Hockey is an unpredictable sport; even at the NHL level, there are bound to be surprises week in and week out. Our New Jersey Devils have now played roughly a week’s worth of hockey (I have to be a bit generous on the timeline here due to the Europe Trip) and we’ve definitely seen some things that we did not expect. Today we look at the good (and some not-so-good) surprising moments from the start of the Devils 2018-19 season.
The 4-0-0 Start
While CJ may not firmly believe in everything that the team has done to this point, 8 points out of 8 possible is a great start. I know the Washington Capitals were on the back end of a back to back, but many predicted the team would not win that game; some even thought that the opener against the Edmonton Oilers would be a loss, yet here we are the NHL’s only undefeated team left.
Kyle Freaking Palmieri
I debated putting Palmieri in this section because we all know he can score and in bunches, but decided that 7 goals in 4 games to start the season deserves mention here. While the obvious jokes can be made about being on pace for 143 goals (144 if you would like to round up), the fact remains that if Palmieri continues to find ways to put the puck in the net, he could break Brian Gionta’s record of 48 goals in a season, as well as the 24 power play goals in a season (Palms already has 4) that is also a New Jersey Devils record. Individual accolades aside, if he continues to play this well, the team will keep winning.
The concern that Travis Zajac was declining and/or washed up was legit and written about numerous times on this site over the past couple of seasons; perhaps Miles Wood was the shot in the arm that he needed? While his strong defense is to be expected, Travis’ 2 goal, 1 assist start has to be encouraging to even his strongest doubters. His face-off win percentage of 65.75% just reinforces the already visible truth: Travis Zajac has been good.
Anyone see a waiver wire pickup ranking second in goals on the team? Anyone? Me neither. Considering he’s been playing in a 4th line role, that makes it even more impressive. While John-Sebastian Dea may cool off similarly to Brian Gibbons a year ago, he’s doing a lot right on the ice and contributing to this team.
Keith Kinkaid’s 4-0-0 start has been due to a combination of skill, luck, and a little help from the team in front of him. With a .961 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.00 to go along with 2 shutouts, Kinkaid is making a strong case to stay between the pipes even when Cory Schneider is ready to go.
One Strong Muell
Okay, I’m ready to eat some crow in regards to Mirco Mueller. While he still makes the occasional boneheaded play, and concerns me (and others I’m sure) with his slow decisions with the puck at times, he’s been overall a good complimentary piece next to Sami Vatanen on Jersey’s top pair. Now this in no way makes him a “top pairing defenseman” but the fact that he and Vats play well together means that the Devils overall have a stronger back end than they did last season.
The Goal-less Hall
While four games isn’t really anything to be super concerned about, the fact that Taylor Hall has yet to find the back of the net is at least going to worry those who wanted a repeat Hart Trophy winner. Hall is still averaging a point per game to this point, and it’s only a matter of time before he breaks out...at the very least he can continue to be a beneficiary of Palmieri filling the net.
Nico Also Goal-less
Even less of a concern than Hall probably, it’s still disappointing how snake-bitten Nico has been over the team’s first week. He’s had some quality chances and come just shy of potting his first a couple of times, but hey, maybe tonight will be the night! Again, not anything to be worried about, but definitely surprising after the first four games.
JQ and PZ Only Pointless Devils
Not pointless as in why are they on this team, but as in they have yet to get their names on the score sheet through 4 games. Pavel Zacha and John Queneville find themselves as the subjects of one entry together because they’re the only Devils remaining who have appeared in games to not have recorded a point, and because they’re former first round picks who the team needs to start contributing. They’re both young and they’re both doing a lot right on the ice, but they’ve not been rewarded for it quite yet.
Will Butcher Possibly Injured
We’ll probably find out more shortly after this article posts, but Roman Polak’s questionable hit on Butcher may leave a hole the lineup that can’t be easily filled. While Steven Santini and to a lesser extent Eric Gryba are waiting in the wings, the Devils can ill afford to lose a puck mover as good as Butcher for an extended period of time. Even if Will isn’t good to go for tonight, hopefully the issue isn’t one that deprives him of a good chunk of his sophomore season.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the start of the season; anything listed above surprising to you as well? Is there anything you disagreed with? Was something not listed that surprised you in either a good or not-so-good way? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!