Alexander Holtz wore his heart on his sleeve following Saturday’s morning skate.
The New Jersey Devils focused on a few specific things at morning skate after their 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals. Head coach Lindy Ruff and his coaching staff put a heavy emphasis on winning close-quarter puck battles, something the Devils have lacked as a whole.
Holtz is certainly in that mix. After Friday’s game, Ruff explained he shortened his bench for a reason. If you’re part of the problem that’s allowing the opposition to score, it’s going to reflect on your ice time.
Holtz ended Friday night’s contest with just 7:05 of ice time. It came as a result of some defensive lapses from the 21-year-old. One specific instance Ruff referred to was Washington’s opening goal scored by Nicolas Aube-Kubel. Holtz was one of four Devils defenders caught puck-watching on the play.
So what’s the message from the coach to the player?
“I think if you look at the first goal against again in our system, (Holtz) has to do a better job,” Ruff explained on Saturday. “We had a defender that’s on the wall. He’s backing that defenseman up. So I always tell the players, ‘If you want to play more don’t get scored against.’ Really, it comes down to that. He’s not the only player. We had a meeting today on that side of the puck. We talked about what went wrong in some of our tracking situations. If you’re on the ice getting scored against and you’re not scoring then it’s tough to get ice time.”
Ruff and Holtz seemingly had that conversation after Saturday’s skate. Holtz entered the locker room clearly discouraged, removing his gear and tossing it in his locker.
How is the 21-year-old, former seventh overall pick feeling about his game right now?
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Holtz explained. “Some games I don’t play that much. I’m just trying to focus to get better every day and show them I’m able to play more.”
It’s a curious situation. Ruff seemingly wants to develop Holtz into a more defensively responsible two-way player. He’s not perfect by any means, yet he’s certainly better than he was last season. According to Natural Stat Trick, Holtz is dead last on the Devils with a 48-66 scoring chance differential.
Deployment plays a factor for sure. Holtz skates on the fourth line which is typically rolled out in defensive, checking situations. More often than not, their shifts begin on the fly or in the defensive zone. It’s difficult for a sniper like Holtz to showcase his abilities in that situation. It appears Ruff wants Holtz to prove he can be responsible away from the puck before he can move him up and reward him with more ice time.
So, what feedback did Holtz receive from Ruff on Saturday?
“It’s different stuff,” Holtz explained. “Of course, I’ve tried to play my game, but sometimes it’s a little bit different. They want me to play hard. That’s the main thing. Battle hard and win 50-50 battles. That’s basically what he said. He still wants me to play my game and create a lot of offense out there and don’t be afraid to be creative.”
It certainly feels like one of those situations where although if he plays better he’d get more ice time, if Ruff gave Holtz more ice time he’d probably play better.
However, Ruff explained that in the absence of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, he’s leaving the door open for players to grab more ice time, Holtz included.
“A lot of guys look at it as ‘I’m gonna get more ice time,'” Ruff said. “I’m being serious about that. They feel like this is my opportunity to try to grab a hold a little bit and prove that I can play a little bit more. That’s the way I’d want any player to approach it. What’s not there you can’t do anything about. But, when you’re playing you can take control of your own shifts.”