New Jersey Devils: Best Defensive Pairs Are Obvious At This Point

Blake Wheeler #17 of the New York Rangers scores an empty net goal as Dougie Hamilton #7 of the New Jersey Devils reacts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Blake Wheeler #17 of the New York Rangers scores an empty net goal as Dougie Hamilton #7 of the New Jersey Devils reacts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Legendary football coach Bill Parcells has a famous saying: “You are what your record says you are.” Then, the New Jersey Devils are one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference. A loss on Black Friday dropped the Devils to 8-9-1. They’ve lost six of their last seven games, and they aren’t even getting loser points. They are losing all these games in regulation, making the playoffs seem less likely by the week.

There’s a ton that can be blamed for where the Devils find themselves today. The goalies haven’t been stepping up, but the recent Akira Schmid performance has at least been encouraging. The offense hasn’t been what we thought it should be, but injuries to Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, and others at least give them an excuse.

Now, the defense is a different story. There are too many high-danger chances given up. They are pinching at the wrong moments. The penalty kill has been better, but the defensemen aren’t really the reason. The forwards have been opportunistic, and it’s ending chances against.

Problems have been arising with the defense all season. Each game, another defenseman seems to be the scapegoat. Right now, Dougie Hamilton is the one fans have the most ire towards. It’s earned, since he was not only on the ice for both goals against in their last game, but Hamilton was at least partially at fault for both. However, John Marino, Jonas Siegenthaler, Kevin Bahl, and Brendan Smith have shared the blame for previous bad performances.

Lindy Ruff was hesitant to change the defensive pairings, but he’s been trying new things. What he’s trying doesn’t make a ton of sense. He’s paired Luke Hughes with Dougie Hamilton when pushing for a goal. It makes sense on paper, but it often leads to chances against. He’s liked having a shutdown pair, but Bahl and Marino didn’t make that work.

We’ve been resistant to putting defensemen on their off hand, but the Devils have to try something new. They need to look deep into the numbers, and they can find who should be together. When it comes to high-danger chances for and against, two pairings stand out clearly. Dougie Hamilton has been best with John Marino. Meanwhile, Luke Hughes has done his best work with Jonas Siegenthaler. That’s a righty-righty pair and a lefty-lefty pair. Again, usually, we say “no thank you” to that. In this situation, the Devils need to at least try it.

We’re talking very limited time. Marino and Hamilton have been together for 13 minutes, but in those 13 minutes, they have three high-danger chances and only one such chance against. Siegenthaler and Hughes have only been together for 11 minutes, but they’ve never given up a high-danger chance.

This would leave Kevin Bahl and Colin Miller for the bottom line, which honestly, we really like. It really rounds out the pairings.

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The reason to avoid a situation like this is timing and positioning. Sometimes, players drift to the position they are inclined to be in, which pulls them out of position. Well, guess what? The Devils defensemen have been out of position on a nightly basis. It cannot get worse. So, might as well try these pairs and see if it brings out the best in this lineup.