After a somewhat predictable week where the Devils got housed against Boston and in Pittsburgh, followed by needing a third-period explosion to beat a spectacularly bad Detroit team, not much has changed for the better. In fact, you could make the argument it changed for the worse long-term – and not just cause a 1-2 week puts the team even further back from any kind of playoff contention. There isn’t going to be much in terms of game recaps here, mainly cause I had to miss watching Tuesday’s crapfest (was doing trivia out with friends at a local bar and grill), and last night I was at a Friendsgiving, while I just knew better than to watch the predictable beatdown on Friday – especially after they were fortunate to hold off a Crosby-less Pens assault last Friday at the Rock.
No, the worst thing about this week wasn’t that the siege finally got to Mackenzie Blackwood to the tune of nine goals in just under two games, after he was pretty well the only reason the team has gotten a few of the wins they have. You couldn’t count on Blackwood to play all 82 games, and thankfully new acquisition Louis Domingue passed his first test – although playing the once-proud Wings is almost like playing Rutgers in college football. Even other bad teams can clean up on them. It wasn’t even the fact the team only had two goals in its first eight periods this week until finally breaking out in the third period for four against hapless Johnathan Bernier in the Wings’ net. If anything, the Devils’ performance last night only served to throw the rest of their sorry season into stark relief…how the Devils could be neck and neck in the standings for dead last in the NHL with THIS team is even more beyond me.
If I seem a little sore over beating up on the Wings, it’s more that the timing of it was ill-served after coach John Hynes’ lineup machinations last night – where his constant scapegoating of Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt came to a head. It’s as if Hynes saw we were playing the Wings, his own job was in peril after the team sleepwalked through the week and decided if I’m going down I’m going down with my guys, which meant sitting Zacha and Bratt in favor of awful John Hayden and callup Brett Seney. I’m the first to admit Seney has done well in the AHL this year and deserved a callup, even if his initial NHL season wasn’t all that impressive last year, and while I don’t think Hayden belongs in the NHL it’s not as if anyone else has been playing all that well either. So sure, change the lineup around but at least pick different guys to send a message to. And I’m no fan of Mirco Mueller either so while I would rather see Matt Tennyson shot into the sun first, changing the sixth defenseman really isn’t going to make that big a difference against Detroit anyway.
It’s more that constantly scapegoating the same two younger players isn’t serving anyone well. Let’s take Bratt first…I admit his skillset (small playmaker) is probably a bit redundant on this team, but whose fault is that? He’s still a 21-year old player who’s proven he can play in the NHL and has a lot of talent. He struggled early in the season, in part due to playing a lot with Nikita Gusev who was a total trainwreck early (though by all accounts he seems to be straightening out a little), got scratched for a few games then made the coach look silly by scoring two goals in his return to the lineup though unfortunately it might have been taken as proof that Bratt needs the spurs put to him. Within two games he was back under ten minutes of icetime in Carolina, and while I wouldn’t call his four goals and seven points in eighteen games great by any stretch it’s not as if anyone else has been lighting it up either. Only first-liners Hall, Palmieri and Hischier have more than ten points this season.
But sure, go ahead and keep scapegoating the 21-year old finesse guy while letting the 24-year old ‘grit’ forward (Miles Wood) screw up game after game, of course because he puts pucks on net from no angle to appease the advanced stats and he has the ability to play physical, he gets immunity somehow from the bald grim reaper. Wood only had five points and a -10 in 21 games himself before yesterday. Of course Hynes gets to play I told you so after he had an assist with a +2 last night…again, against a horrible team. Basing anything over what happens against Detroit is like calling a team meeting before your best pitcher takes the mound against a lousy team, or saying you can win without your best player in the NBA because he takes a load managment night off against the lousy Knicks.
At least Bratt still has time, though having decreasing production isn’t going to serve him well needing a new contract after the season. In the case of Pavel Zacha he did get a new deal in the offseason for three years at $2.25 million, but after the way the staff has treated him this season he may wish he’d signed in the KHL as was briefly rumored (by his agent). I’m also the first to admit I’m not a huge believer in Zacha but after finishing last season with 20 points in 30 games, he was scratched the third game of this season which was ridiculous enough – especially when he got off to a strong start with 6 points in his first 9 games. His offensive production has tailed off in November, but he still does other things to help the team win even when he’s not scoring. I can’t say the same for coach’s pet Hayden, who had five points in 54 games as a Blackhawk last season and 0 in his first 9 as a Devil this year…but hey, he hits guys in the 8-10 minutes he plays! So voila, after both Zacha and Bratt had a -2 in Pittsburgh where nobody played well, they get scratched in favor of Hayden, Wood and Seney – who like I said probably deserved a callup but wasn’t all that impressive last year with thirteen points and a -14 in 51 games.
If you think the coach took last night’s 5-1 win (where the team was fortunate just to get to the third period tied) as some proof of his lineup switches being a difference, you’d be right. Just look at this video clip and all the praise of the fourth line – helped out by Devils Twitter highlighting it.
Ridiculous. Yep, the fourth line’s combined 26 minutes of icetime and two assists were the difference in a 5-1 win against a horrible team. I get wanting the role players to feel good but this smacks more of a passive agressive ‘hey, look at how my lineup changes worked’ than anything else. But when the team loses it’s all the players didn’t execute the system well or there wasn’t enough compete.
I’ll give Hynes this, he picked a good time to go full troll with his lineup. Not only cause of playing the Wings last night, but this team could actually go on a short-term run in spite of itself playing the also-struggling Wild on Tuesday, going to Montreal later in the week after they just went splat last night, then playing a matinee against a subpar Ranger team the Devils arguably had their best game against this season. I’ve never been a big fan of rooting against the team just for draft pick position (especially in the case of sports where there’s a lottery like the NHL now) but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought crossed my mind that it’s more harmful long-term allowing this staff to have total immunity month after month to play favorites and revert to low-event caveman hockey that isn’t really doing much to help foster sustainable improvement.