The best thing I can say about these last two games – besides the improved offense – is just the mere fact at least hockey’s back to stay for a while, until the end of the season in another two months anyway. In terms of meaningful hockey for fans, the season ended a while ago for the Devils but with a young team you can still get some value out of stretch run games. Particularly given we’re finally starting to see some consistent production (and health) from the Devils’ key young forwards. Since coming off the COVID list, Jack Hughes has put up three goals and six assists in a mere four games. Jesper Bratt is still humming along with four goals – and five points – in these two post-break games and captain Nico Hischier is starting to add more offense with six goals and nine points in his last seven games. Even a guy like Yegor Sharangovich is starting to find more consistency with four goals and five assists in his last six games.
Somewhat coincidentally, those six games have been one of the best stretches offensively we’ve seen from the Devils in quite some time – with thirty goals total over that stretch. You would think the team would be able to win at least five of those six games where you’re averaging five goals a game. Unfortunately this team only managed to win three out of six, underscoring the defensive and goaltending issues that are still very real. Sure it was nice to see Dougie Hamilton finally back after his own bout with COVID, a broken jaw and a couple of other so-called minor injuries but is he even 100% yet? Can’t say I trust the medical team after rushing other guys back to play this season and seeing them get hurt again – specifically our two starting goalies.
Either way it’s troubling when you have games with your supposed starting defense all nominally healthy coughing up eight goals last night, including three on the PK. Other than Hamilton and 2021-22 breakout player (or a close second behind Bratt) Jonas Siegenthaler, there isn’t one guy on this D I can say should be here next season. It’s iffy whether PK Subban will even finish this season with the team given his impending FA status. Although his cap figure makes it difficult to move him, I’m sure there’ll be some kind of a market at 50% retained – assuming they even get enough back to bother flipping Subban. Ty Smith probably will be here but my god, talk about a sophomore slump…he may be a Hughes buddy but sooner or later they’re gonna have to make a hard decision with this kid if he keeps struggling. Damon Severson and Ryan Graves both will be free agents after next season and contract decisions will probably have to be made on both this offseason, and both bring different skillsets to the table making a decision on each more interesting.
Severson is clearly the better offensive player with thirty points in 50 games this year, and makes plays that you go ga-ga over like his stretch pass to Bratt for a late second-period goal last night. Last night was peak Severson though, cause he gave back that goal with his horrendous positioning on a two-on-one conceding not only the shot but the front of the net on Kirby Dach’s tiebreaking goal late in the third period, essentially turning a two-on-one into a breakaway. What Severson creates offensively, he tends to give back offensively given the fact he somehow has a -15 with thirty points while Graves conversely has twenty points but is only a -1, so clearly Graves is better defensively though it’s not like he’s been all that great either since a hot start. I doubt the Devils wind up re-signing both so we’ll see what Fitzy does this offseason.
I’ve held off mentioning the goaltenders’ (specifically dumpster pickup Jon Gillies) role in the fact we’ve somehow lost last night as long as I could – in regulation no less – after scoring five goals, and in our last game before break number two, Gillies coughed up a 3-1 second period lead to the Lightning with a series of soft goals. I almost feel like a bully picking on Gillies at this point though, I mean he’s essentially our fourth goalie with the top two being injured seemingly for good this season, and the third string guy (Scott Wedgewood) doing his best to ruin the Arizona tank since getting claimed off waivers by the Coyotes, with a .908 save percentage in twenty starts there. I almost don’t even count Nico Daws and Akira Schmid – both of whom should be in Utica for the rest of the season – but to be fair to Daws he actually had a couple of the team’s best goaltended games this year – a sloppy win against Buffalo early in the season and Thursday’s shocking 6-1 blowout of the Penguins. Maybe he’ll get some run in the next couple weeks, but Fitz needs to get another goalie in here regardless, I’m tired of hearing about how teams are hoarding goalies via the taxi squad and COVID, you can’t keep having these kids lose these type of games and start pressing cause they have to play perfect to win with this bad goaltending and questionable defensive system.
I guess you could say at least the Devils are making games entertaining to watch but pond hockey with atrocious goaltending is the polar opposite of what we were used to around here for so long. It probably serves the purpose of being more entertaining for fans in a hopeless season, not that it did me much good since I couldn’t watch the Thursday game and was paying more attention last night to the back-and-forth pond hockey special. I’ll probably be there on Monday for my first game in a few weeks, with the mask mandates still annoyingly in effect, at least through that game. Maybe by the week after the mandate will be lifted when the Devils have four home games in six days. That, even more than the pond hockey will at least make me want to go to a few more of the games before we finally get the super long summer break we’ve become too used to as Devils fans.