By now the firing of former Devils coach John Hynes is old news, but I haven’t blogged since then in part due to general apathy of the season at this point, and in part because I wanted to see an actual game or two under interim coach Alain Nasreddine before even starting to draw any conclusions. It’s tempting to say Nasreddine is little more than Hynes’ mini-me, having served on his staffs both at the NHL and AHL level for a decade now coaching the defense/PK, and I didn’t want him as the interim choice for that reason (and the fact the defensemen haven’t progressed on his watch) – even if I also didn’t want to blindly assume it’s just going to be the same failed ‘system’ with a different voice. I would have preferred guys like Claude Noel or Peter Horachek, who have been coaches in the league before and both currently employed by the team to serve as the interim, and Horachek did take Nasreddine’s spot in the assistant’s chair.
Still, after watching a good chunk of the Devils’ blown lead against Vegas on Tuesday when Nasreddine took over in the middle of a back-to-back, and their ill-fated shootout loss last night my fears are slowly coming to life…that the pick of Nasreddine was more of a ‘well maybe we need a new voice now, but goshdarn it I’m going to force them to make the same system work!’ pick by GM Ray Shero. While Shero professed to have other options, he also made it clear Nasreddine was going to get a long look as the head guy. Granted I like that he tacitly took the players to task during his press conference on Tuesday by saying nobody was playing up to expectations, but it also seemed like he was just angry their performance made him fire his hand-picked buddy rather than accepting that both the coach and the system were not working.
Now the coach is finally out but this is still the same ol’ system of nothing…defensemen taking wild chances and not knowing where to cover, forwards getting too pass-happy and strange decisions like benching the dynamic Nikita Gusev for the 3-on-3 OT. Gusev may have his issues 5-on-5, but you want a guy like that in open ice with space to work. Especially after Gusev and Sami Vatanen both got assists on the Devils’ lone goal of the night, a power play tally by Taylor Hall, just the fifth of the season for the free agent to be. Yes I’m aware with a coaching change things won’t happen overnight but these first two games seemingly confirm my pre-bias against Nasreddine as an interim hire – or really as any kind of staff retention at all.
Sure, they’re playing more up-tempo than they have recently…that’s just reverting back to what failed early in the season as opposed to the low-event and low-IQ hockey they’d turtled into lately. Playing more up-tempo might be more asthetically pleasing but it isn’t going to do much results-wise if your defense is just going to make the same amateur mistakes and the forwards plus PK Subban are going to have the same dissapointing production. Subban is now up to sixteen straight games without a point, I feel like starting one of those internet memes like when Scott Gomez didn’t score a goal for over a year or Cory Schneider didn’t have a win for over a year. What’s even scarier is Subban doesn’t have a power play point for the ENTIRE season. I was floored when I heard that stat the other day. This is a guy who as recently as two years ago had five goals and twenty-five points on the PP.
Even getting a PP goal last night, the Devils’ PP’s were not impressive on the whole either. Perhaps the only reason we got off to a good start last night was the Blackhawks took three straight early penalties. Though our first two PP’s were the usual mix of inept zone entries and blocked shots finally they found an opening to score on the third one. Unfortunately two of the three guys who combined for that goal were nowhere to be found in the three-on-three OT – Gusev with the aformentioned benching and Vatanen after YET ANOTHER upper-body injury when he got hit in the head with a puck late in last night’s game. Vatanen’s a good little player, and seemingly a happy-go-lucky personality but unfortunately since being brutally taken out by Nikita Kucherov during the 2018 playoffs the concussion and injury issues have only multiplied.
What was comical about last night was how desperate the team is for something – anything to build off, since Hall actually cited last night’s game where the team struggled to generate anything for the better part of the last two periods as a positive.
Yeah maybe if we weren’t playing a mediocre team on a back-to-back. Funny how the Devils always look like the team playing the rear end of a back-to-back when playing other teams on their back end of games. I saw someone say last night this was the eighth time the Devils have played another team on their second back-to-back game. Doesn’t seem like it since we haven’t taken advantage either of the last two games when both Vegas and Chicago played us and looked like the fresher team late. If Nasreddine was Jacques Lemaire circa 2010 he’d be coming in saying the players were out of shape and lost the ability to play the game.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go last night, ironically I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the coaching change and the curiosity over how the team would play. I’m aware it takes a while to break bad habits…it took Lemaire eight games to start to turn the worm from the Johnny Mac disaster. I just have no evidence Nasreddine has the ability to improve things or the willingness to change too much to really get excited about much anymore. Our new coach bump has led to more of the same ol’ same ol’ giving up three goals in the third period against Vegas on Tuesday, followed by a desultory performance against a mediocre Blackhawks team. It would have been nice to see a win, even an ugly one but unfortunately after playing well enough to earn the third star in regulation (including a couple of breakaway stops), Mackenzie Blackwood was abused in the shootout by the Blackhawks. Despite both Gusev and rookie Jesper Boqvist scoring on the Devils’ first two shots of the shootout, three straight misses by Hall, Kyle Palmeri and the returning Jack Hughes (after missing three games due to injury) was enough to doom the Devils to defeat.
Next up on the docket for the team is a tough four-game road trip beginning in Nashville with our own travel back-to-back and progressing through Dallas, Colorado and Arizona next week. Like Ken Daneyko would say on any Devils telecast…OH BOY.