The Only Uber Disjointed Team That Looked Like They Were Along For The Ride In Ottawa Last Night Was The New Jersey Devils
To be honest, the phrase "compete level" is already growing pretty old. There's only one thing I hate more than cliches, and it's overused cliches. I hardly see him as the problem, but John Hynes has been so aggressive in going to the well of effort-based adages that he doesn't even have to be the one to bring them up in trying to explain his team's otherwise inexplicable struggles anymore...
Unfortunately, I'm just not sure there was anything more apt to criticism than their effort last night. The Devils spent the first half of the first period creating the type of contrast that has drunkards covering their eyes and squinting away from the sun when they walk out of dive bars mid-day, as the lopsided beatdown that followed was only made all the more painful to watch by what preceded it. Never mind the flipping of a switch, it was honestly as if someone cut the power lines to their pulse the second the first line continued their torrid tear in jumping out to a two goal lead. There are ebbs and flows to every game, but there are also drug addicts that would have a hard time comprehending how rapidly the Devils went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in having a withdrawal from working hard.
It's John Hynes' job to play exterminator in coaxing out whatever crawled up the Devils' ass twelve minutes into a game they had already proved winnable, but I too might be at a loss for an original answer if my team randomly decided to toss a working arrangement directly in the trash. Against an opponent that was still saying its our father's and hail mary's after going full Taxicab Confessions in roasting its coaching, New Jersey turned into the team that looked like it had gone comatose during the last three weeks of film study. Whether it was following the puck like a pack of first graders or getting bent over backwards in just about every board battle, the Devils were somehow left more desperate for a reliable Lyft than the Senators were a week ago. After putting forth a masterpiece against the Penguins a night earlier, a young team whose only success has come when they've out-worked opponents didn't even have the decency to conjure up a cough before clocking out early.
Of course, there were some obvious flaws at fault. The first line was creating just about all of the offense. The team defense was about as brutal as the actual defense was expected to be this season. Drew Stafford literally stinks on ice. Miles Wood finds the confines of the penalty box far too friendly. Damon Severson has been a stud as of late, but - as evidenced by the game-tying goal - his wires still get crossed whenever he steps foot in the blue paint and the glitch results in him momentarily forgetting that goals are scored with sticks. That said, as has been the case far too often, no one thing sabotaged the Devils' hot start more so than their own collective lack of competitiveness. The following opinion is definitely influenced by recency bias, but it already seems as though the Devils have completely lost focus and checked out of more games this year than they did all of last year, and the embarrassing amount of blown leads turned blowouts reflects just that.
In theory, that should be a more fixable problem than a lack of speed or skill, but it's also one that's hard to repeatedly answer to without sounding like a broken record of overplayed hits.
As it pertains to Cory Schneider, I don't want to hear it. It was always going to take him some time to get comfortable following hip surgery, and - by playing two of their worst games of the season in front of him - his teammates have afforded him absolutely none of it. I don't know that he'll ever get back to being the backbone we saw in the playoffs, but I do know that it'll be impossible to tell if five players continue to stand around mesmerized by the puck (much like below) while he's in net. For whatever reason, the Devils go braindead when backstopped by #35, but - while he hasn't been good - I have hard time blaming him for the type of mental block that teams who are worth a damn can bust through. I've accepted that Cory Schneider might, in fact, be done, but I decline him being anything close to the main reason they lost a game in which they appeared to misunderstand the meaning of the phrase "quit while you're ahead".