March 05, 2024

Bryce Salvador

Hey everyone, 

It's no secret that the noise surrounding tonight's game vs. FLA all revolves around the announcement yesterday that the Devils will ride out the final 21 regular season games with Travis Green as the interim head coach, replacing Lindy Ruff behind the bench. Erika Wachter & I will discuss the coaching change and what it means for the team moving forward during our MSGSN pregame show at 6:30 PM, where we’ll also have a chance to sit down live with GM Tom Fitzgerald. As for the players inside that room, their only job tonight is to block out all the outside noise and have a strong effort for Coach Green!

As a little preview for our goalie talk in tonight’s pregame show, I want to take a look back at last season's goaltending numbers, which reminds you that there was no real hole in net that Tom Fitzgerald had to go out and scramble to try to fill in the offseason. We have to remember here that VV, entering last season with a solid career .908 Sv%, had a career year between the pipes — becoming the first NJD goaltender not named Marty to have a 32+ win season. Then, on top of it, you had a promising 22-year-old Akira come in and win you a playoff series with a .951 Sv% & 2 SOs against NYR!

Although you’d like to get more from your goalies through the first 61 GP this season, the truth is, Devils Fans, nobody could've seen this type of regression coming — and it wouldn't be fair to put all of the blame on the goaltenders, either.

I will always preface these discussions by saying that there are so many long-term positives when it comes to the development of Bahl, Nemec, and Luke this season, who have all done an outstanding job in each of their roles. The reality is, though, that the Devils have lost around 1700 games in experience on their defense this season (due to the off-season departures of Severson & Graves + Dougie's injury), which is the reason we’re seeing such major defensive setbacks as the young D go through the growing pains of learning what it takes to defend and play big minutes in the NHL. It’s an extremely unprecedented circumstance that, like the goaltending situation, not one person could have predicted going into the season!

Fast approaching the Game #62 mark of the season, one of the first bold moves of Coach Green's head coaching tenure here is that it's clear he's looking to start managing the minutes of his young defensemen, which comes with the news that he'll be healthy scratching Nemec tonight vs. FLA.

As a former defenseman in this league, I've liked everything I've heard Coach Green talk about regarding his communication with young Nemec — that as a young defenseman, there's a lot to understand when it comes to how you have to play in the grind of a long NHL season — and, at times, the reality is that you may find yourself in the press box watching. As I've brought up multiple times, I have gone back as far as TOI was tracked in the 2000-01 season, and, to no surprise, the NHL has never seen a pair of 20U defensemen average over 20 min of TOI playing on the same team for over 40 games together in the same regular season like Luke and Nemec have for the Devils. In any other team; in any other situation; both Luke and Nemec would have already come out of the lineup or had their minutes reduced at this point. Now, as we get to crunch time and see the Devils try to make a push, it's a good time for Coach Green to say you know what, let's give Nemec some rest and have him watch a game from up top as we insert a more experienced veteran presence in the lineup.

Now, with all that being said, the Devils still have 25% of their season left to play; and still plenty of time to end the season on a high note. Unfortunately, I’d be lying if I said there’s anything less than a monstrous task at hand for this team in order to make the playoffs, though. In the final 21 games, they’re going to need to go on a serious tear of about 13-2-6 or 14-2-5 to have a crack at a playoff berth, based on the last 2 NHL seasons.

If you're looking for some remaining hope, Devils Fans, look no further than the opponent tonight as an example of what’s been done. The 2022-23 Panthers team was in the exact same situation (64 PTS in their first 61 GP) as the Devils are currently, and ended the season with 92 PTS in the WC2 spot. So, it’s certainly not impossible, but to reiterate, this is nothing short of a monstrous task, and it’s a lot to ask of your young D core and 23-year-old goaltending tandem. Nonetheless, no better opportunity to build something here than if you can take down the NHL’s top dog in Coach Green’s first game behind the bench. It all starts at 6:30 PM on MSGSN!


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