The Devils look to break out of this slump with a new-look offense against a fellow bottom-of-the-division rival.
This has been the tale of two seasons for the New Jersey Devils. They started off the season hot, contrary to everyone’s expectations.
However, since returning from a lengthy layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve cooled down dramatically. They’ve lost three straight, six of their last seven, and their last seven home games.
To make matters worse it was announced that newly appointed captain Nico Hischier, who hadn’t played since sustaining a head injury on Feb. 27, is week-to-week with a concussion and broken nose.
Jack Hughes would have to step up in Hischier’s stead, as he did to begin to the season. Pavel Zacha, who’s been one of the hottest players in the NHL, would also have to maintain his elite play.
Head coach Lindy Ruff decided to change up the forward lines with the hopes of igniting the offense. Kyle Palmieri would have two new linemates at the top in the team leader in goals Miles Wood and the red-hot Zacha.
Hughes was moved to the second line and would be joined by the rookie Yegor Sharangovich as well as Janne Kuokkanen, who was recalled from the taxi squad to fill the void left by Hischier.
Andreas Johnsson and Nathan Bastian would join Travis Zajac on the wings of the third line. Jesper Bratt would serve as the fourth line right winger. The defense would remain the same and MacKenzie Blackwood got the start in net.
These lines are obviously quite different from what we’ve gotten used to seeing, but the hope is that this new look would rejuvenate a struggling offense.
1st period: Ranger-killer Jack Hughes
The Devils looked great to begin the game, much better than they had in past games, and got the result to show for it.
The puck took a lucky bounce off the boards that the Rangers misplayed and Hughes, who’s killed the Rangers this season, put it past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin.
Prior to this goal, Hughes had earned just one point in his last five games. We noted that he must step up in Hischier’s absence, and he did just that with this goal.
This was a great period of hockey that the Devils would need to build on in order to come out with a win.
2nd period: When it rains…
The Devils’ goal should have been to not blow the lead, and they failed there. Their problems started with their penalty kill because of course. The Devils have the worst penalty kill in hockey, but they’d been surprisingly good lately.
They hadn’t given up a power play goal in three games and were six-for-six before the Rangers’ first power play of the game in the second period.
The red-hot Chris Kreider scored on New York’s man-advantage and went on to score yet another goal before the period ended. The Devils now found themselves behind, but a comeback wasn’t impossible.
3rd period: …it pours
Everything fell apart for the Devils this period. Kreider scored another goal for a hat-trick and Blackwood ended up conceding a total of five goals. He was pulled and replaced by Aaron Dell, who conceded a goal himself.
The Devils were also unable to add to their one goal. We saw the Devils’ special teams fail on the penalty kill, but it wasn’t any better on the power play.
The Devils do have one of the worst power plays in hockey and were going up against the fifth-best penalty kill in the league, but they had four opportunities to score and just couldn’t.
These are some reasons why the Devils lost this game, and why they lost so badly, but some blame must be placed on Ruff.
These lines were peculiar from the get-go and it was clear that guys like Sharangovich, Kuokkanen, and Wood shouldn’t have been in the top-six and Bratt shouldn’t have been anywhere near the fourth line.
Here’s to hoping this is a one-game experiment that won’t be repeated and that Ruff can find another set of line combinations that will work.
The Devils will have an opportunity to bounce back against the Rangers on Saturday.
Key Moment: Hughes your daddy?
The key moment of the game for the Devils (really their only moment) was Hughes’ goal. This was about the only thing the Devils did right/well in this game.
The hope will be that it marks the beginning of another hot stretch of play from Hughes as he seeks to pick up the slack in Hischier’s absence.
Of course, Hughes’ goal was even bigger because he scored it in a rivalry game. He’s been incredible against the Rangers this season.
Player of the game: Jack Hughes
Hughes was seemingly the only productive player in this game for New Jersey. It was nice to see him do well, especially considering the cold streak he’d been on, but the organization and fans would’ve wanted more from the rest of the team.
Regardless, Hughes did step up and will need to consistently play this well and even better as a top forward in this group.
His numbers: 18:01 TOI, 1 goal, 0.23 iXG, 1.11 xGF, 0.31 xGA, 0.94 GF, 1.05 GA, 72.73 CF%, 0.16 defensive rating, 0.6 offensive rating, and 0.88 individual rating.
Stats are courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards and Natural Stat Trick.