For weeks I’ve been harping on the Devils’ up and down effort level and the fact that there has until today been little accountability for it. After the Devils’ post holiday blues in yet another bad loss on Saturday (this time in Carolina), apparently enough is enough for coach John Hynes, who today changed the top forward lines and defensive pairings around and challenged the team publicly to get better and stop hovering around mediocrity.
“We need better. We need better from our team and better from some individuals,” Hynes said. “We can’t just show up every day and keep doing what we’re doing. We’re looking to get better as a team, individually, find better combinations and see if we can continue to improve and get better as the season goes on.”
Hynes spread out what had been the first line for most of the season and put them on three seperate lines with Mike Cammalleri now being with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmeri, with Adam Henrique being dropped to the second line in the middle of wingers Jiri Tlusty and Tyler Kennedy while Lee Stempniak is now on the third line with Sergey Kalinin and Jacob Josefson. Also, the d-pairings were shifted dramatically with slumping Adam Larsson now on a pairing with David Schlemko while John Moore was bumped up to the top pairing with Andy Greene, albeit now playing the right side. Younger defensemen Damon Severson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas took turns flanking the third pairing. In explaining his rationale for the wholesale changes, coach Hynes indicated there was more behind it than merely trying to spark a slumping team:
“We want to get better,” Hynes said. “Right now, we’ve been hovering around mediocrity. We’ve had trouble putting back-to-back games together. We haven’t necessarily liked how well we’ve played collectively whether it’s our shot totals, our total time in the offensive zone, being a difficult team to play against. So, we need better performances from a lot of guys and we’ll switch some things around and give some guys some different opportunities and make it a little bit more meritocracy that if you want to play in certain situations or with certain guys, then you’ve got to earn it.”
To this I say hallefreakinglujah. As a fan it usually makes me feel more convinced that what I’ve been seeing is fact when the head coach echoes the exact same sentiments publicly. Yes the Devils are in a place nobody expected them to be around the holidays – one point out of a playoff spot. However at some point this team needs to stop being satisfied with merely not being among the worst teams in the league and aim for something higher as opposed to just treading water. To use an example from another sport, my Jets were 5-5 after losing four out of five games, giving another mediocre effort in Houston when coach Todd Bowles reamed the team out and cut a former first-round pick. And like with the Devils some thought the Jets should be satisfied with just being in the hunt in November after a poor 2014.
Long story short the Jets haven’t lost since and proved they were indeed capable of a higher standard…and yes I’m aware that you can’t crack the whip all the time, otherwise you become a caricature of yourself like John Tortorella has been the last few years. However when it’s clearly deserved and everyone knows it, that’s when you have the most chance of getting a positive response. Even the fans can see the effort level has been lacking around the Devils in recent weeks, the boos the Devils got at the Rock in their last pre-holiday home loss to the Ducks shows that and I’m sure would have been booed again if Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Carolina was in New Jersey. Somewhat fittingly the Devils play Carolina again tomorrow, this time at the Rock. If this team gives the effort both I and the staff expect of it, it’ll provide a stark contrast to the one it gave on Saturday night.