Thursday night, we saw the return of Jack Hughes to the New Jersey Devils. And boy was that return needed. With this team on the brink of having a massively disappointing season, there needs to be a spark to get this team on a run to salvage a postseason berth. Jack Hughes, given how good he is, could certainly be that spark to get this team going. What the game against Calgary showed us, however, is that while Jack certainly can be a spark and help this team win games they otherwise might not, this team needs more help than simply him if they really want to get to the second season.
Jack’s return was mostly good while playing on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Alexander Holtz. Here are some quick stats of his from that game thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
Overall, he had a good performance, and his line with Toffoli and Holtz was positive as well against tough competition, again with positive possession and expected goals across close to 9 minutes of 5v5 play. He obviously can do better and does do better when he is on his game, but we don’t know if he was 100% coming back into this game, and there is always a little rust after being out for a few weeks.
However, the Devils lost this game, so it is clear that despite getting the 1C back, the Devils could not do enough to pull this game out. And it’s been discussed on here why that was, both between the game recap and John’s post yesterday about how bad Vitek Vanecek has been, but he keeps getting rolled out there, and it keeps putting this team into holes. And the Devils were at over 57% on MoneyPuck’s Deserve To Win-O’Meter, so they played a quality game. The tough part to admit, however, is that one of the main things we have been hoping for, Jack to really propel this team to a winning streak and into playoff contention, really might not be enough to overcome the deficits on this team, mainly goaltending but also worse than expected play from other guys who should be key contributors. Other injuries also hurt, like Dougie Hamilton of course, and it all adds up to one sobering truth: one player, despite how good he is, is probably not enough to turn this team around and push it beyond its mediocre record.
That being said, there is still time on the trade deadline front, as that is nearly a month away. Something can be done to bring in a Vanecek replacement or give Jack even more help. But while the trade deadline is weeks away, the Devils don’t have weeks. They could be in a much worse place in a few weeks if they keep languishing in the standings like they have been. After that loss, they are down to a 17.9% chance of making the playoffs based on MoneyPuck’s odds. And tonight’s game against Carolina is a big one according to them: with a win, the Devils would be at a 22.3% chance, but a loss would bring them down to a 15.9% chance. That’s a pretty big difference at this point in the season, and Carolina is a very good team, so it will not be easy to get that win later. Three weeks from now, however, if they keep losing, those odds will certainly be in single digits, so something has to be done very, very soon. And if that something is to just keep running out the same lineup and hope things change, then I think the Calgary game showed us that we should not expect much other than disappointment. And that is a sad truth to cope with.