New Jersey Devils: Lindy Ruff’s defense can hang with the best

In a weird, fun, crazy twist of fate, Lindy Ruff‘s New Jersey Devils split their opening series with the Boston Bruins 1-1 after first-year left-handed winger Yegor Sharangovich scored a walk-off goal with 1.7 seconds left to play in the overtime.

The team is exciting, fun, and furious and have replaced their at-times plodding 2019-20 offense with a blistering attack predicated on pushing the pace and placing pressure on opposing goaltenders. While it hasn’t always worked, as the Devils’ shooters are a combined 4-53 through the first two games of the season, it’s clear this system can work and be successful, especially if they can find another 20-plus goal scorer either in their system or via a midseason trade.

Actually, nevermind. I forgot that Miles Wood is on pace for a 56 goal season. We’re all good.

Heck, even the Devils’ blue-liners are getting involved on the offense after suffering through a ‘down year’ last season, with former first-round pick Ty Smith becoming the first rookie defenseman to score a point in each of his first two games while wearing a Devils uniform since Viacheslav Fetisov all the way back in 1989.

But between you and me, Ruff’s new offensive scheme isn’t what’s been the most exciting aspect of the new-look Devils. No, it’s the changes he’s made on the defensive end of the ice that has really unlocked the team’s potential and allowed them to hang right in there with one of the best teams in the NHL for two games in three days.

Lindy Ruff has the New Jersey Devils’ defense clicking.

In 2019-20, the Boston Bruins scored the most goals in the NHL at 227. They averaged a little more than a goal a period and were able to score a point in 50 of their 70 regular season games.

In two games versus the Devils, the Bruins are averaging two and haven’t scored a single goal at even strength in 95 combined minutes of action.

Coincidence? I think not.

Despite opting to play without 2019-20 mainstays Will Butcher and Connor Carrick, the Devils’ D has been much improved in front of lights-out, lockdown, deserves-a-key-to-the-city netminder “Big” MacKenzie Blackwood. Smith looks like a legit top-four option, P.K. Subban also looks noticeably improved from last season both at full strength and as the quarterback of the team’s still-fruitless power play.

Heck, even AHL stalwart Matt Tennyson and one-year free agency addition Dmitry Kulikov have played well above the levels that many expected while filling out hypothetical lines during the preseason.

Factor in Ryan Murray – the team’s key offseason addition after Corey Crawford‘s retirement – who is playing like a pretty good approximation of the player the Columbus Blue Jackets initially envisioned when they drafted him second overall in 2012, and suddenly, the Devils’ D might be pretty darn good.

But this isn’t just about putting players in the right position to succeed. No, Ruff’s defense is playing so well because of the scheme he’s opted to install in the lead-up to the 2020-21 season.

I know, crazy, right? The coach many a Rangers fan accused of ruining New York’s defense actually has the Devils playing a cleaner, crisper style in their own zone? Who would have thought?

Though the sample size is maddeningly small, the way Ruff has opted to deploy his defense through the first 120 minutes of action has been encouraging to say the least. Even if his rotation is still a work in progress while we wait for Sami Vatanen to make his triumphant return to The Rock – or wherever the team is playing on that given night – the Devils’ six defenders have been sticking close to the net and giving their opponents… well, opponent, far fewer shots close to the goal.

Is it sustainable? Will the New Jersey Devils be able to keep things low scoring until their offense finds their footing when they take the show on the road to face off against the New York Islanders at MSG, or was it all just a happy byproduct of good ole fashion home cooking? Either way, it’s abundantly clear Lindy Ruff has made his mark on his new team all the while making them insanely watchable for fans who haven’t watched Garden State hockey since last March.