The New Jersey Devils were riding high just a week ago. They were coming off two wins against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, one in the United Center, which is one of the hardest places in hockey to get a win. They went into a Saturday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins with a ton of momentum, and they mopped the floor with their division rival. It seemed like it would be a special season for the Devils.
Just two games later, it seems like the Devils are a different team.
They started off the week with a close loss to the struggling Calgary Flames. Despite getting scoring from the bottom six, they were not able to stop the Flames from taking a 3-2 win on the road.
Then Friday night, the Devils clearly were not the same team. They went to Rexall Place to take on the Edmonton Oilers. This team has been ravished by injuries, including star rookie Connor McDavid. The team put in backup goalie Kevin Kinkaid, despite having two days off since their last loss. It seemed the Devils just felt like a win would come, at least that’s how they played. They stayed in the game until the third period, and it all fell apart after that. They ended up getting trounced 5-1, behind great games from Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl.
The Devils gave the Oilers six power plays. Despite the fact their opponent only scored on one of them, that kind of sloppy play drains your defense.
Just a week ago, everyone was praising the Devils. They were excited about their speed and their style. They were saying this was a new era for the Devils, one people wanted to watch. Instead of having to scour the internet to find anyone talking about this team, they were front and center on most hockey blogs. Can’t say whether the hype got to their head, but it needs to end now. A loss to the Oilers should show them they can’t expect a good season to just populate. They need to earn it.
This is a perfect lesson for a team with a lot of young talent. This team, on paper, should not be where they are, but hockey isn’t played on paper. They have showed signs of greatness on the ice, and they could be a playoff contender. If they let this snowball instead of reacting by playing better, then they could end up as one of the NHL‘s worst teams, like everyone predicted in the preseason.
It is all up to how John Hynes reacts to this. He has been good since a really bad start to his coaching career. This could be the most important time in their season. They finish their Western Conference road trip on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks. If they can escape with a win, it will stop this trip from being a total failure. This team needs to stay confident, but humble at the same time. If they can do that, it could be a special season.