New Jersey Devils Loss To Blue Jackets Has Fans Upset. Rightfully So.

New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41): John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41): John Jones-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New Jersey Devils lost yet again on Saturday, this time to the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets. This came right after being shut out by a mediocre Red Wings team on Wednesday night. The Devils are 1-6 in their last seven games. We all know the stats about teams not making the playoffs being outside looking in at American Thanksgiving. It really doesn’t look good for the team after they finally had a good season.

Not only are the Devils not in a playoff spot right now they sit seventh out of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division, third last in the Eastern Conference, and eight last in the entire NHL. This is embarrassing for a team that was not just expected to make the playoffs but had some hype to be a top 4 team, a division winner, and even a Stanley Cup contender.

The team is 17th in goals scored and 25th in goals against. This is the most obvious thing to look at when wondering why they are bad. Last year, they were a top-tier offense finishing with the 4th most goals scored, and had a better defense than expected sitting at 10th in the NHL in goals against. Offensively this team should be way better, though injuries have got in the way of that. As for the defense, there’s no excuse.

Last season, Ryan Graves and John Marino were a top-tier shutdown pairing and Devils fans were quite vocal about Marino carrying that pairing a bit. However, with his play right now it looks like we did not give Graves nearly enough credit. Marino has been mid at best and hasn’t looked great regardless of who he has played with and his positional play has not been as good for some reason.

The Devils other top-four pairing of Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton has just been awful as well. In Saturday night’s game, they showed zero chemistry which is insane considering they had it for an entire season. Both guys are caught puck watching and trying to block a pass passively leaving the Jackets player open for an easy no-pressure slot shot to put the team behind in the first like virtually every game this season. Siegenthaler has got to get back in the defensive mindset and only focus on stopping the puck like he did previously because if both guys consider pinching, which they’ve done too many times this season, the team will get punished every time on the odd-man rushes.

Continuing with the defense, Luke Hughes is great offensively and suspect defensively like we expected. He really needs a stay-at-home guy with him that can cover for him when mistakes are made. Brendan Smith has been terrible all season and needs to be the healthy scratch. It is hard to judge Colin Miller who has only played four games but he has been the much better player in that time span and hopefully will be given some significant time with Hughes. If this doesn’t work out, they should consider bringing in a big defensive defender who hits and can move like Calgary Flames defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Team toughness is another issue they need to address. If it is an issue this early in the season, you bet it will be an issue if they make the playoffs. They get pushed around every time the opposition decides to do it, and there is almost no pushback from this roster that needs to be at least a little harder to play against. The toughest guys on this roster last season were Graves, who is gone, and Miles Wood who is gone (and ran this team all night the other week in Colorado). While we shouldn’t have given out those big deals to either guy it left a very clear weakness this team needs to do something about.

Kevin Bahl and Curtis Lazar have played pretty physically but the other depth guys need to throw their bodies around way more and get engaged in the game. Nathan Bastian has been credited with just under two hits a game, but he has not been noticeable while doing it. This team has some big guys who could make their presence felt in a big way but are just choosing not to, especially the D core.

The goaltending looked good last season, and with the other parts of the team playing well, all they needed was average, and they’d be in good shape. They got it on a nightly basis last season, but now it has fallen off a cliff. We thought the days of .880 save percentages were gone. Apparently, we were wrong.

Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid are definitely not as bad as some of the previous goalies that were in net, but the defense needs to shoulder a lot of the blame. They must stop letting in those deflating goals that are very savable. Vanecek’s lateral movement looks incredibly slow compared to last season, and the defenders letting teams get half a dozen 2-on-1’s a game certainly is not helping. He needs to work on that before every team in the NHL just plays that in the video room before games and feasts on the Devils’ woes nightly.

The confidence of both goalies is clearly low, and it is a tough thing to get back. A solid commitment to defense first from the entire team will go a long way. They have it in them to save this season still. If they can play in their own end first, the offense will come, and they will be that strong transitional team again that waits for their moment and capitalizes instead of being killed in the neutral zone by trying to force plays game in and game out.

Pucks And Pitchforks
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Up next, the Devils have a Tage Thompson-less Sabers team that is .500 on the season and looking to push for the playoffs too. This is a very winnable game again and a big test to show if they are going to get it together or not. LGD