The New Jersey Devils were destroyed again on Thursday night at the hands of the New York Rangers. Now, with an embarrassing sweep way too likely, Head Coach Lindy Ruff has one chance to change the narrative on his team and his legacy.
Something happened, all right. Something bad.
The Devils are getting destroyed by their biggest rivals, the New York Rangers. On Thursday night, they somehow played even worse than they did on Tuesday night. There is so much going wrong in this series. This series went from one of the best on the docket to the worst. There’s nothing to take out of the
The players definitely deserve a chunk of the blame here. They are the ones who have scored zero 5v5 goals. However, the play looks much different than it did in the regular season. They are playing big. That’s something most people wanted, but it’s not how the Devils got to be a 112-point team. One statement from Ruff really stood out during his press conference after the game.
"“Reporter: What went behind the Siegenthaler scratch tonight?Ruff: We wanted more physicality. We wanted to get (Smith) in there. He has a lot of heart, physicality.”"
The Devils win on speed and hockey IQ. They made the right decision as much as possible, and they use their speed to make up for mistakes. They are not built like a heavy team. Jack Hughes is laying hits out there. It’s nice to see that he can do it, we guess, but this isn’t how this team wins. Getting bigger and stronger is done at the expense of its biggest strengths.
Ruff has one game to turn this around. Sure, they aren’t technically eliminated if they lose on Saturday, but it’s basically done. Ruff has to find the right gameplan to win this game.
This would take the Devils head coach admitting he has the wrong game plan in place. Is he willing to do that?
He has to. Nothing is working. That comes down to two possibilities; either the team is bad (which we have a lot of evidence to the contrary) or the strategy is wrong. We vote for the latter. Ruff needs to figure out the reason it’s going so wrong, and he has one day to do it.
There is good news. He just has to go back to the previous plan. Don’t play big. That falls right into what the Rangers want them to do. Play fast. Attack the net. They are settling for bad chances, and they are making one too many passes. They need to do something in the middle of those two. While looking for the perfect chance, they keep finding themselves in a spot where no good chance exists. It leads to either a turnover or a blocked shot almost every time.
Ruff has been outcoached by Gerard Gallant. The good news is this is a seven-game series. Ruff has a chance to prove he can adjust. That’s not something Gallant has been known for this season. Ruff and the Devils have bounced back before. They can go on a run. It starts on Saturday night. If it doesn’t, it could spell the end of hope for the Devils and Ruff.
Ruff’s legacy with the Devils is complicated. He took over a team that clearly needed something more than it was getting. He took the job technically before he knew Tom Fitzgerald was the long-term GM (or at least before we knew that). This was a flawed team with a ton of talent.
It hasn’t been all bad, obviously. Jack Hughes turned into a superstar under Ruff. Jesper Bratt is close to a point-per-game player. Nico Hischier looks like Patrice Bergeron-lite. This is the best regular season Devils team ever. That means something.
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It just doesn’t mean a whole helluva lot when you get swept in the playoffs. Ruff can change how everyone looks at him by winning this series. He could give the Devils and its fanbase something to talk about forever. It starts on Saturday. If they win that game, it’s a different series. Nothing else can be accepted. There’s no more “let’s just look better” when it comes to the playoffs. Win or look the end of your season in the face. It falls on Ruff to get his team ready.