Yes I know there are still three games left in the 2021-22 season, but for all intents and purposes our season was over three months ago. Two of these games left are also against non-playoff teams and the other one against Carolina we could only possibly play spoiler on seeding if you care about that (Derek might), but it’s unlikely – especially after the Devils shockingly clamped down the Canes for fifty-four minutes yesterday, then suffered a complete meltdown blowing a 2-0 lead and losing in OT. So basically what you’re looking at is an early start for the 2022-23 preseason, complete with auditions for younger players like Nolan Foote, Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotyuk and Fabian Zetterlund who’ve debuted in the last few weeks to mixed results – mostly good for Okhotyuk and Zetterlund, okay for Bahl and ugly for Foote.
I already took a look back (and forward) at players and coaches in my last post, so this will be more of a general team overview month-by-month, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster for a season where the team has 62 points in 79 games, and that’s with eight OT/SO losses added in.
October (record: 4-2-1) – For the second year in a row things got off to a promising start as the Devils won their first two games of the year at home including arguably the highlight of the season on Opening Night, Jack Hughes’ OT winner (and stick-throwing celebration) against the Blackhawks. Unfortunately after getting their second win against the expansion Kraken four nights later, Hughes suffered a shoulder injury (missing approximately six weeks), in what proved to be a harbinger for the rest of the season for both player and team. New Jersey lost two of the next three games, including the lowlight of the month against Calgary – giving up four goals in less than twelve minutes to start the game, though they eventually made it a game somehow, losing 5-3. Still, wins over the Sabres – with rookie Nico Daws having a spectacular debut – and Penguins helped the Devils stay above water for the month.
November (record: 5-5-3) – Even without Hughes, the Devils were able to keep their strong start going through mid-November after an impressive three-game winning streak against the Sharks, Panthers and Islanders saw the Devils reach their high-water mark at 7-3-2, eerily similar to the Devils’ 6-3-2 start to last season before the roof fell in. For the next month, the script repeated itself as the Devils went 3-12-3 through a Christmas/COVID break in December, closing November winning only two of their last eight games, one against a Flyer team on a ten-game losing streak of its own. Clearly the highlight of the month was the Devils blistering a hot Panther team with goals in a 7-3 home win, while the lowlight was our tenuous goaltending situation coming to a head with Jonathan Bernier going on IR for good after hip surgery, and losing Scott Wedgewood on waivers meant we only had Mackenzie Blackwood left, and he went on and off of IR all year until mid-January when he disappeared nearly for good until the Devils announced he would return for two of the final three games this season, whoopdie damn doo.
December (record: 3-8-1) – There weren’t too many highlights this month as the Devils lost nine of their first ten games, including six straight in regulation – before the Omicron variant ravaged the Devils and most of the rest of the NHL enough to cancel and postpone a myriad of games around the Christmas break. Despite Hughes’ return the offense was just pedestrian ‘led’ by a miserable power play that prompted chants of firing assistant coach Mark Recchi – a first as far as I can tell, while the goaltending continued to struggle apart from Blackwood’s second shutout of the season (the team’s only pair of goose eggs). I guess you have to say the highlight of the month was our wild 6-5 OT win against the Oilers on New Year’s Eve, despite blowing four leads and needing a late Yegor Sharangovich goal just to get to OT, before Hughes scored yet another 3-on-3 winner, sans stick toss this time. Our lowlight was clearly the six-game losing streak that pretty much ended any semblance of a season.
January (record: 3-9) – After closing December with two wins coming off their extended holiday break and COVID recuperation the Devils actually continued their mini-surge with two wins in their first three games of January, but of course the good times wouldn’t last as the Devils would lose ten of their next eleven games. Our only win in that stretch was a shocking 7-4 pond hockey party against the division-leading Hurricanes on the 22nd. Three days earlier however, we saw the lowlight of the month when the Devils suffered a terrible loss at the Rock against Arizona, and it proved to be Blackwood’s last game for over three months as he finally went on IR and hasn’t come back until this Tuesday, allegedly. Another important injury occured early in January when Dougie Hamilton went on the shelf with a broken jaw, concussion and eventually his own COVID stint. All told, Hamilton missed six weeks and the player who came back hasn’t been the same guy who played up until then.
February (record: 4-5) – Compared to the previous two and a half months, going 4-5 doesn’t seem so bad, but the month got off to a particularly inauspicious start when the Devils were hammered 7-1 by the Leafs, then after the All-Star break Hughes came back with COVID, so he missed a couple more games. At least the team temporarily started treading water, mostly thanks to an offense which started heating up and scoring 7, 7, 6 and 7 goals in the Devils’ four wins of the month. Which they pretty much needed to do since our goaltending – by now some combination of journeyman Jon Gillies and raw rookie Daws – was floundering even worse. Our high point of the month was a two-game stretch in early February where we beat the Canadiens and Blues, scoring seven goals in each game and causing Montreal to make a change at head coach after our 7-1 blowout emasculated them.
March (record: 5-9) – Starting the month 3-3 continued our brief surge of .500 hockey, highlighted by a rousing comeback from 3-0 against the West-leading Avalanche to win 5-3 at the Rock. That game came in the middle of a surprisingly solid homestand where the Devils won three of four, only losing a tight 2-1 game against Winnipeg. Of course when the team went back on the road then things went off the rails again, with eight straight losses away from the Prudential Center in March – including a Western Canada swing where the scores looked like a Novak Djokovic first-round match at Wimbledon (6-3, 6-3, 6-3), and the low point of the month if not the season…an 8-1 drubbing at Boston on the last day of March.
April (current record: 3-6-3) – Our road meltdown in March carried over to the Prudential Center in April as the Devils began the month with four straight home defeats, including my least favorite of the season…the meltdown against the Panthers where the Devils held a 6-2 lead in the third period then somehow, someway through hideous goaltending and a prevent defense, it all disappeared in the New Jersey smog as the Devils lost 7-6 in a game that was more symbolic and annoying than meaningful.
Ironically, April’s been the inverse of March so far with the team looking competent on the road after a 3-1-1 trip while losing seven straight games at the Rock heading into Friday’s Fan Appreciation Day finale. Hughes and defensive revelation Jonas Siegenthaler getting injured and missing the rest of the season didn’t help either. If there was a highlight to this point it was probably the win in Vegas where the Devils played major spoiler to a Golden Knights team on the bubble, but being this is April and the team was way out of it I didn’t bother to watch any of the West Coast swing games.
Well that’s all I got…onto Fan Appreciation Day and the draft I guess, and probably not much posting here unless there’s actual news perhaps (i.e. a decision is made on the coaching staff).