Going into the season, the New Jersey Devils were already up against it. The reality was a lot had to break right for the team to even come close to .500. After three games, a lot has gone wrong as the second guessing has already begun.
The Devils have zero points at this juncture. They play the San Jose Sharks on Friday and then the New York Rangers on Sunday. It is abundantly clear that the team has even bigger obstacles to overcome. They include the following.
- Patrik Elias is still on the IR with a knee injury
- New Jersey still cannot score
- Shots are still at an extreme premium.
- Face-offs early in games are an adventure
- Bottom two pairings defensively have seen constant change
That is just the tip of the iceberg. It was not going to be easy when John Hynes and Ray Shero signed on. Somehow it was thought that maybe it would not be all bad. The reality is this: It is what it is. The strength of schedule has been mentioned several times as New Jersey is in the process of facing seven straight playoff-caliber teams.
Losing to Winnipeg, Washington and Nashville was pretty much guaranteed. It has sparked a lot of rage and frustration among Devils fans and media. There is one sobering number and one only.
Through Devils first three games:
— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) October 14, 2015
It has not been a happy time for New Jersey and it may not be anytime soon. The reality is the playoffs are likely out the window given the realistic projections.
One of the biggest issues with the Devils have been their starts. Let’s look back at their first three games to see if we can establish some sort of pattern.
Winnipeg vs. New Jersey
As the Devils came out to the ice, they had a little bit of urgency that had not been seen much during March and April of last season. New Jersey actually had three of the first four shots of the game and then proceeded to go without a shot for over 17 minutes. This was their home opener. Fortunately Cory Schneider held the game scoreless, but all that offensive pressure against was not a good omen.
At one point in this game, shots were 20-6 Winnipeg and the Devils Corsi For was well below 40%. They would finish the game at 41.1% during 5 on 5 or even strength play.
New Jersey would give up two goals before scoring in the third period to make it interesting before giving up a third to put the game out of reach. They limped to 21 shots and that may have been generous given they had six shots after 30:00 of play. There was a little recovery but not much.
Washington vs. New Jersey
This was a bit different as New Jersey held play pretty even and that was without Schneider in net. The Devils out shot Washington, but few chances were those of the high danger variety. New Jersey did have more power play time and only generated 17 shots at 5 on 5. That was still a little concerning.
The Devils were on a back-to-backs, but that is no excuse in the NHL. The offense generated was just not enough early on. In the first 10-15 minutes, New Jersey did not create one high danger scoring chance. The Devils only had three in the game. Faceoffs were an issue from the beginning as the Devils only won 19 of 47 all game.
Overall chances were even but high danger ones were 6-3 in favor of Washington. Three of those came in the first period ironically enough. The Devils recovered to tie the game at two after falling behind 2-0 but eventually Washington took over and won the game 5-3. Too much effort had been expended that there was no second response to be had. However, another bad start doomed the team.
Nashville vs. New Jersey
This time the bad start was in the first ten minutes as New Jersey went down 1-0 and was out shot 6-2 and out chanced 4-1. Those are not insurmountable and as a matter of fact, the Devils responded with 11 of the next 13 shots. However this team was playing uphill yet again. Nashville had two high danger scoring chances early to New Jersey’s zero. Face-offs were a brutal 15-2 at one point in this game. Offensive zone starts were 10-5 in the first period also.
The Predators regressed to New Jersey’s playing style which offered some encouragement. However, the lack of finish was evident in a game where the Devils struggled to find much quality. That start was once more a killer.
What Can New Jersey Do?
The team has been a step or two slow in getting to pucks. This has been a problem for the last two plus seasons. It is also what Hynes and Shero inherited. Right now there is little that can be done. The hope is that New Jersey finds a way to score a goal early or starts to gel when the schedule gets a little easier. This is a tough stretch for a team struggling to score but they have had chances in all three games and in all three they have faltered in troubling ways.
Execution is their only salvation along with a healthy Elias. We will see what happens Friday against San Jose.