3 Adjustments New Jersey Devils Need to Make to Get Back into Playoff Race

Two more brutal losses this week have knocked the Devils further out of the playoff race. What will it take to get back into the hunt?

Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils
Montreal Canadiens v New Jersey Devils / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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The New Jersey Devils are slipping further and further from the race for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They dropped a game to their biggest rivals on Thursday night. The New York Rangers are the hottest team in the Metropolitan Division, so pulling out a win was going to be tough. But the Devils didn’t just lose the game. They showed once again that they’re not a playoff-caliber team right now. Every time we think we’ve seen their worst effort of the season, the team manages to put up an even worse performance.

From top to bottom, the players just didn’t show up. Although they took a lot of shots on goal, there were a lot of low-danger chances. The power play was awful. The defense was awful. Nico Daws had a rough night in goal. There was nothing to celebrate. Most Devils fans had left Prudential Center by the time Jack Hughes finally broke up the shutout with one measly goal. Besides disappointment, the only thing the Devils provided to fans who came out to the game was free fruit snacks on the way out the door.

We all know the Devils need to play better. They’re not playing to the level of talent they have on their roster. A lot of that is on the players, but some of it is on the coaching and a lack of adjustments to the system. What can be done at this point? Here are three adjustments the Devils need to make.

1. Lineup Construction

The Devils’ lineup construction has been a problem. Jack Hughes is playing out of position on left wing. He hasn’t looked great at LW, although this can be chalked up to returning from injury. It might be time to put Hughes back at center where he shines, with Jesper Bratt on his wing. Perhaps it's also time to reunite Timo Meier and Nico Hischier. Alexander Holtz continues to get buried on the fourth line with a lack of ice time despite his 5v5 production. This is limiting his opportunities for growth and hurting the Devils’ offense. Holtz needs to see more ice time with more productive players.

With Jonas Siegenthaler back in the lineup off the Injured Reserve and John Marino returning to the lineup after missing a game due to illness, Lindy Ruff had a decision to make regarding which defenseman would sit. It’s beyond puzzling why Brendan Smith was in the lineup playing on his offhand side over Colin Miller. To be fair, Smith does have experience playing on his offhand side (and this goes over better than the Marino offhand side experiment), but there’s a better option.

Miller has the highest goal differential of any Devil this season with a +11. Smith has spent twice as much time as Miller in the penalty box in close to the same number of games played. Neither of them generates a ton of offense, but Miller provides more stability. Leaning on Miller takes some of the heat off the young defensemen like the struggling Luke Hughes. Lineup construction is crucial. Play the players who deserve to play and put them in a place where they’re likely to succeed.