New Jersey Devils
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils have looked better this season despite being in the middle of a three-game losing streak.

The New Jersey Devils were the worst team in the Metropolitan Division and one of the worst teams in the league in 2020.

They made several offseason moves, including hiring Lindy Ruff as their new head coach, but expectations weren’t high for this young team.

The league’s realignment didn’t help the Devils either, and they found themselves smack dab in the middle of the most difficult and competitive division in the NHL.

However, Ruff’s Devils shocked the world and kicked off the 2021 season on a high note. They were playing impressive hockey and were winning games.

Unfortunately, a COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of February put their season on a long pause.

They’ve played five games since returning to play on Feb. 16. They won their first two games, which came against the New York Rangers and the dangerous Boston Bruins, but have lost three in a row since.

One of these losses came against the Washington Capitals but what’s concerning is that two of these losses, including one on Monday night, were against the Buffalo Sabres, who are the worst team in the East Division.

The Devils will have a chance to turn things around against the Sabres on Thursday, but they aren’t in great form right now. This three-game losing streak is the longest of the season for the Devils.

So, what’s going on in New Jersey? They looked like they even had a chance at competing for a playoff spot, what happened?

What allowed the Devils to be so dominant to begin the season was their pace and quickness. They have some very speedy players who were using their speed to their advantage and were excelling at making quick passes all over the ice.

They seemed to have lost that advantage recently. Unfortunately and ironically, this can partially be attributed to the veterans getting healthy and replacing some of the youngsters in the lineup.

Guys like Will Butcher, Mikhail Maltsev, Nick Merkley, and Yegor Sharangovich haven’t been playing as often, and it seems to be taking a toll on the team.

The struggles of some players aren’t helping either. Names like Nikita Gusev come to mind, but a player worth focusing on is P.K. Subban.
One of the best defensemen in the NHL (especially offensively) for several years, Subban was traded by the Nashville Predators to the Devils in 2019.

Fans were excited and rightfully expected him to transform their blueline and help their team become contenders. That has been anything but the case.

In 2020, Subban had the worst season of his career and was awful for the Devils. This season, he’s been one of the Devils’ worst players and seems to be getting worse by the day.

He’s a liability for the Devils in all situations and has been bad at everything. This is a Devils team that would benefit tremendously from a veteran defenseman with the resume and skill set that Subban has. It’s a shame that he can’t give them what they need.

These are all contributing factors to the Devils’ recent struggles, but the biggest issue of all has been their special teams. They have one of the worst power plays in hockey that struggles to create chances in their opponent’s zone and to score goals.

This isn’t even the worst part. The Devils have the worst penalty kill in the NHL, and it’s costing them games. Whenever they’re shorthanded they look unorganized and are incapable of clearing the puck.

Ruff doesn’t have a great track record in that regard: the Rangers had one of the worst penalty kills in the league when he was an assistant coach in New York.

An aspect of hockey that was once a strength for the Devils is now their greatest weakness that could lead to their demise.

The Devils have some good players who are capable of being impactful on the penalty kill, they just need to dedicate more time to that part of the game and come up with new plans and tactics if they want to prevent it from ruining their season.

The Devils’ game against the Sabres on Thursday is crucial. They’re going to be given a chance to put an end to this rough stretch against the weakest team in the division.

This is something they have to take advantage of if they hope to get back on track and push for a playoff spot, no matter how unrealistic that goal may be.

They’re also going to hope that guys who have made their returns to the lineup recently like Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Sami Vatanen can get going and start putting up points. Or else benching/sending the kids was all for naught.