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Devils Deep in the Bowels of Hockey Hell

March 25, 2019, 8:42 AM ET [15 Comments]
Guest Writer
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By Gilles Moncour

The Devils played the Bruins on a rainy Thursday night Newark with what was surely the most nondescript team in the franchise's 37-year history. One must wonder what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in attendance at the game, thought as the Devils iced a team which only contained five players who hadn't been a call-up from the AHL.

The Devils skated with aggression, played sound defensive hockey, generated virtually nothing that didn't come from their three NHL-caliber forwards (Zajac, Coleman and Zacha) and dutifully came away with a 5-1 defeat to a Boston team that only needed to go through the motions for long stretches of the game.

If the Devils played in a more hockey-centric market or if the draft prize was a Connor McDavid or a Sidney Crosby, one would think that more would be made of the freefall the team has taken through the NHL standings since Auld Lang Syne was sung. Of course, injuries have devastated the squad, starting when Taylor Hall never emerged form the NHL's Christmas break. Since Hall succumbed to his "lower-body" tweak, the casualties have mounted to such an extent that it is easier to say who is in the lineup than who is out. Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Sami Vatanen, and Mirco Mueller have all joined Hall in missing most of March.

On this night at the Prudential Center, Will Butcher and Kyle Palmieri were the latest names to enter the convalescent ward, although we get the feeling that the medical staff is under strict orders to hide the skates of any player suffering from anything worse than a hangnail for the rest of the season.

Against the Bruins, the only two defensemen remaining who played regularly in 2018 were Andy Greene and Damon Severson, both deserving of credit as the only Devils to appear in all the team's games this season. Greene, the earnest captain, has seen his "tough minutes" getting tougher and tougher as the opposition's top lines cave the Devils in night after night. As for the talented Severson, the over/under for an unforced turnover that led to a Bruin scoring chance was every two shifts... so no nothing new there then.

Maybe if Severson was on a more dominant team he would be able to clean up his play and showcase his skating, size, and shot more freely. But even when the Devils were humming last season, or he played more protected minutes, the mistakes still occurred. It is rather more likely that his propensity for an egregious turnover at the wrong time would make good teams realize that they are simply better off if he skated for someone else, a la Mike Green.

Connor Carrick, Nail Yakovlev and Steve Santini were auditioning for the sixth defenseman role next year, though on the efforts of this night, Devils GM Ray Shero might want to hope that they are auditioning for the seventh-defenseman role instead. A free agent pickup to replace Lovejoy in a bottom-pair spot will certainly enter GM Ray Shero's thoughts.

And so the crowd filed out of the Rock fairly happy -- a couple of thousand Bruins fans pleased that David "Pasta" Pastrnak returned to the lineup with a number-one-star performance, and a few thousand Devils fans contenting themselves with the knowledge that the parayed-for (what does paray mean?) elixir of another top five pick is surely on the way, and that the percentages of hitting pay dirt were not compromised by any points in the standings.

As for what Gary Bettman thought about watching one of his league's 31 franchises looking more suited for the NCAA Frozen Four than the NHL... well, I won't speculate about that.
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