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What’s Hindering New Jersey? Devils ‘Disrespecting the Game’

The Devils’ struggles are many and often this season. New Jersey’s head coach explains it’s a lack of respect that’s hindering New Jersey.

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What's Hindering New Jersey? Devils 'Disrespecting the Game'
Credit: James Nichols/NJDHockeyNow

New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff was adamant following the 6-3 loss to the league-worst San Jose Sharks that they didn’t lose because they took a lesser opponent lightly. Instead, he said the problem lies in the Devils disrespecting the game. In the eyes of New Jersey’s head coach, that’s ultimately what’s causing the Devils to have such issues securing wins this season.

“Just a lack of respect with the puck, on the goals,” Ruff muttered Friday night. “Our puck management on the goals, we’re not respecting the game. We knew we were going to have the majority of the time, we knew we would have zone time.”

The Devils, of course, did carry the puck for the majority of the 60 minutes against San Jose. New Jersey heavily out-shot the Sharks 47-18, however, Kappo Kahkonen was strong, but the Devils didn’t quite make it too tough on him, either. So what was the problem?

New Jersey controlled the chance differential 42-17, they managed a 70.57 xGF% and seemingly held the puck on the end of their stick far more often than the Sharks. Ruff had an idea of how Friday got away from them.

“When you look at the first goal, we could have easily gotten the puck out,” Ruff explained. “We weren’t strong on the wall.”

Ruff is, of course, talking about Jacob MacDonald’s first goal of the night. In his first game back from injury, Timo Meier lost a puck battle to MacDonald on the wall. MacDonald separated Meier from the puck with a solid check, forcing a turnover in the Devils’ end of play. The Sharks forward then made his way to Akira Schmid’s crease and with Simon Nemec out of position, scored on an easy tap-in fed by Mario Ferraro.

Okay. But, the Devils still had over 40 shots on net. None of them went in?

Well, despite the plethora of primary scoring chances, not many secondary scoring chances were created.

Why, you ask? No one was making Kahkonen’s job difficult. He had a clear view of New Jersey’s 47 shots as no one was standing at the top of his crease.

“You have to get in front of the goalie,” Ruff said. “I can reference the shift late in the second period, Timo was the guy probably I wanted to be net-front. We had 40 seconds but not once did anybody go net-front.”

That was a recurring theme throughout the night and all season. Meier began to be more present net-front pre-injury, but he didn’t get back to that in his return. Honestly, no one wearing the black alternative Jersey jersey did.

Look, Jack Hughes is going to be able to hop on the ice and will a goal. He did just that in the third period when the Devils were down by two. He took advantage of an overturned puck at New Jersey’s blue line, turned on the jets, and picked a corner to pull his team to within one goal.

Yet, Jack was part of the problem Friday night. The Devils turned over five pucks and allowed the Sharks to take away eight. The number of pucks turned over by New Jersey was frightening to say the least, especially given the fact that they don’t have a goaltender in the system who is going to bail them out when they make mistakes.

“You gotta get a save on one or two of those,” Ruff said of his goaltending. “I mean we walked in three on one, we walked in on some great opportunities. You gotta get some timely saves, too. Are they bad goals? No. But, you gotta get timely saves.”

Timely saves just aren’t available in New Jersey. Therefore, they’re going to need to severely clean up play in front of their goaltenders. That’s why the Devils were so successful last season. They did a great job of keeping their opposition to low-danger perimeter chances. This season? Not so much.

To add insult to injury, not only has the defense and goaltending been poor, but the puck management has been brutal. The Devils made a living on constant puck pressure last season. On the rare occasion, they didn’t have the puck in 2022-23, they were like dogs on bones trying to get it back. This season, New Jersey severely lacks that element in their game.

“The next couple of goals were just puck management. We took it for granted and handed them an opportunity,” Ruff explained. “You can do all this good work and you can do all to garner the play but if you’re going to disrespect the game, which we did…”

“It’s disappointing.”

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