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Devils Postgame

Devils Takeaways: Lacking Urgency, What’s Up With Jack?

Down just one goal entering the third period, the Devils lack urgency in their loss to the Lightning and cough up two crucial points.

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New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

NEWARK — The New Jersey Devils are directly chasing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference wildcard race which they hosted on Sunday afternoon.

In a crucial four-point game that had direct implications on the playoff outlook, the Devils couldn’t pull through in a big moment.

Akira Schmid made his first start with the Devils since Dec. 21st after New Jersey gave Nico Daws his first night off following seven straight starts.

Let’s dive into the Devils’ 4-1 Sunday afternoon defeat.

Devils Recap

Sunday’s game started very similarly to Saturday. The Lightning controlled the pace of play, however, the Devils weren’t far behind and the first period ended in a scoreless tie. However, the Lightning opened the scoring (42nd time in 58 games) in the second period on a goal by Victor Hedman. Just three minutes later, Brayden Point doubled the Lightning lead. Tyler Toffoli cut the lead in half on the power play and the middle frame ended with a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead. Halfway through the third period, Brandon Hagel regained the Lightning’s two-goal lead and Nikita Kucherov’s empty-net goal sealed the 4-1 victory for Tampa.

Schmid made 23 saves on 26 shots in the loss.

Takeaways

PK Lazar

The Devils’ penalty kill has been just OK over their latest stretch. They weren’t called upon on Saturday as the Montreal Canadiens didn’t draw a single penalty. In the five previous games, however, the Devils had given up one goal on the PK in each game.

On Sunday, Curtis Lazar came up huge early in the first period with the Devils short a man on the ice.

The Lightning know how to score on the power play. They’re No.1 overall in the NHL converting on 29.8% of chances this season. After Holtz took an early tripping penalty, the game’s first infraction was the lethal Lightning power play consisting of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and co. hit the ice.

However, the Lightning can’t score if they can’t enter the zone, and Lazar was a man on a mission.

Schmid’s efforts on the PK were minimized by Lazar and the Devils to just one save. That’s because on three separate rushes from Tampa Bay’s end of the ice to the Devils’ blue line was met by Lazar who forced a turnover and sent the puck back down to the Lightning’s end of the ice.

The penalty kill was just about the only good thing in Sunday’s game, and much of it had to do with the effort by Lazar.

Jack Has Not Been Jack

One of the Devils’ biggest problems right now is Jack Hughes is not himself.

Hughes believes himself to be healthy enough to be playing much better than he currently is. However, the Devils’ head coach disclosed he’s certainly not 100%. In fact, most of the Devils’ players aren’t.

As a result, Hughes’ game is suffering.

At the beginning of the season, Hughes was on a torrid scoring pace. He was able to control the pace of play all on his own and seemingly scored at will. Following two separate injury stints, Hughes hasn’t been the same.

On Sunday, Hughes took seven shot attempts against the Lightning. However, Hughes only registered one actual shot as the Lightning blocked his other six attempts. According to Natural Stat Trick, Hughes registered one of his worst games of the season with a 36.11 CF%, and the Devils were out-chanced 5-16 with him on the ice.

If the Devils are somehow going to salvage their season, they’ll either need Jack to play like himself again, or someone else will need to step up in his place.

“I’ll say this again,” head coach Lindy Ruff told New Jersey Hockey Now. “We have some guys that at this is time of year are playing through stuff. We have players playing through stuff. Jack is one of them, obviously. So, (we) just got to move on to the next game.”

No Urgency

In a game where the Devils’ stars really needed to take over, they were nowhere to be found. Toffoli’s power-play goal doesn’t count so much. It was a fluke pass that was intended to go to the blue line. Instead, Jack’s pass deflected off a Lightning defender and onto the tape of Toffoli who had an open net.

The Devils entered the third period down just one goal. With just five points separating the Lightning, who are in playoff position, and the Devils, on the outside looking in, New Jersey was only able to put three shots on goal.

Some credit needs to be given to the Lightning. They blocked just about as many shots (25) in one game as the Devils might have blocked all month. However, at some point, you have to adjust and figure out a way to get shots on net.

“You know those plays where we talked about we’ve got to get the puck going to the net, you gotta funnel it,” Ruff said. “We don’t know how many (shots) we’re gonna get (on net). You’ve got to funnel to the net. And I think by the end of the day that all caught up on us.”

The excuses are running dry. The Lightning, like the Devils, were coming into Sunday on the second leg of a back-to-back. Yet, one team clearly outclassed the other. This is certainly a game New Jersey could look back in the spring as one that put the nail in the coffin of their season.

Now, the Devils sit six points back of the Detroit Red Wings and five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers. New Jersey better hope that a three-game road trip on the West Coast brings them closer than ever before so they can rally their way into the postseason this spring.

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