Although coaching in the NHL for the first time last season with the New Jersey Devils was a big challenge for John Hynes, he's faced a more difficult challenge this season.
Last season, Hynes got the Devils to buy in to his vision right away, and they surprised many by contending for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before fading late and finishing 38-36-8, 12 points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Despite the disappointing ending, expectations for the Devils were raised for this season, especially after they acquired skilled left wing Taylor Hall in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on June 29.
Those expectations appeared justified when the Devils started 9-3-3. Then the bottom fell out with a 5-13-4 slide, and it's become a near daily struggle to find consistency.
The Devils are 16-18-8 after beginning the second half of their regular-season schedule with a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday. Through 41 games last season, they were 20-16-5.
"It's been different," Hynes said. "Last year was seen maybe as an overachievement, where this year you expected to maybe be able to take the next step. It's interesting because you come into a situation where you're trying to fix it and rebuild it and replenish it and get it to a level where you want to go to, and you knew you were going to go through hard times and it was going to be difficult to be consistently competitive every night.
"That's on all of us to be able get ourselves back to where we want to be."
Video: PIT@NJD: Parenteau finishes Hall's gorgeous play
Hynes has talked repeatedly during the past two months about the Devils needing to be tough to play against. They were for most of last season, even in games they didn't win.
But that hasn't been the case enough this season.
"We have to play with structure and attention to detail to give ourselves the best opportunity to be very competitive in games," Hynes said. "That's one way to be tough to play against, and we can be better there. The other part is we've been off and on in our competitive battles on the puck. Winning puck battles and things like that are components that are part of being hard to play against that have to be more consistent."
This is an area where the Devils have missed defenseman Adam Larsson. That was the price general manager Ray Shero had to pay in the trade for Hall, and there's no doubt he'd make that trade again today if he had the choice.
But though many viewed the trade as a steal for the Devils, those outside New Jersey might not have understood Larsson's importance in terms of the minutes and the role he played.
At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Larsson has developed into a physical presence, surprising even the Oilers. His 126 hits are tied for eighth in the League and tied for fourth among defensemen.
By comparison, Kyle Quincey's 60 hits are the most by a Devils defenseman.
"Obviously, he played hard minutes, he was a great competitor, defended really well," Hynes said of Larsson. "But he's also a huge culture guy. What I mean by that is the way he plays, the way he practices, his care level about the team, the type of teammate he is. Those things are intangibles that, at times, you do miss, and what he brought to the team on the ice, they're not easy things to replace even though the return we got has been a heck of a player. It's a good move, but [Larsson] is an important guy."
Ready for their close-up
The media circus that followed the Columbus Blue Jackets near the end of their 16-game winning streak is gone now that the streak is over and the Blue Jackets fell short of the NHL record of 17 in a row set by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93. But the Blue Jackets hope to have the opportunity later this season to apply what they learned from dealing with the increased scrutiny.
With the youngest roster in the NHL at the beginning of the season (average age of 25.5), the majority of Blue Jackets don't know what it's like to go through a long playoff run and the additional media attention that comes with it. They have eight players who have never played in an NHL playoff game, and three -- Brandon Saad, Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky -- who've played on a team that made it past the first round.
So doing postgame interviews on national television and being surrounded by a horde of reporters before and after games was a different experience for most of them.
"You've got to learn it now because if you make the playoffs and you put a little run together, then it's going to be this times five or six," Hartnell said. "I never thought that a couple of our guys would be on ESPN doing a quick hit after a game. … It's new for a lot of people in this organization."
Video: PHI@CBJ: Foligno wrists puck past Mason for OT winner
After the scoring was changed Monday to credit the fourth goal for the New York Rangers in their 5-4 win at Columbus on Saturday to Michael Grabner instead of Adam Clendening, Grabner had his second hat trick of the season, the fourth of his NHL career. Grabner's 19 goals lead the Rangers, are two more than he had the past two seasons combined, and are his most since he scored 20 with the New York Islanders in 2011-12. All 19 of his goals have come at even strength; he leads the League in that category. …The Pittsburgh Penguins are 11-0-1 in their past 12 games at PPG Paints Arena and are a League-best 18-2-2 on home ice this season. …Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom got his 500th NHL assist in his 691st game in the League against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, becoming the third-fastest among active players to reach the milestone behind Sidney Crosby (554 games) and Jaromir Jagr (642 games). … The Carolina Hurricanes are 11-1-1 in their past 13 games at PNC Arena.
Video: Grabner, Maroon, Holtby named 3 Stars of the Week
Games to watch
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals (Jan. 11, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) -- The third game between the Penguins and Capitals this season. The Penguins won 3-2 in a shootout on Oct. 13. The Capitals won 7-1 on Nov. 16.
New Jersey Devils at Edmonton Oilers (Jan. 12, 9 p.m. ET; SNW, MSG+, NHL.TV) -- Hall returns to play in Edmonton for the first time since being traded to the Devils for Larsson on June 29. The Oilers defeated the Devils 2-1 in overtime at Prudential Center on Jan. 7.
Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals (Jan. 14, 12:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH, NHL.TV) -- The Capitals seek to avenge a 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 21.
New York Islanders at Boston Bruins (Jan. 16, 1 p.m. ET; SN, NESN, MSG+, NHL.TV) -- The Islanders complete a stretch of seven of eight games on the road with a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at TD Garden.
Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets (Jan. 21, 5 p.m. ET; FS-O, FS-CR, NHL.TV) -- The Hurricanes and Blue Jackets play for the third time in 12 days. They also play in Raleigh on Jan. 10 and in Columbus on Jan. 17.