The Devils entered their Thursday match up with Washington with injuries to key players up and down the lineup. Washington took advantage and beat down on a beat up team.
The lineup the Devils rolled out last night had no Jack Hughes, no Ty Smith, no Miles Wood, No Mackenzie Blackwood, no Johnathan Bernier. Those are all players the Devils count on to play significant roles to help the team win. None of them were on the active roster last night. Every team deals with injuries, though few deal with so many highly important players all being hurt at the same time. Never the less, injuries are no excuse for the poor play the Devils displayed last night and coach Lindy Ruff made sure that was crystal clear to his players and the media in his post game press conference.
Seeing and hearing a coach be this upset in public after an embarrassing loss to a divisional rival is what you want to see as a fan. If coach Ruff was willing to call out his players like this and be so visibly angry in public, one has to imagine he gave them one hell of an ass chewing in the locker room that these players are not soon to forget. As a fan, it is refreshing to see a head coach who is willing to publicly call out his players when they don’t perform. Lesser coaches, lesser human beings with no pride or integrity, like Yankees manager Aaron Boone for example, do not do things like this. These lesser coaches would simply make excuses or deflect blame away from the players themselves. Lindy Ruff does not engage in such shenanigans. Coach Ruff knows when the players need to be better and isn’t afraid to call them out, nor should he be. Injuries aside, the guys in the lineup last night are professional hockey players that were playing a game in their home rink against a divisional rival that has owned them over the past few years. Despite this, they came out looking flat and lifeless and that is unacceptable.
Washington’s first goal is a perfect example of the unacceptable effort that the Devils put on display last night. A face off in the offensive zone was lost by Yegor Sharangovich. Damon Severson stood at the blue line, failed to keep the breakout pass in the zone and the Caps were off to the races on a three on one against Dougie Hamilton. The defending Hamilton and back checking Severson BOTH slide on their bellies in attempt to block a pass and BOTH end up behind the goal line and out of the play. Two defensemen on the ice, both laying flat on their stomach’s, both behind the goal line. That alone is a recipe for disaster. However, the first pass was blocked by Hamilton, but the second pass was not and it came to the front of the net. When the puck came to the front of the net, Sharangovich, who lost the face off that started this abomination of a play, was standing next to Mantha and failed to tie up his stick, effectively leaving him uncovered in front of the net to redirect the puck past Wedgewood for a 1-0 lead for the bad guys. Now, Sharangovich should have played better defensive hockey there and tied the man up in front. However, had Severson and Hamilton not both been behind the goal line, perhaps an actual defenseman could have been in front of the net to pay defense and keep the puck out of the net.
We would see similar poor efforts and disorganization the rest of the game as well. The second Washington goal was started when the Caps caught the Devils in a bad change and easily entered the zone . As a result, when the AHL goalie Scott Wedgewood kicked out a juicy rebound, the Devils who were rushing to get into the play over skated the puck and were not in position to get a stick on the puck or a body on Orlov and it was 2-0 Caps. Just like that, nine and a half minutes into the game and its already a two goal deficit. This was also another Washington goal scored with at least one Devils D man behind the net. This time, it was PK Subban who was way out position for no rational reason.
The pain did not stop there. Hamilton stood at the blue line to try and keep a bouncing puck in the zone. Well, said bouncing puck hopped over Dougie’s stick and Sprong was off to the races on a breakaway for Washington. He raced into the zone, slid the puck under the Devils third goalie on the depth chart and it was 3-0 bad guys with just over 10 minutes left in the game. This wasn’t so much poor effort as poor decision making by Hamilton. The puck was bouncing and instead of letting it out of the zone while keeping it in front of him, Dougie tries to keep the offensive zone pressure alive, but misses the puck, is caught flat footed and got burned. Had Hamilton taken a step or two back outside the zone, he could have gotten his body in front of the puck, not allowed the breakaway, and allowed the Devils an opportunity to restart the attack. Hamilton, knowing his team was down two in the third prioritized the offense over the defense and got burned.
The fourth Caps goal was a loose puck in front of the Devils net that Ryan Graves couldn’t control. Of course, this came after Graves had the chance to clear the zone and failed to do so. The puck was taken by Kuznetsov, who had plenty of time to pick his spot and put the puck behind the third goalie on the Devils depth chart.
As far as Devils highlights, there aren’t any worth mentioning when compared to the breakdowns that ended up behind Wedgewood. A frustrating performance all around that hopefully will not be repeated any time soon and hopefully will never be repeated again.
We’re on to Buffalo.