VANCOUVER CANUCKS @ ST LOUIS BLUES
10:00AM PST PRUDENTIAL CENTER, NEWARK, NJ
TV: SPORTSNET. RADIO: SN650.
OPPOSITION BLOG: ALL ABOUT THE JERSEY
It’s Quinn Hughes against brother Jack this morning as the Canucks play Game 2 of this 4 game Eastern road swing in New Jersey. The Devils are coming off their first win of the season, a big 5-2 win over tomorrow morning’s opponent, the New York Rangers. Jack Hughes notched his first NHL point in that game. The Canucks are the winners of 4 straight, the most recent one a gutsy come from behind shootout win in St Louis Thursday night.
The Devils record may suggest that this game should be a winnable one for the Canucks, but with the amount of talent on this New Jersey team, Vancouver would do well not to underestimate them. To get us up to speed on the Devils, we spoke with John Fischer from SBN’s All About The Jersey:
1. The big focus of this game will obviously be the first edition of the Hughes Brothers going head to head. How are things going with Jack as he makes the transition from the NCAA to the NHL?
Jack Hughes has definitely had some growing pains in his first seven games coming out of the USNTDP. While he certainly figured out preseason, he definitely learned the hard way how much faster and more challenging the NHL regular season is. He does not get to have that extra half-second or second to make a move. He is brave to take opposing defenders head on but those defenders have often won those battles. He has been prone to try to do too much on the puck and often lose it instead of making a killer pass or taking a shot. And he has plenty to learn about defense, as does plenty of other Devils. That said, Hughes has improved with each game. He has learned more on when to be swift - and he is fast - and can curl around players to keep plays going. He has cut back on the turnovers somewhat. He has shown some more initiative to shoot and he has been unfortunate to not have scored a couple of goals due to posts and defenders making last-second interventions. Hughes did pick up his first point; he deflected a long shot that went off Miles Wood’s butt on Thursday night. I think as the coaches figure out who to play him with - he was up with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri on Thursday as Nico Hischier was day-to-day with a rib injury, you might see Hischier today, you might not - and he gets a better handle on what he can and should not do, he will thrive more. He is definitely doing the latter by observation. Hughes strikes me as a player that when he starts figuring it all out, then you better watch out because he’s going to make an impact.
2. The Devils have stumbled out of the gate this season, but did get a big win over the Rangers last night. What kind of expectations are there in Jersey this year?
The expectations in New Jersey prior to the season were quite high: making the playoffs. That may not seem high but for a team that finished 29th out of 31 teams last season, it’s pretty high. Plenty of the staff at AAtJ expected playoffs. Players have expected it. Most fans believe that the playoffs are a prerequisite for any chance at re-signing Taylor Hall. Management probably does not make the moves they made to bring in P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev if they thought they were still a season or so away. The 1-4-2 start is very sobering and many fans are now appropriately worried about the team’s chances. The last time the Devils made the playoffs was in 2017-18, it was the first time since 2012, and the Devils barely got in as they secured it on the 81st game of the season and finished just a point ahead of a surging Florida squad to take the final wild card spot. The expectation is that all points matter at all points of the season for the goal of making it, so starting off as bad as this has been real troubling. There is plenty of hockey left but the Devils are going to have over-perform really soon to keep pace.
3. What’s the sense on the amount of leash John Hynes has this year? Do you think that Ray Shero will make a change if they continue to falter?
The leash on John Hynes has definitely been shortened in the past week or so. While Hynes claims he asked for it, I cannot imagine he or his staff really wanted assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald to be behind the bench. He was not just there to observe a practice but to act as an assistant coach. He was behind the bench with the staff on Thursday night. Anytime a member of management wants to personally observe the situation is a sign of concern. Not just for Hynes and his staff but also for the players. But had the team not blown two big leads (four goals on opening night, three goals on Columbus Day), been shutout twice on the road, and blown out in the team’s first road game, then this probably does not happen. Beating Our Hated Rivals 5-2 definitely helps ease some of the heat on Hynes’ seat. But if the team goes back to faltering, lollygagging on defense, putting up one of the least effective special teams performances in recent memory, losing pucks left and right, and goes back to losing, then Ray Shero will likely fire John Hynes sooner rather than later. Maybe really soon given the state of the season. It is easier to make up a deficit in five months than in three; that was one of the lessons of the 2010-11 Devils under John MacLean. Interim head coach Jacques Lemaire turned that team around but it was literally too late to crack into the playoffs. I do not think Hynes is safe for the time being and no one should when one of his bosses is literally right next to him in practices and in games. Of course, if this win over Our Hated Rivals leads to many more wins, then Hynes can salvage his position for the time being.
4. The Devils have some incredible young players and two legit NHL superstars in Taylor Hall and PK Subban. Why are they still struggling in your opinion?
Where do you start? The team has continued to be swarmed in 5-on-5 play. While they have been taking leads at home and score effects often have the losing team carry the play, the Devils have often failed to respond late in games when the game was still winnable and even after the opposition ties it up or takes a lead. It is as if score effects do not apply to New Jersey somehow. Further, plenty of players are just not on the same page in many key areas in the 5-on-5 game. Breakouts have been more problematic with defenders being forced to make these long, high-risk passes because that’s their only option. Zone exits have been a big issue with the opposition straight up being gifted turnovers at times during games. There has been a lot of puck watching on defense both at even strength and in shorthanded situations; this has resulted in opposing players getting enough space to punish the Devils with goals despite players being in the area. The power play just scored its first power play goal on Thursday so they are now 1-for-21. Despite all of their added talent, the power play units seemingly do not have a general concept beyond being in a 1-3-1 and using a drop pass on a breakout. There is no set play or preferred shooter, just a lot of movement for little gain. The goaltending numbers are abysmal but that is tied into the sometimes abysmal defensive and off the puck play by the Devils at even strength and in shorthanded situations. On top of all of that (!), the team just does not have the motivation to turn things around when things get tough. The win over Our Hated Rivals was not just the first win but also the first time they managed to keep a lead and add to it despite the other team scoring. It was not pretty but they at least put in an effort whereas in their other losses, they just had stretches of accepting they are being dominated or just not caring if they are seeing a lead slip away.
There is a lot to cleanup and that is why the fans have turned on the coaching so fast. Management added talent and Hall is now healthy. If the team is now playing worse, then what could it be other than those in charge of the lineups, the match-ups, the tactics, and the instructions? Yes, you cannot fire a roster. However, if the coaches cannot get the players to function to the best of their abilities, then they are the ones to be fired.
5. Who is a Devil we might not be as familiar with we should keep an eye on in today’s game?
Blake Coleman. The Pickle Man of Plano, Texas. Coleman is a frequent forechecker, a tireless worker, and he has a deceptive offensive game. In the home opener, he had Dmitry Kulikov on his back and managed to one-hand a shot past the goalie for a goal. On Thursday night, he managed to take a shot off the mask of Alexandar Georgiev and the puck managed to drop and fall through his legs. Fortunate? Perhaps. But he tries to attack and he is one of the Devils forwards who is effective on defense and the penalty kill. He is a favorite in New Jersey but he will never have the numbers or the accolades to make him a “name” player. Do not discount him because he can and will surprise from the wing. If you want to impress your friends and people at parties with knowledge about the Devils beyond their name players, then drop his name and inform them about his hardworking skillset and pickle juice hustle.
Thanks to John for taking the time to answer these for us, and you can check out their game preview here.
LINEUPS: We’re not sure if there’s going to be any lineup changes today, and there’s no word yet on whether it will be Jacob Markstrom or Thatcher Demko this morning. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adam Gaudette slotted in after a pretty dismal performance from the 4th line in that game Thursday night, though. The Devils will probably offer up this lineup (and yes, our pal Cory Schneider will get the start for NJ today) (s/t to AATJ):
Hall - Hughes - Palmieri
Coleman - Zajac - Simmonds
Gusev - Zacha - Bratt
Wood - Rooney - Hayden
Severson - Subban
Vatanen - Carrick
Mueller - Tennyson
GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN: We know most of you are probably a little groggy, so grab some coffee and crank this one. Brand new ANNIHILATOR! The first track from their upcoming release ‘Ballistic, Sadistic’ is called ‘I AM WARFARE’ and Jeff Waters and crew are back and doling out some vicious Canadian thrash!
And just a note, the Utica Comets have started the AHL season on fire. They won their 4th straight last night in a big 8-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers. Josh Bailey scored twice for the Comets, and they got singles from Kole Lind, Sven Baertschi, Carter Camper, Reid Boucher, Dylan Blujus and the first pro goal from Brogan Rafferty. Michael DiPietro stopped 24 shots for the victory. Nikolay Goldobin is continuing to put up points, with 3 assists last night, giving him 7 on the season. Boucher’s goal was his 6th of the campaign. The Comets sit first in the North Division, tied with Toronto. They take on the Rochester Americans tonight at the ABC in Utica, looking to keep this season-starting streak alive.