The New Jersey Devils were without Nico Hischier, who has the flu, and Jack Hughes, who has an MCL sprain and is out for the remainder of the season, against the Ottawa Senators last night in Ottawa. But unlike Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings, the Devils were able to create quite a few quality chances. Unfortunately, they fell 5-4 in overtime as special teams failed them once again. Here are five takeaways from last night’s loss.
Foote Has Career-Best Game
It was only the 11th game of Nolan Foote’s NHL career, but he made his mark, potting two goals for his first-career multi-goal game. Each tally came of a different variety too. His first goal was a snipe off a wicked wrister, a signature of what makes Foote an intriguing prospect. The second came in the final five seconds of the second period when he cleaned up a rebound off a Pavel Zacha shot in the blue paint near Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg.
Not only did Foote score, but his five-on-five numbers were the best among Devils skaters. He finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 69.7 percent and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 72.15 percent, both of which ranked first on the team. He finished with five shots on goal, tying Fabian Zetterlund for the team lead.
The line of Foote, Zetterlund and Zacha was among the Devils’ best and consistently created quality scoring chances. The Devils out-attempted the Senators 20-10 when they were on the ice and controlled over 69 percent of the expected goals. They seem to have some chemistry, so look for them to stick together in the team’s final two games.
Walsh Has Solid NHL Debut
It’s been a long time coming for Reilly Walsh, a third-round pick of the Devils at the 2017 draft, but he played well in his NHL debut last night. He tallied his first-career point on Foote’s first goal and had good numbers at five-on-five, finishing with a CF% of 62.96 percent and xG% of 50.38 percent. He even saw some ice time on the Devils’ second power-play unit.
Walsh had some typical first game nerves on his first couple of shifts of the game, but he settled in after then. His offensive upside was on display, as he did a good job stretching the ice with his passing ability. There were a couple of moments where Walsh struggled defensively, but all in all, it was a solid debut. Having just turned 23 years old a week ago, he may be in line for an NHL gig in 2022-23. He could help fill out the Devils’ third pair as an offensive defenseman alongside Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl or Nikita Okhotiuk.
Blackwood a Mixed Bag in First Start Since January
Last night was Mackenzie Blackwood’s first start since Jan. 19. He made 29 saves on 34 shots and gave up 0.94 goals above expected, so it was far from an awful performance. The one goal he’d surely like to have back was Tim Stützle’s power-play marker that gave the Senators a 3-1 lead with less than five minutes to go in the second period.
Blackwood not being totally in form isn’t a surprise given the long layoff. He will start the team’s final game of the season on Friday against the Red Wings. After then, we’ll see what happens. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had reported on a couple of episodes of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast that Blackwood was available via a trade. Friday could be his last start in a Devils uniform, but it would still be nice to see him end the season on a high note and come away with a win after what’s been a tumultuous year for the 25-year-old netminder.
Devils Get Quality Efforts From Young Players
At this point in the season, wins and losses don’t matter much. The Devils have been out of the playoff picture for months, so you want to see what the future holds. Last night they got strong performances from players who could figure into the 2022-23 roster, not just Foote and Walsh.
Related: Devils’ Hischier Finally Had Breakout Season in 2021-22
Zetterlund picked up an assist and had strong five-on-five numbers, finishing with a CF% of 67.74 percent and xG% of 71.87 percent. Yegor Sharangovich scored what was the game-tying goal at the time, his 24th tally of the season. He finished second to Foote in CF% and had an xG% of 60.49 percent, and no longer looks like he needs to have Hughes as his center to be successful. He’s just a good player. Jesper Boqvist had another strong outing and looks like the favorite to be the Devils’ third-line center in 2022-23. With only two games left, those are things to be looking for and not necessarily if it ends in a win or loss.
Devils Power Play Is…Bad
There are a bunch of cliches I could go with here. I sound like a broken record, it’s like beating a dead horse, but the Devils’ power play is agonizingly painful to watch. Yet again, they gave up a shorthanded goal, the 14th shorthanded goal they’ve allowed, which leads the NHL (the Montreal Canadiens have allowed 12 shorthanded tallies). Not only did the Devils give up a shorthanded goal, but they also went 0/2 and are now 1 for their last 36 on the man advantage. That’s a success rate of 2.7 percent, which is downright awful.
Yesterday afternoon, ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reported he thinks it’s 50/50 that head coach Lindy Ruff returns to the Devils next season, though he mentioned NHL sources told him they believe he’s cooked.
If Ruff doesn’t return next season, the power play will be a significant reason he isn’t behind the Devils’ bench. It’s converted on less than 16 percent of its opportunities since the start of 2020-21, which is unacceptable if you’re looking to win games. If he does return, then it seems highly likely that assistant Mark Recchi, who oversees the power play, will not be re-joining his staff in 2022-23.
I’m not rooting for Recchi to lose his job, but you can’t ignore the Devils’ power play results any longer. Unless Hughes is on the power play, they aren’t scoring goals. Otherwise, it looks like a trainwreck. And even when Hughes was a part of the power play, they still gave up way too many shorthanded chances and goals. The puck and player movement are too stationary, and they can’t generate shots and chances as a result.
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The Devils rank in the bottom five of the league in shot attempts and expected goals generated per 60 minutes on the power play this season. Since the start of 2020-21, they’ve averaged third-least shot attempts and expected goals per 60 minutes. It’s been two seasons of power-play results among the league’s bottom feeders. If Ruff gets a third season as Devils coach, it’s just time for a change in their power play philosophy. It’s clear it’s not going to get better under Recchi. And ultimately, it may be one of the main reasons general manager Tom Fitzgerald decides to clean out the entire coaching staff.
The Devils’ final two games of the 2021-22 campaign come tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes and Friday against the Red Wings. This is likely the last takeaways post I’ll be doing for this season, so thank you to everyone who’s read them. Once the final buzzer sounds on Friday, we’ll be about nine weeks out from the NHL Draft, so make sure to keep it here at The Hockey Writers for offseason coverage. We’ll have plenty of Devils and NHL content leading up to the draft and free agency in July.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick