Newark, NJ — The New Jersey Devils are losers in six of their last seven games. On Friday, they dropped a discouraging 2-1 contest to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unfortunately for New Jersey, it was a direct result of a tough night for defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton is the highest-paid player on the Devils. That’s right. If you’re not inherently tuned in to the Devils’ salary cap, no one in New Jersey makes more than Hamilton’s $9 million AAV.
Friday, in fact, might have been one of his worst games of the season.
Columbus scored two goals in the first period, both direct results of Hamilton’s poor defense. On Columbus’ first goal, Hamilton missed his assignment, essentially double-covering Johnny Gaudreau. That left Boone Jenner all alone at the top of Akira Schmid’s crease for an easy tap-in goal. The second, Hamilton lost his man in the offensive zone, allowing Eric Robinson to creep behind him at Columbus’ blue line, receive a pass in the neutral zone, and score on a breakaway.
Head coach Lindy Ruff was candid in his response to Hamilton’s game on Friday.
“Really, not good,” Ruff told New Jersey Hockey Now in response to how Hamilton played on Friday. “He made a mistake on both goals. In a two-on-two rush, he got caught. Then, with a guy in behind him on the second (Columbus goal), those are the plays that we’re trying to eliminate.”
Hamilton ended the night as a beneficiary of the Devils playing with some desperation in the final 40 minutes of play. Natural Stat Trick will tell you that he helped create more chances than he allowed with a 54.55 CF%. The thing is, no one is questioning his ability on offense. Once New Jersey gets the puck in the offensive zone, that’s Hamilton’s bread and butter. It’s Hamilton’s defense that’s hindering the Devils.
A closer look at his statistics will show an xGF% of 31.90. Hamilton allowed far too many quality shots against than he did for on Friday.
Typically, Hamilton’s defensive deficiencies are masked by the Devils’ ability to control the puck for the majority of the night. Even further, Jonas Siegenthaler, a defensive specialist, is paired with Hamilton for that very reason.
However, it was too much for New Jersey to overcome on Friday night. In fact, Hamilton’s defense has been hard to overlook in his last seven games accruing a 49.67 xGF%. They’re certainly going to need their No.1 defenseman to be a lot better while New Jersey tries to figure out how to get back in the win column.
It’s one of the toughest stretches of play for the Devils dating back to the 2021-22 season when they finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division with just 63 points. Granted, they’re dealing with injuries. However, there’s certainly enough depth in their lineup to be better than they have been. It starts at the top of their lineup, especially with Hamilton.