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Devils Travis Green Benches Alexander Holtz, ‘He Knows Why’

Interim head coach Travis Green benched and demoted Devils forward Alexander Holts in their 6-3 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night.

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(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

NEWARK — Amid the New Jersey Devils’ awful 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, interim head coach Travis Green benched Alexander Holtz.

Ah, yes. Here we are again.

The Devils’ former seventh-overall selection has not received the benefit of the doubt from just about anyone this season.

Former Devils head coach Lindy Ruff was quite critical of the 22-year-old for most of the season before he was fired. Time and time again, Ruff was asked for an assessment of Holtz’s game, and more often than not it dwindled down to the small details for Holtz.

That very notion came up at the press conference in which general manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed Ruff’s firing, backing the former Devils head coach’s assessment of the Swedish sniper.

“I would say if [Holtz] changes as a player, then [his ice-time] will change. He has not had a good year. I don’t believe it’s because he’s been on the fourth line. The core values that you have as a player, [being] strong on walls, puck play, puck management, are you turning pucks over? He’s shown he [can score] 13 goals in eight minutes of average ice time. It’s the other areas, the game within the game that say a lot. It matters, managing the lines, and turnovers. Those areas have to be way better.”

Things seemingly were going better for Holtz in the Travis Green era. He quickly elevated through the forward group from a fourth-line forward to Jack Hughes’ wing in a top-six role.

In 14 games since Green has taken over, Holtz has scored three goals in an average of 11:54 of ice time.

Green even went out of his way to compliment Holtz’s game following New Jersey’s last tilt with the Penguins on March 20th.

“I felt like there are certain things that we’ve been looking for out of players and I think he’s been trying to do that,” Green said to New Jersey Hockey Now. “I think when a player is doing that, you try to reward him and that was really the reason behind it. He’s trying to play quicker, he’s trying to play better away from the puck and be stronger on pucks. When you see effort with a young player I think it’s important to reward him too.”

Yet, on Tuesday night, Holtz’s minutes were diminished. He finished the contest skating just over eight minutes in the game, moving from Hughes’ wing on the second line, to the fourth line alongside Chris Tierney and Tomas Nosek.

All of a sudden, Holtz is back at square one.

Holtz was benched at the end of the first and for the majority of the second period during 5-on-5 play.

When asked, Green didn’t disclose his reason for benching Holtz but insisted the 22-year-old knew why he was riding the bench.

“He knows why, I don’t need to get into it,” Green said. “There was a play I didn’t like, a couple of plays. Then I tried to get him back out there and play him on the powerplay still.”

There’s really only one play that comes to mind when looking back at Holtz’s first period that stapled him to the bench.

Holtz and Penguins forward Michael Bunting became tied up with the puck below the Devils’ goal line. Jonas Siegenthaler recovered the puck and attempted to clear it from New Jersey’s zone.

Anticipating the clear, Holtz began to break out of the defensive zone, yet, the puck was intercepted by Erik Karlsson. That left Bunting alone at the top of Jake Allen’s crease, and the puck found the back of the net on a Karlsson shot giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

Holtz didn’t see the ice after the Penguins’ first goal until just under seven minutes into the second period when the Devils received their second power play of the game. From there, he barely played at 5-on-5, and when he did, it wasn’t in a top-six role.

Green, like Ruff, is seemingly trying to teach Holtz a lesson. However, it feels more appropriate to point to Siegenthaler’s lackluster attempt to clear the puck from the defensive zone, rather than Holtz reading and reacting to the veteran defenseman’s giveaway.

Add the fact that Holtz was seemingly on his way to a strong game, posting a 65.52 CF% and 90.98 xGF% at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick, the punishment for the supposed crime feels displaced.

Wednesday is another day. The Devils are on Broadway to face the New York Rangers on the second leg of a back-to-back. We’ll see if Green takes a page out of Ruff’s book, or gives Holtz another shot on Hughes’ wing against the Devils’ rival.

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