The New Jersey Devils went into their three-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 20 two nights after dropping four straight to the New York Rangers, extending a two-game losing streak to six. With Mackenzie Blackwood out with an upper-body injury, the team called on Scott Wedgewood and Aaron Dell in net for the first two games to show their skills, hopeful to change the momentum and start this next series off on the right foot. As the series eventually ended in three more losses to bring the losing streak to nine straight, let’s take a look at some takeaways from this series.
When the Goals Happen, They’re Too Late; Too Many Are Being Let In
Game 1 did anything but take that strong first step as the first period ended in a 4-0 Penguins lead, some tough ones to make it even worse. The Devils took home yet another loss after pulling Wedgewood for Aaron Dell after the first. Although the effort showed eventually as they scored six goals in the third period, it was too late to cut the deficit the Penguins already put on them, ultimately losing 7-6.
As for the next game, the goals never really showed up. Matt Tennyson notched his first of the season, a slapshot in the first to tie it up after Sidney Crosby’s goal 41 seconds in to give the Penguins the early lead, but that was it for Devils scoring. Dell started this one but Wedgewood ended up playing the second half of the game, as Pittsburgh scored two in the first and three in the second to once again give New Jersey almost no chance of coming back. This one ended 5-1, another showing that they need to put more in the back of the net and the goaltending needs to be better, especially with Blackwood out.
Jack Hughes got his 11th of the season and second of the series and Miles Wood continued his impressive run with his 15th on the season in Game 3, but both came too late again. The Devils were already three goals down before they could net one, ultimately leading to a 4-2 loss.
The effort seems to be there, but the communication is off. They were without P.K. Subban and Ty Smith the entire series, players that have been key to the team, but that does not explain everything. Wedgewood, like Blackwood, looked like he needed more awareness on the ice in both games he played. Letting in four goals in just the first period is not the level he should be at, and would have helped a ton once the Devils eventually started to score in that game on April 20. The same goes for Dell; although he has not played as many games the team needs solid backup when Blackwood’s not in net, something that has been a recurring struggle this season.
Touching on the positives that helped the Devils both offensively and defensively, Nathan Bastain was noticeable this series with his third goal of the season and physical play. He led the team in hits all three games with four, eight and six. To add to that, Connor Carrick has been a defensive standout next to Will Butcher since his readmittance to the Devils lineup with a few blocks per game.
New Jersey had 30 or more shots in each game (30, 31, 36) and outshot their opponent in all but one, where the Penguins had one more shot than them. It was especially apparent in Game 2, where the Devils ended up with eight more shots than the Penguins. While captain Nico Hischier and Hughes’ face-off wins fluctuated throughout the series, they both raked up a bunch of shots along with Will Butcher and Bastain. So the shots are there, and it’s proven that they can score eventually, but it is all coming way too late to give them any chance at a win. It all needs to be better.
They Need More Leadership From Hischier and Others
The Devils could benefit from a little more influence from veteran players and Hischier, especially after Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac were traded to the New York Islanders. He has not played that many games as captain yet, but it would help the team overall once he settles into the position more and really focuses on leading them. He does have four goals and two assists this season between his injuries, one of which came as a power-play goal during the first game of this series. It would be good to see more from him both the leadership and delivering as a top player aspect, as it would have helped in this streak of games.
This is a young team now after the trade deadline. New Jersey needs to look on those players like Hughes to step up and help provide some cohesion to this team. Missing Smith this series was a negative because of the effort he’s provided in his standout rookie season. Andreas Johnsson is now the oldest forward at 26-years-old and Subban is the oldest defenseman at 31. A combination of these more experienced players alongside Hischier is what’s needed to excel in the future, and again could have made the difference against Pittsburgh.
Only a Few Games Left
There was some other positives, like Nolan Foote’s first NHL goal on April 20 and Yegor Sharangovich’s goal and assist that same night where a bunch of Devils took home points, but mainly it was not a good streak for them. Goals need to come earlier, goals need to be prevented and leadership is only going to help these situations. There’s only the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and New York Islanders left on the Devils’ list before the season is over. As much might not improve at this point, there are lots to look forward to for a hopeful improvement next season. This series should be put behind them and only look forward to trying to end the year with a few more points.