There was so much hope for the New Jersey Devils entering the 2019-20 season. With the team struggling and at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, the Devils decided a change was needed. Devils general manager Ray Shero relieved John Hynes of his duties before the team’s 4-3 loss Tuesday night to the Vegas Golden Knights. Alain Nasreddine was named as interim head coach. Replacing the coach was only the first step in a long process to fix this team. It will not happen overnight as the New Jersey Devils problems are more than what one person can solve.
Alan Nasreddine Not Going to Fix All of New Jersey Devils Problems
Devil in the Details
Entering the season, two areas of concern for the Devils was defence and goaltending. The finger continues to be pointed at the Devils goaltending and rightfully so. However, the defensive structure is not the right one for the goalies to succeed in this league. And while MacKenzie Blackwood, Cory Schneider, and Louis Domingue have struggled to make the timely save, the defence in front of them or lack thereof, continues to be the reason why the Devils are struggling. The system the coaching staff has employed is not working and something has to give. The defensive system is broken and continues to be an area of weakness.
“Sometimes it’s been off the rush, sometimes it’s been D-zone coverage. 90 percent of the time, a goal starts off a turnover, but it’s just, where is that turnover?,” Andy Greene told the media after the Ottawa Senators game back in November. “Is it blue line, red line, is it all the way down where we make them come 200 feet and they make a great play? Or is it one mistake that leads to two or three mistakes and ends up in the back of our net? It’s tough. It’s not the same thing every time, but it’s, unfortunately, the same result, and that’s not acceptable.”
Greene is not wrong in what he said. In fact, this was the first time someone in the locker room called out the team for the poor mistakes they were making.
Breaking Down the New Jersey Devils Problems
One of the New Jersey Devils problems is getting pinned down in their own zone. The defence is constantly losing its assignment. Not to mention P.K. Subban, who was acquired in the offseason, is not the same player he was. He was supposed to improve this defence, however, with his mistakes this season he has been a reason why they have struggled.
Take for example the goals scored by Ottawa Senators player Jean-Gabriel Pageau back in November and Buffalo Sabres‘ power-play goal scored by Jack Eichel against the Devils this past Monday night.
Against the Senators, late in the third period with the game tied at 2-2, Pageau is left wide open in front of the net. Will Butcher and Subban let Pageau cruise into the slot to pick up the rebound. How do you let a player of his caliber be left wide open in front of your own net? On this play, Pageau recorded his second goal of the night to give the Senators the lead 3-2. Pageau would cap off the night recording a hat trick as the Senators went on to win 4-2.
During the Devils 7-1 loss to the Sabres, as the video shows, Eichel is left wide open during a penalty kill. The Devils have four players going to the puck. This cannot happen at the NHL level. There is no reason for four guys to be on one side. That is the immaturity of a young team.
How to Fix the New Jersey Devils Problems
Hall of Fame defenceman and former Devils captain Scott Stevens was on NHL Network last Tuesday breaking down exactly what is going wrong for the Devils and how to fix them.
Hall of Famer and Stanley Cup Champion Scott Stevens dives into the #NJDevils play in their own defensive end. pic.twitter.com/BM0pscaSRC
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) December 3, 2019
As Stevens points out, the New Jersey Devils are trying to control the puck too much in their own defensive zone. As a defenceman, you do not want to give an attacking player a second chance to forecheck the puck. In the examples, Stevens breaks down, there are multiple opportunities to move the puck out of the zone quickly, but the Devils circle back trying for the perfect breakout pass. Instead of getting the puck up and out, the Devils feel the pressure of the forecheckers and turn the puck over, which ends up in the back of their net.
Controlling the puck is okay to do in the offensive zone but not in your defensive zone. Instead of moving the puck North and South, the players are trying to move the puck East-West. The Devils need to move the puck out of the zone quickly, so they can play fast and put the other team on defence. Continuously doing the same thing and trying to control the puck in their own defensive zone only leads to problems.
This is just another example of why Stevens needs to be on the coaching staff. He is exactly what a young team needs. A guy who has been there and has played the position.
The trend has continued under new head coach Alain Nasreddine. With progress always comes pain. While the Devils have looked better under Nasreddine, however, there are still things that need to be worked out. If the Devils can clean up the little things in their own defensive zone, they will be able to protect their goaltenders from constantly getting bombarded.
The New Jersey Devils need to get back to what they were known for and that is playing good defence. That is what made them so successful in the past. The coaching staff needs to employ a system that fits the players the team currently has on their roster. And going forward adding a guy like Stevens or Patrik Elias to the coaching staff will do wonders for the young players on the team.
Embracing the past, instead of shying away from it will get the Devils back to where they belong.