New Jersey Devils: This Isn’t As Bad As Everyone Makes It Out To Be

Colorado Avalanche left wing Miles Wood (28): Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Colorado Avalanche left wing Miles Wood (28): Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils went 2-2 on their most recent road trip, and there are some valid criticisms of the team’s play, but the team isn’t as horrible as people say they are.

It’s November 8th, and the New Jersey Devils just played their 12th game of the year. The Devils lost that game by a final score of 6-3 against the Colorado Avalanche. They’re currently 7-4-1 and are in 3rd place in the Metro Division (second if looking at points percentage).

After the loss, TNT analyst Paul Bissonnette criticized the Devils and their poor play by saying, “Without this red-hot power play, I think they are a .500 team”. While the game may have proof that this quote can be accurate, there is much more to the team than people saw in Tuesday night’s game. The main point in the argument is that without Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, the Devils don’t play well. That’s not necessarily true. Here’s why.

Depth is Proving Itself

People point out that without Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, there is a lack of scoring on the team. There are a lot of pieces who are trying to pick up the weight when losing a 99 and 80-point scorer within a week. Tyler Toffoli, for example, has had three goals in the last two games and has eight goals this year. Timo Meier scored against the Avalanche, and Dougie Hamilton did as well.

While they may have been on the powerplay, and the Devils’ powerplay has been fantastic, it shows at least they are scoring goals. However, it would be a different story if they didn’t have that seven-minute powerplay.

While they didn’t score many goals in Tuesday’s game, this team’s effort without its captain and top player shows this team has fight. When they played the Blackhawks on Sunday, the Devils scored three straight goals after being down early.

Early on in the first period against the Avalanche, the Devils had a lot of chances, but Alexandar Georgiev stood strong. Later in the game, the fight to try to win was gone due to the penalties and mental mistakes. The idea of the Devils not having any fight in them at all in their games is false. The depth is there for the team, and they are doing an excellent job holding down the fort until Nico and Jack return.

Vitek Vanecek Plays Well

One issue people have pointed out is that the Devils’ goaltending is terrible. That’s hard to debate, but the goalies have been, at best, good enough to win games. Vitek Vanecek has had an okay start to the season. He’ll make clutch saves, including one on Tyler Johnson, who had a wide-open net. Other times, he’ll have games like Tuesday against the Avalanche, where he’ll give up five goals and look terrible (though that game wasn’t his fault). It’s bizarre. Akira Schmid is also struggling.

Vanecek’s numbers aren’t horrible. He’s 6-3 and has a .893 save percentage. His only issue is that he has 29 goals against, which is the 7th worst in the league. Sometimes, Vanecek gives up too many goals that should’ve been saved, like the breakaway goal that Miles Wood had. However, about 70% of the time, the goals he gives up are due to terrible defensive efforts in front of him. Despite that, Vanecek plays his heart out every night, trying to show the team they don’t need to get another goalie in March when the trade deadline comes.

What Needs to Get Fixed for Future Games?

When you get down to the core issues on the team during these first 12 games, there are two glaring problems. One is the lack of defensive effort, and the other is penalties and penalty killing.

First, the lack of any defensive effort is shown in every game, with many players allowing opponents to skate past them quickly. It leads to a lot of odd-man rushes. Players like Brendan Smith are the biggest culprits of this. Half the time, Smith doesn’t even notice the player he’s supposed to defend against until after the skater skates past him, allowing for easy chances.

Brendan Smith isn’t the only one to do this. Dougie Hamilton allowed a breakaway in the last game; Luke Hughes has done it a few times, too. Either way, the defensive efforts have to be better because when you face much better teams down the line, like the Avalanche game, they can easily catch on when the defense is napping.

It seems like the power play and penalty kill did a Freaky Friday. The powerplay was awful last year, and the penalty kill was outstanding. In the previous game against the Avalanche, the Devils took six penalties. Ondrej Palat leads the team with 19 PIMs. Timo Meier and Brendan Smith take a lot of penalties; in fact, both do it constantly in games.

3 Changes Devils Need To Make Now. dark. Next

Regarding penalty killing, the main issue is that there is no effort to try and take away the puck on the opposing team’s powerplay. They either stay there waiting for them to make a mistake, allowing them to take multiple shots, or their plan to put their defense on one specific player leaves someone wide open around the net to get a goal. Getting the puck and clearing it has also been a problem on the penalty-killing unit. A lot of times, the Devils can’t even get the puck out of their zone.

The pressure is now on coach Ryan McGill to fix this effort because watching this defense and this lack of discipline is unacceptable. These are the main reasons why the Devils lose a lot of games, and they need to get fixed before they go into a prolonged slump.