After being highly touted in the off-season, the Devils have gone 0-4-2 in their first six games of the 2019-20 season. Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald will be behind the bench tonight along with Head Coach John Hynes to try to right the ship. You can only right the ship though when you figure out what is wrong (and what is right).
The Coach–Hynes is one of the best coaches in hockey. He is meticulous; he is smart; he has a plan; he is an excellent communicator; and his players understand him. The problem is not him. And adding Fitzgerald behind the bench is a move to motivate the players to execute the plan; it is not about Hynes’s coaching style or game plan.
The Forwards—The Devils have one of the lowest “goals for” stat in the league (2.17—only the Dallas Stars are scoring fewer goals). Although Taylor Hall has been very good out on the ice, he is not scoring goals at his usual pace. Nico Hischier, who will not be available tonight due to an “upper body” injury suffered during Monday night’s game against the Florida Panthers, has been excellent on faceoffs and is one of the better playmakers in the league, but he has not been very offensively productive thus far. Tonight, Hall will be on a line with Jack Hughes and Kyle Palmieri. Hughes, who is a wizard with the puck, is waiting on his first NHL goal. This top line assignment, and a little time to get used to Hall and Palmieri on his line, should make a difference for the team. But part of New Jersey’s scoring problem is that after the first line, the Devils have not gotten the production the team needs. It is not a lack of talent on the roster, it is decisions that have been made with the puck, as well as the ability to bear down with the lead.
The Defense—Playing smart part with the puck at critical times in the game has been a problem for the D. The Devils have great puck movers in Sami Vatenan, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, and PK Subban; in fact, it is a blueline that has some of the best offensive upside in the league. But as a group, they often take too many risks with the puck—particularly at critical points in the game. To be fair, captain Andy Greene, a stabling force on the back end, has been out for the last three games, but the Devils need to play a safer game in the back end. They have the blueliners in the system to do this, and, if they are not ready, there are free agents out there who could help.
Goaltending—Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood have been sharing the net since the regular season has begun. Both have GAA’s over 4.00 and save percentages under .900. Neither has grabbed the number one spot—neither has made the big save to save the game. But again to be fair, each netminder has been exposed to many more excellent opposition scoring chances than he should see. Frankly, neither goaltender cannot be expected to make up for what is not happening in front of him.
So what is wrong? For sure, part of New Jersey’s issues thus far into the season is the adjustment from being a more defensively oriented team to one that is much more offensively aggressive. The Devils’ defense, particularly with the addition of Subban, is definitely looking offense first. The problem is that, despite the D’s offense-first attitude, the forwards are not scoring as much as other teams in the league. But expect the big name forwards on this team to get going—if not tonight, then very soon. The team is just too talented up front to stay where they are. Can the Devils stay the course until then? How much is the current slump hurting the chances that Hall resigns? It is definitely not time to panic yet. Maybe Fitzgerald behind the bench and practicing with the team is exactly what the Devils need.