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Slow Start, Dysfunctional Offense Sink New Jersey Devils in 3-0 Loss to Boston Bruins

Nico Daws played well, but his skaters couldn’t back him up in matinee loss

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils never seem to win against the Boston Bruins. There are a handful of teams the Devils always seem to have issues with (the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets come to mind), and the Bruins are right near the top of the list in that regard. New Jersey entered this afternoon’s contest with a record of 12-21-6 against the Bruins since the 2013 lockout. Well make that 12-22-6 as the Devils fell 3-0 to the Bruins today.

Even though the Devils finished the first period with a scoreless tie, their effort in the opening 20 minutes deserves tons of scorn. It has been well-documented how New Jersey has struggled with starting games on time this season, and this afternoon might’ve been the most egregious of them all, with the Bruins outshooting the Devils 16-9, and New Jersey registering a pathetic 23.96% xGF% at 5-on-5 per NST. In fact the Devils did seemingly give up a power play goal to James van Riemsdyk in the period, but David Pastrnak entered the zone a molecule before the puck did on the play, and Lindy Ruff successfully challenged to wipe the goal off the board. A very lucky break for the Devils.

You could argue, and I would, that the terrible first period set the tone for the rest of the game. Even though they got their opening goal Trotsky’d by the war room in Toronto, Boston broke through when Charlie Coyle officially opened the scoring in the very first minute of the second period, which felt like an extension of the first. Yes the Devils put together a much better effort in the middle frame, but they still only managed a 50.97% xGF% at 5-on-5, barely above breakeven. And they had to scratch and claw for even that meager advantage. Boston just stifled New Jersey by clogging lanes, blocking shots, and successfully cycling and extending possession in the offensive zone. The Devils offense had its moments, particularly in the second, but they just never really got a ton of momentum going today.

There were a handful of skaters who put together solid efforts today. Nico Hischier created a couple really good chances late in the second and in spots in the third, and he finished with a 5-on-5 xGF% of 63.91. In fact Hischier’s entire line with Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer performed pretty well, registering a 5-on-5 xGF% of 67.03% in 10:03 of ice time together. And that was while mostly getting matched up against the Bruins’ top pairing of Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk and top line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Charlie Coyle! Pretty impressive stuff. That was the only functioning line though, aside from a couple random minutes of Chris Tierney, Curtis Lazar, and Nate Bastian. Simon Nemec continued to impress me with some subtly impressive defensive plays, and a 51.78 xGF% (not to mention refusing to put up with Marchand’s usual scummy antics). But that’s basically it as far as solid performances from the skaters go.

The one unambiguous positive from this afternoon was the performance of Nico Daws. He got the start and played quite well, stopping 33 of 35 shots for a .943 save percentage. The young netminder made more than a handful of Grade-A stops to keep the Devils in the game until Trent Frederic potted a late empty-netter to slam the door in New Jersey’s face. Even in defeat, Daws continues to give the Devils faithful a glimmer of hope for the future of the goaltending situation.

Another game against the Bruins, another loss. Yes the Devils have a small country out due to injury, but the standings don’t care about injuries. For once, their goaltending kept them in a game, but the skaters could not take advantage. The Devils have two days to bounce back.

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: You won’t see any Devils goals here, but you’ll see plenty of great Nico Daws saves.

Dawsome

Let’s delve more into Nico Daws’ performance. According to Natural Stat Trick, Daws saved 1.79 Goals Above Expected in all situations today. That’s fantastic production, and certainly a far cry from just about anything we’ve seen so far this season from Devils goaltenders. It’s ironic and unfortunate that the first goal he did give up today was a bit of a softie. I’ve seen plenty worse, but it’s probably a shot Daws should have.

Nevertheless, Daws had been decent through the first few games this season, but has been stellar in his last two outings. On Saturday against the Panthers, he stopped 36 of 37 shots and saved 2.85 Goals Above Expected according to Natural Stat Trick. That means that in his last two games, Daws has 69 saves on 72 shots, good for a .958 sv% and 4.64 GSAA per NST. It’s unfortunate the Devils could only get two of four points in those games.

It’s only five games, but Daws has provided a little stability in net, something New Jersey is in desperate need of. If he can go on a run, the Devils might be able to grab a strong hold of a playoff spot instead of battling it out in the muck with the rest of the bubble teams. Speaking of which...

Halfway Home

With the conclusion of today’s game, the Devils are now officially halfway through their regular season. At 22-16-3 and 47 points, New Jersey is on pace for 94 points. For context, last season the final wild card spot in the East went to the Panthers who finished with 92 points. That puts the Devils over the line, but remember that the last time New Jersey qualified for the postseason prior to last year (2017-18) it took 97 points.

It’s difficult to predict exactly how many points it will take to reach the playoffs, but there’s a decent chance it will take more than 94 points. The Devils have a tough schedule the rest of the way and a lot of long term injuries to deal with. The path will be tough, but they are certainly right in the mix. Now it’s up to them to put together a good second half.

For The Love Of God Make It Stop

You’re not going to believe this, but the Devils suffered another injury in today’s game. Brendan Smith went for a hit on Charlie McAvoy in the first period today and got his leg caught awkwardly on the body check. He left the game following that shift and did not return. You will also find this equally as unbelievable, but Lindy Ruff gave us a less than thorough update on Smith after the game:

I could have told you that.

Smith is, to put it nicely, not the most popular player around these parts. That being said, it’s always tough when you have to roll with five defensemen for most of the game. I also don’t have much confidence in the Devils’ depth beyond Smith, who at this point I guess would be Cal Foote.

Given how this organization operates, we won’t know if Smith will be good to go for next game until...warmups of the next game. Get well soon, Brendan.

A Glimpse Of The Future?

Let’s end on something positive. It wasn’t for a huge amount of time, but Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec did take some shifts as a pairing today. The two played 6:10 together at 5-on-5 this afternoon, and collected a Corsi For% of 64.71%, and an Expected Goals For% of...90.89%??? Wow. It’s a high risk/high reward pairing for sure, but both players have shown a ton of promise early in their budding careers. It might be worth trying a Hughes-Nemec pairing for at least a game or two, just to see if they really take off together.

Next Time Out

The Devils return to The Rock on Wednesday to take on the Montreal Canadiens. Gametime is slated for 7:00pm that evening.

Your Take

The Devils dropped a frustrating shutout loss against the Bruins this afternoon. What did you make of today’s game? Aside from Daws, who stood out to you? What do you expect next time out against Montreal? As always, thanks for reading!