In the moments that followed a fourth-consecutive regulation loss, a 5-3 defeat at home to the Bruins on Sunday, New Jersey head coach John Hynes wasn’t brief with the media, nor did he sound like a coach whose team had lost four in a row. He praised his team’s play 5-on-5 and was happy with the efforts of goaltender, Eddie Lack, who made 23 saves in his first start as a Devil. Even when asked about a controversial first-period goal that went to video review, he simply summarized it as “disappointing.” Though to be fair, what else could he say? Suffice to say, he isn’t reaching for the ‘panic’ button–not even close. And, really, why would he be? There’s still time.
Though the Devils played dramatically better in Sunday’s contest than they did one night earlier in Columbus, a 6-1 loss that matched their worst of the season, it still wasn’t enough to pick up a victory. The Bruins tallied two shorthanded goals in the first including an own goal (scored off Nico Hischier, but credited to Torrey Krug) and a late score by Tim Schaller, confirmed a good goal upon video review–which was the subject of some debate thanks to insufficient angles to determine whether the puck fully entered the net.
An early second-period goal by Taylor Hall was answered with a Bruins power play goal and though the Devils would even the score once more in the period, Boston netted a pair in the third to seal the game.
New Jersey’s recent slide has been met with some unfortunate timing. Divisional foes, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have been gaining points and watching the Devils drop from second in the Metro to the first wild card team in the East. They’re two points out of the playoff picture and only three points up on the Rangers, who are last in the division with 59 points. Despite all of this, the predicament isn’t yet detrimental, nor is it season-defining. And that allows for some perspective following defeats, particularly when the effort is worthy of such.
“I thought it was a great response game from our team after (Saturday),” Hynes said. “It’s disappointing we lost the game because of how well we played. I think it goes back to the character, the talent, the care that we have. It’s why we’re in the position we’re in–we’re in the battle for a playoff spot because we have responses like that from our team.
“We were the better team 5-on-5, there’s no two ways you could look at it…We played a good game. Our special teams weren’t up to par to give us a chance. When you look at those efforts and you look at the response this team made–that tells you why this team is in the thick of the playoff race.”
Efforts that include out-attempting opponents 66-44 are generally subject to better results (i.e. the Blue Jackets out-attempted the Devils 84-75 on Saturday). They’re also reminders that sometimes ‘puck luck’ can happen. After all, own goal’s, whacky review’s and Adam McQuaid goals aren’t part of the norm.
“We played well enough to win,” Taylor Hall said. “Three just bad bounces. When you’re in losing streaks and you’re losing, it just seems so hard to win sometimes. It was a good effort by us. We deserved that game.”
Hall’s optimism is coupled with an impressive 14-game point-streak that spans over every game since the start of the New Year (three games missed due to a hand injury). The driving force of New Jersey’s offense, he’s already surpassed last year’s totals in goals, assists, and points. And speaking of time, there’s plenty left–27 games to be exact–to reach the 80-point mark for the second time in his career. That could be needed to propel the club into the postseason. For Hall, it would be his first postseason appearance in his career, but there’s an undeniable playoff feel to the stretch drive of the present.
If there’s one area the club hopes the clock is ticking on, it’s on the injury front, specifically three key pieces in Brian Gibbons (thumb), Marcus Johansson (concussion) and Cory Schneider (groin). All three remain sidelined and on IR. Returns by the end of the month, though not guaranteed, are possible and would be welcomed additions.
The Devils have games in hand on most of the division (Washington and Columbus have also played 55 games) and two games in hand on both the Penguins and Islanders. They’ll meet both multiple times in the next two months, including both at the end of February. By that point, there may not be any room for praise from Hynes and company following hard-fought, zero-point defeats.