Gut Check Time for Lowly New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils scored four goals against Connor Hellebuyck, the probable starting goalie for the United States in the Olympics. They allowed eight goals themselves. Which makes it 18 goals allowed in the last nine periods. For a team that cannot score to save their lives, allowing two goals per period is a sure death sentence. This is a team that was supposed to take a step forward and for a majority of the season, it’s felt like 12 steps back. Sure there have been a few bright spots, mainly Dougie Hamilton and Dawson Mercer, but not much else after them.

The excuses of “this is a young team” or “going through growing pains” is simply not acceptable anymore. For a team that has so much potential and in-house playoff aspirations, they sure don’t know how to play hockey sometimes. The 8-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets has been a culmination of everything that has plagued them this season into one. It has been the same issues for almost every loss of the season and for some reason, Lindy Ruff who has coached for over two decades cannot figure it out.

The slow starts are the main killer right now. The Devils were down 3-0 back-to-back games and were down 4-0 to the Sharks at home earlier this week. Did they come back to give the fans hope? Yes. They even got the lead against Winnipeg. Yet another issue that has crippled the Devils for the last few seasons has been not being able to hold onto the lead. This team has not been able to get a lead to try and hold onto it, which is a recipe for lottery picks year in and year out. Why haven’t they been able to start the game off right and fly through the rest and finish properly?

The turnovers do not help the slow starts in any way, shape, or form. Chances are if you watch a goal against the Devils, someone turned the puck over in the defensive zone which left the goalie out to dry. The game in Winnipeg was no exception. They seem to just not be able to clear the zone, make the wrong pass, or just simply get outworked, not taking care of the puck is something that needs to be fixed or Shane Wright should be on everyone’s mind. Including Tom Fitzgerald.

The Devils are incredibly soft. For a team that has so many players taller than 6’3, they get outworked every other play on the boards or in front of their own net. The neutral zone has been used as a highway for opponents and have been getting into the Devils defensive zone with relative ease. That leads to the shot off the rush that Mackenzie Blackwood or Jonathan Bernier seem to be ready to stop. For a team that prides itself on its speed, their feet seem to be stuck in cement when anyone wearing a different colored jersey is coming through the neutral zone.

The power play can and will be its own post about how bad it has been. Oh sure the penalty kill has been better, but it still is not perfect. There have been some positives lately though. Jack Hughes signed his extension. Which happened off the ice. You would think the Devils would adjust their game plan after back to back 5-2 losses. Yet nothing changed Friday night against Winnipeg. Sluggish start, constant turnovers, and soft play led to their worst loss in recent memory.

Bernier did absolutely no favors to his defense in front of him, but neither did anyone else. This is the time where the team needs to decide if they want to contend and have a chance, or are we a doormat and competing for yet another top pick. Lindy Ruff, his staff, and Tom Fitzgerald need to have a serious discussion about who they are and what they want to become. If this is what they want to be, losing by three or four goals every night, then bring up everyone you can from Utica because no one on this roster deserves an NHL job. Except maybe Dougie Hamilton, which is why you pay him $9 million.

We will find out what kind of a team the Devils have in this upcoming home-stand. But you cannot expect fans to be happy when you get home after being embarrassed twice in 48 hours. You also cannot expect fans to spend money on watching a team that is just going to get embarrassed. As a common fan, this writer pointed out three basic problems that everyone except the Devils have seemed to notice or call to change. Lindy Ruff needs to be held accountable if he cannot figure out what is the issue with the roster in front of him.

There is only one way to find out if things change and that is to watch the game. However, you cannot blame anyone if they do not want to watch the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils.