After suffering two defeats by the score of 5-2 at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, fans of the New Jersey Devils are left with much to be desired.
The offseason held some promising moves for Devils General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald.
They’d start off by drafting Slovakian defensemen, Simon Nemec, with the 2nd overall pick.
They would trade two picks to the Washington Capitals in exchange for goaltender Vitek Vanacek and another pick, hopefully solidifying the goaltending for a team that suffered consistency from in between the pipes.
Signing veteran leaders and proven winners in forward Ondrej Palat and Brendan Smith in free agency.
Finally, trading struggling young defenseman in Ty Smith and a pick for defenseman John Marino.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Devils made some swaps on the coaching staff, sending out assistant coaches Mark Recchi and Alain Nasreddine, and adding Sergei Brylin, Ryan McGill, and Andrew Brunette.
There’s no doubt the team, on paper, improved from these moves and transactions. They were positives and made lots of additions in their subtractions. There should of been optimism, but weary Devils fans had learned their lesson from past seasons after successful offseasons.
Entering the Preseason
Going into preseason, there were no complaints. Many fans were unhappy with Lindy Ruff still being employed after two miserable seasons, but there were no excuses this time. His first season would be a strange, Covid-shortened year, where only 52 games were played, and without say, they did not make the playoffs.
The following year, fans expected a major step. Signing prized free agent defenseman Dougie Hamilton, goaltender Jonathan Bernier, and forward Tomas Tatar.
After a slew of injuries and playing seven different goalies throughout 82 games, the Devils fell short of the playoffs once again.
This year, with the looming pessimism, fans only ask for a step in the right direction. The preseason showed some level of optimism. With a record of 5-2-0 through seven games, the Devils had consistent contributors and solid goaltending. This happens every season, though. A great offseason, a great preseason, yet a poor regular season that leads to no playoffs.
Devils vs Flyers
The New Jersey Devils opened up their season against their rival in the Philadelphia Flyers.
With new head coach, John Tortorella, the Flyers would be ready do go, more disciplined and hard working than ever. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the game, mostly on the hire of John Tortorella, but the Devils were favored in this game.
The Devils would score first. a powerplay goal from Alexander Holtz, the first goal of his NHL career would put them up 1-0. Four Flyers goals later, Damon Severson would score, but an empty netter would make the final score 5-2. The goaltending was once again leaving much to be desired. Mackenzie Blackwood had had a rough two seasons, and the first game this year looked rough. It’s not all his fault, as missed man coverage and messy line changes would prove to be game-deciding factors in this one. The Flyers wanted it more, they outworked the Devils, and Carter Hart had a spectacular night, as well as the Devils not being able to finish chances.
Calm Before the Storm: Devils vs Red Wings Pregame
The Devils had a chance at redemption, where on Opening Night, they’d play the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit is another young team looking to take a step, and they game was hyped up to be major for the Devils. Vitek Vanacek would make his Devils debut in place for Blackwood.
“A Must-Win Game”– Devils forward Miles Wood on the home opener vs the Detroit Red Wings
Before the game, while the Devils and their staff were being announced, Lindy Ruff’s name was met with loud boos from the fans.
“Am I being booed?”– Devils head coach Lindy Ruff being met with boos after being introduced
Devils vs Red Wings
With Vanacek in net, the Devils would look to put the Red Wings down like a bunch of sick dogs. Dougie Hamilton would score the only goal in the first period, but the second period would be incredibly hard to watch for the Devils faithful.
The Red Wings would score two goals, then the Devils would score shortly after Detroit’s second tally, Miles Wood crashing the net off a Fabian Zetterlund feed.
Detroit would score two more goals, including Dylan Larkin adding one with eight tenths of a second left. The second period would end with an immense amount of boos coming from the home fans, and it was deserved.
The third period, the Devils showed little fight, and with another Detroit tally, the boos would drown out the sounds of bodies hitting boards, sharpened skates on the ice, and the chirps of the players. Along with the boos, would come “Fire Lindy” chants coming from the fans. It was a miserable opening night, one to forget.
The disappointment coming from inside the locker room, the media, and the fans was evident. The media was hard on the players, and Lindy Ruff. Ruff was met with a question regarding the fan’s chants of his name.
We’ve got passionate fans here” – “They’re used to winning. But that’s part of my job. I take full responsibility for when this team loses. Great history here. The fans want W’s up on the board. It’s as simple as that.”– Lindy Ruff in response to the fans chanting “fire Lindy” in the third period vs the Detroit Red Wings
The game left a sour taste in the mouth of all New Jersey Devils fans, but what now? Two games into the year, and it all looks the same as previous seasons.
What Now for Lindy Ruff?
With the rope being even tighter for Lindy Ruff, he needs to get his team looking sharp again. Everyone necessary is healthy on the team, they didn’t play super challenging opponents, and the play overall looks sloppy unmotivated.
Not much needs to be said, clean it up the next few games, or he’s out. Andrew Brunette, the new blood on his staff, just came off a season in which he replaced Joel Quennville and helped lead the Panthers to one of their best seasons of all time. He’ll for sure take over the reigns if Ruff doesn’t pick the slack up.
A common complaint amongst the players is the lineup. It seems to switch after every game, regardless of a win or loss. Dealing with injuries and tweaking the lineup based off that is one thing, but consistently moving players around denies any chance of chemistry.
It’s not on the coaching staff if a player misses the net, or if a goalie lets in a soft goal. A coach should be fired if the team is lacking preparedness, or if everything is sloppy and looks unmotivated. The sloppiness of the team is surprising, which could lead to the termination of Ruff.
As for the Goaltending
Splitting both games one apiece, both Mackenzie Blackwood and Vitek Vanacek didn’t look all that great.
Blackwood looked sloppy with the coverage in the net and positioning left many questions. In his game, the defense wasn’t outstanding, but a goalie needs to bail his team out. He ended his game with an .883 Sv%
Vanacek looked pretty miserable to say the least. The rebound control just wasn’t there, and his skating looked borderline minor hockey-esk. He was never destined to be a starter in the NHL, but he’s still needed in the Devils’ 1A-1B scenario. He ended his game with a .773 Sv%.
Overall, the team still faces many questions, and I’m not the one to quickly overreact to small sample sizes, but this year the reaction time for issues has to be quick. The Devils cannot afford to play with two sub-par goalies all year and throw the season away, and the same goes for keeping Ruff around.
It’s only two games into the season, and this may have been an overreaction, but it’ll hopefully work out soon.