clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The January 2024 Month in Review of the New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils kicked off a new year by going 5-6-1 in January, losing ground in the race for a playoff spot, suffering from injuries and other losses, and with coaching and management changing little beyond the nameplates. This is a summary of what happened in January 2024 to the New Jersey Devils.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils
Pictures taken a bit before disaster.
Photo by Rich Graessle/NHLI via Getty Images

I wrote in the December 2023 review that while it was a good month, the New Jersey Devils needed to have a good January. Specifically, I wrote:

It [December] was a good month. But the Devils needed more to keep pace with the teams in their division. They need more. Why? Because they put themselves in this position to need more. They have to figure something out. Even if our hopes and prayers are answered and the teams around the Devils crater, then that still leaves the Devils to need to win games. Anyone can identify problems. We can hear the same narratives and canned answers from the MSG broadcast team. The people in charge, whether it is on the ice, on the bench, or in the front office, need to find some solutions. And if they do not, a bad January could all but sink their chances. You may think that is dramatic, but I remind you that the Devils did well in December and remain in sixth place on the outside looking in. And in a tie in points with seventh place as well. This is the reality of the situation. We have to deal with it. Even if it is not fun to acknowledge.

As the month of January ends, the Devils sit sixth in the division, tied in points with fifth-place Pittsburgh (up due to one fewer game played) and seventh-place Washington (Devils have more regulation wins). They are five points back of third-place Philadelphia and six points back of the second wild card spot, currently owned by Detroit. This is the situation after the Devils went 5-6-1, earning 11 points - better than all but at least five teams last month. Their playoff chances are not dead in the water but the water is rising.

No, it was not a good January for the New Jersey Devils. It was Ruff rough. Let us look back as a new month begins and the pressure continues to mount.

The Games of January 2024

The new year began for the New Jersey Devils on January 3 in Washington D.C. The Capitals had ripped up the Devils in Newark twice earlier in the season. The Devils got some revenge. Specifically, braces each from Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, and Michael McLeod would power the Devils to a 6-3 victory. An important win at the time over a team they were chasing in the standings. However, the team would take a big hit on Friday night against Chicago. The game featured Conor Bedard running into Brendan Smith, a whole lot of fighting and nasty hits, a 4-2 comeback win, and Jack Hughes falling and hurting his arm towards the end of regulation. The latter would be a massive loss; The Big Deal has been sorely missed. It showed on January 6 against Vancouver. The scoring came in waves as Vancouver ran up three goals, the Devils cut it to a one-goal game before the end of the second period, and then proceeded to give up another goal before the actual end of the second period and another in the third. There would be a comeback bid in the third period but the hole was too deep and so the Devils lost 4-6. Even with the loss of Hughes, starting off January at 2-1-0 is not the worst.

After four days off, the Devils embarked on a three-game trip through Florida and Massachusetts. January 11’s game in Tampa Bay was far from bad - outside of Vitek Vanecek. The Devils went down 1-3 due to his and the team’s issues in their own end. But they fought back to tie it up and dragged out a point in a 3-4 overtime loss. In Sunrise, the Devils blasted Sergey Bobrovsky for three goals and leaned on Nico Daws to keep the Panthers to just one goal. Add an empty netter the Devils got a big win over a strong Panthers team, 4-1. Three out of four points for an rather injured Devils squad coming out of the Sunshine State is quite good. The trip ended with a thud on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In an afternoon game in Boston, the Devils really did not show up early except for Nico Daws, went down in the second period, and could not solve Jeremy Swayman. The Devils were shutout by the Bruins, 0-3. The trip was split at 1-1-1. Not bad on its own, but the Devils did need more.

It would get worse from then on. On January 17, the Devils hosted Montreal. They conceded the game’s first two goals. They would get a break due to Nick Suzuki high-sticking Kevin Bahl and drawing blood towards the end of the second period. Luke Hughes (who was ill but played) and Alexander Holtz scored on both minors to tie it up early in the third. The Devils then sagged as time went on, capped off by a rebound by Nico Daws being potted in by Cole Caufield, who got inside position on John Marino somehow. The Devils lost a winnable game to Montreal at home, 2-3, and Lindy Ruff told Ryan Novozinsky he did not watch the game very well when the beat reported asked why Holtz only played two shifts in the third period (he played three). Frustration was mounting but it did take a break on Friday night, January 19. In Ohio, the Devils may have conceded first but they roared back with four goals in the second period to take a commanding 4-1 lead. They never lost it and left Columbus with a win.

On the next night, the Devils would honor long-time New Jersey Devil, current assistant coach, three-time Cup champion, and legend to all who appreciate utility players, Sergei Brylin. Sarge became the second Devil ever entered into the team’s Ring of Honor. There was a lovely ceremony before the game. Surely, the Devils would be up to play on Sarge’s night. Even if it was in the second half of a back-to-back, right? Wrong. So very wrong. The Devils were an absolute disgrace at the Rock on January 20. The Stars styled and profiled all over a squad that could not decide whether to be listless, tentative, or just plain lost on the ice. The Devils lost 2-6 and, for a lot of the People Who Matter, this defeat hit a breaking point.

The Devils would salvage some of that on January 22 when they hosted a very-injured Las Vegas team. The Devils went up 3-1 in this game. Then they conceded four straight goals. But before the second period ended, Tyler Toffoli scored his second of the game - a total soft goal on Logan Thompson. This set up a one-goal game for the third and the Devils got it thanks to Curtis Lazar. In overtime, Luke Hughes picked off a pass and set up Toffoli for his hat trick and the game winner in a wild 6-5 game. Happy they won the game. Unhappy that it would be their last of the month. On January 25, the Devils took on a Carolina team that played (and won) in Boston the night before. The Hurricanes looked to be in better condition as they went up early and never lost a lead. Antti Raanta performed well and the Devils came close to making it interesting late. But they lost 2-3 with the second Devils goal being scored with 3 seconds left. It was not a close loss despite the score. The last game of the month was another road game in Tampa Bay on January 27. The Devils played like they knew they were on a week-long break after the game. The Lightning took full advantage. Even when the Devils would get within a goal, they would make an error (e.g. Kevin Bahl coughing up the puck to Brayden Point), Vitek Vanecek was victimized, and the Devils would go down. They lost 3-6 to end their month at 5-6-1.

By the Numbers

All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned. Data was pulled after last night’s games so the ranks should be accurate for the whole month. Stats in the top ten are colored in green; stats in the bottom ten of the league (23rd to 32nd) are colored in red. Ties in rank are rounded up to the highest rank.

5-on-5 Play: The Devils at 5-on-5 were not a positive team in the run of play in January. Which is a concern since it has otherwise been a good thing this season. It was not what with the team falling in the red or near to it in several of the against-rate stats, unfavorable adjustments, and falling below 50% except in actual goals and scoring chances. It further supports the notion that January was a Bad Month for the Devils:

New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in January 2024
New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in January 2024
Natural Stat Trick

They did, however, get hot with their shooting. It surprised me that they scored as many goals as they did given how the offense seemingly struggled in and they shot super-high with a shooting percentage of 11.51%. It also surprised me that the Devils’ goaltenders combined for the 20th lowest save percentage in the NHL in 5-on-5. 91.19% is not a bottom ten percentage. It was actually somewhat decent. As such, the Devils out-scored opponents by six in 5-on-5 play, which is a good thing.

But that gets undercut from what they generated and what they allowed. This is the function of not having Jack Hughes or Ondrej Palat for most of the month (and Timo Meier for about two weeks). This is also the function of losing Jonas Siegenthaler and, later, Brendan Smith. Most of the call ups from Utica along with Chris Tierney, Max Willman, and other depth players having to play and play quite a bit struggled in 5-on-5 play. Not to mention that other teams knew they can focus their attention on Nico Hischier’s line or the other scoring line, whatever that may be. As such, the Devils had a hot shooting month that led to heaps of goals and goaltending that was liveable for the most part, but it could have been better if the Devils were able to perform better in 5-on-5 play. Getting out-attempted, out-shot, out-chanced (after adjustments), and out-high-danger chanced hindered what the Devils got going. It feels weird to write during this season but the goaltenders actually out performed the expected goals model in January.

Power Play Situations: The Devils’ power play appeared to have slumped in December. They were abysmal in January. They missed more than Jack Hughes. They missed a whole lot.

New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in January 2024
New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in January 2024
NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

The Devils went 3-for-31 all month. Only San Jose was less successful at 2-for-26. Worse, two of those power play goals happened in the same game and it was the 2-3 loss to Montreal. Even worse, the Devils conceded three shorthanded goals so the power play was a net-zero for scoring. San Jose, for reference’s sake, was a +2 with no shorthanded goals allowed. Ruff, Travis Green, and the Devils stuck to the same 1-3-1 formation with a slingshot/back-pass breakout play all month. Only occasionally would you see a different kind of zone entry. Without Jack Hughes directing, opponents defended a stand-still power play aggressively and it resembled the worst of times under Mark Recchi.

The underlying numbers were hideous in January. Say what you want about NST’s expected goals model but it is a good marker to show how threatening their offense was. It was not as the Devils ranked in the bottom-five of the NHL by both xGF/60 and actual GF/60. The Devils not only did not finish their shots (a 6.52% shooting percentage is really low), they did not generate dangerous shots to finish to begin with (a 6.07 xGF/60 is also really low). Their attempt and shooting rate was not bad, but a lot of those came from outside the spots on the ice where you want shots to be generated in a man advantage situation. What the Devils were trying to set up either did not succeed or yield much. The number of power play situations represented another issue in January. The Devils “efforts” at times often meant that teams did not have to foul them. Therefore, they only received 31 chances at the man advantage.

Just like the team as a whole, something has to change here beyond getting The Big Deal back in charge. Say what you want about how much he was doing himself on PP1 but it was a lot better than the not-much PP1 (and PP2) did this past month. It was lackluster enough to warrant some kind of change to how they did business on their power play units. If they did anything, then it did not help. I can buy that part of this is still the slump carried over from December, but they were performing much better on their man advantages then. Even without Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton (now gone two months), they can be much better than this.

Penalty Kill Situations: Surprising to me, the penalty kill was not bad. It was not amazing either, but it was not bad in January 2024:

New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats in January 2024
New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats in January 2024
NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

It was above the league median in the results categories. A success rate of killing 29 out of 36 penalties is something that a team can live with. Taking 36 shorthanded situations could be better but it was right around league median so it was not excessive. Once again, the Devils did not get a shorthanded goal, but that is fine. A -7 goal differential in PK situations is not a total killer.

The on-ice rates show a the PK units in a better light for January. Finishing in the top ten in the NHL in all of the against-rate categories suggests that the PK units have been doing relatively well over the whole month. Their xGA/60 really showcases that. Sure, the PK appears to have been beaten badly on some of those 7 PPGAs, but this is a shorthanded situation and that will happen over time. Alas, the main reason why the penalty kill was not more successful in January is a key reason why the team as a whole is not more successful: goaltending. While both may have had little chance on most of those 7 PPGAs, there just was not enough saves from the goalies. The Devils finished January just inside the bottom ten for team save percentage in penalty kill situations. While the goaltending was actually decent or somewhat decent overall in January 2024 in 5-on-5 situations, it was a weakness here.

The good news is that their rate of goals allowed was still OK even with that low save percentage. It could have been more damaging but it was not. Better goaltending and even some better work to help the goalies should make the PK units be more successful. Which may make it even better for February, a month where the Devils need results. Killing a couple of more calls would be helpful in that sense. Or, alternatively, not taking avoidable penalties.

Goaltending: Here are the goaltending stats from Natural Stat Trick for the month. Nico Daws is now included. Akira Schmid is not as he has remained in Utica for better and generally worse. It turns out the Comets do not defend all that well either. Anyway, with New Jersey, the goalies were more of a pleasant surprise over all of January. Especially Vitek Vanecek.

New Jersey Devils Goaltender Stats in January 2024
New Jersey Devils Goaltender Stats in January 2024
Natural Stat Trick

Nico Daws did get pulled more than Vanecek, but did get more minutes than the more experienced goalie. Vanecek was a better goalie in 5-on-5 play in most aspects. Vanecek had a more respectable save percentage in 5-on-5 play than Daws. Vanecek had a better goals saved above average, getting just over it whereas Daws missed it by about two goals. Both goalies allowed about as many goals as the NST model thought they would. The only edge Daws had over Vanecek in 5-on-5 play was with high-danger save percentage. Even there, Vanecek finished just behind Daws in that stat. Vanecek was by no means great but those desiring league average goaltending pretty much got it from Vanecek in 5-on-5 situations. Even if he still concedes rebounds and his glove gets caught out at times.

In all situations, the goaltending performance for both did take a hit, falling below 90% save percentage. Vanecek just missed it and Daws missed it only by a little more. Both goalies had a negative GSAA and gave up two more goals than the NST model expected. But Vanecek did concede fewer goals. Again, Daws had an edge in HDSv% but Vanecek literally finished right behind him in that stat.

By the rankings, neither goalie finished in the bottom ten of the league in any category. That is a marked improvement over the last two months. Vanecek was definitely the better goaltender in January and all he really was a couple of spots above or a couple of spots below the league median. Will this mean more Vanecek in February? Possibly. Will this ease any worries about Vanecek going forward? Probably not unless he can do this regularly instead of just in one month. He was rather bad in November and December. Will Daws show that he can do more? He may get some opportunities but the leash on him may be shorter than we may think. Should Fitzgerald try to improve the goaltending? Not if you have faith in Vanecek and Daws, Vanecek and Schmid, or even Daws and Schmid. If you do not have confidence in either combination, then yes, he really should while the season is still salvageable. Still, goaltending was not the dumpster fire in this past month compared with the past two months.

Additions and Subtractions

Well, where do I start? How about a list? The team lost Dougie Hamilton to injury at the end of November. He was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve in January. Tomas Nosek was also injured going into December. Nosek was also placed on LTIR in January. The injury list grew in January:

  • Timo Meier was injured during the Boston game that ended December. He would be out until January 17, returning in the 2-3 loss to Montreal.
  • Ondrej Palat was injured in the 6-3 win over Washington. He was cleared on January 24 and returned in the 2-3 loss to Carolina on January 25.
  • Jack Hughes hurt his arm towards the end of the 4-2 win over Chicago on January 5. He has since been out of the lineup. While named to the 2024 All-Star Game, the NHL announced on January 30 that he will be at the events but he will not participate in the Skills Competition or the All-Star Games. Jesper Bratt is his replacement for the games. His return is unknown and he was placed on injured reserve retroactive to January 5.
  • After the 4-6 loss to Vancouver, head coach Lindy Ruff stated that Jonas Siegenthaler broke his foot. Siegenthaler remains on injured reserve.
  • During the 0-3 loss to Boston, Brendan Smith hurt his leg in a collision. He left that game and has yet to return to skating.
  • Colin Miller missed the 6-5 OT win over Las Vegas due to illness. He returned for the January 25 game in Carolina.

Meier and Palat did return in January. Additionally, Curtis Lazar did return to the lineup for the win in Washington and has remained in the lineup all month. However, due to these injures and their timing, the Devils have had to go deep into their depth. Graeme Clarke (1 GP), Justin Dowling (2 GP), Santeri Hatakka (3 GP), Shane Bowers (3 GP), and Cal Foote (4 GP) were all called up and had to play. Daniil Misyul was called up as well at one point, but he did not play. Chris Tierney was forced to be a regular player and Max Willman was dressed for eight games to fill out the roster. This also impacted the team’s utilization. Players on scoring lines were leaned on as Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Timo Meier, and Erik Haula all averaged over 18 minutes per game. Defensemen Luke Hughes, Simon Nemec, and John Marino all cleared 20 minutes per game in January while Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller each played above 17 minutes per game. It was not that the Devils had a half-Utica roster but they were playing some players out of necessity rather than someone they could trust to be a regular.

There was someone that ownership trusted: General Manager Tom Fitzgerald. While not so much an addition or a subtraction, the Devils decided to extend Fitzgerald’s contract for multiple seasons. They announced the extension on January 23 with a press conference on January 24. Fitzgerald has yet to make any major additions or subtractions of his own doing since the extension. All the team has done has been claim defenseman Nick DeSimone off waivers on January 25. Of course, it has just been over a week and the NHL Trade Deadline is on March 8.

On January 25, the Devils announced that Michael McLeod and Cal Foote have requested indefinite leaves of absence and would not comment further. On January 30, both McLeod and Foote have surrendered to the London, Ontario police and have been charged with sexual assault.

Devil of the Month

Again, one of the memorable moments of January’s games was after the 2-3 loss to Montreal. Ryan Novozinsky questioned why Alexander Holtz only played in a few shifts after scoring the then-game tying goal on the power play. Lindy Ruff told Novozinsky that he does not watch the game well and went into some explanation about a turnover in the second period that, somehow, warranted a benching while other Devils committed far worse on-ice errors in that game. Ruff has since kept Holtz on the fourth line even when the team’s lines are not functioning well in games and even with call ups. Holtz, to his credit, has continued to shine despite his head coach’s insistence on treating him (and playing him with) like he is Max Willman or Chris Tierney. How much has he shined?

Enough to finish tied for second on the team in scoring for the month of January. Despite averaging 12:45 per game and putting in more effort off the puck than at least 75% of Tyler Toffoli’s performances, Holtz has been rather productive. The team scored 3 power play goals all month and Holtz is one of the scorers. Holtz has taken 24 shots despite being kept with lesser players throughout most of January. Only Bratt, Toffoli, and Hischier have taken more shots on net in the month; and Mercer and Haula took 24 shots exactly. All five of those forwards averaged at least 17 minutes per game and get significant time on special teams. Not Holtz, but he found a way to get rubber on net. And he got four goals and four assists, including the eventual game winner in the 4-1 win over Columbus. In 5-on-5 play, Holtz has poor on-ice rates - but when you take him away from Willman and/or Tierney, Holtz is unsurprisingly decent in the run of play. For most teams, they would see a 22-year old putting up points from a deeper position in the lineup and move him up when opportunities present themselves. Lindy Ruff, well, he does not watch Alexander Holtz very well. Only the coach’s most ardent defenders would somehow think he is doing Holtz a favor. Occam’s razor would say, give Holtz some more minutes outside of one game instead of deciding to even start Justin Dowling up in the lineup ahead of him (this happened in the Tampa Bay game on January 27). Holtz’s usage alone suggests to me that Ruff may be more interested in being right than putting players in spots to succeed to help his team win some games. Holtz’s January performance is enough for me to name him the Honorable Mention for Devil of the Month of January 2024.

The actual Devil of the Month is chosen for a bit different of a reason. No one was really consistently excellent all month. The closest I can claim is the Captain, Nico Hischier. Hischier led the team in scoring for the month of January with 5 goals and 6 assists for 11 points. 11 points in 12 games is always good even if a bunch of those points came in garbage time on consolation goals. Hischier was held pointless in three out of 12 games, which included a shutout loss to Boston. Out of 3 PPGs for the whole month, Hischier scored one of them back on January 3 against Washington. In 5-on-5 play, per NST, Hischier was somewhere in the middle of the road with a 51.27% CF%, a 49.38% xGF%, and an actual GF% of 57.14% with a wildly high-scoring on-ice rate of 4.26 GF/60 and a 3.19 GA/60. But the others with better lines at 5-on-5 did not produce as much or as often as Hischier. Hischier was also not guilty of some big missteps on defense, like we saw from Simon Nemec or John Marino in January either. But one of the main reasons why I am naming Hischier the Devil of the Month was this quote after the loss to the Lightning that closed this month. From Novozinsky’s post-game article at NJ.com ($), this is what he said about the break that followed the game:

“I hope everybody goes and rests up a bit,” Hischier said. “Then, think about what team they want to be a part of coming down the stretch. If we want to be a playoff team, we have to figure something out.”

Hischier, intentionally or not, perfectly summed up where the Devils are right now. Some of that absolutely falls on him since he is the team’s captain. Between the production and the not-awful 5-on-5 numbers, I am OK with claiming he was one of the better Devils of the month. But the quote means he has a full understanding of a situation that I do not think the organization really wants to accept. So, combined and admittedly in a poorer month the options are not amazing, I shall name Nico Hischier the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month of January 2024.

You can convince me in the comments that this should be swapped with Holtz if you’d like. I may be able to hear out Simon Nemec as an option too.

Concluding Thoughts & Your Take

The frustration of the 2023-24 season has not been helped by how some of the People Who Matter are coping and arguing about this season. There is a vocal section of the fanbase that wants to claim that everything is fine. It will all be fine when Jack Hughes comes back. It will all be fine when the teams ahead of them fall apart. It will all be fine in time because a model they found online says so. It will all be fine and so do not change a single thing about the roster, the head coach, or management. Besides, is it not impressive that the Devils are keeping it close in the standings with all of their injuries, goaltending problems, and other such issues? Don’t be so negative, man.

I disagree with this vocal section of the People Who Matter. A lot of them like to claim how, well, experienced they are with being a fan. I am also experienced enough as a fan to remember when being a playoff team was an expectation in New Jersey and not an aspiration or something to settle for. I remain unmoved by the arguments to defend the idea that things are actually fine in New Jersey. The big one has been injuries. That Las Vegas team the Devils played this month still leads the league in man games lost due to injury and lost important players too. They still get results, like an OTL in New Jersey. Our Hated Rivals went a spell without their Norris trophy winning defenseman and Lundqvist-ian goaltender and thrived. I am not sympathetic to the injury excuse. The main problems with the 2023-24 Devils could and have been pointed out since November (goaltending! systems! defensive zone awareness of the weakside! game preparation! did I mention the goaltending!) and not a whole lot has changed since then. Jack Hughes coming back does not really fix a lot of that, and some of it could be changed today should those in charge decide to do so. This all irks me since this would not have gone on like this in a previous era when expectations were a lot higher. When you serve me egg noodles and ketchup for a month after giving me veal parmesan served over linguini with marinara sauce, I’m not going to be happy with it or accept it as the same. Given the state of the food at the Rock, who knows if either would be cooked properly.

Of course, it’s not the vocal few that fuel the frustration. It’s the Devils themselves. It’s all about the New Jersey Devils here. A 5-6-1 record is not a good record. But unless you have a strong memory and/or read all those recaps I linked, then you would know that the Devils have performed worse than that record implies. The Devils conceded the first goal in 9 out of their 12 games in January, tying them with Philadelphia for the most in the league. That would be a Philly team that slid into their break with a five-game losing streak and still are five points ahead of the Devils in the standings. By the way, the Devils currently lead the league this season with giving up the first goal 34 times out of 47 games this season. Devils have had multiple games where they would go over 5 minutes without a single shot on net. Regardless of the score, the opponent, or the location, there have been a lot of do-little efforts from the team as a whole. As poor as the goaltending has been at times this season, they have been let down a whole lot too between bad individual moments (e.g. Marino getting boxed out by Caufield, Bahl’s giveaway, Luke Hughes losing a puck on a power play breakout by falling, Nemec covering nothing in 2-on-1 rushes) and a system of defense that, when it fails, it spectacularly fails. The 5-on-5 play was actually not a positive in this month and yet the same systems are run as of it was. Which hindered a month where the Devils had a high shooting percentage and not-terrible save percentages. The power play was abysmal all month and they still run the same plays expecting a different result despite a month of failures. Alexander Holtz is making chicken salad with chickens as linemates and somehow Nathan Bastian and Michael Ryder 2.0 among others continued to play ahead of him of a lineup that is screaming for offensive production. The games and how the Devils play in them are the main reasons why a lot of the People Who Matter are in some state of disgust, displeasure, and/or bemusement. It is not you, it’s the team.

And I really have to emphasize that loss to Dallas as a sticking point. That was on Brylin’s Night. That should have been a night to at least put in a solid effort like Brylin has done for his whole hockey life. Instead, everyone got worked over in the first 40 minutes from the goalie to the skaters to Lindy Ruff getting his lunch eaten by Peter DeBoer. After the game, Ruff stated in the press conference that, when asked about what to do about a game like that one, wanted to move on (good) and that when it was 0-4 he just wanted to win the rest of the game. Seriously. What kind of loser talk is that? Especially since the Devils didn’t win the third period; it was 2-2 for the 2-6 final score. This loss was so bad, I even had a fan of Our Hated Rivals email me his sympathy for how bad the performance was from New Jersey. It was not even sarcastic or trolling or trash-talking. It was sincere pity. That’s how bad it was! Now imagine if you paid actual money and time to have attended that game.

It is from this perspective I have described that I remain baffled at the lack of effort from the Devils to change something, anything to have the team play better. A month like this makes all of those bad losses - like coming up lame against San Jose and Anaheim at home - from the first three months really sting now. The Devils put themselves in a position where a regular, this-isn’t-going-to-be-your-game kind of game like the 0-3 loss to Boston hurts. Fitzgerald has been extended so he is secure. Is it going to be soon that he is willing to make a tough decision to help the team he constructed succeed?

Now the month of February is coming up and the Devils, once again, need results. Emphasis on the word “need.” The Devils, who boast a 10-11-2 home record, will have 7 home games plus the MetLife Stadium game against Philly coming up in February. They need to do better at home. They will have two back-to-back sets. They need to get results in both games, not just the first one. They will play 6 teams currently in playoff positions, 3 teams battling for wild card spots, Calgary, and San Jose. They need to pull off a successful month and get help to move on up. This means pretty much every game matters. Because another sub-50% point month will all but kill the Devils’ chances of playing beyond 82 games. Which would be an absolute failure after what happened in 2022-23. Should Pittsburgh, Washington, the Islanders, or even teams in playoff spots like Philly, Detroit, Toronto, or Tampa Bay go on heaters, that would only dig the hole deeper for the Devils. If the Devils begin the month poorly, then the fight for a playoff spot will become a lot more desperate and a lot more unlikely.

Again, Hischier said it perfectly after the 3-6 loss to Tampa Bay. The Devils have to decide which team they want to be. I think this also includes the coaching staff and management. Whether he intended that, I do not know. But the organization needs to decide if they want to make a real push for the postseason or if they want to continue to sag and fall on the same excuses to justify a failed 2023-24 season. (Spoiler: Those excuses will go over as well as a fart box at a funeral service.) This may mean actually doing something about the very clear issues with the team that has been visible for months now. This may mean some significant changes. Short of Jack Hughes returning and playing like he’s 2018 Taylor Hall, I struggle to see how change is not warranted at this point of the season. I shall let you, the People Who Matter, think about what that change should look like. If the answer is ultimately nothing, then this season could very well be falling apart by the Trade Deadline - a massive step back after last season and could lead to more serious changes later this year.

To re-iterate Hischier’s statement: The Devils have to decide what team they want to be and how they want to achieve it. They pretty much need to do so as soon as possible. Welcome to February.

There are a few days before the 2023-24 regular season resumes for the New Jersey Devils. They will begin on Tuesday, February 6 when they host Colorado. What kind of team do you think we will see in February? Will the Devils simply plan to pray to get healthier (read: get Jack Hughes back) and be better for it? Do you expect the coaches to change how they strategize and prepare the team to perform? Do you expect the players to improve their performances otherwise? What will Tom Fitzgerald do, if anything, to change something about a team that needs its fortunes improved? Who is your Devil of the Month if it is not Hischier? Please leave your answers and last thoughts about last month in the comments. Thank you for reading.