The New Jersey Devils just had one of the worst weeks in franchise history when it comes to the regular season. No, it’s not as bad as when Zach Parise went to the Minnesota Wild, when Ilya Kovalchuk abruptly retired, or when Scott Niedermayer chose to join his brother on the Anaheim Ducks. However, how can the team explain how bad the last two losses have been? The Devils were embarrassed by the Boston Bruins on Thursday. Boston scored eight goals in two periods before taking the third period off. The Devils couldn’t even score when the other team took the period off.
Do you know who can score when the other team takes their foot off the gas? The “four goals per game” Florida Panthers. The Devils went into the third period on Saturday with a 6-2 lead. All the horrors of Thursday were almost erased. Then, Brandon Montour scored a goal five minutes into the third to make it 6-3. This came after sustained pressure from the Panthers. The Devils seemed like their plan for the third period was to survive, and the Panthers brought an onslaught.
The Devils were starting Andrew Hammond for the first time since he was traded and came off the injury report. So, it’s likely he was ready to deal with an onslaught. Yeah, he clearly wasn’t. The Devils watched as the Panthers scored one goal after another. They pulled the goalie with four minutes left in the game, and they scored almost immediately. Barkov scored that one. Then, he scored again.
This loss is 100% on head coach Lindy Ruff. You want to give some blame to Andrew Hammond? How about some blame for Damon Severson who was on the ice for four goals against and was never on the ice for a goal on his own team? Maybe the players in general should be blamed for their third-period effort. Sorry, none of that matters if this game wasn’t just bungled by the coaching staff.
This can be looked at with the big picture in mind, or we can look at the decisions on the surface, and everything points to a terrible performance by Ruff. Just look at some of his decisions down the stretch. He played Jack Hughes in the defensive zone with the game on the line. Hughes is great at zone transitions, but he can’t do that without the puck. He’s won 34% of his faceoffs this season, the worst of his career. Why would you put Jack Hughes out there for the biggest faceoff of the game, down by one with just a couple of minutes left in the game?
Let’s say that Ruff seriously wanted Hughes on the ice for his takeaway ability. Fine. Put McLeod out there as well. Throw lines out the window when the game is slipping away like that.
It was clear the Devils needed a reset for or five times during the third period. Lindy Ruff had a timeout. When did he use it? After the Panthers scored to make it 6-5 and had all of the momentum on their side, Ruff then decided it was a good time to call timeout.
That’s not even considering the game plan going into the third period. What was said in the room that caused the Devils to play like that? What caused them to respond so meekly?
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We’re not going to get into the future for Ruff with the Devils. It seems like that will take care of itself in due time. We need to recognize that while the goalie situation has been a mess, there is a coaching shortfall as well. What happened on Saturday shows there’s work to do in that department as well.