Devils’ Website Gives Insight into Ruff

In an interesting article posted yesterday on the Devils’ official website, writer Peter Robinson spoke to two of Lindy Ruff’s former NHL players and discussed what he brings to the Devils’ bench. The interviews appeared in an article entitled “Reflections on Ruff.”

The two players Robinson spoke to via text were Jay McKee, who played under Ruff with the Buffalo Sabres, and Dave Lowry, who played under Ruff when the latter was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers. One of Ruff’s players at that time and Lowry’s teammate? None other than current Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald.

Both men have gone into coaching at the junior level. McKee was “most recently the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers” of the Ontario Hockey League, where, Robinson points out, he coached Devils prospect Michael Vukojevic.

Lowry is the coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and his son, Adam, currently is playing for the Winnipeg Jets.

Both men had fond memories of Ruff as a coach, with McKee telling Robinson that “Lindy is a great communicator and his Xs and Os are great too.”

Lowry said “Lindy came along for us at a time when coaches didn’t really associate (off-ice) with the players. Lindy would play golf with us and take part in the occasional card game… that was unheard of at the time.”

But despite that, McKee told Robinson that he didn’t “want to call him a players’ coach (necessarily), because he was never afraid to crack the whip. What he is, is he’s an excellent person, just a good human and he can connect with guys, especially young players.” This is especially appealing to Devils fans’ ears with their core of good, young players and system of prospects.

Another interesting wrinkle that Robinson explores is that McKee played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10, a year following their Stanley Cup win in 2009. That was the year that Fitzgerald moved “into a player development role” for the Pens “after serving an assistant to Dan Bylsma on the Cup-winning squad in 2009.”

McKee said: “I don’t really know Fitzy other than as a player, I played against him a lot, but I will say this, that it’s usually guys like him who make the best GMs.”

McKee also makes mention of Ruff’s ability to adapt, citing the Sabres major playoff runs while Ruff was there. He told Robinson: “the first time, 1999, we got to the Final and really only had one star player and that was our goalie, (Dominik) Hasek. Then in 2006 we had Max (Afinogenov), Chris Drury, Danny Briere, Derek Roy…had we not had four defensemen injured (in the playoffs) and Tim Connolly the (outcome) could have been different (than losing in the Eastern Conference Final). That was all Lindy being able to adjust like he did as a head coach (and have success) with different teams and (installing) two completely different systems.”

Lowry likened it to technology, saying “you need to know the latest, greatest (piece), but sometimes you pick it up just by watching your own kids.”

This information bodes well for fans who were skeptical of this hiring, myself included. Ruff seems, from what his former players say, to be able to connect with the younger players while still maintaining discipline and adapting his coaching as the league changes. You do not last as long as Ruff has in the NHL as a coach – almost 26 straight seasons – and not be good at your craft. This perspective makes things a little more exciting.

In other Devils news, Amanda Stein is reporting on her “Inside the Devils” blog on NewJerseyDevils.com, that Nico Hischier is skating with the Swiss National Team this week.

Starting today (Wednesday), Nico and “Devils goaltending prospect Gilles Senn will join a group of 22 for the” summer Prospects Camp being run by the Swiss National Team.

There are “strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines” being adhered to and “all players involved will be tested for COVID-19 and asked to respect a 1.5-meter distance whenever possible.”

The camp will be bringing in “the best young players in the Swiss player pool, 25 and under, as well as young players from the junior teams.” Hischier, while an NHL player, has competed at the IIHF World Championships with Switzerland and will “help integrate the younger generation” along with Senn and Pius Suter, who recently signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stein said that “the camp will mostly involve practice sessions, as well as a scrimmage at the end of camp.”

Devils Earn Shutout Victory Over Ducks

The Devils rolled into Anaheim looking to extend their five-game point streak. They succeeded with a 3-0 shutout win over the Ducks. The shutout was goaltender Cory Schneider’s first such clean sheet since February 21, 2019 versus Ottawa.

March kicked off the final full month of the 2019-20 season and the Devils got it off on the right foot. Jesper Boqvist joined the team in Southern California today as he was recalled from Binghamton yesterday but did not play tonight due to the travel involved and because all of the forwards for the team were healthy. Josh Jacobs did play tonight, making his season debut for the Devils and playing in his second-ever NHL game. He wore number 40 and skated on the third defensive pairing with Connor Carrick.

Jacobs slotted in for Fredrik Claesson, who was “a bit banged up” according to Erika Wachter on the MSG pregame show. Will Butcher also remained out and did not make the trip west with the team.

In net, Schneider, as mentioned, earned his first shutout of the year, being equal to all 34 shots the Ducks threw his way. Facing him was John Gibson who made 31 saves on 34 Devils shots for a nightly save percentage of .912. Gibson also took a penalty, an interference penalty against Kevin Rooney on a weird play at the very end of the second period.

The Devils earned a goal in each period. In the first, Pavel Zacha, who would go on to be named the second star of the game, notched his first of two on the power play. It was set up when Anaheim’s Sonny Milano, recently acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, was called for tripping Miles Wood. At 17:08, Zacha scored when PK Subban sprung Jesper Bratt and Bratt skated up ice. He fed Zacha, who was cutting backdoor, with a nice backhanded pass. That made it 1-0 Devils.

Zacha struck on the power play in the second period when the Ducks’ Carter Rowney was caught for a hold on Nico Hischier at 3:11 to give the Devils another advantage. On this one, Zacha and Bratt again combined when Bratt grabbed the puck, beat an Anaheim defender, stopped and passed cross-ice to Zacha who was camped out at the far faceoff circle. He scored to make it 2-0 Devils. Nikita Gusev kept his point streak alive, moving it to six, with the secondary assist. Bratt also made it eight points in seven games with the two assists. As MSG’s Ken Daneyko pointed out, this goal was made possible by Bratt’s amazing edge work allowing him to get through the defense and stop on a dime to pass to Zacha.

Anaheim nearly got the goal back when Cory had to stop Ryan Getzlaf on a breakaway soon after.

Zacha would be injured in the third period and left the game. He did not return and we should find out more about him in the coming days.

On special teams, the Devils were 2-for-3 on the power play for the night, scoring on both shots they took. They also had a shorthanded shot. The Ducks were 0-for-2 with four shots on the power play and had a single shorthanded shot as well.

The third period saw Cory make a few nice saves on a mad scramble in front of his net midway through. He had some help from the Devils’ defenders around him as well as it was just a nice all-around defensive sequence by the Devils.

Minutes after the Devils killed off two penalties (the Ducks had a 5-on-3 for two seconds), Nico Hischier broke his nine-game goalless drought when the Devils won a faceoff back to Connor Carrick at the point. Carrick shot and Nico batted down the shot into the Ducks’ net at 13:56 gone by in the third to make it 3-0. The goal was briefly reviewed in the Situation Room in Toronto to look for a high-stick, but Nico’s was below the crossbar when he batted the puck down and the goal stood.

And that was it. Both teams had 34 total shots on goal. The Devils won 49-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Travis Zajac winning an astonishing 72-percent of his to lead all Devils’ centers. The Devils edged the Ducks in hits with 27 to Anaheim’s 26. New Jersey also had more blocks at 21 to Anaheim’s 16. The Devils finished with less turnovers at nine to 12 giveaways.

Individually, Jacobs had a penalty (a high-sticking penalty at 9:53 of the third), two shots on goal, a hit and two blocked shots in 17:12 (including 41 seconds on the penalty kill) in his season debut.

Mirco Mueller had 21:36 to lead everyone in ice time (just beating his defensive partner by about 13 seconds in that department). He played 20 seconds on the power play and 2:43 on the penalty kill. Zajac led the forwards with 17:16 (including 1:06 logged on the power play and 2:11 on the penalty kill).

Zacha (named the second star of the game – Dakota Mermis was the third and Cory Schneider the first) and Bratt led the team in points with two each – two goals for Zacha, two helpers for Bratt.

Zacha also led in shots on goal with five, Subban in blocks with three, Mermis and Kevin Rooney in hits with five each and Zajac, Zacha and Jack Hughes in takeaways with one apiece.

Next up, the Devils will be in Las Vegas on Tuesday to take on the Golden Knights. Puck drop for this one is 10 PM ET. This will begin a series of games the Devils will be playing against playoff contenders or teams currently in a playoff position. We will, of course, have coverage for you right here.