Devils Learning Tough Lessons During Trying Season By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
“Right now we’re finding ways to lose games instead of putting the game away and finding ways to win games.” – Alain Nasreddine, Devils Assistant Coach.
Nasreddine, who’s the acting Devils Head Coach while Lindy Ruff is away from the team due to a death in his family, summed up New Jersey’s problems perfectly following the team’s Monday night loss to Toronto. As a young team the Devils need to develop the killer-instinct that will allow them to put teams away. You’re not supposed to lose games when you have multiple multi-goal leads. Especially not when entering the third period. You’re also not supposed to leave the middle of the ice open for your opponents to take advantage of.
Tuesday night, in Newark, New Jersey, the Devils and Maple Leafs met for the second-half of their home-and-home set. Sadly for the Devils and their fans, Tuesday night ended the same as Monday, with a Devils’ loss. This time by the score of 7-1. And it was all because they continuously allowed Toronto to control the middle of the ice.
“We had a game-plan and we didn’t execute at all,” said Nico Hischier. “Obviously there’s a lot of things we need to fix.”
Winning teams have a killer-instinct, which takes time to develop. The Devils have shown it in flashes, just not consistently. Winning teams also make in-game adjustments when things go wrong. Now, let’s examine what New Jersey showed us Tuesday night.
1) The game didn’t start well for the home team. Goalie Jon Gillies misplayed the puck to the side of his net and it ended up on Jason Spezza’s blade, who was all alone below the hash marks. Spezza’s shot beat Gillies and it was 1-0 Toronto 2:13 into the game.
“Tonight we didn’t play well from the start,” said Damon Severson. “No excuses.”
2) New Jersey had an opportunity to counterattack seconds later when Wayne Simmonds was sent to the box for tripping Janne Kuokkanen. However, the Devils’ power-play yielded more scoring chances for the Leafs; punctuated by Gillies making a key save on a Mitch Marner short-handed break-in.
3) Gillies stopped Marner again a couple minutes later, but his luck ran out 8:38 into the first period when Auston Matthews sniped a shot through traffic from just below the point to make it 2-0 Toronto. That was followed up 26-seconds later by a goal from David Kampf to make it 3-0 visitors.
4) Alain Nasreddine called a timeout after Kampf’s goal and decided to stick with Gillies. The three-goals were not just on the young netminder as his teammates in front of him provided little to no support on Toronto’s second and third goals.
5) Mitch Marner further highlighted New Jersey’s problems when he scored from the slot to make it 4-0 15:31 into the first period. On the play, Auston Matthews drew multiple Devils to him below the net and passed the puck out to Marner who was left all alone in front. Much like Monday night’s game, the Devils ceded control of the middle of the ice to Toronto and paid the price.
6) The lone highlight – if you want to call it that – of the first period was New Jersey’s penalty-kill, which worked double time at the end of the period thanks to penalties by Pavel Zacha and Damon Severson. Severson’s penalty carried over for nine-seconds into the second period. (New Jersey swiftly took care of those nine-seconds when the middle period started).
7) Michael Bunting ruined a decent start to the second period for the Devils when he scored off a pass from Marner 8:25 into the period to make it 5-0. The Devils again left the middle of the ice open and Marner’s pass found Bunting streaking down the wing.
8) A five-on-three power-play opportunity for 1:46 in the middle of the second period seemed like a good chance for the Devils to gain some momentum. However, the team only managed three shots on goal during that time and did not score. It’s Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will. And it did for New Jersey.
9) Speaking of Murphy’s Law, Pierre Engvall scored from the slot 15:12 into the second period to make it 6-0 Toronto. Once again the Devils left the middle of the ice open and paid for it.
10) Akira Schmid took over for Jon Gillies to start the third period as the Devils stared down their largest deficit of the season. “I felt bad for Jonny,” Nasreddine later explained. “You can’t blame the goalies tonight.”
11) Jack Hughes broke up Jack Campbell’s shutout with a goal 3:31 into the third period but that was swiftly canceled out by Mitch Marner’s second goal of the game at 5:57. So, the score stood as 7-1 Maple Leafs. And that’s where the score stayed as the Devils dropped both games of their home-and-home against Toronto.
“They did everything better than us,” said Severson. “It’s hard to talk about tonight.”
Alain Nasreddine summed it up as, “tonight the wheels fell off.”
New Jersey’s power-play went 0-for-3 on the night. Meanwhile the Devils went 2-for-2 on the penalty-kill…Jack Hughes led all Devils forwards in ice time at 17:44…Ty Smith led all New Jersey defensemen in ice time at 20:29.