Predictably, things haven’t gotten much better for the Devils since they opened the season with a deslutory loss against Winnipeg last Friday in the two games since then. Due to
impending heartbreak baseball fever I’ve only watched two periods of the Devils’ last two games, the first two at Washington on Saturday night before the Met game came on. Somewhat fortunately, I had already turned the game off by the time Alex Ovechkin did Alex Ovechkin things (see above), posterizing John Moore and giving the Capitals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Clearly I didn’t miss much last night in a 3-1 loss to the Predators where the difference in the game turned out to be two empty-net goals…yes, you read that right, but more on that below.
Given baseball and other things this month I’ve pretty much unloaded all the Tuesday home games in October at what I could get for them – i.e. for not much, but I will be at the arena Friday night to watch the pathetic 0-3 Devils take on Pete DeBoer’s Sharks, who only look like the best team in the league through the first week of the season. Funny how most fired coaches don’t get another chance or have to take over a bad team, but DeBoer keeps getting better teams with each job. Wouldn’t it just be fitting if yet another coach Lou Lamoriello fired went on to win a Stanley Cup elsewhere? At least Lou’s Leafs are right with us in winless-ville, but I don’t expect that to continue for long either with the way things are going.
It’s no doubt too early to get on the coach for lineup decisions, even if some of the Internet wackadoodles who assumed every young guy would get 20+ minutes a night are shocked by the scratchings of Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson in the first two games on defense in favor of nameless vet David Schlemko, while younger forwards Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher have been healthy scratches as well. I get it, we’re still early in the season and new coach John Hynes wants to win some games. No matter how bad some fans (who most likely aren’t season ticket holders) want the team to tank, lose all 82 games and play the youth it’s just not going to happen in October. Did Severson’s scratch come as a bit of a surprise? Sure, but it seems like Severson and Hynes have been at loggerheads since camp when Hynes felt Severson’s compete level was lacking even then. In this I agree 100% with the coach, there’s no excuse for a kid to act entitled and think he should be ceded a roster spot based on talent or the fact he played every game when healthy last year. On some level it compares to Noah Syndergaard with the Mets, and how he needed a bit of an atitude adjustment last year and in spring this year before maturing and fully blossoming. Either way, Severson and the other kids will have to earn their spots and that’s fine with me.
What I do have an issue with so far is the coach’s odd timing at when to pull the goalie in empty-net situations – even though I didn’t see either live I cringed when I heard about both. On Saturday in Washington, the Devils were down two goals and shorthanded when Hynes pulled the goalie with three minutes left to get a 5-on-5 with the net empty. Predictably that backfired. It’s not so much that Hynes pulled the goalie shorthanded, it’s that he did it with less than thirty seconds remaining on a Caps PP and Washington got a layup goal with fifteen seconds remaining on a penalty to Lee Stempniak. To add insult to bad decision, the Devils did wind up scoring later anyway, but instead of being down 4-3 with a minute and a half to go it was just a meaningless tally by Mike Cammalleri in a 5-3 final. Citing analytics and studies that show it’s better to pull the goalie sooner as a reason he made that decision, Hynes acted like NFL coaches who just blindly use the ‘chart’ to determine whether to go for two points or not. You could have pulled the goalie with two and a half minutes to go and go to 6-on-5, that’s plenty of time! To be fair Hynes also said he felt he could catch the Caps with weaker defensive personnel on the ice since they were on the PP but again this is a lack of game management. It’s Barry Trotz on the other bench, he’s not going to be reckless on a power play up two goals with that little time remaining.
Perhaps the situation last night was even worse though, with the Devils trailing 1-0 and starting a full two-minute power play with three minutes left Hynes immediately pulled the goalie to get the 6-on-4, never mind Nashville had two free minutes to aim at an empty net without the fear of icing. Also predictably, this one backfired as Nashville’s Roman Josi scored an empty-net shorthander less than twenty seconds into the power play and still with 2:40 left. Also showing the folly of that decision, the Devils still scored on their power play with Keith Kinkaid back in net anyway. So now instead of being tied on a late power play goal, the Devils were down 2-1 in a situation where they now really had to pull the goalie again to get a 6-on-5 and again Nashville scored to ice the game. This time Hynes cited the fact he felt the Devils hadn’t gotten a lot going throughout the game and needed a jolt. Great, so Hynes is wrong when he used analytics AND when he used his gut. Sure, pulling the goalie with two and a half to three minutes left has become the du jour among NHL coaches thanks to Patrick Roy but that doesn’t take into account special teams situations, which burned us both ways over the last week. Hopefully this is just a young coach finding his sea legs though, and not just another likeable bald guy overmatched by the spotlight a la John MacLean.
What’s less certain is how the team will respond even with good coaching, playing the Sharks and Rangers next could lead to an 0-5 start headed into next Tuesday’s game against surprisingly unbeaten Arizona, who was expected to be one of the bottom five teams along with the Devils this season. Of course before we worry about 0-5 it would be nice to get one to prevent it from getting to that point.