The Devils have played some clunkers this season but now, as the season is winding down and the team is without most of its star players they’re playing… Well, not half bad, actually.
New Jersey has lost nine of its last 12 games but other than a bad loss in Calgary they haven’t been blown out. Playing with a roster full of players who probably belong in the American Hockey League, they’ve somehow managed to hang around nearly every night and even stole a couple wins on the road.
How has this been possible? It’s no secret really, they’re just playing exceptionally hard. Some are playing for pride, some are playing for future jobs but all are playing together as a unit.
“That’s what we are as a team,” Devils captain Andy Greene said. “That’s how we have to play, how we have to compete. We stay in games because of how hard we work and how hard we compete. It’s not going to be because of our skill.”
The Devils may currently be comprised of mostly role players but the group is quickly finding out what those role players are made of.
“The mark of a man is how he fights through adversity,” coach John Hynes said. “Things haven’t gone well for us. It’s easy to jump off board, it’s easy to get criticized, it’s easy to criticize, but for everyone in the room, on our coaching staff and our management staff, we have to say, things haven’t been good enough but what can we extract from what we have here?”
Here are three things to extract from the Devils’ latest loss, a 5-1 downing by the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at Prudential Center.
The Devils were outshooting the Bruins until midway through the second period. Even after that, when they had sustained pressure they couldn’t create anything offensively. The Bruins are an excellent defensive team but there were times when plays could have been made and instead skaters threw the puck away.
“That’s where we need to do a little better job of managing the puck,” Greene said. “When we do get our offensive zone time we have a habit of sometimes when we’ve got good sustained pressure we throw it away a little bit. We let them off then we regroup and work just as hard to get it back and sort of start it all over again.”
New Jersey had eight high-danger scoring chances and the Bruins only had seven, but the visitors buried their chances when they had them and were able to capitalize on sustained offensive zone time by getting to the net.
Return of the Zach(a)
Pavel Zacha returned after a 16-game absence with a concussion and set up Drew Stafford for New Jersey’s lone goal. Zacha’s impact was felt right from the start with his third line generating the bulk of the offense early. The center wants to use these last few games to continue forging an identity and it seems as though he’s on the right track.
“I thought he skated well and made a nice play on Stafford’s goal,” Hynes said. “I know he’s worked extremely hard and he’s gone through a rigorous process to be able to get back.”
Joshua Jacobs, a 23-year-old defenseman who made his NHL debut against the Bruins, felt the game speed up on him immediately. A veteran AHL player, he had always heard the speed of the game was faster at the NHL level but quickly discovered it was something he needed to experience himself to understand.
“The speed was a little different,” Jacobs said. “But as soon as I settled in it felt right and I got my confidence to keep playing.”
It was a shot on goal in the first period that had Jacobs feeling calm once again. The Devils were pleased with what they saw in their big, right-shot defenseman. It was a solid debut but there’s plenty to build from.
“He skates well, he’s got good size and he’s a physical guy that’s difficult to play against,” Hynes said. “The next step is now, we see those attributes but there are other things that come into it like puck-moving, decision-making, readiness to play.”