3 Takeaways From Devils’ 3-2 Loss to the Predators

After a strong effort against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday evening, the New Jersey Devils took a step back in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators last night. The Devils got off to a good start, but like many times before, their power play cost them a shot at a win and two points. Let’s go over that and some other key takeaways before they complete their back-to-back with a tilt against the New York Islanders tonight. 

Devils Power Play Continues To Be an Embarrassment

After a few games of looking a bit more competent, the Devils’ power play completely reversed course against the Predators. The team controlled play at five-on-five in the first period, which led to three power-play opportunities. They managed to score on none of them and looked awful in the process. 

The Devils managed just four shot attempts with their three first-period power-play opportunities. They didn’t have a single high-danger chance. Oh, and the Predators actually had more high-danger chances on the Devils’ power play in the first period. Yes, you read that correctly. The Predators had one high-danger chance while killing Devils power plays in the first period. In total, the Devils finished with only seven shot attempts and one high-danger chance between four power plays. That’s not even close to good enough. 

There are multiple issues with the Devils’ power play. But what stood out last night was the lack of puck movement, which has been a problem since the start of last season. ESPN color commentator Dominic Moore even noted how the Devils’ power play was too stationary and making life too easy for the Predators’ penalty kill because they couldn’t create shooting lanes. 

To Moore’s point, the Devils are the worst shot and chance generating team on the power play in the league. A look at their team RAPM chart from Evolving-Hockey, and it’s clear their power play is having a severe net-negative impact on their results: 

New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils’ power play has been a clear net-negative.

Last night was a perfect example of the Devils’ power play having that net-negative impact. They had a clear advantage in Corsi and expected goals at five-on-five after the first period. But they couldn’t convert, and it gave the Predators life heading into the second. If they scored one or two power-play goals in the first, the final score could have been much different. 

I’m not sure what the Devils’ plan is to change their power play, but something has to give. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. The same issues that plagued them at the start of the 2020-21 season continue to hurt them today. If they had just a middle-of-the-pack power play, they’d likely have a better record than 10-10-5. And if it doesn’t get better, it’s a guarantee it will continue to cost them games. 

Hughes & Sharangovich Re-Building Chemistry

Though Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich didn’t tally points until the Devils pulled for the extra attacker in the third period, both were arguably the team’s best players. After clicking and finding chemistry as linemates at five-on-five last season, yesterday’s performance as linemates more closely resembled what the two had in 2020-21. 

Related: Devils Can Look to Trade Market for Scoring Help

Sharangovich and Hughes finished with the best game scores on the Devils, an all-encompassing metric that measures how a player fares in a game. Hughes finished with an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 69.87 percent at five-on-five, ranked first on the Devils, with Sharangovich right behind him in xG% at 66.27 percent. Hughes created a few quality scoring chances and ultimately got rewarded with the primary assist on Sharangovich’s goal at 6-on-5. 

Hughes and Sharangovich, along with Andreas Johnsson, have looked good together as a line over the last few games. With Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha rekindling some of the chemistry they had a season ago, the Devils’ top-six could be in good shape for the foreseeable future. That’s especially true with Hughes looking like he’s closer to 100 percent recovered from a dislocated shoulder. And that should benefit Sharangovich, who the Devils need to start scoring more consistently. 

Kuokkanen Struggling Mightily

After a solid rookie season in 2020-21, Janne Kuokkanen has had a rough go of things to start 2021-22. Yesterday’s effort against the Predators was no different. He finished with the third-worst Corsi for percentage on the Devils and had an xG% of 8.73 percent. His game score of -1.11 ranked second-worst among all players between the two teams. He also fell asleep backchecking on the Predators’ third goal, which eventually became the game-winner.

Janne Kuokkanen New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Janne Kuokkanen (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Head coach Lindy Ruff has used Kuokkanen as a penalty killer, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept him in the lineup. With that said, a couple of games off for Kuokkanen would probably serve him well. Ruff healthy scratched a struggling Ty Smith for a couple of games recently, and his game has improved a bit since then. Perhaps giving Kuokkanen a couple of nights off could help him reset and do the same. 

It also wouldn’t hurt to give Jesper Boqvist another look. Though the Devils lost 8-4 to the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 3, Boqvist played quite well in that game. Yet, he hasn’t played since then. He’s played the wing plenty before and would be a good fit on the third line with Dawson Mercer and Tomáś Tatar. That’d allow Jimmy Vesey to move to the fourth line with Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, giving the Devils a bit more depth in their bottom-six. 

Devils Hope to Close Out the Week on a High Note

The Devils close out the week tonight with their first trip to UBS Arena, the Islanders’ new arena in Belmont. Despite the loss to the Predators, a win would have the Devils finishing 2-1-1 for the week. The Islanders have yet to win a game at UBS Arena since it opened a few weeks ago (0-5-2), and the Devils certainly don’t want to be the team to hand them their first victory. 

With Jonathan Bernier on injured reserve and potentially out long-term, rookie Akira Schmid may make his NHL debut for the Devils tonight. Schmid was 8-0-2 with a .944 save percentage in the AHL with the Utica Comets before his call-up. If he gets the start and his lights-out play in the AHL carries over into the NHL, he could give the Devils the spark they need to keep the Islanders winless in their new barn. 

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