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The Era Of Green Has Begun

Travis Green, it’s your party. 

After a so-so first 61 games, the Devils have decided they could wait no longer. With their playoff hopes having tumbled down to roughly 15%, GM Tom Fitzgerald pulled the “break glass in case of emergency” switch and fired Head Coach Lindy Ruff on Monday evening. In doing so, Associate Coach Travis Green was elevated to the lead job – on an interim basis. This isn’t Green’s first foray into life as an NHL Head Coach. And Tuesday night, with Green now running the bench, the Devils proved that changing coaches isn’t going to cure all that ails them as they fell to the Florida Panthers 5-3 in a game that further pushed them towards seller status with Friday’s Trade Deadline approaching.

While the win-loss results might take a while to change, Green has already made it clear that his handling of the players won’t be quite the same as Lindy Ruff’s. Simon Nemec, the highly hyped defense prospect who drew rave reviews back in December, was scratched from the lineup because, as Green put it, “his game has dipped in the last three weeks.” 

“Experience is a big part of life,” Green explained. “Not just in coaching, but in everything you do. I’m a lot more comfortable now than I was in my first game in the NHL. A better coach today than I was five years ago. I’m a better coach today than I was a month ago. That’s the goal, improvement all the time.”

Hopefully, Nemec will look back on getting scratched and see it as a means to improve his game.

Meanwhile, Alexander Holtz, whose deployment by Ruff was a source of consternation amongst the fans, found himself starting on the fourth line because, as Tom Fitzgerald put it, “he has not had a good year.” That’s quite the damning statement from New Jersey’s GM and a sign of where the team is currently at. 

As we previously mentioned, the Devil’s fortunes won’t change overnight. In a season during which the Garden Staters often find themselves trailing early, the game against the Panthers was no different. Nick Cousins got in behind New Jersey’s defense and sent a backhander whizzing past Akira Schmid to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead 2:54 into the game. It was the 45th time in 62 games that the Devils surrendered the first goal of the game.

“I thought we did some really good things,” Timo Meier explained. “But to win, you’ve gotta do it more consistently over the game; especially during those first 10 minutes. We gave up two goals, and then you’re chasing the game again. Especially at home, we’ve gotta do a way better job of starting games. It’s been a problem all year and we’ve gotta find a way to fix that.”

A Luke Hughes delay-of-game penalty at 4:47 compounded the Devils’ issues and led to Florida’s second goal – a shot from the slot by a wide-open Evan Rodrigues – at 6:30 of the first period. New Jersey’s penalty-kill has been inconsistent all season and this was more of the same. Nobody picked up Rodrigues in the slot and he waltzed in before ripping the puck past Schmid. 

With Simon Nemec coming out of the lineup due to underperforming, it’s fair to wonder if Luke Hughes might soon find himself sitting for a game, as the neophyte has struggled in his own zone of late. 

Of course, if Luke Hughes continues to help generate offense like he did on brother Jack’s power-play goal 11:45 into the first period, then perhaps he’ll be able to work through his defensive issues without leaving the lineup. The elder Hughes’ power-play goal was a welcome sight for New Jersey as they’ve struggled with the man-advantage in recent weeks. It also allowed the Devils to claw themselves back into the game as they cut their deficit to 2-1.

For most of the season, the Devils have talked about needing to have more life in their games. They’ve lamented their lack of energy at times. Well, when the second period started, they looked as lively as they had all year. Florida’s netminder, Anthony Stolarz was forced to make four saves in short order before robbing Jack Hughes on the doorstep 2:10 into the middle period. 

“It’s been one day,” Colin Miller said. “It’s gonna take a little bit of time to get maybe some of the things that he’s (Travis Green) looking to implement. There were some good parts of the game with our compete and stuff like that and then some areas where we need to improve.”

That newfound energy that the Devils started the second period with carried over into the middle of the frame as Luke Hughes managed to coerce Ryan Lomberg into tripping him behind New Jersey’s net to give the Devils another power-play opportunity. While the Garden Staters didn’t score with the man advantage, an icing by the Panthers at the end of it kept Florida’s tired players on the ice. Timo Meier took advantage of that and through a goalmouth scramble, managed to bang home the loose puck at the 11:01 mark of the middle period to tie the game 2-2. 

New Jersey’s euphoria was short-lived though as Eetu Luostarinen wired a wrister past Schmid at the 12:37 mark of the second period to give the Panthers back the lead, 3-2. On the play, Luostarinen turned Jonas Siegenthaler inside-out before snapping off his shot from between the hash marks. The Devils have stressed all season long that they need to do a better job defending the middle of the ice and this was just another example of the work Travis Green needs to do with his team.

Fast forward to the third period and it was Nick Cousins who again took advantage of the Devils’ defensive gaps to redirect the puck past Schmid and increase Florida’s lead to 4-2. A Colin Miller goal through traffic at 11:16 of the third period gave the Devils a glimmer of hope but Sam Reinhart’s empty-netter at 19:52 sealed New Jersey’s fate.

Overall, the Devils’ energy was better in the second and third periods than it has been in quite some time. However, they still got off to a slow start in the first period. They still surrendered the first goal of the game. And they still couldn’t quite cover up their defensive lapses. Travis Green has at least the rest of this season to try and mold the Devils into a consistent winning team, but that job will likely get harder if any significant subtractions are made before Friday’s Trade Deadline. 

“It’s a new energy,” Meier said. “A new personality. It was a nice refresh of the way he was kind of preparing us for the game and how he was handling everything. So, kudos to him. It was not easy for him, the last 24 hours. I thought he did a good job.”

For now, it’s one day and one game at a time. 

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