Newark, NJ — The New Jersey Devils dropped an ugly one to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night. Both teams were on the backend of back-to-back games following Tuesday night’s Frozen Frenzy. As the only game on the slate across the NHL, there were 18 scouts in attendance of Wednesday’s Metropolitan Division matchup. Two goaltenders and six goals later, the Devils lost 6-4. Head coach Lindy Ruff defended his goaltenders. Instead, he pinned the loss on the Devils defense.
“Did you see the number of times (the Capitals) skated right through us,” Ruff asked New Jersey Hockey Now following the loss. “Is that our goalies’ fault? The start of the third period when they skated right through us? Is that our goalies fault? The (McMichael) goal when they skated right through us? The disallowed goal when they skated right through us? There were five (Capitals) in front of our goaltender. We made an unbelievable effort to play good defensive hockey last year. If we’re going to play like this… we’re going to be extremely tough on ourselves.”
After the Devils gave up three goals in the opening frame, Ruff pulled Akira Schmid in favor of Vanecek. Schmid stopped five of eight pucks he faced, exiting New Jersey’s sixth game of the season with a .625 SV%. According to MoneyPuck, Schmid allowed -2.34 goals saved above expected. Vitek Vanecek was good in the second period. He fought off seven shots from the Capitals, including three high-danger chances as the Devils mounted a comeback to take a lead heading into the final frame.
However, the Capitals quickly tied the game and then took the lead following a couple of defensive breakdowns. Although the numbers look better than Schmid’s they’re still not good for Vanecek. The 27-year-old goaltender totaled a .875 SV% in the final 40 minutes of play. Vanecek allowed a much lower -0.53 goals saved above expected.
Although the analytics suggest the goaltending could have potentially made one or two extra stops, the eye test shows a Devils team that missed cohesion for two-thirds of Wednesday’s game.
Ruff is right. The majority of Washington’s goals came as a result of their skaters finding their way behind New Jersey’s in the defensive end. Far too often were the Devils goaltenders forced into odd-man situations.
Mikey squeaks one by for the lead pic.twitter.com/I0DbJuDYVe
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 26, 2023
New Jersey committed themselves to a puck pressure system last season that certainly propelled them to the top of the NHL. This season, you can see that system come out in bits and pieces hence Wednesday night’s third period.
Perhaps that was a result of Ruff shuffling the defense a little bit, sticking Luke Hughes with Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegnethlaer with Brendan Smith. Regardless, the Devils’ defensive effort certainly was not there tonight and Ruff won’t place blame on his goaltending.
As a result, Ruff explains how he might be able to get his teams’ attention to detail in order.
“(Lineup changes are) a way to get the attention about playing better defensively,” Ruff griped. “We were starting to gain a little bit of traction. I know we’ve got a ways to go. We got some new people, but some of that is puck management. Some of that is attention to detail. Some of that is just a will to win battles. Cut people off, get in front of people. You saw how good we were at the start of the second when we were challenged. All of a sudden we started winning some of the battles and started winning some of the foot races. We have to do that consistently for 60 minutes.”