The Devils have played like garbage over the last 10 games going 2-6-2 in that stretch. If they have any hope of climbing back into a playoff race, they need to start winning games right now.
Simply saying the Devils have gone 2-6-2 in the last 10 games does not do justice to just how putrid the Devils have been. That record does not accurately describe how painful it has been to watch these games. In almost every game, the Devils have come out of the locker room looking woefully unprepared to play and completely uninterested in competing, let alone winning. This usually changes and the Devils are much stronger in the second and third period than they are in the first. However, on far too many nights, it is too little too late and the Devils leave the arena with another loss. As a result of this poor play, They have fallen back to NHL .500, with just 22 points in 22 games played to this point of the season. Despite the bleak outlook justified by the last 10 games, looking ahead to the next five games shows a reason to believe the Devils can become relevant again.
The Devils next 5 games are against the Senators, Flyers (twice), the Predators and the Islanders. Of those opponents, only Nashville is currently above .500. The rest are all below .500 and struggling as bad or worse as the Devils are. Of these games five upcoming games, three are at home in Newark. If the Devils want to have any chance of being competitive in the Eastern Conference moving forward, they cannot afford to lose anymore than one of the next five games. 4-1 is the absolute worst the Devils can do if they have any aspirations for this season greater than the draft lottery. If the slide continues and the Devils continue to be mediocre, say 2-2-1, the gap between themselves and true payoff contenders will only grow larger and larger. When you have an opportunity to beat up on bad teams that are struggling mightily, you absolutely have to take advantage. If the Devils do what must be done and go 4-1 over the next five, that would give them a boost in the race to catch Pittsburgh and Detroit for a wild card spot.
Lindy Ruff said earlier today that he is talking to individual players and lines about “little things” that need to be made better. That is all well and good but the problem over the last 10 games has not been mistakes made by individual players or lines. The last 10 games have been a systemic failure in every way imaginable. It is the big picture that is wrong. The team has not come out of the locker room focused and ready to play. Forwards, defensemen, goaltenders, coaches, none of them have prepared for any of the last 10 games. In the last 10 games, the defensive zone has been an absolute nightmare. The Sharks game is a perfect example of this. The Sharks did a very simple thing to absolutely dominate the Devils. They got the puck on the boards and made a cross ice pass to a wide open teammate streaking down the opposite wing. It was not complicated or in any way complex. Yet, the Devils could not find a way to stop the pass or cover the recipient of the pass and paid for it with multiple goals. Things like that are not “little things” that one guy or line was getting beat with. Taking away the cross ice pass is fundamental to defending in hockey and the Devils had no way to do that. That is a massive problem that the entire roster, and by extension coaching staff, was guilty of allowing.
Let’s look at some other major issues in the Devils past 10 games that need to be fixed
- The First Goal: In the last 10 games, the Devils have scored the first goal just three times. That means that in 7 of the previous 10, the Devils have had to play from behind. Even worse, the Devils have fallen behind by multiple goals in each of those seven games. Regularly falling behind by multiple goals shows that the Devils are not as prepared as their opponents are when the puck drops.
- Coaching Decisions: In Winnipeg, Johnathan Bernier simply did not have it. Of the six goals he allowed in just two periods of work, I’d say at least three should have been stopped. While the defense in front of him did him no favors, Bernier certainly was not at his best and that was clear 7 minutes into the game. Yet, Ruff kept Bernier in the net until he allowed 6 goals and the game had spiraled out of control… for the second time that night. Bernier should have pulled much earlier than he was in that game. Lindy Riff also insisted upon playing Jack Hughes as a wing and not a center in his first few games back from injury. At wing, Jack does not look comfortable and is nowhere near as effective as he is at center. Despite this, Ruff put him at wing and kept him there when it clearly was not working and the Devils needed more offense. The head coach needs to know his players strengths and weaknesses and Lindy Ruff seems unable to realize that Jack Hughes is not at his most effective when he playing on the wing.
- Power Play: This is a whole season problem and not specific to the last 10 games but it definitely has not improved at all in the last 10. For the season, the power play has a 13% success rate, which makes them 31st in the NHL. No team can be successful if they are that bad with the man advantage. On the last 20 power plays, the Devils have scored a grand total of one goal. This has gone on long enough, its time to fire Mark Recchi and bring in someone who can actually coach a power play.
These next five games are an opportunity for New Jersey to get things right and get back on the winning track before it’s too late and we have another lost season on our hands. Get rolling now, close the gap a little bit, and hopefully build some momentum. Calling the Devils dead right now would be premature, but if they cant perform well in these next games, that opinion may change… Let’s Go Devils
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