You don’t need to perform any hardcore, numbers-based analysis to successfuly deduce that this 2019-2020 Devils team is woefully underwhelming. You don’t need to deep dive into analyst commentary or Twitter threads to identify the specific maladies that have plagued this team since the start of the season, which include but aren’t limited to: rickety goaltending, profound lack of finish, and an apparent mismatch between system and player strengths. Simply turn your TV on, and let your eyes do the magic – you’ll notice it instantly.
With that being said, you shouldn’t give up, as things have been encouraging the past couple of games in terms of pace, shot generation, and urgency. Is it a direct result of the “shocking” coaching change that was made after the belching in Buffalo? Likely, but regardless, the Devils have deployed a more fast, attacking, and supportive style than we’ve seen all season.
Last night at the Rock, the Devils faced the Chicago Blackhawks in what was a designated Star Wars-themed night. Indeed, the game felt like a war between two star-studded teams. Namely, 3 first overall picks, Jack Hughes, Taylor Hall, and Patrick Kane, (Nico Hischier sat out with an undisclosed, last-minute sickness) stole the show. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews, and Kirby Dach also put their talents on full display last night, with the latter scoring a slick shootout goal that ended up clinching the second point. The game alternated between moments of calculated and chaotic play, but the Devils couldn’t come out with the 2 points, which renders them (0-3-1) in their last four games.
Yet, the Devils had no time to sulk after their shootout loss, as they face the Predators in Nashville tonight in a quick turnaround. Historically, the Devils have fared surprisingly well playing in a notoriously difficult Bridgestone Arena, going (3-0-1) the past 4 years. The Predators currently sit 12th in the Western Conference, but are expected to contend for the Stanley Cup with a roster that features a healthy blend of experience, youth, skill, size, and speed. Captain Roman Josi is at the helm of their defensive corps, among the best in the NHL, and leads the team with 24 points. Dante Fabbro looks to be filling in nicely for Subban on the second pair’s right side, while Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are solid as usual and each averaging over 23 minutes of ice time per game.
Nashville is coming off of three days of rest after losing to the Lightning in OT on Tuesday, and I expect to see another high octane game. The Devils will need to tighten their defensive play in some areas of the game in order to contain Nashville’s balanced roster. Last night, Mackenzie Blackwood bailed out his team after multiple defensive lapses, two of which led to Brandon Saad breakaways. If Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier aren’t healthy enough to play tonight, I expect to see Matt Tennyson and Kevin Rooney in the lineup. Coach Alain Nasredinne will confirm the lineup and starting goalie when he speaks to the media at 5:45pm.
Needless to say, the Devils must win a game, preferably tonight’s, under their new coach to boost their confidence and start racking up points. Hockey is a weird game, and on some nights a team needs a glaringly balanced dose of both serendipity and skill in order to win. The Devils learned this the hard way last night, but have a fresh sheet of ice in Nashville to start anew. A few big wins on the road can catalyze much-needed momentum and do wonders for their confidence. Can the Devils finally get themselves back in the mix in Subban’s return to Nashville? We’ll find out.