the new jersey devils have been mathematically eliminated from the stanley cup playoffs after a horrendous game against the boston bruins that resulted in an 8-1 loss on march 31st. It’s the fourth year in a row they’ve missed the postseason — the team has only made the playoffs once since their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. While some fans would say the Devils took a step backwards this season, I do not agree. they made progress, but in the end they were unable to overcome the three main problems that had plagued them since October.
losing players due to injuries and covid-19
The Devils started this season with some key injuries and the theme continued even as we neared the end of the 2021-22 campaign. ahead of its season opener in Oct. 15, Miles Wood, Ty Smith and Damon Severson were battling injuries and missed the club’s first game of the season against the Chicago Blackhawks. After just three games, goalkeepers Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier were out with lower-body injuries, and so the goalkeeping carousel in the crease began.
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In the last six months, 25 different players have been pulled from the roster due to injury or covid-19, and some multiple times, such as jack hughes and dougie hamilton. According to Fox Sports, New Jersey had multiple injuries each month: six in October, five in November, seven in December, 15 in January, four in February, six in March and, so far, six in April.
now if you’re thinking that every team in the league dealt with covid and non-covid related injuries and illnesses this season, you’re right. look what the pittsburgh penguins had to overcome. It’s not an excuse, but it explains in part why the young team was so inconsistent this season. it’s hard to build chemistry when linemates switch every few games to accommodate the ever-changing roster. The Devils have used 23 different forwards this season along with nine defenders as injuries were too difficult to overcome.
diabolical inconsistency in the fold
lack of goalkeeping consistency has been new jersey’s main story this season. Blackwood only started 22 games after offseason heel surgery and, sadly, the recovery has taken longer than expected. At the end of October, he met with the media and said he had a week to go before he was back on the ice.
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“I’ve been working hard to get back as fast as possible and I’m on my way,” Blackwood said at the time. “starting to feel in my best shape again. I was good last week, but the jump from last week to this week has been great. I’m very close to coming back.”
In the first few games of the season, Bernier and Scott Wedgewood ran the net, and the team did well, winning three of their first four games. Young Nico Daws made his NHL debut on October 10. 23, but a few days later, head coach Lindy Ruff went back to Bernier and Wedgewood. Blackwood returned to the ice in early November, which meant management had to place Wedgewood on waivers, and unfortunately, the Arizona Coyotes wasted no time in claiming the goaltender.
blackwood made his season debut on November 1. 5 but was closed again on January 1. 19. The timing was tough as the team had already announced a couple of weeks earlier that Bernier would be out for the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery. From then on, the team juggled Jon Gillies, Akia Schmid and Daws. after a rough patch, the 21-year-old was heavily trusted by the coaching staff and, in March, started him in all but one game.
the devils couldn’t find the necessary consistency among the three goalies, and at the trade deadline, they brought in veteran andrew hammond. the 34-year-old has played two games, allowing a combined 13 goals. The goalkeeping situation will have to wait until the offseason to be resolved when general manager Tom Fitzgerald will be forced to go back to the drawing board.
dodgy demon special teams
In some moments of the season, chants of “recchi fire” broke out in the prudential center. while most games were lost due to improper goalkeeping, there have been a few losses due to unreliable special teams. The Devils’ power play is ranked 27th in the league and despite flashes of success, the club has been unable to find consistency.
One of the biggest concerns is the number of goals allowed with the man advantage. In 72 games, New Jersey allowed a league-leading 11 shorthanded goals. on the other hand, the penalty kick has seen a little more success and is ranked 13th in the league, allowing 37 power play goals this season. forwards jimmy vesey and michael mcleod have performed well in their respective roles killing penalties along with jonas siegenthaler and severson.
fitzgerald must be active during the offseason to ensure a competitive team hits the ice in October. the centerpieces are there, but they won’t be able to compete in the metropolitan division if they don’t have a reliable goal. The Devils finally have a young group that can excite fans, and the appearance of Jesper Bratt and Siegenthaler shows that the club are taking steps in the right direction. while there’s no denying that it’s been a frustrating season, there are some new positives that have been lost in recent seasons.
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