You want to know why I write the scores the way I do about the New Jersey Devils? Because I believe, on this site, the New Jersey Devils should come first. Tonight, it is entirely appropriate that the Devils’ number should come before their opponents. That number tonight was two. As in two goals. They conceded six. 2-6. It looks ugly. That is because it was very ugly. The Dallas Stars styled and profiled all over a Devils team that looked like they just got together from training camp. It was far from a mediocre performance, never mind something actually good. And I want you, the reader, to know that the lesser number came first to hammer home how bad it was.
To make matters worse, the Devils honored one of the team’s legends tonight. Tonight was supposed to be all about Sergei Brylin, a three time Stanley Cup Champion, a do-it-all-and-do-it-pretty-well player, a lifer in the organization, and current assistant coach. He became the first player and second inductee into the Devils Ring of Honor. Alumni came out or provided video messages. Nico Hischier handed him a heavy and expensive crate of wine. Brylin got a sick jacket. And after looking like he wanted no attention, he gave a lovely speech to cap off a lovely ceremony. It was a night I was looking forward to and wanted the Devils to win regardless of the situation in the standings or how the season has been going. It was the sort of thing that should get a team pumped up and ready to play.
And the New Jersey Devils were - for about a handful of shifts. Then we got the same old trash that fans at the Rock have seen more often than not this season.
Sure, there were a lot more shots, but the Devils conceded quite a bit to Dallas. A kind-of soft call on Cal Foote led to Dallas ripping apart the Devils’ passive box on their penalty kill. John Marino blocked Jamie Benn’s pass to Joe Pavelski in the slot, Benn passed it to Pavelski in the slot, and he was wide open thanks to Dawson Mercer taking the long way around to cover him (and not a good look for Erik Haula either). The veteran buried the shot to make it 0-1. Nico Daws was asked to make 13 other saves, including a shorthanded one and some tough ones to keep it close.
The bottom fell out in the second period. Ryan Suter flung a long pass to Roope Hintz towards the end of a power play for New Jersey. Hintz was denied earlier shorthanded. Not here as Hintz went around Simon Nemec and stashed a shot around Nico Daws against the grain for 0-2. The Devils’ response was to go out there and kill a penalty as Nemec held up Evgenii Dadonov behind the net. The Devils killed that and the proceeded to get pinned back by Dallas a whole lot more. Wedgewood did make some stops but they were few and far between in a period where the Devils were out-shot 8-16. Daws was trying to hold it down but he could not even come close to stopping the two yet to come.
Late in the second period, a make-shift 2-on-2 rush occurred against the Devils. Somehow, Matt Duchene’s pass to Tyler Seguin sent both Colin Miller and Luke Hughes to #91. Seguin sent the puck back to Duchene, wide open on Daws’ flank. I blame Miller personally as he had Duchene initially. But you can blame a lot of Devils tonight. Like Luke Hughes creating a 3-on-1 rush against on the next shift - something Daws stopped. Shortly after that, the Devils just got stupid in their own end. Roope Hintz eluded Motor Faceoff Master Michael McLeod and got wide open across the slot. Wyatt Johnston found Hintz for the score. Was he Timo Meier’s man? Dawson Mercer’s? McLeod’s? I do not know, the Devils were that lost as a unit. That goal also took place within the final 20 seconds of the period. Way to play to the buzzer.
Did this mean the Dallas Stars would let up? Of course not. Craig Smith ripped a shot past Daws. OK, maybe you can blame Daws for that one. Or perhaps Nemec once more. At 0-4 going to 0-5, my care level was about where the team’s effort level was. It would be one thing if Scott Wedgewood faced chance after chance and shot after shot and he was not while Daws/the Devils were not. Except Wedgewood could have read a magazine through stretches of the game. But then he would have missed Wyatt Johnston turning Luke Hughes inside out, getting ahead of Dawson Mercer, and scoring straight up on Nico Daws for 0-6. I assumed 0-7 was around the corner. But no. Not that it mattered.
With 6:45 left, Timo Meier set up Jesper Bratt crashing to the net and Bratt scored five-hole. 1-6. To quote an infamous former New Jersey Net, whoop-de-damn-do. You can say the same when 2024 Michael Ryder, Tyler Toffoli, scored with a minute left. A total consolation goal that his agent will absolutely use to boost the numbers for the poor team who wants to sign him to big money this Summer thinking they would get a reliable scorer. Forget 2024 Ryder or any SCTV references, I should start calling him Caveat Emptor instead.
The final score was 2-6 and whoever was left at the Rock was either bemused, angry, or despondent. Sarge was a player who was well-liked as he was because he was a very solid two-way player who was easily coachable with a high work ethic to make things work in whatever role he was asked to do. Tonight, the 2023-24 Devils honored him by playing the opposite of how Sergei Brylin played. Disgraceful.
The Game Highlights: From Sportsnet’s Youtube channel, here they are for whatever that’s worth to you. If you’re a Stars fan, then you will probably love it and play it on repeat. It’s not like you have the Cowboys or the Longhorns or the Super Hoops (does FCD still use that nickname? I’m old) to watch now anyway.
So, Let’s Talk About It: This game was trash. It was like ordering chicken parmesan with marinara sauce and instead getting a raw chicken breast covered with Cheez-Whiz and with a slice of moldy rye on the side. Anyone who wants to defend this as just one bad game or just one bad performance or fault any one or two players did not watch this game very well. No, this was a team failure.
I Blame Just About Everyone. This is the Exception: There is exactly one player I will not fault in some way or form for tonight’s game. That would be Nico Daws. This man was hung out to dry. If you read anyone stating something like “Well, he gave up 6 goals on 3.51 xG” or “You know, he gave up 6 goals on 36 shots” or “Why can’t anyone make a save on this team,” then you should know those people did not watch this game. They do not know that Matt Duchene was on Daws’ flank for the 3rd GA. Or how wide open Pavelski and Hintz were for the game’s first and fourth goals, respectively. Or how Johnston basically went one-on-one from a short distance away after turnstiling Luke Hughes for the sixth one. Not even Dominik Hasek - a goalie that Lindy Ruff should be all too familiar with - could have kept this from being a blow out. Those who want to pin this loss on Nico Daws are ignorant at best and spreading misinformation at worst.
Every other Devil in uniform bears blame for this loss. Even Max Willman’s 10:07 of ice time, the lowest on the team tonight, where Willman got wrecked for a 4-14 attempt differential and a 1-8 shot differential. Curtis Lazar? Yeah, he works hard and look what that got the team tonight. I guess if you hold a gun to my head and ask me to name a skater I am not disgusted with tonight, it would be Lazar. That is faint, faint praise.
Let’s just get this over with. Luke Hughes? Absolutely dreadful. Simon Nemec? Looked more like a Utica player tonight. John Marino? A typical drop back after a fine game in Columbus. Kevin Bahl? With 9 chances against in 5-on-5 and 13 total? Jason Robertson, Benn, Hintz, and Pavelski loved playing against Bahl tonight. Cal Foote? Way to show how tough you are to Robertson. Fun fact: Your kind-of soft call kick started the deluge that was this loss. Colin Miller? My dude, how did you switch off of Duchene you’re smarter than this, right? That’s the entire blueline. I am not done yet.
Forwards, now. Let’s go. Nathan Bastian, I do not know how you continue to get ice time ahead of Alexander Holtz. While you were there to push the play forward, you did a whole lot of not much for that. Dawson Mercer, I blame the Pavelski PPGA on you and you were chasing a ton. Erik Haula, you deserved to play just 8:57 tonight in 5-on-5. Yes, I know you took six shots. You shot them as well as you did last season. I’ve already covered Toffoli and Bratt was a drifting in and out of the game until his goal. Nico Hischier, where is your leadership in a game like this? Michael McLeod, you are back to being the Michael McLeod I have watched for years. That is not a complement. Alex Holtz, well, you got more minutes but you did not take a whole lot of advantage of them. Meier, nice assist, where was any of this for the first 50 or so minutes of the game? Chris Tierney, you remain as Max Willman if he was a center. Was that all of the forwards? OK.
Let’s continue to the men in suits behind the bench. What was happening while the score got worse and worse? Not much. Because of course there would not be. Why would you expect head coach Lindy Ruff and his staff to make any real changes or adjustments? Ruff has His Ways and Those Ways Must Be Good, it must be the players or something. I literally wrote about this yesterday and yet there are people who do not want to accept that Ruff really would cut off his nose to spite his face. Winning is not his priority and neither is game management. It is doing it Lindy Ruff’s Way. No wonder Peter DeBoer coached him out of the rink tonight. If Lindy Ruff’s seat was not hot, it should be absolutely blazing right now.
Seriously, think about what transpired and marvel at the lack of action about it. Luke Hughes having a bad game? Gotta give him 20:28 of ice time! Nemec getting worked over? Do not even try to shelter him from Hintz or Johnston or Pavelski; give him 19 minutes! Stupid penalties that only hurt the cause by creating a penalty kill? You’re still getting shifts; just look at Toffoli. Power play mishaps? You’re still going out there! Nico Daws getting hung out to dry? Oh, no, he has to stay in the net. Kill his numbers to make it easier to give more starts to Vitek Vanecek. Ignore his 1980s-style save percentage, he has wins, dontcha know. Accountability? That only applies to 21 year old Swedes named Alex on this squad. It certainly does not come from Ruff. Or the top, if we are being honest about it. Tom Fitzgerald is probably wondering whether he can make a decision to make a change about this season. It’s not like the season’s running out of games. Or that Devils’ issues have changed all that much since November, Fitzy.
Pre-emptive Excuse Busting: Of course, of course. We cannot be mad that the Devils filled their pants yet again at home and on such a night to honor one of their best players. Why so doom and gloom about a team that continues to find ways to stay in the behind multiple teams in the playoff race? Why be upset over a team with all of these injuries? My short answer: Cope. Seethe. Here’s the facts.
Injuries: The current league leader in both man games lost due to injury and cap hit on injured reserve (which is based on daily cap hit, not total) is the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The team that is currently owning a 26-14-5 record for 57 points, own a goal differential of +21 (+24 if you include shootouts), just whacked Our Hated Rivals 5-1, and will be coming to Newark on Monday. Head coach Bruce Cassidy does not have Jack Eichel, Shea Theodore, Adin Hill (who goalied the Devils hardcore last season), and a heap of bodies. His team remains well structured, the players who are healthy have continued to perform or step up to perform, the squad is motivated, and they are winning games. If they can do it, then why can’t the Devils avoid dropping winnable games and embarrassing themselves against quality opponents like Boston and Dallas?
Yes, it sucks that the Devils do not have The Big Deal, Dougie Hamilton, or, to a lesser extent, Ondrej Palat. But we also saw this team play rather well in Tampa Bay for a point and in Sunrise against the Panthers for a big win not that long ago. And without Meier among their injuries. The issue is not that this team is not capable. It is that they do not put in the work and/or make the changes to get the results that they absolutely now need. And, no, the change is not force Jack Hughes to come back as soon as possible from injury instead of coming back at 100%. We have seen that with Timo Meier earlier this season and it was not beneficial for the player or the team. Sort it out with what you have. Surely an experienced coaching staff would know what to do.
Goaltending: I covered this. Daws was hung out to dry and got little support. Scott Wedgewood was tested here and there but when he was beat, it literally did not matter. Dallas supported their goalie; the Devils, not so much. Again.
By the way, Carolina has had goaltending issues all season. They are sitting comfortably in second place in this division. You can thank Rod Brind’Amour and their tightly structured game and their whole team commits to. You shall see that soon too.
The Ice: One increasingly popular complaint about the Devils’ bad home record is that the ice at the Rock is Bad. And the crew had a short turnaround time today as Seton Hall went to triple overtime and lost in the afternoon. My problem with this complaint is that the visiting team had no issues whatsoever moving the puck or moving themselves. Dallas showed no problem doing whatever they wanted with and without the puck on the same sheet of ice. This excuse especially stinks.
The Back to Back Sets: I can agree that scheduling Brylin’s Ring of Honor Night on a second half of a back to back was a poor decision in retrospect. Granted, it was decided before the Devils would go 1-for-9 in the second games of those sets (and counting!) this season. The Devils have played at least 10 of these as long as I can remember every season. Yes, it is hard. It is also a fact of both playing in New Jersey and even in this league. That the Devils have not figured it out is really on them. It is not the schedule maker’s job to play the games either.
But Last Season Was So Good: The New Jersey Devils earned a ton of goodwill and respect in 2022-23, especially by eliminating Our Hated Rivals in the playoffs for the team’s first playoff series win since 2012. The notion that this team is not good enough as-is to battle for a playoff spot or that it is acceptable that they do not make changes to get enough is offensive to me. The thing about goodwill and respect is that they are both easily to lose. Ruff, Tom Fitzgerald, and the Devils have squandered a ton of it just 44 games into this season. And counting.
The Devils Were Bad At Home Last Season So Why Would This Be Different: I’ve seen a few people claim the Devils were not so good at home last season. That is not true. The Devils finished tied for tenth in points percentage in home games last season at 63.4%. They went 24-13-4, earning 52 points. The 2023-24 Devils are one of eight teams with a sub-50% points percentage at home this season. Only Columbus, San Jose, and Anaheim have a worse points percentage at home than the Devils. By the way, the Devils’ 9-11-2 record at home includes home losses to Columbus, San Jose, and Anaheim.
The Devils Are Only X Points Out of a Playoff Spot, Where X is Less Than a Small Number: Cool, the Devils have been in that position since Thanksgiving or so. Not much has changed. I have been scoreboard watching because the Devils really need help from others. They are two points out of a wild card spot now. So are the Islanders, who just changed coaches. They are a point behind the Capitals, who have the same number of games played. The Devils are also just one point ahead of Pittsburgh, who has two games in hand on the Devils. Oh, and the wild card spots are owned by Detroit and Toronto, who are in control of their own destiny. My point is that the Devils have been stuck in pretty much the same place where it seems so close. But, in truth, it is further away than it appears. And every bad loss, whether it is a 2-3 loss to Montreal or a 2-6 butt-whipping by Dallas, makes it even harder to catch up.
Look, I am know a lot of you, the People Who Matter, are frustrated, peeved, angry, sad, and all sorts of negative feelings about this season. This is not personal. But I am just as tired of fans or pundits or whomever trying to rationalize a disappointing campaign with things that are not true or not issues with other teams. And I do not want these excuses to be reasons why the Devils think it is OK to just throw this season away or not make the changes they really need to make to get to where they want to be. Related to this, no, I am not in favor of giving Ruff a “mulligan” for this season.
Credit Where Credit is Due: Peter DeBoer bossed his team to a fabulous game. Jason Robertson, Wyatt Johnston, and Roope Hintz were great. Benn and Pavelski on the PP artfully beat the Devils’ PK early on. Duchene and Seguin did not have the greatest games but that goal from Duchene effectively sealed up the win. The defensemen did a good job overall save for Ryan Suter. Scott Wedgewood was confident and in control. Almost like he wanted to prove a point that he never should have been waived from New Jersey. Most importantly, the Stars never held back. They continued to attack the net. They continued to skate. They continued to shoot with 68 attempts and 36 on net. They earned a big fat win to boost their hold on third place in the Central and keep some kind of striking distance with Winnipeg and Colorado. Imagine if Dallas had a coach like Lindy Ruff. Wait, they did? Huh, I wonder how that ended.
What About the Crowd?: I was not in attendance for this one. But it is my understanding there was a “Sorry, Sergei” chant at one point along with a lot of deserved booing of the Devils from those that stuck around for the dumpster file to burn out. Brylin absolutely deserved better and the Devils deserved all of the boos and more.
Here’s the thing about the Devils fans at the Rock this season: they want to see goals and victories. At the Montreal game, the crowd was tense and unhappy after Joshua Roy made it 0-2. There was even some faint “Fire Lindys.” The same crowd roared and got hyped when the Devils scored PPGs back-to-back to tie it up. It is straight forward. Put up a good effort and succeed and the fans will be very supportive. Play like dog excrement and/or get blown out at home and they will be unhappy. You do not need to be as smart as John von Neumann to understand that.
Anyway, credit to the crowd who made their displeasure felt. I can only use this recap to say my piece.
One Final Thought: For some strange reason, some of the People Who Matter have a real problem whenever this guy is mentioned. I do not understand it. I know he’s elsewhere and things have changed. Still, I know for a fact that this guy would not put up with this disgraceful performance tonight:
Your Take: This game was a disgrace by the New Jersey Devils. What’s your take on it? Where do you go from here ahead of Monday’s game against Las Vegas? Can it get worse? Let me answer that one by referencing Mythbusters: Failure is always an option. But have your say anyway in the comments.
My apologies if you watched this game along in the Gamethread or through X with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for, well, enduring this loss. Even more sincere apologies if you paid any amount of money to attend this game too. Thanks to Caleb for previewing this game. Thank you for reading. You and Sarge deserved a whole lot better tonight.