New Jersey Devils: John Hynes, This Loss Is On You

The New Jersey Devils went out to a huge lead in the season opener of one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. Then, the head coach changed everything for some inexplicable reason.

Everything was amazing to start the New Jersey Devils season. Nikita Gusev started the season off with a goal in the first period to send the team into the first intermission with a lead. In the second period, the doors came off for the Winnipeg Jets, and the Devils scored three more goals, with the fourth of the night coming from a one-handed attempt from Blake Coleman. Honestly, at that point it looked like nothing could go wrong.

Then, the third period happened. The Devils let up a goal very late in the second period, and it apparently drove head coach John Hynes to switch up the lines that gave him a 4-1 lead. For some reason, the head coach felt the need to make changes when his team was dominating.

Look at every underlying number. The Devils had better possession numbers, more chances, more high-danger chances. It wasn’t just the score of the game that was going their way, everything was pointing in the direction of the Devils. Yet, Hynes felt the need to switch right wings on the second and fourth line.

We will say this, it really helped Miles Wood. Wood looked really good once he had Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt on his wings, but is the best spot in the lineup for Bratt on the fourth line? He had the lone assist for new Russian sniper Gusev, and then Hynes took him off his line. And then there was a shift where Gusev, Jack Hughes (in his first NHL game) and their new partner John Hayden played more than 3:30 and it ended with a Winnipeg Jets goal.

This loss was unacceptable in so many ways. Mackenzie Blackwood had to come in on zero notice, and he looked genuinely shocked when Cory Schneider walked past him to the locker room. We wish he played better, but this wasn’t the end of the world for him.

It was already confusing why we saw some of the lines we saw in the first place. It was strange that Jesper Boqvist wasn’t playing on night one. It was even more strange that Mirco Mueller was in the lineup over Connor Carrick. The decision to put Andy Greene on the top line over Sami Vatanen or Will Butcher was just preposterous. There were some defensemen who were having really bad nights. Damon Severson was on the ice for all four of the Winnipeg Jets goals. Greene looked completely out of place on the top line at times, with a couple of turnovers in his own zone. These were the mistakes that got Ty Smith sent down to Spokane.

When asked about the reason he made the changes to the lineup, Hynes made a quick, but notable answer.

“Just trying to get more stability to Jack (Hughes)’s line later in the game. Same thing with (Pavel) Zacha.”

So, in Hynes head, he wanted to get someone more defensive on the second line and someone more offensive on the fourth line. At least, that’s how we’re interpreting it for now. Sure, that seems to make sense on paper, but there’s issues with not only the logic, but the decisions he made within the logic.

If he wanted stability on the second line, he had Wayne Simmonds right there. Blake Coleman was having the game of his life, and looked like he could be getting a hat trick any minute, so maybe they didn’t want to break up that line. Then put Kyle Palmieri on the second line and move Bratt to the first line. Then, you can switch Simmonds with Hayden. Hayden would do fine on a shutdown line, and Travis Zajac and Coleman don’t need him to create offense.

This was game one. Not only are the players still working through some things on the ice, so is the coaching staff. Hynes is dealing with a slew of new players, and he wanted to give one of his new players a chance. It cost his team the game.

When the Jets scored the game-tying goal, Hynes did not say a word on the bench. The camera panned right on his face, and he had no emotion. This is a young team looking for answers when they are literally bleeding out. We needed something, anything from Hynes on the bench. We got nothing.

Things need to change. No, we are not advocating for the coach to be fired after one game. That’s insane. We’re also not saying that everyone else is blameless. This is just to say that on the top of the pyramid of people to blame for this loss, the head coach is at the top. His decisions and indecisions led to goals for the other team. The Devils themselves got chances, but the Jets were clearly the better team in the third period. This was after they got railroaded in the first two. It just felt like an overthink on the part of Hynes.

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The good news is the Devils have less than 24 hours to think about this loss. They have to turn around and play in Buffalo on Saturday.