Devils Have a Few Positives Despite Loss to the Capitals

Well, it was unrealistic to think the New Jersey Devils would go 82-0 and this season. Their first loss of the season occurred three games in against their division rivals – the Washington Capitals. It can be said this was the first true test for the Devils, as the Seattle Kraken and Chicago Blackhawks are both off to slow starts.

The big storyline going into this game was seeing how the young Devils would compete against a very experienced Capitals team. Coach Lindy Ruff expressed disappointment with his team’s focus during last night’s press conference. Was it a lack of focus or simply being overpowered by a talented veteran roster? That’s for you to decide. Before I break down the reasons the Devils lost the game, let’s focus on a few positives, because believe it or not there were a few.

What Went Right for the Devils

Truth be told, the team and fans would not have a positive reaction from last night’s game. If the team continues to play the way they did against the Capitals, they will find themselves at the bottom of the division yet again.

Jimmy Vesey

Coach Ruff was asked by the media which player he thought took advantage of his ice time against the Capitals. His response was Jimmy Vesey. The 28-year-old signed a professional tryout with the Devils on Sept. 14, 2021, and earned himself a contract. He was desperate for a change of scenery to help revitalize his career after splitting last season between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.

Jimmy Vesey, New Jersey Devils
Jimmy Vesey, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The 6-foot-3 forward knew what was expected of him, if he wanted to earn a spot on the Devils roster. During media day Ruff told the media exactly what he needs to see from Vesey.

“If he is playing in a bottom six role, he has to reinvent himself,” said Ruff. “He has to be really good defensively, and a good special teams player. He has to bring physicality, which I think he can. I’ve seen Jimmy play with a lot of bite, and I think that’s an area that can help our club”

Vesey scored his first goal as a Devil in his second game against the Kraken. His goal came at the end of the second period and ended up being the game-winning goal. In all three Devils games this season he has been utilized as a penalty killer and seems to be excelling in that role.

Penalty Kill

Speaking of the penalty kill, it shows early signs of improvement. Last night, the Capitals were given multiple power play opportunities and did not convert on one. Considering their power play consists of Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and T.J. Oshie, it was an impressive accomplishment by the young Devils to keep them off the scoreboard.

Christian Jaros, New Jersey Devils
Christian Jaros, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Frederik Gauthier and Vesey led all forwards in short-handed ice time. It is worth noting that Gauthier made his season debut last night, and earned Ruff’s trust pretty quickly to handle the team’s penalty kill. On defense, it was Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Jaros who led their team with 3:35 and 2:09 minutes of short-handed time respectively.

Power Play

Last night the Devils scored their first power-play goal of the season courtesy of Janne Kuokkanen. Damon Severson and Yegor Sharangovich both earned the assists. Their power-play goal was their lone goal of the game. The power play has a serious concern, as it was at the bottom of the league most of the season.

Related: Devils New Look Power Play Could Be Key to Their Success

The additions of Dougie Hamilton and Tomáš Tatar were expected to give a boost to the Devils’ man advantage. Hamilton has been quarterbacking the first unit, while Tatar has been utilized in the second unit. Getting the first goal out of the way takes a little bit of pressure off the team.

What Went Wrong for the Devils

Puck Management

During training camp, Ruff told the media a big problem for his team last season was puck management. It was an area they were looking to fix early this season. There were a handful of issues that occurred on all areas of the ice against the Capitals. Multiple Devils players were guilty of losing battles and playing sloppy in front of their goaltender, Scott Wedgewood.

Giveaways

Last night the Devils finished the game with 13 giveaways. Mason Geertsen and Jaros were the only two defensemen who did not give the puck away. Most giveaways were in the Devils defensive zone, and led to a shot or attempted shot by the Capitals. In the first three games, New Jersey has given the puck away 42 times. This is an issue that needs quickly be addressed by the coaching staff before it costs them more points.

A Warning from Coach Ruff

Since the players arrived for training camp, both coach Ruff and general manager Tom Fitzgerald have talked about accountability. They will be holding each and every player responsible for what they produce on the ice. Ruff expressed his disappointment with his team’s performance and lack of focus.

“If you’re going to play like that, you’re not going to play,” said Ruff to media. “You will drop down the line up and your ice time will be less.”

Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils
Head coach Lindy Ruff, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This year the Devils have options, which will make the decision to move players around that much easier for the coaching staff. Players will have to earn their ice time and build trust with the coaching staff to be given the opportunity to play special teams. Nothing is guaranteed, and that was made loud and clear last night.

Related: Devils Have Ways to Get By Without Hughes

The Devils are looking to put this loss behind them and focus on the next task at hand. On Saturday night they will be battling the Buffalo Sabres, who have an impressive 3-0 start. Defenseman Ty Smith could make his regular-season debut, which would be a boost to the defensive core. Ruff held individual meetings with players today and will look to get his team back in the win column tomorrow night.


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