The Devils started a 21 year old goalie for 9 consecutive games. A bold strategy that did not end well for anyone.
Nico Daws has looked good in the past few weeks for the Devils. Not playing great, but playing good enough to keep the Devils in games and give them a chance to win. The Devils went 4-3 in Daws’ seven starts before the back to back games in Vancouver and Calgary. In western Canada, in his 8th and 9th straight starts, in back to back games, Daws struggled as did the team in front of him and the Devils lost both games 6-3. Nine games in a row, including a back to back on the road, is tough for any goalie, let alone a 21 year old rookie, so I can’t even get too upset with Daws. Head coach Lindy Ruff does deserve some criticism for this decision though. Daws has been good recently and Jon Gillies is well, Jon Gillies, so I get wanting to give Daws the majority of the starts. However, Daws has only played 32 professional games in North America, including last night in Calgary, so leaning on him every night is asking a lot. Now that he has been pulled in back to back games after less than stellar performances, you have to imagine that his confidence is shaken. That can be laid at the feet of Ruff who definitely should have given his rookie netminder a game off or two over the last two weeks to catch his breath a little bit.
While Daws struggled, not all of the blame can be placed on his shoulders. Exhibit A is the first Calgary goal on Wednesday night. The Devils gave Brett Ritchie all the time and space he could ever want or need to tee up his perfect shot while Milan Lucic used his large body to screen Daws. While Lucic stood in front of Daws, Ryan Graves did more harm than good as he also blocked Daws’ vison while doing absolutely nothing to clear Lucic from the front of the net. At 6 foot 5 and 220 pounds, Ryan Graves has to be more physical and help his goalie out instead of making his job even more tricky.
The second Flames goal was another disaster of a play. After Ty Smith blocked a shot, Yegor Sharangovich failed to clear the zone. Smith then blocked another shot but no Devil could beat Andrew Mangiapane to the loose puck and he fired the puck past Daws. You could argue that Daws should have made the save, but I would say that the shot never should have been allowed to happen. You simply cannot fail to clear the puck multiple times against a team as fast and talented as the Flames and expect good things to happen. Daws hasn’t been good these past two games, but his teammates need to do their job and help him out. The first two Flames goals, the Devils skaters let their young goaltender down.
In Vancouver, Daws allowed three very stoppable shots to get behind him and over the goal line. He had a bad game, no way around it, no other way to say it. His teammates left him out to dry on the fourth goal as Tanner Pearson was wide open to tap in a cross ice pass and make it 4-2 Cancucks. That does excuse the first three goals Daws allowed but it shows that his teammates need to do a better job picking up the open man, especially from such a dangerous area, as well as stopping cross ice passes like that from reaching their intended target.
Coach Ruff decided to play Daws in nine straight games because the only other option he has right now is Jon Gillies. Ruff wants to win and he knows, as we all do, that having Jon Gillies as your goalie won’t win you many games in the NHL. Four wins in seven games prior to the western Canada trip is nothing incredibly special, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the Devils have had for most of this season. These two games go to show just how desperately Tom Fitzgerald needs to fix the goalie situation ASAP. Rushing the development of Daws and or Akira Schmid is good for no one. Neither player is ready for full time NHL duty yet but neither one should be given up on either. They need more time in the AHL and a lighter work load at the NHL level. Nine games in a row, including a back to back on the road, is a lot to ask of any goalie, let alone a 21 year old in his first professional season in North America.
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