Joined: May 2015
Even during that 4-0-0 run, flaws were masked by Kinkaid's hot streak. The Devils' system asks Defensemen to pinch regularly, even when it's risky. Last year, the Defensemen were largely successful when they pinched, and Forwards were quick to cover for them when things went poorly. This season, these pinches have been less successful, and the Forward have been a step behind on the backcheck. This is why, even in those dominant first four games, the Devils gave up quality chances.
The team has also been ineffectual in their own zone from day 1. Don't get me wrong, they're disciplined and structured on Defense, which limits the amount of quality chances they concede. My gripe is that they can't regain the puck once their opponents have it in the O-Zone. Opposition cycles last for entire shifts, which (on top often yielding Goals Against) tires the Devils and inevitably leads to mistakes. I don't know if this is because the players have been coached to be conservative on Defense, or if they aren't getting proper instruction on winning puck battles. My hunch is that whatever the strategic reason, it's exacerbated by the team's lack of size. Boyle, Severson, and Santini are the only players who can and do push anyone around; that makes it hard to disposes attackers of the puck.
Goaltending has also contributed to the losses. In those first 4 games, the Devils allowed 4 Goals on 103 shots (for a save % of 96.12). Since then, they have allowed 51 Goals on 483 shots (for a save % of 89.44), with Kinkaid stopping of 336 of 372 shots (90.32%) and Schneider stopping 96 of 111 (86.49%).
Depth scoring has also been an issue. While the top line has cooled down since the beginning of the season, they've still done well (at least when Hischier was healthy); since game 4, that trio has combined for a respectable 12 Goals in 15 Games (even as Hischier mas missed 4 matches). Meanwhile, players who weren't named Hall, Palmieri, or Hischier scored 10 goals (2.5 Goals/Gm) in the first 4 games of the year, but only 26 Goals in the 15 games since then (1.7 Goals/Gm). In a league where 19 teams are scoring at least 3 Goals-per-game, the Devils can't win without more production from their Dmen and depth Forwards.
All that being said, I still think the team can turn it around (although probably not enough to make the Playoffs). The Defensive issues aren't likely to be fixed without better personnel, but Goaltending and depth scoring may improve. Even if Kinkaid and Schneider return to their mediocre 2017-18 numbers, the Devils will win more games. The Johansson - Zacha - Bratt line has played well, while Johansson and Wood (who are both currently snake-bitten by poor shooting % and low on-ice shooting %) need only for their bad luck to recede. If those two players catch some breaks and Nico returns to health, the Devils' offense should be competitive.