NEWARK, NJ — At the postgame press conference after tonight’s contest, New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes spoke all of 115 words. Hynes might not ever have been described as loquacious before tonight’s terse Q-and-A, but the message he was sending to the media was as clear as the message he most likely relayed to his players about 30 minutes prior in the locker room.
This team is not good enough.
Though the Devils have earned plaudits league-wide for its fast start and its even faster tempo and style of play on the ice, tonight’s 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers was a humbling reminder that New Jersey is still not too far removed from the team that finished with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference just a season ago. In previous press conference, Hynes has mentioned how the team, with its offseason moves and the spirit shown in practice, has tried to change the culture from previous seasons. Given where the team resides in the standings coming into tonight, in first place in the Metropolitan Division, it’s so far, so good.
But not tonight.
“I just think everyone as a group has to be better,” said a clearly peeved Hynes after the game. “We just weren’t good enough tonight, playing and coaching. That’s really it. It just wasn’t good enough by any means.”
How bad was it for the Devils? The Panthers, the team with the second-fewest points (16) in the Eastern Conference and third-fewest in the NHL, outshot New Jersey 16-3 in a first period that happened to be scoreless. Florida had four times as many scoring chances in that period (8) than New Jersey, who spent most of the period in their own end of the ice.
Many in the Prudential Center who saw the Panther domination in the first period expected a strong response from Devils, but the one-way traffic resumed in the second period. At one point, Florida was outshooting New Jersey 28-7, and the first goal of the game seemed imminent that it would be scored – and scored by the Panthers.
That goal was indeed scored by Florida, though it almost was ironic that, for all of the dominance at even strength, the tally came while the Panthers were shorthanded. A dump-in attempt off the boards by Devils defenseman Will Butcher was quickly played up the ice by Florida defenseman Mike Matheson, who found Aleksander Barkov as a 2-on-1 situation emerged. Barkov fired past Cory Schneider’s glove and into the net late in the second period to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Along with the one-goal lead, the Panthers went into the locker room after 40 minutes with a 31-10 shot advantage.
“I drank a couple of cups of coffee after the first [period] to make sure that I was awake, and then a couple of more after the second,” said Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo facetiously, when asked about keeping his focus despite the lack of shots he had faced for the first part of the game.
New Jersey finally did show a push in the third period, and that allowed the Devils to tie the game two separate times in the third period. Nico Hischier opened the scoring for the Devils with a wrist shot from the slot at the 2:20 mark of the third period to tied the game at 1-1. After a Vincent Trocheck goal less than two minutes after Hischier’s gave the Panthers the lead back, New Jersey tied it again after Jesper Bratt’s centering pass from behind the net went off the skate of defenseman Aaron Ekblad and past Luongo to tie the score once again.
The fortunate bounce that went the Devils’ way to tie the score went against them in the game-winning goal for the Panthers. Even though the Devils had all five men back in its own zone, Florida forward Jared McCann, the only Panther in the zone, scored off a rebound of his own shot that initially was deflected by defenseman Andy Greene. McCann’s shot towards Schneider, after he gathered the rebound, bounced off the goalkeeper’s hip and into the net.
New Jersey did manage to outshoot the Panthers 15-7 in the third period and, surprisingly, gave them a realistic chance to win the game. However, after the game, Hynes was not in the mood to compliment his own team for whatever resiliency it showed in waking up from its 40-minute slumber before hand.
“We got to be better,” said Hynes after a noticeable pause after he was asked if he was proud of how the team responded in the third after being thoroughly outplayed. “If we want to win games, we got to be better than that.
“Like I said, we didn’t perform well enough in any area: playing, coaching, goaltending, special teams. Whatever it might be, we didn’t play well enough to win the game. We didn’t deserve to win the game, so we got to move on from that.”
Brevity may very well indeed be the soul of wit, but anything but humor was being exuded from Hynes after the team’s worst performance of the season. Hynes did not use too many words used to convey that message.
Then again, not that many words were necessary.