some compelling reasons to not really praise McLeod for his performances, much less honorable mention for Devil of the Month. Yet, he deserves something because he at least accomplished something and that was a lot more than some other Devils in May. In the valley of the blind, the few with eyes reign.
Similarly, the actual honorable mention goes to The Big Deal, Jack Hughes. Similar to McLeod, Hughes’ 5-on-5 numbers were just not good in May. The matchups with Jordan Staal and his line (Jack Drury, Martin Necas, Staal), Brady Skjei, Jaccob Slavin were bad for him and the Devils. That said, Hughes provided the production. He provided the assist for Haula’s dagger in Game 7. His four-point night in Game 3 charged a Devils team to an goal-explosion - a necessary one given Vanecek’s struggles. He was fortunate to have a Meier shot go off of him for an early goal in Game 4, but it was still an early goal in Game 4 and something the Devils could and should have built on. Despite kept to just over 14 minutes in Game 5, he helped create the Meier PPG to make it 2-1 and gave Meier a goal on a silver platter in the second period while taking another big fall in the process that Meier somehow missed. Despite not being able to play more in Game 5, Hughes led the Devils in goals (3), points (7), and shots (15) on the Devils in May. If those numbers seem modest, then that is because they are. Carolina really throttled the Devils offense. Hughes still shined through even through some absolutely difficult nights. For that, Hughes is the honorable mention for Devil of the Month.
Akira Schmid. What is bigger than shorty in Game 7 that ends up being the game winning goal? Putting up a shutout to make that first goal of Game 7 the game winning goal. Schmid was astonishingly great against Our Hated Rivals. He wrote his name in the history books on May 1 by putting up a second playoff shutout. Only Martin Brodeur has more than two in Devils history and Sean Burke only had one. Schmid was pulled quickly in Game 1 for a spark that never happened and pulled again in Game 2 for performances. After Vanecek conceded 12 goals on 68 shots between two starts and two relief appearances, Schmid returned in Game 5 and showed he should have been trusted earlier. Or given the start in Game 4. Schmid’s May ends with a decent 91.8% 5-on-5 save percentage and 90.7% save percentage in all situations. As of this writing, the only “hot” playoff goalies in May have been Sergei Bobrovsky and Adin Hill. Good-to-decent performances from Frederik Andersen was sufficient for Carolina and the goaltending play between Dallas and Seattle have been iffy at best. The point: Decent can be good enough, especially if the other option is hideously terrible.
I believe Schmid has secured a NHL career with this post season and could very well surpass Vanecek for being the top goalie in New Jersey in 2023-24. That is as big of an accomplishment as being the goalie to backstop a team to their first playoff series win in over a decade, a series win over a hated rival, and doing the best he could to keep the Devils alive in a critical Game 5 such that he was beaten by two deflections and a screened shot (and the season-killer was both). Yes, this is not exactly an amazing stat line to promote for Devil of the month. There was not a lot of great choices between the Devils getting blown out three times for three playoff losses and getting crushed in the run of play in four out of five games with Carolina. I feel comfortable honoring Schmid further as the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for May 2023.
Now, please prove this was not a hot run of games so the Devils are not forced to go hard in the goaltending market again.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
The 2022-23 New Jersey Devils had an awesome season with a brutally abrupt end of their playoffs. For all of the reactions and takes saying the Devils have a lot to look forward to and build on for the future, it is cemented that the rebuild is over. The goal is now to make the playoffs and succeed in them. With great success comes more expectations and Tom Fitzgerald will have a lot of decisions to make to meet them. I will emphasize this here and there throughout the next six or so weeks, but I hope that Fitzgerald makes these decisions with more reason than heart.
Case in point: It would be easy to just hand McLeod a nice extension. After all, he looked good in the Carolina series where few Devils did. But the data showed he did not look good at all and if the player was on another team in another situation, then we would say that player stunk even if he did put up a shorty. Contracts are paid out in the season, the season sets up the postseason, and so the whole body of work has to be considered instead of being persuaded or dissuaded from a couple of playoff games or moments.
But there will be plenty of time for that here. For this season was a magnificent success. Established by the regular season accomplishments including multiple franchise records and great results. Secured with a first round win over Our Hated Rivals featuring not just one, but two 4-0 wins at the Rock to complete that comeback. Among the main lessons from the Carolina series are that the Devils have to learn how to better handle aggressive forechecks and pressures as well as beating man-to-man coverages. That and not anything romantic like heart or belief or desire was what did the Devils in - and badly - the Hurricanes series. Blowouts aside, that series was very much a demonstration of how a hockey team with a strong game plan and a roster of players committed to those plans can be great. And the Devils had no answers to them just like few had any answer to the Lemaire Devils in 1995. Should Carolina win it all, the Devils will have even more reason to find those answers because they will see a lot more teams do that or attempt to do that.
Still, that May was ended with a disappointment of a second round series is a success of itself. The season officially ended on May 11 and not in mid-April like it would have in seasons past. Going to the second round is an achievement. Continuing to not get shut out (in 94 games!) or swept in a playoff series (ever!) is an achievement. Coming back to beat your hated rivals in the first round such that national broadcasters still have to lean on 1994 for a playoff memory is an achievement. The 2022-23 Devils achieved a whole lot even if it ended with being the first team out in the second round. Whereas some teams are aching for success and committed to nothing but it for the short term (read: Toronto better get ready for #Auston2Tempe this time next year), the Devils will have multiple shots in the playoffs provided Fitzgerald continues to make the right calls and the players continue to develop and put in positions to succeed.
Let’s go, Devils. It’s time to shine again. And it starts today.
Now that you have read my views on May 2023 for the Devils, I want to know what you think. What did you think of the Devils performances throughout the month of May? Do you agree with Schmid as the Devil of the Month and Hughes as the honorable mention? Please leave your answers and last thoughts about the month of May in the comments. The focus of the site will move to offseason moves and prospects in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading.