The New Jersey Devils’ first winning streak of the season has come to an end as they fell to the Washington Capitals Monday night by a final score of 6-3. For the third consecutive game, head coach Lindy Ruff’s team scored the opening goal, but things unraveled in the second period as the Devils gave up four unanswered goals including a shorthanded and power play goal.
Mackenzie Blackwood led the team onto the ice for warmups after being named the NHL’s third star of the week. Fans lined the glass with their signs including a few who wished Bay Roberts native Dawson Mercer an early happy birthday. The crowd was excited and curious to see if the Devils could win four games in a row for the first time since the start of the 2018-19 season. Near the conclusion of warmups Mercer was the final player on the ice, and before he departed made sure to grab a puck and toss it over the glass to those fans with the happy birthday signs.
Let’s break down some key takeaways from the Devils’ third loss of the 2022-23 season.
Once Again Coach Ruff Utilizes 11 Forwards and 7 Defensemen
New Jersey’s Lineup
Ondrej Palat – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Yegor Sharangovich – Jack Hughes – Mercer
Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Tomas Tatar
Nathan Bastian – Michael McLeod
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves – John Marino
Brendan Smith – Damon Severson
The coaching staff’s recent deployment of 11 forwards and seven defensemen had been effective and resulted in a couple of wins. Toward the end of Monday’s game, some of the forwards looked tired and it again raised the question of how sustainable it is to play with 11 forwards. After the game, Ruff would not specify if he would switch things up by going with 12 forwards tonight against the Detroit Red Wings, but one would have to think he can’t double-shift Hughes, Palat, and Sharangovich forever.
Devils Bottom-Five Was Hard to Ignore
Last season, the team’s bottom six struggled to make an impact while top players Hischier and Hughes battled injuries. Monday night the team’s bottom-five players of Wood, Haula, Tatar, McLeod, and Bastian were noticeable and combined for 15 of New Jersey’s 41 shots.
Bastian netted the Devils’ first goal of the night which was assisted by McLeod who earned his first point of the 2022-23 campaign. In the third period, Tatar found the back of the net for his first of the season and Wood earned his first assist.
One fan mentioned that it was a problem that the team’s third and fourth liners accounted for so many of the team’s shots on goal at the start of the game, but I disagree. Seeing those players active in the offensive zone and shooting the puck is a huge improvement from last season. Of course, the team’s top players will need to consistently get on the scoresheet, but on a night when Hischier, Hughes, and Sharangovich combined for 14 shots and zero goals, it was a relief to see the team get some secondary scoring.
A Bad Night for Devils’ Special Teams
It was a tough night for New Jersey’s special teams as they conceded both a power play and a shorthanded goal in the second period. During his postgame press conference, coach Ruff talked about those two mistakes being the turning point of the game as the score became 4-1 in favor of the Capitals.
“They get a power-play goal and we cough up a short-handed one that cost us dearly,” Ruff said. “That was the difference in the game. I think we lost momentum where we could have gained more in the second period. We lost it.”
The power play has shown glimpses of improvement since Andrew Brunette has taken over, but nothing went right against Washington as New Jersey’s first and second units were unable to sustain time in the offensive zone. The Devils went 0-for-4 and allowed Conor Sheary to score the first shorthanded goal of his career.
“They had four guys back and I just saw [Jesper Bratt] kind of looking up ice to make a stretch pass, and I just kind of read it,” Sheary said. “I had a breakaway from there, so I just took advantage of a mistake on their end.”
A Game of Missed Opportunities
The Devils once again outshot their opponent finishing the game with 41 shots on goal. The opportunities were there for the club, but for one reason or another they simply could not cash in. Capitals goaltender Charlie Lindgren played a strong game, but that does not mean there weren’t rebounds available. This leads to the question of what the team will need to do to finish their chances. After the game, coach Ruff briefly discussed some of the drills that the coaching staff include in practice to teach the players how to finish their opportunities, and confirmed the team would get there eventually.
The Devils will not have a lot of time to overanalyze this one as they are set to face the Red Wings for the second time this season tonight at Little Caesars Arena. After Monday’s game, defenseman John Marino met with the media and summed it up perfectly saying, “that’s the good thing about an 82-game schedule, there’s always the next game.” Puck drop will be at 7:00 P.M.
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Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.