With nearly a third of the 2018-2019 NHL season completed, it’s a sound choice of dialogue to state that the Devils are significantly underperforming as compared to last year. By this time last season, the Devils were 16-7-4, and had been feeding off the energy of what seemed to be a new-found hockey team. They were playing at a competitive level that hasn’t been seen by fans in years and still had the support and excitement of obtaining the first Overall Draft pick, Nico Hischier, as well as adding the college championship and award-winning defensemen, Will Butcher, and the future of the club was once again looking promising for the NJ Devils franchise.
Flash forward to today, and things aren’t looking so hot for the Devils. They are currently standing at dead-last place of the Metropolitan Division, with a record of 10-12-5, leaving them 12 points behind the division’s first place Stanley Cup defending Washington Capitals (16-9-3) and a whopping 20 points behind the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (22-7-1). Devils fans can’t help but scratch their heads in disbelief and rage on social media about what started out as another promising season for New Jersey. So, what happened?
At the start of the season, the team was celebrating it’s opening 4-win hot streak, which hasn’t been accomplished by the Devils since 1995 and once again, things were looking hopeful in New Jersey. The Devils’ 4-win streak was abruptly broken by the Colorado Avalanche, due to some questionable calls and unlucky breaks, and then the team’s luck continued to downward spiral as the season progressed. Things seemed to just keep getting worse for the Devils as it appeared that they just couldn’t buy a game in their favor. Although New Jersey may celebrate a short-lived victory last night against the last place Los Angeles Kings, there isn’t much to boast about for the Devils right now. The obvious go-to complaint shared by every disgruntled fan and internet troll alike is of course to reprimand the coaching staff, but the issue doesn’t solely lie with John Hynes and team management. After all, he did lead the team to the playoffs last season and many are still hopeful of the direction Hynes is looking to steer the club towards. “I think it’s important to understand how hard we had to play and the importance of being able to stay with the grind of the game and the little things that it takes…” Hynes stated late Thursday evening, regarding the takeaway from the team’s win over LA.
Goaltending has been an issue, due to NJ’s #1 netminder Cory Schneider’s lackluster starts, having still been in recovery from recent hip surgery and backup Keith Kinkaid is just not performing as strongly as he did last season. Offense is also a major concern. For a team that’s lacking a solid defensive lineup, there’s no question that the focus should be on creating more scoring opportunities and finding the back of the opposing team’s net. Kyle Palmeri scored 2 goals against the Kings Thursday night but has not been contributing offensively as strongly as he did at the seasons start and Taylor Hall, who was the league MVP, winning the Hart Memorial Trophy last year was actually benched for 7 minutes during the Devils last loss against Tampa Bay on Monday night, due to his overall performance not meeting expectations. The pressure is also growing on Nico Hischier to produce more (as with any first overall draft pick, regardless of the sport) as he is still finding his game playing at the highest possible level.
Although the current Devils’ lineup has found itself at the bottom of a steep mountain to climb, it’s still early enough in the season to turn things around. They desperately need to start creating more offensive chances and capitalize on scoring opportunities. If NJ continues at the pace they’ve been playing at, then a repeat playoff appearance will not be likely as the Devils continue to build and reorganize the team.
Article By: Austin Bove
Photos: Adam Hunger/AP, Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images