On Thursday night, the Devils got spanked by the Bruins, and everything wrong with New Jersey got exposed.
As I am writing this, the game is in the second intermission and the Bruins are spanking the Devils 8-1. You read that right. In 40 minutes of game time, the Devils have allowed EIGHT goals against and scored only one of their own. That’s just about as embarrassing as it gets, but when you factor in that the reasons for the goals against have been problems the Devils have had all season yet refused to address; that’s when it goes from embarrassing to infuriating and a little insulting to the fans that pay to support this organization. This kind of blowout that exposes all of your flaws at once is the kind of game that gets coaches fired. This could even get people in the front office (coughTOMcough) fired.
The second Bruins goal perfectly encapsulates the two biggest issues the Devils have had this year. Number one is the goaltending. Now, I don’t like to get too critical of Daws because he is 21, in his first pro season in North America, and not ready for full time NHL duty yet. Despite all that, he is being forced to play pretty much every single game because he is the only healthy goalie in the Devils organization right now that is even close to an NHL caliber goalie. All of that being said, he is still a professional goalie, so it’s fair for us to expect him to have better rebound control than he did on the second Boston goal. Directing that puck into the most dangerous area on the ice is a horrible play by Daws. Cannot be excused or defended. Bad goaltending play for sure, no doubt about it… But why in the hell was Jake DeBrusk left wide open with all the time and space in the world in the slot?!?! The team defensive play, which falls on coaching as it has gone pretty much unchanged all season, was a complete and total disaster AGAIN! No Devil went with DeBrusk as he sped right through through the middle of the ice towards the Devils goal. No Devil covered the front of the net as the Bruins entered the zone, took a shot on net, and crashed the net. Jonas Siegenthaler over committed towards Bergeron who was already being covered by Tatar and as result left a ton of space wide open in front of Daws. Captain Nico Hischier then totally gave up on the back check and made absolutely no attempt to catch up to DeBrusk and prevent the goal. I love Nico, hes having a pretty good year, and he’s a big part of this team’s future. None of that excuses the fact that the captain made no defensive effort on the play and that cannot be excused or explained away. This play happened when the game was tied at 1 in the first period. Still a game and no one was thinking blowout yet. I get that the season is over and has been for a while and the guys are just playing these games because it’s their job and they’re contractually obligated to. Would it kill them to give some effort though?
This is the last Bruins goal from this game I am going to discuss because if I spend much longer thinking about the Devils countless breakdowns tonight, I am going to have a mental breakdown. But look at this play that put the Bruins up 3-1. McLeod picks up a lose puck in the Devils defensive zone and fails to clear the zone. McLeod is a good skater and had the space to take the puck behind the net to look for an outlet. Instead, he just kind of lazily flipped the puck into the middle of the ice and Bruins jumped all over it. Then, Subban and Siegenthaler both get caught covering the same guy in front, leaving Erik Haula wide open in front of Daws. You could argue that Daws could have and maybe should have stopped that shot, but as I said earlier he isn’t ready for full time NHL duty yet but is being asked to play every night, even against some of the league’s best teams like the Bruins, so I don’t think its fair to blame this all on him. Especially tonight when pretty much everything in front of him was a disaster too.
None of the problems that I pointed out above are new. They have been plaguing the Devils all season long. Yet, despite these glaring holes, these serious flaws with a team full of young offensive talent, none of them have been addressed. Two NHL goalies go down early in the year and the Devils have done three things to “fix” the problem, although none of them have done anything to actually fix anything. First, they just tried to have Blackwood play through his injury until January 19th when all hope for the season was realistically lost and they finally put him back on IR, where he should have been for months before that. Not surprisingly, relying on an injured goalie did not work out well. Second, they acquired Jon Gillies in a trade with St. Louis for future considerations (aka nothing). The Devils gave up nothing to get Gillies and they still lost the trade. Gillies has given the Devils fewer saves than a shooter tutor would have. Last and definitely least, the Devils traded prospect and AHL contributor Nate Schnarr to Montreal for Andrew “The Hamburgular” Hammond. On its face, that seemed like a reasonable move. Gillies has been horrible, Hammond has some NHL experience and Schnarr did not seem like a big part of the Devils long term plans. Getting another goalie in here to try and give the team a chance to win a few games down the stretch seemed like a fine move. That is, until you realize that… Hammond was on IR when the Devils traded for him and is still on IR almost two weeks after the trade! What the hell are we doing here Tom!?!?! Your solution to the goaltending issues is a goalie that cant touch the ice for at least a few weeks after the trade??? What? You gave up Nate Schnarr, who was helping Utica in their push for a Calder Cup, for a goalie that can’t play? The acquisitions of Gillies and Hammond, along with the handling of Blackwood, have been such unmitigated disasters that you could make a convincing argument to fire Fitzgerald due to the goaltending situation alone.
Then we get to the coach, Lindy Ruff. Much of the Devils fan base has been harsher on Ruff than I have and much quicker to call for his firing than I have. But after a game like this, I have nothing to defend him with. Sure, some of our young offensive talent has developed well under him, but one of those young players, the captain, gave up on a play as the Bruins took the lead. The team defense has been a mess pretty much all year, as we saw several times in this game. When you see many of the same mistakes costing the Devils goals game after game for months on end, at some point you have to look at the coach for answers as to why the defense is still so bad. Make Nasreddine the interim coach again for a few weeks then clean house in the off season. Possible replacements? Kevin Dineen? Try to grab one of the Frozen Four coaches? Go old school and bring in Mike Babcock or John Tortorella? I don’t know how much a head coach could do to fix the defensive problems this team has, but something has to change. The status quo of this season and the last few before it cannot be allowed to continue.
On the plus side, Jack Hughes is still really good and still only 20 years old. So that’s fun I guess. It’s certainly not a bad thing. 25 goals and 30 assists in 47 games is fun to watch. Nico Hischier made a great play winning the puck battle to get this puck to Hughes which was fun to watch. Of course, a few minutes later he made a really bad play by letting Jake DeBrusk walk in on Daws all alone to put the Bruins back in front and that was much less fun to watch. So yea. That’s it. Bad game. Bad season. Horrible loss. Officially eliminated from the playoffs again. Will heads roll? Doubtful. Should they? Probably.
Follow me and Devils induced misery on Twitter at PatBoooooth