After a recent game, Derek and I both wrote pieces on the Devils that had a dramatically different tone to them, and while some of that’s due to the fact he’s not a Devils fan and I am, it’s also perfectly indiciative of just how Jekyll-and-Hyde this team has been of late. Over the last week it’s been especially pronounced, after a big home win against the Wings on Friday they threw up a dud 4-0 loss in Brooklyn on Sunday that got an F- grade from coach John Hynes. Then on Tuesday the Devils looked at least solid if not dominant against the Sabres in a 2-0 shutout win. Last night the pendulum swung back to dud-ville with a 5-1 loss against the Panthers where the team looked like they mailed in the last two periods. While the Devils remain tied for the final playoff spot in the East, they won’t stay there for long if they continue to lose home games and go back and forth with their effort level. I’m in fact going to steal a quote from the coach for one of my other teams, when Todd Bowles said after last weekend’s Jet win that ‘the Golden State Warriors can have trap games, we can’t’. That’s the mindset this Devil team needs to take, they can’t have off nights or there’ll be more nights like last night or Sunday afternoon.
Speaking of my Jets I’m not amused that Saturday’s Devil game will conflict with their start time. Memo to the Devils: Don’t you dare put up another dud effort against the Ducks tomorrow night, or you will get booed by me at least. Even with a Devils team playing well there’s always that fear that for at least one game the Ducks will magically flash the form they had in recent seasons as opposed to the dissapointment they’ve been this year – particularly with backup Keith Kinkaid slated to start tomorrow night with Cory Schneider’s next game being on Boston on the back-to-back Sunday. Thankfully I didn’t go to the dud that was Thursday night’s game but for a team that still does have a winning record the Devils have been very suspect at home, going 7-7-3 (compared to their 9-5-1 on the road). I’ve only seen three wins in the nine games I’ve gone to thus far, none in regulation.
Of course we can’t totally lose sight of the fact this season’s supposed to be a retooling year (if not outright rebuilding) and any kind of playoff run’s a bonus. That said, part of what needs to happen is players stepping up and earning icetime and roles. For the most part that hasn’t happened, as the back six forwards have been a total wasteland. Pretty much the only difference between last season’s forward core and this season’s is a healthy Adam Henrique getting off to a great start, plus the additions of Kyle Palmeri and Lee Stempniak, which has at least given the Devils a respectable top six (along with Mike Cammalleri) now, though that top six has been missing centerman Travis Zajac the last several games. Zajac may well return this weekend and not a moment too soon since his absence has not only created a hole at center ice offensively but a hole in the entire team defensively. Early in the season the penalty kill was a strength but lately it’s been leaking goals without key PK’ers Zajac and Henrique – who also missed a couple of recent games himself.
Arguably the most important part of this season even beyond making the playoffs is developing the young defense. So far results have been mixed, for most of the season vet Andy Greene and emerging force Adam Larsson made a fine pairing but lately even their play’s started to slip. Perhaps playing in a purely defensive role is wearing on them mentally. None of the other defensemen have really stepped up either aside from bargain bin signing David Schlemko. At times John Moore’s been good – usually in the offensive end – and at times not so great (usually in the defensive end) but at least he can create offense unlike most of our blueline. Sophomore Damon Severson’s been streaky himself, prone to flashes of greatness and flashes of OMG what was he thinking there? While Jon Merrill hasn’t been bad defensively he’s been a total black hole offensively with zero points in twenty-five games, and a GF/60 total of just over 1.1 – in layman’s terms for every sixty minutes of icetime Merrill gets his team scores just over 1.1 goals. That’s…not good. And Eric Gelinas after his nightmare game against the Canadiens a few weeks back has improved defensively at least, though his offensive game that he flashed two years ago is still missing in action.
If we’re being honest here the only things we truly have to get out of this season is development and effort. Problem being neither one’s been consistent lately. At least coach Hynes will call a spade a spade and admit when effort was lacking unlike some previous administrations who tried to couch it. Of course it would be nice if the staff didn’t only selectively hold guys accountable. Sergey Kalinin or Stefan Matteau has one bad shift, demote him and/or scratch him. Jacob Josefson has one goal and six points in thirty-two games? Let’s just keep running him out there on the PP and in a top six role. Jordin Tootoo has a -17 for the season? No problem, we’ll keep playing him too and give him PP minutes as well. With fourteen healthy forwards once Zajac returns plus Bobby Farnham who’s mysteriously dissapeared onto IR lately (and maybe it’s not a coincidence this team’s had more ‘off’ effort nights without him), there’s no reason not to hold everyone accountable for lack of production. Especially with zero production the entire season out of the back six. Farnham probably has almost as many goals as the rest of the back six combined. Yes Josefson’s too valuable on the shootout to healthy scratch him, but can you at least bump him back down the pecking order? And there’s no reason Tootoo should get to play in perpituity. Or Tuomo Ruutu for that matter, who’s been just another body since we acquired him two years ago. Not to mention with kids down in Albany thirsting for a chance to play you can hold vets accountable that way too.
With two games this weekend there isn’t much time for the staff to go back to the drawing board at the moment but at least a little more heat should be coming down on people who either aren’t producing or aren’t giving effort. There’s been too much of both lately.