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Five observations from New Jersey vs Florida:
1. The Devils no-showed at 5v5
Taylor Hall was right to be skeptical of the team’s early lead because the Devils didn’t play well at 5v5. At all. They spent a lot of time chasing play in the defensive zone and it felt like all of their possessions were one-and-done. The ‘one’ just happened to go in pretty frequently over the first 30 minutes or so. Realistically speaking, the Devils were lucky to get the results they did. They somehow converted a putrid 26 shot attempts and 14 chances into four goals at 5v5 play. Comparatively, Florida registered 46 attempts (63.89 CF%) and 20 chances (58.82%) while controlling 63.8% of the Expected Goals. Their goal output (5) was also out of line but they did deserve to win the battle in that gamestate. They were better.
2. New Jersey rolled over in the 3rd period
Forget how the 2nd period ended. Forget that 4-1 quickly turned to 4- 3. The Devils were at home and held a lead over the Panthers after 40 minutes. They were in a good spot in a game they absolutely had to have. And they came out completely flat in the 3rd period as if there was nothing worth playing for. The Panthers took full advantage of that, recording 13 more attempts, eight more chances, and three more goals than the Devils in the final frame. Florida is very talented but they shouldn’t have been able to run New Jersey into the ground to that extent. No team should – not in that game; not in that situation. It was a pathetic display, really. I think it was the Devils’ worst period of the season, which is saying a lot.
3. Passengers were aplenty
The Devils played the vast majority of the game with 11 forwards. That means a lot of players were given extra ice time to make things happen. You wouldn’t have known it by looking at some of the individual outputs in terms of shot contributions. Taylor Hall had five, which is below average for him, and it led the way. Kyle Palmieri did not record a single attempt or assist on one. The same can be said of Blake Coleman. The Jespers had one contribution apiece and Pavel Zacha, though productive on the scoreboard, only recorded three while finishing 3rd among Devils forwards in 5v5 ice.
Things were no better on defense. Sami Vatanen (5) and Damon Severson (3) were the lone guys to contribute to more than two attempts. P.K. Subban, like Palmieri and Coleman, was blanked entirely. Brutal.
Note: shot contribution charts posted below.
4. Pavel Zacha has been a bright spot
His on-ice numbers were actually pretty poor yesterday but he contributed to three goals so I’ll give him a pass. Generally speaking, he has been very good this season. Jack Hughes was getting caved in every night until he had Zacha and his defensive prowess on his line. Hughes had his best games – by far – with Zacha. The latter didn’t get to play a ton with Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt due to the Nico Hischier injury but that line’s relative numbers were positive until they were broken up. And, again, Zacha chipped in offensively while playing with Hall. He’s making meaningful contributions regardless of where he’s playing in the lineup. I mentioned prior to the season he’d be an important piece and could be used in a Swiss Army Knife role for John Hynes. So far that’s been the case, and he’s handled it as well as you could hope.
5. PP1 looked better
All season long the top unit, especially, has had a hell of a time getting into the offensive zone with possession of the puck. I suggested another neutral zone carrier would help and that certainly looked to be the case yesterday. Though the PP didn’t convert – again! – they were at least able to set up shop for a few lengthy possessions in the offensive zone. I thought Jack Hughes’ presence really helped them out with that.
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