Recent Devils games have been frustrating losses, resulting from under achieving players and a severely weakened roster.
After the Christmas break, the Devils won four out of five games. They were playing well and beating teams like Edmonton and Washington while battling for 60 minutes despite coming up short against the Bruins. The Devils went 1-1 in a home and home with Columbus and lost Thursday night on Long Island. Both the game in Columbus and the game on Long Island should have earned the Devils at least a point, but the Devils came away empty handed from both games and they fall closer and closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Devils played this game without Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson or Jesper Bratt and came up just one goal short of getting at least a point. Anytime you are without two of your top four defensemen and your leading scorer, you are fighting an uphill battle. The Devils also played this game with AHL goalie Jon Gillies in net. Mackenzie Blackwood has Covid, as does Akira Schmid, Johnthan Beriner is out for the year with a hip injury and Nico Daws is currently on IR with the Utica Comets.This left the Devils with one option to start in net, Jon Gillies. Gillies has played 15 NHL games between 2016 and Saturday, two of them as a Devil this season. On Saturday night, Gillies did everything the Devils could have asked him to do and gave the team a chance to win. Gillies stopped 22 of the Islanders 25 shots and the ones that got by him, he really couldn’t do much about. The first Islanders goal was an easy tap in power play goal for Josh Bailey who was all alone in front of the net when a rebound came right to his stick. The second Islanders goal was a shot from the point that took about 5 bounces and deflections from the time it was shot to the time it reached the goal. The third Islanders goal was a ripped one timer from an elite sniper, Matt Barzal. The Devils got caught puck watching and lost track of Barzal. Barzal then found some open ice in the slot and fired a puck past Gillies with a perfect shot to give the Islanders the lead for good. Very few NHL goalies could stop a shot like that, from that area of the ice, from the stick of an elite player like Matt Barzal.
One of the positives of this game for the Devils was the return of Yegor Sharangovich. Sharangovich had been on the Covid list and had not played since January 2nd. Prior to that though, Sharangovich had goals in three straight games. Counting tonight, Yegor now has goals in four straight games played, the longest such streak of his young career. This recent hot stretch brings Sharangovich up to 8 goals and 7 assists in 31 games played. I have said in previous blogs that the Devils have not been getting enough secondary scoring and named Sharangovich as one of the players that needed to step up. Well, with 6 points in his last 5 games played, Sharangovich is getting hot and starting to put up the type of production the team needs from him in order to have any success. Sharangovich had 16 goals in 54 games last season. With now 8 goals in 31 games this year he is still a bit behind that pace from his rookie year. However, his recent hot stretch is starting to make up for it.
One problem the Devils have had recently has been Andreas Johnsson. After starting the season as one of the Devils most dangerous offensive weapons, he has gone totally silent in the last few weeks. In his last 15 games played, Johnsson has just 3 assists and zero goals. He has not scored a goal since his two goal performance on November 28th against the Flyers. Novermber 28th. 46 days and 16 games played, Andreas Johnsson has zero goals. That is just unacceptable. He is a guy that the Devils came to rely on to produce offense after his hot start. His total absence from the score sheet is really dragging down the offensive potential of the team and costing them points in the standings.
Back on the positive front though, we can look at Nathan Bastian. Bastian is the perfect bottom six player for this Devils team. His power play goal tonight tied the game in the third period and was his second power play goal of the year. As low as that total is, it ties him for most on the team this season with Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Pavel Zacha. Bastian has been great as the man in front of the net on the power play this season, using his strength to stay in front and make life difficult for the opposing goalie. Bastian has become a key piece to marginally improving the Devils absolutely putrid power play. Bastian has a skill set and mentality that can help make the power play slightly less embarrassing and he has done that so far this year since being put in that position. Bastian also has 59 hits so far this season, the second most on the team, in only 18 games played. The team’s leader, Michael McLeod, has 82 hits in 37 games played. Bastian adds a physical element to the Devils lineup that no other forward can even come close to.
Another under performing player for the Devils of late has been Pavel Zacha. While Zacha has never lived up to his draft position, 6th overall in 2015, he has a times looked like a useful offensive player. That has not been the case in the last few weeks however. Zacha has just one point in his eight games and only three points in his last 14 games. That is totally unacceptable from the guy who is third among the team’s forwards in average time on ice per game. Zacha needs to produce more offensive in all of that time on the ice that he is given.
The Devils do not play again until January 19th when the lowly Coyotes come to town. Hopefully by then, the Devils will have a more complete roster with Severson and Bratt returning as well as a more NHL ready goalie situation. The Devils can use this time to get healthy, put the recent losses behind them and maybe get back on the right track.
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