The New Jersey Devils had a magical 2022-23 season that ended with a thud in the second round. That thud came courtesy of the Carolina Hurricanes, who eliminated the Devils in five games, and who the Devils had to wait until tonight for a chance at revenge against. Given the chance at a little vengeance, plus the obvious battle for playoff positioning, one might think Jersey’s team would come out extra motivated this evening. Well anyone who thought that thought wrong, as the Devils were outworked and outclassed in a 3-2 loss in Raleigh.
This was a truly dispiriting loss. If the Devils came out and played a strong game but fell short, it would be frustrating but not particularly surprising. The Hurricanes are a great team after all. But the fact that New Jersey put forth such a lackluster effort is what bothers me the most. Carolina played last night in Boston, so not only was tonight the second half of a back-to-back for the Canes, but they had to travel all the way from Boston late last night as well. The Devils, on the other hand, had two rest days before tonight’s contest. You wouldn’t know it watching these two squads play though, as New Jersey once again failed to start on time, then faded away as the game progressed.
It continues to baffle me how the Devils can continue to make the same easily fixable mistakes game after game after game. Sebastian Aho got behind the defense and scored on a partial breakaway 90 seconds into the game. The Devils have now played 46 games this season, and have given up the first goal 33 times. Then in the second period, Teuvo Teravainen scored a power play goal to double the Canes’ lead, then 25 seconds later, the rainbow-hating Jordan Staal deflected a shot past Nico Daws to extend the lead to 3-0. Lindy Ruff actually pulled Daws after that third goal, and Vitek Vanecek came on and shut the door the rest of the way, but the damage was already done. That second period was particularly brutal as the Devils didn’t even get their first shot on goal until about 12 minutes into the frame.
Giving up the first goal. Not being able to stop the bleeding after giving up a goal. Going an inexcusable amount of time before generating offense (offense in this case being...a single shot on net). These are issues that have haunted New Jersey all season long. More than halfway into the campaign, these issues have not been resolved. Not even close.
The funny thing is, looking at the numbers from Natural Stat Trick, you might be tempted to call me crazy for saying the Devils put together a terrible effort tonight. After all, New Jersey finished the night with a 5-on-5 xGF% of 75.76%. In the third period alone, the Devils put up a staggering 91.54% xGF% at 5-on-5. These are not numbers that would indicate a poor effort. But I’m sorry, as much of a believer in analytics as I am, this is one of those nights where the advanced metrics just do not capture how the game was actually played. In reality, the Hurricanes were more than happy to go into their shell and deny any truly dangerous opportunities New Jersey tried to muster in the final frame. The Devils were dominated by a division rival. That division rival also happened to be on the second half of a back-to-back, and yet somehow the tired team outworked the rested team.
(By the way, here’s a fun fact for you: The Hurricanes have as many wins on the second half of back-to-backs tonight as the Devils do all season long. Just think about that.)
The advanced stats say the Devils dominated this game. The advanced stats are lying. The box score says tonight was a one-goal game. It was as lopsided a one-goal game as I’ve seen in a while, and in fact was not a one-goal game until Jesper Bratt netted an entirely meaningless goal with two seconds left in the game.
Tonight was very discouraging. New Jersey had a terrible start (again), and it set the tone for the rest of the night. If the Devils want any hope of playing past game 82 this season, they’ll need to come up with better efforts than tonight.
The Game Highlights: If you enjoy watching the Devils play uninspired hockey, here you go.
Yesterday, the Devils announced that Michael McLeod and Cal Foote have taken indefinite leaves of absence. We do not have all the details yet, so all we can do is wait for further updates on this situation.
As a result of McLeod and Foote not being available, the Devils made the following roster moves:
Misyul did not play, but Dowling did. I actually thought Dowling was one of the few Devils who played a good, hard-working, solid game tonight. And wouldn’t you know it, he was rewarded for his efforts with a goal, his first as a Devil:
This Justin: Dowling’s first as a Devil. pic.twitter.com/ycAcoA3fMh— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 26, 2024
Good for Dowling, and that was great work by Chris Tierney and Alexander Holtz to set up that goal.
Elsewhere, Ondrej Palat returned to the lineup for the first time since December 30th. Palat played 14:21, took a penalty, and did not register a shot on goal. It’s good to have Palat back, but tonight was not a good return to action for him.
Colin Miller also returned after missing a game due to illness. He didn’t particularly stand out either, but it’s nice to have him back too. Hopefully Palat and Miller regain their form soon.
More Glimpses Of The Future
Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec did not start this game paired together, but by the end of the night they ended up playing 8:24 together at 5-on-5. We’ve seen Ruff and Co. pull the Hughes-Nemec lever before, and tonight was yet another glimpse of the future of the Devils’ blueline.
Per Natural Stat Trick, those two absolutely obliterated Carolina tonight, with a 5-on-5 xGF% of 97.04%. But as I detailed above, it’s hard for me to put any stock in what the advanced numbers say given what the eye test told me. Again, as much as I believe in analytics, this is just one of those nights where I have to let my eye test overrule what the advanced metrics say. So it’s great that NST says the Hughes-Nemec pairing consumed every Hurricane in sight this evening, but I’ll choose to pump the brakes on declaring them a true success against Carolina tonight.
These Injuries Are Now Officially Out Of Control
We all know the Devils have dealt with an absolute tidal wave of injuries this season, but until tonight at least we could say the injuries were limited to only the players on the ice. That changed in the second period this evening, as Lindy Ruff was drilled in the face with a puck on the Devils’ bench. He continued to coach through the frame, but did not return for the third period. Associate Coach Travis Green took over the bench in his stead, and Green spoke with the media after the game.
Lots of Devils fans have had a lot of problems with how Ruff has coached the team and dealt with the media this season. I would consider myself one of those people. But I think we can all agree that no one wants to see the man actually injured, and we all hope Ruff makes a full recovery from whatever wound he sustained.
News From Out Of Town
Before we go, let’s take a look at the out of town scoreboard to see if the Devils received any help this evening:
The Red Wings shut out the Flyers 3-0. The Devils are chasing both teams so neither outcome would’ve been ideal. But at least this game ended in regulation.
The Canadiens did the Devils a solid by defeating the Islanders 4-3 in regulation.
The Lightning doubled up the Coyotes 6-3. Not ideal.
So that’s one acceptable result, one genuinely great result, and one bad result. I suppose that’s about as much as we could have asked for.
Next Time Out
The Devils will travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning on Saturday, with puck drop slated for 7:00pm. This will be the last game before an extended layoff, as the Devils will have their bye week plus the All-Star break right after this game. It would be nice if New Jersey could send us into the break with a win.
Clearly I was not happy with tonight’s effort. But what say you, what did you think of the Devils’ effort tonight? Did anyone stand out to you in a positive way? What do you want to see for next game? As always, thanks for reading!