Well, the New Jersey Devils are now 1-4 in games that I’ve attended so I’m either a bad luck charm or I pick bad games (or the better, more obvious answer: they’re just not that good?). The Devils (27-35-12) fall to the Carolina Hurricanes (33-27-13), who now sit just five points behind Boston for the final wildcard spot in the East (they defeated the Islanders 2-1 as well tonight). Tampa Bay and New York are both still ahead of them and the spot will likely come down to the wire at the very end of the season. But we do know that the Devils will watch the postseason from home for the fifth straight season: they were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss tonight.
It was a slow-moving, unaggressive game (unsurprisingly); the shot total was 28-27 in favor of Carolina. Sebastian Aho opened up the scoring in the second with his 22nd of the season. He is easily my favorite rookie this year and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Most of the rookie discussion centers around the Calder Trophy and guys like Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Mitch Marner but there are many, many underrated and underappreciated rookies in the league, and Aho is one of them. The goal looked like it came off of a bad bounce (from where I was sitting) but the Devils got one back with three minutes to go in the second. Travis Zajac scored his 14th goal of the season and Taylor Hall had the lone assist. He’s having himself quite the season and has played really well in the past several weeks so it was nice to see him get rewarded on the score sheet. The third period rolled around and Aho and Jeff Skinner (game-winner) both scored goals to seal the win for the Canes.
Cory Schneider had a bit of a rough night and it showed. He was frustrated at the end when he was pulled for the extra skater and he banged his stick against the boards. He then went back out on the ice for a faceoff but then went right back to the bench. I haven’t seen his postgame interview yet but I heard it was brutal. He always completely blames himself for losses and I don’t think that’s fair. Yes, he can always make a few more saves but his team has to find ways to bail him out and actually give him some goal support. He’s had really good nights too and still loses because the team in front of him can’t send pucks into the net.
And I get that it’s not that simple but the Devils only managed 27 shots on goal. They had all of six SOG in the first period and it was a really rough start for them. Kyle Palmieri led the team in shots on goal with four, Hall and Steven Santini had three apiece. The score could have easily been much more lopsided had it not been for Schneider.
But the Devils also failed to score on either of their two power play opportunities (they did kill both of Carolina’s, including a 39-second 5-on-3). They did have a pretty good night in the faceoff circle, winning 58.8% of them. Zajac won 70.8% (!) of his, Blake Coleman and Joe Blandisi won 60% of theirs, and Adam Henrique won 50%.
I don’t know really know what to say other than what a disappointment. I wanted to see a good game; the wins and losses don’t really matter to me anymore and they haven’t mattered for a while. I want to see what the team is made of. I want to see the young kids get more minutes. I want to see an excited team, a passionate team, a fun team but I don’t and they’re exasperating to watch.
But it’s not all bad. The Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line is one that has to stick around next season. They play so well together and have been a force to be reckoned with on the ice. The chemistry is there and it shows every game. Hall’s assist tonight put him at 50 points on the season, joining Palmieri as the only two Devils with 50 this season.
The Devils need to learn how to play a full 60 minutes (along with a bunch of others thing, like sustaining pressure in the offensive zone) but until then, all we can do is watch and wait for the offseason.
They will play again tomorrow in the second half of a back-to-back; puck drops against Dallas at 5PM.