Let me start by saying that I think John Hynes has done a terrific job in his first season as an NHL head coach. I think he’s a good, young head coach who will only get better with more experience. He has the Devils, who many predicted to finish at the bottom of the league, currently third in the Metropolitan Division. Cory Schneider is a huge reason why the Devils are where they are, but Hynes deserves a ton of credit. He has a brought a breath of fresh air to the clubhouse and has the team playing inspired hockey on a nightly basis. However, he does have one glaring flaw.
The thing about Hynes that gets he and the Devils in trouble is his inability to shorten his bench. He has way too much trust in certain players and puts them out in situations that they shouldn’t be in. On one hand, I love the fact that the coach is willing to use his whole roster to get the job done. On the other hand, there are simply some situations that certain guys should not be in. Hynes relies too much on these players and it ends up costing the Devils wins and points.
In today’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals, the Devils entered the third period down 1-0. That deficit was quickly erased when Joseph Blandisi tapped in a rebound on the power play. A few minutes later Adam Henrique ripped a goal into the top corner to give the Devils the lead. They now had a 2-1 third period lead against the best team in hockey with just over 12 minutes remaining. Hynes continued to roll all four lines which is fine because it was still too early to shorten the bench.
The problem came when there was under seven minutes remaining. The first whistle (except for goals and icings) under six minutes is a commercial break. This is the perfect time to shorten the bench to three lines and four or five defensemen. In no way should the fourth line, or by far the team’s biggest liability on the blue line, be out protecting the lead. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened.
The next shift was the Bobby Farnham–Stephen Gionta–Jordin Tootoo fourth line accompanied by Eric Gelinas and David Schlemko on defense. When I saw them all out there I muttered to myself “this isn’t the ideal group to be defending the lead right now.” Thirty seconds later Washington tied the score. I wish I could say I didn’t see it coming, but I would be lying.
New Jersey has a defensively dominant center in Travis Zajac – who had one hell of a game shutting down the extremely dangerous Ovi-Backstrom-Oshie line while winning 14/19 (74%) faceoffs and adding an assist on Blender’s goal. They also have Henrique and Jacob Josefson who are solid defensively. There’s no reason for Hynes to put out the Gionta line when the other three lines are all more responsible and more skilled.
Then there’s the fact Gelinas was out there when he hasn’t shown an ability to play reliable defense. I like Gelly, I do, but it would be silly for me to say he should be out defending a lead. In reality, he shouldn’t even be in the lineup right now. Damon Severson getting scratched for him is another head-scratching move made by Hynes. I simply don’t understand it. There are too many times this season where it doesn’t make sense to have the bottom of the roster on the ice, yet that’s exactly who’s out there.
Maybe I’m just nitpicking; maybe I’m just annoyed at conceding late goals and throwing away points, but to me, Hynes has his trust in the wrong place. I would much rather rely on your horses in important situations than players who play on the fourth line for a reason. I’m all for rolling four lines/six D throughout the game, but in those big moments like defending a late lead against the class of the league, I want the best players out there. If Ovechkin dangles Adam Larsson and dekes Zajac to beat Schneider, well then I’d tip my hat. Otherwise, it’s just a self-inflicted wound and those are the worst kind.