Two former Devils scored big goals for the Islanders and the Devils fell below NHL .500 for the first time this season.
This Devils season, which began with a great deal of promise, is quickly unraveling and beginning to look like the Devils seasons of recent years. It is beginning to look like all hope will be lost long before the trade deadline. New Jersey is currently five points behind Boston for the second wild card, despite the fact that the Devils have played two more games than the Bruins. The Devils are 2-6-2 in the last 10 games and 4-8-3 in the last 15. The Devils have a goal differential of -12 while ranking 21st in goals scored and 23rd in goal against. The power play is abysmal. The shootout is a disaster. PK Subban eloquently described the last 8 years of being a Devils fan when he said…
Every year its the same. The losses pile up early and we are looking forward to the draft by Christmas. The Devils quite simply can’t score and much of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of Mark Recchi and the power play that he is responsible for coaching. The Devils have scored on 12.7% of their power plays this season. That is 31st in the NHL, barely ahead of Arizona and well below the NHL average of 20%. The power play is commonly a total momentum killer for New Jersey and very rarely produces much offensive pressure while almost never scoring a goal. The power play is 9 for 71 this year and 2 for the last 15. In a league with so much parity, you have to take advantage of odd man situations to have any prayer of success. The Devils do nothing with their opportunities.
Pain. That’s the best way to caption the last 15 games, but especially last night when we had to watch as our former captain tied the game by scoring a goal for the Islanders. Andy Greene played well over 900 games for New Jersey and was the captain for five years. Seeing him score against us was not fun. Having him do it for a divisional rival was an even bigger kick to the groin. Aside from the Devils backing backing in and backing in, giving the Islanders as much time and space as they could possibly need, the goal still should not have happened. It was a wrist shot from the top of the circle with no traffic in front. I know it was his NHL debut and all so he was probably nervous, but Schmid has to stop that puck. The shot never should have been allowed to happen because the Devils should not have been so passive, timid, and scared. There is no reason to be backing in so much and giving the Islanders all of that time and space. Someone needs to step up and put a body on the attacking players.
MORE PAIN! As if one former Devils captain scoring against the Devils wasn’t enough, we had to endure TWO former captain scoring back to back goals against us in the same period. Zach Parise was a Devil for seven seasons, captain for one, and played over 500 games as a Devil. Over 400 of Parise’s career points came as a Devil so now to see him score against New Jersey and for a division rival, I’m not going to lie, was not enjoyable. 0/10. This was another goal that no way should have been allowed to happen. The Devils god awful power play botched a zone entry, turned the puck over near the blue line, could not hold the zone and allowed a breakaway to a team that had one less player on the ice. I’m not going to blame Schmid, a rookie making his NHL debut, for giving up a breakaway goal to an established NHL veteran and one time superstar. That being said though, Parise’s breakaway move was nothing special. Regardless, this was a goal given up by Mark Recchi’s power play unit, which scored zero goals of their own in three opportunities.
Despite all of this justified negativity around a team that is sinking fast while being infuriating to watch every night, there are a few small bright spots to be positive about. The most obvious is Jesper Bratt, who is the teams leading scorer, is having the best season of his career, and making a hell of a case for a long term contract extension.
Bratt has 8 goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 26 games played. That puts him on pace for 75 points in 82 games. He is the Devils leading scorer by a significant margin, with a five point lead over second place Andreas Johnsson. Bratt is a restricted free agent this off season and if this pace continues, will be in line for a hefty pay raise. I could see the 23 year old Bratt signing a 6 year deal for an average value of $7 million a year. It also wouldn’t shock me if Bratt preferred a bridge deal, something like 3 years for $5 million a year. This would get him to unrestricted free agency at age 26. He would be taking less money in the short term and hoping for a much larger contract as a UFA. If he takes the longer deal, he gets more security and the Devils get to keep him locked up and off the open market for a few extra years.
Another positive this year has been the continued development of Jack Hughes. Hughes got PAID when he signed an 8 year contract extension for $8 million a year earlier this season. In his limited time on the ice this year, he shown that he is progressing into the player the Devils hoped he could be when they drafted him first overall in 2019. Hughes has played in only 9 games due to injury but he has earned 7 points in those games. Jack has also been all over the puck so far this season, amassing 18 takeaways and only 4 giveaways in his nine games so far. If he continues to develop while some of the other young players around him do as well, he will be well worth the $8 million a year the Devils will be paying him starting next season.
I don’t want to lose the plot here and get caught being too positive and gushing too much over future potential for the organization. The rebuild has been going on since Lou left in 2015. We have one of the youngest rosters in the NHL. I am sick and tired of meaningful Devils games being a thing of past by Christmas, as they pretty much are this year. It is time for this rebuild to start showing some real results on the ice. All of the potential and all of the hope need to start translating into wins. We are now below .500 and falling further and further out of playoff relevance seemingly by the second. New Jersey just lost two very winnable games against weak opponents in the Islanders and Senators. Both inexcusable losses that give no rational human any reason to believe this team has any chance in hell of making the 2022 playoffs. I hope with all my heart that they prove me wrong but this team is giving me no reason at all to believe that they have what it takes to compete with any decent team in the NHL.
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