Last night was an all too familiar tale for the New Jersey Devils. Coming off a tough loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night, they got punched in the mouth by the Dallas Stars right from the opening faceoff. The Stars scored the first goal of the game just 14 seconds in and did not look back, winning by a score of 5-1. Here are five takeaways as the Devils get ready to begin a brutal part of their schedule.
Devils Gave Schmid No Support
Last night was only the second career start for Devils goaltender Akira Schmid, and they did not make life easy for him. His numbers were not pretty — he gave up three goals on 0.57 expected goals. But it’s probably hard to blame him solely for any of the three goals he gave up.
On Joe Pavelski’s first goal, which came 14 seconds in, he was left wide open for a one-timer in the high slot. The Stars’ second goal came when Jacob Peterson was left wide open in front of Schmid for an easy redirect. Pavelski scored the third goal of the first period on a redirection, which is what he does best, and there wasn’t much Schmid could do about it. Would you have liked Schmid to save at least one of them? Defensive breakdowns happen, so for sure.
But for a goalie making his second career start, that loss can’t fall on his shoulders. The team knows he’s a 21-year-old netminder in his first pro season making his second NHL start. That effort has to better, and it did get better. Unfortunately, by the time it did, head coach Lindy Ruff had pulled Schmid in favor of Jon Gillies, who finished the game after entering to start the second period. With Mackenzie Blackwood on injured reserve, Schmid could see more action at some point soon. If they play the way they did to start last night’s game, it probably won’t end well.
Gillies Strong in Relief
Though Schmid didn’t have a great outing, Gillies fared quite well in relief. He did give up a goal just 15 seconds into the second period, but he finished the night making 23 saves on 24 shots. He also stopped 0.61 goals above expected (GSAx). Had it not been for that relief effort, the final score could have been much worse.
Gillies’ numbers won’t wow anyone — he has a .900 save percentage and GSAx of -2.28 in five games with the Devils. With that said, he’s been better than what the team has gotten in between the pipes for the last two months. The question is, who are the Devils going to use as his backup?
It doesn’t look like they intend on playing Blackwood until he’s fully healthy, and Schmid looks like he could use some more time in the AHL with the Utica Comets. Nico Daws has impressed with the Comets, so they could call him up sooner than later — he did play professionally in Germany in 2020-21. Other than that, there probably aren’t many external options available. With Blackwood on IR and the uncertainty as to who’ll be the backup, expect Gillies to play quite a bit for the next week or two at a minimum. If he can play as he did last night more often than not, he’ll at least give them a chance to win games.
Jack Hughes Was Dynamite
It’s tough to come away with positives in a game like that, but Jack Hughes was absolutely electric once again. He finished with the primary assist on Jesper Bratt’s power-play goal and was a wrecking ball at five-on-five. The Devils had a 26-13 shot attempt advantage with Hughes on the ice and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 68.96 percent. Not only was he creating for himself, but he was creating plenty for his teammates (shot assists are passes that lead to shots on goal):
After a tough start to the season that included a dislocated shoulder, Hughes has bounced back in a big way. He’s at a point-per-game pace and is driving play as we all expected him to before the season began. His five-on-five numbers are now among the best on the team, and the points are finally starting to follow.
Ruff Should Break Up Bratt & Hughes
Hughes and Bratt have played very well together this season. But with the Devils struggling, it’s probably in Ruff’s best interest to break them up. That might seem crazy, but hear me out. They’re the team’s two best play drivers and can carry lines on their own. Splitting them up and trying to find more balance would probably benefit their top-six quite a bit.
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With how the season has gone, it’s worth trying any combination. But Bratt has had success with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha in the past and 2021-22. Hughes and Sharangovich seem to have chemistry; it’s just a matter of finding a linemate for them. Tomáš Tatar makes sense, or perhaps seeing if the trio of Sharangovich, Hughes and Kuokkanen has something left in the tank from last season could be worth it.
- Sharangovich – Hughes – Tatar/Kuokkanen
- Zacha – Hischier – Bratt
- Andreas Johnsson – Dawson Mercer – Tatar/Kuokkanen
- Jimmy Vesey – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian
There are plenty of ways to go with the line combos, but the point is there needs to be a shakeup to the lineup. The Devils have lost three out of their last four, including a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes a week ago. Anything that can give them a spark is worth a shot, especially since their next four games are against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs (x2).
Devils Aren’t Getting Thoroughly Outplayed
Despite the final score, the Devils did find themselves pushing play, especially after the first period. They finished with a 64-37 shot attempt advantage at five-on-five and had an expected goals of 3.17 to 1.81 to the Stars. Even when score-adjusted, their five-on-five numbers held up. When looking at Money Puck’s Deserve to Win O’Meter, it shows the Devils played a good enough game to have won:
Did the Devils deserve to win after that first period? Probably not. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The point is that even though they’ve had some lopsided scores in these losses, they aren’t getting thoroughly outplayed. In fact, on most nights, they’re outplaying their opponents.
The Devils are 13th in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage and 14th in xG% at five-on-five. They’re 31st in save percentage at both five-on-five and all strengths. There aren’t any teams that can be playoff contenders with goaltending that’s 31st in the league. They’re 23rd in shooting percentage at all strengths, so that’s an issue too. It’s not as much of a problem as goaltending, however. That’s what killed their season, and it’s something they need to sort out before the start of 2022-23. And with a schedule that includes four Stanley Cup contenders over the next week, they’ll need some saves sooner than later.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017