Taylor Hall was a standout player for the New Jersey Devils ever since he was acquired. The month of February 2018 was when the rest of the larger hockey world realized that he was on another level. Hall would register a point in every single game in February, a difficult month for a Devils squad trying to scrape their way to a playoff spot. He would do more than go on a long point-streak. Hall put up an astonishing nine goals and ten assists in fourteen games. Hall was a fixture of the team’s boxscore - even with every opponent knowing that #9 was their primary target among Devils forwards. Nobody really stopped him in February. The superstar winger could only be contained.
Get ready for a long post displaying Hall’s serious awesomeness at scoring in the shortest month in the calendar. It’s a dazzling array of boo-yah where goalies were victimized, some opponents were torched (namely one of the biggest jerks in the NHL), and Devils fans all around the world were thrilled.
The February Goals of Taylor Hall
Game #47 - February 6 - at Ottawa - 10:54 into 2nd - Assisted by Zacha, Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
This game was Taylor Hall’s 500th career regular season game in the NHL. It was not a good night for the team as Ottawa went up early and built up a lead the Devils could not recover from. There was a brief ray of hope when Hall scored this power play goal during a five-minute major power play. Kyle Palmieri won a puck from the sideboards and got the secondary for touching it before Pavel Zacha collected the loose puck. Zacha sent the puck from the left point to the right where Hall was. Hall skated into the top of the right circle and unleashed a slap shot. Yes, a slap shot. Hall does not take many slapshots. He was right to do so here as he beat Craig Anderson clean on it. It was the rare slap shot goal from Hall, beating the goalie high and to his left. A moving screen by Brian Boyle may have helped this one too. Regardless, this made the game 2-4 in what would become a 3-5 loss in Ottawa. Hey, at least it is proof that Hall has a slap shot.
Game #48 - February 8 - vs. Calgary - 7:23 into 2nd - Assisted by Stafford - NHL.com Video Link
On this play, Drew Stafford shows up on a forecheck. His pressure leads to a turnover. He’s given assist because I guess he touched the puck as the defense coughed it up to Hall. I can’t go for that being legit. Still, Hall took the turnover, curled into the slot, and fired a low shot on net. David Rettig made the save, Hall picked up his own rebound in the circle right of the goalie, and put it home past the goalie’s left (a.k.a. the far post). That goal was all Hall with the real assist going to Dougie Hamilton for the turnover. With a wrister like that, why would Hall ever take a slap shot? This goal tied up the game at the time, but the Devils ultimately lost 2-3.
Game #50 - February 11 - vs. Boston - 0:31 into 2nd - Assisted by Hischier - NHL.com Video Link
This play starts with Hall making a pass to Nico Hischier in the neutral zone. Hischier gains the zone, garners the attention of three Bruins, and passes it back to Hall, who is above the right circle. Brad Marchand turned quickly enough to have a chance at taking the pass from Hall. Hall smoothly moved the puck around Marchand’s challenge with a toe drag to make him look like a chump. Which is easy in that it’s Brad Marchand and he’s a chump. Anyway, Hall collected the puck from the move on his forehand and ripped a high wrist shot past Anton Khudobin in the slot. In a word: smooth. Hall was so smooth here, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith could harmonize the words “Real smooth” to this play. It was so smooth, you could play a Michael McDonald song to this goal playing on repeat. It was so smooth, you could print out screenshots of the play and use them as sheets in place of silk. OK, maybe it wasn’t that smooth. But it was smooth.
The goal tied up the game at 2-2 at the time. Shame that it ended in a 3-5 loss. Still smooth.
Game #51 - February 13 - at Philadelphia - 4:06 into 2nd - Assisted by Vatanen - NHL.com Video Link
Amid a losing streak, the Devils were visiting Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day Eve. Taylor Hall showed up big time to break the slide with two equalizers. This is the first one. Sami Vatanen made a pass to Hall into the neutral zone and he carried the puck in. He carried it all the way down towards the goal line to Michal Neuvirth’s right. Hall was defended well enough and did not have any support, but he saw that Neuvirth was not totally covering his right post. So he took a chance and fired a wrister just below the right circle. It was a sharp angled shot. It went off the goalie and trickled into the net while Hall took a big hit from Radko Gudas (who is also a jerk). I can’t call this a fluke because the goalie made a mistake. Hall took a shot and he scored. It isn’t his fault Neuvirth let in a tissue-paper soft goal. This tied up the game 2-2 at the time.
Game #51 - February 13 - at Philadelphia - 18:39 into 3rd - Assisted by Hischier, Zajac - NHL.com Video Link
This was the second equalizer and it was a crucial one. The Devils were down a goal and the goalie was pulled. It was a 6-on-5 situation for the Devils. Travis Zajac won the offensive zone faceoff. Will Butcher took the puck and moved it down to the left corner to Hall. Hall went towards the net and tried to feed the middle. The puck hit off Zajac’s skate (that’s how he got the secondary assist - definitely not legitimate). but got loose enough for Hischier to take a shot in the slot. Hall was going around the other side of the net. Nobody on Philly followed him or was prepared for him to come out by the right post. Hischier took that shot through bodies and Neuvirth made a pad save to his right. Hall collected the rebound on his forehand and fired it high into the gaping net. Neuvirth had no chance at this one or any time to recover; so I mark Hischier’s as legit. But the important thing is that Hall scored to tie it up 4-4. It was his first 6-on-5 goal of the season. The Devils went on to win it 5-4 through a shootout to end their losing streak. I repeat: this was a crucial rebound goal.
Game #54 - February 18 - at Carolina - 4:37 into OT - Assisted by Palmieri, Vatanen - NHL.com Video Link
What is more crucial than an equalizer with the extra skater? An overtime game winning goal. Sami Vatanen and Kyle Palmieri earn their assists as they both made passes in Carolina’s end of the rink, they ensured possession, and they kept the puck in Carolina’s end of the rink. Both were at the left point as Hall entered the zone from the opposite side. All three Canes were looking at those two as Palmieri passed it across. Hall took the pass in stride and skated towards the right dot. Noah Hanifin was the only skater near Hall to try and stop him. As he came by, Hall was just outside of the dot and fired a low wrister. Ward made the save but he lost sight of his own puck. Ward thought he had it. He did not. Hall skated towards the net as he saw that Ward dropped the puck. Hanifin reacted too slowly to help his goalie or to impede Hall. This allowed Hall to skate to the crease and jam a backhander through Ward’s legs for a goal. The Devils won in Carolina 3-2. Like Hall’s first goal against Neuvirth, I can’t really call it a fluke because Ward made a mistake. Hall intended to shoot, he intended to follow up on that shot, and he did thanks to Ward losing it. That’s a non-fluke goal and a soft way for the Canes to lose in overtime.
Game #55 - February 20 - vs. Columbus - 1:34 into 2nd - Assisted by Hischier - NHL.com Video Link
This play really starts in New Jersey’s end of the rink. David Savard tried to feed a teammate in the middle, the puck goes through bodies and gets through to the other side. Hall collected the puck, led a 3-on-2 counter-attack, and scored short-side on Sergey Bobrovsky I’ve watched this a whole bunch of times and I really do not see how Hischier got a primary assist on this. I guess he touched the puck before Hall picked it up in his own right corner? Even so, it is not a legit assist for the rookie. The goal was all good though - except for Bobrovsky. Hall’s 3-on-2 rush eventually became a 3-on-3 with good backchecking by Columbus. Instead of feeding Vatanen or Hischier, who both went into the slot, Hall had no passing option. So he took a shot. It was the right call because Bobrovsky had a gap under his glove and above his left pad. Hall threaded the puck through it before Bobrovsky could close it for a goal. Very nice. It tied up the game 1-1 at the time, but it would be New Jersey’s only goal in a 1-2 loss.
Game #56 - February 22 - vs. Minnesota - 10:27 into 2nd - Assisted by Vatanen, Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
This is a power play goal. Palmieri starts this with a pass to Vatanen at the blueline from the right sideboards. The Wild’s PK unit were all on the right side of the zone. Vatanen ook the pass and quickly fired a pass to Hall, who was all alone in the left circle. Minnesota’s skaters could not get over in time to do anything about it. Thanks to a screen set by Miles Wood, Hall sniped the top corner to Alex Stalock’s right. It even made a lovely and loud “ping!” noise from the frame before the crowd erupted in jubilation. Technically, Hall was just outside of the scoring chance zone on this one; but that does not take away from the excellent shot. Nor does it take away from Palmieri and Vatanen being able to change the point of attack quickly enough for Hall to capitalize on. This was the first goal of the game, which unfortunately ended with a 2-4 loss to Minnesota.
Game #58 - February 27 - at Pittsburgh - 4:25 into 2nd - Assisted by Severson, Zajac - NHL.com Video Link
Now this was a fluke of a power play goal. This starts with Brian Boyle helping to win a puck to pass it down the right side to Zajac. Zajac moves towards the middle but does not look at goal; he looks for a teammate. He saw Damon Severson jumping up on the play. Zajac threads a pass through two Penguin sticks to the high slot. Severson fires a wrister that beat Casey DeSmith - but hit the crossbar. The puck took a weird bounce to Hall, who is below the left circle. Hall fires a quick, low wrist shot at a sharp angle, hoping to slide it in past a sprawled-out DeSmith. Boyle jumped to avoid blocking this shot, which he did successfully though not so gracefully. Hall did get the puck in for the PPG. It’s a fluke because the rebound was created by the puck hitting cross-bar and dropping at such an obtuse angle. On top of that, Boyle nearly got in the way of it. Whereas other goals this month were helped by the goalie not playing to their best, this one is not something the Devils could not likely repeat even if they tried it a whole bunch of times. The assists were legit, though. The goal did break a 1-1 tie to make it 2-1 for New Jersey at the time; the game ended in a 3-2 win for the Devils.
An Arbitrarily Decided Goal of the Month: There was diversity in Hall’s goals in February. It’s a bit hard to choose which one as the best among them. While others proved to be more critical to the Devils’ efforts, Hall’s goal against Boston on February 11 was just so fun, so skilled, and oh, so smooth to watch.
Say it with me now: Reaaaaaaaal smoooooooooth.
The February Assists of Taylor Hall
Before moving onto the assists, this is a reminder that when I’m looking for a legitimate assist, I’m looking for something that directly created a goal. Usually, this is a pass but I can accept shots that were re-directed or tipped by someone else or most rebounds provided the goalie could not recover, it created an opportunity, and it wasn’t something odd like an odd bounce off a crossbar.
Game #45 - February 1 - vs. Philadelphia - 3:42 into 1st - Power Play Secondary Assist - Primary Assist: Zacha, Goal: Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
The month of Hall’s assists starts off with some flair. Up against the right sideboards, Hall turns and flings a short, turnaround backhand pass to Pavel Zacha in the right circle. It looked cool. Zacha then saw Palmieri all alone on the left side of the zone. He makes a cross-ice pass to Palmieri, who fires a high wrister for the PPG. While Zacha’s assist was well-earned, Hall’s secondary was legit here. The goal was the first of a game that ended with a 4-3 regulation win thanks to a deflection by Hischier sneaking through the pads of Alex Lyon within the final two minutes.
Game #46 - February 3 - vs. Pittsburgh - 9:51 into 3rd - Secondary Assist - Primary Assist: Severson, Goal: Zajac - NHL.com Video Link
Sami Vatanen starts this play by passing the puck up the neutral zone on the left side to Hall. Hall carries the puck in, heads down to the left corner, and realizes he can’t really do much. So he turned and passed the puck back to Damon Severson at the left point. (Read: legitimate secondary assist.) Severson collected the puck off his skate, took a touch, settled the puck, and fired a wrist shot. This was in the face of incoming pressure; Severson got a good lift on the shot to have it pass a Penguin. Zajac, who was in the lower half of the left circle, tipped the puck in mid-air and the deflection eluded DeSmith for a goal. It was a good play off a zone entry. It was Zajac’s second goal of the game in what would be a great night for him. The goal made it 3-1, which stood in what was one of the most lopsided 3-1 wins I’ve seen all season. Seriously, Pittsburgh stunk up the rink.
Game #48 - February 8 - vs. Calgary - 7:23 into 3rd - Power Play Secondary Assist - Primary Assist: Boyle, Goal: Zacha - NHL.com Video Link
Hall is carrying the puck up on a breakout and attempts a pass to Boyle, so he can gain the zone along the right sideboards. Boyle fumbled the pass, which made the puck bounce away from him. It went off the boards, Stone took a touch, but Boyle chased down the puck so he was able to recover the puck. Boyle continued down to the right corner, went through a defender, and made a pass to Zacha, who was wide open at the top of the crease. The pass was precise as goaltender Rettig was unable to intercept it. Zacha took the pass and slid in a backhander through his legs on the second touch of the puck. It was slick. I can’t really say Hall’s secondary assist was legitimate; but I think that was more of Boyle’s fault even if he did recover it. His pass and Zacha’s goal-scoring move was still sweet. This power play goal put the Devils within one goal in the third, where the score remained.
Game #49 - February 10 - at Columbus - 16:26 into 3rd - Secondary Assist - Primary Assist: Butcher, Goal: Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
This was the Mothers Trip. This game went badly for the Devils. But their lone goal yielded a point for Hall, which kept his streak alive. Hall’s pass was legitimate. He set up Will Butcher for a one-timer slapshot from the center point. That was a real, intentional, and direct pass. What followed after Butcher’s shot was weird. Butcher missed the net, the puck rebounded hard off the endboards, and it hit off a sprawled out Bobrovsky (or a sprawled out Jack Johnson) and eluded an attempted whack at the puck by Hischier. The puck bounces out to the left side of the crease. Palmieri doesn’t get hit the puck on his first try, but he put a second effort off the post as Boone Jenner tried to deny the shot with his stick. As the puck lied by the goal line, Jenner dove to try to get it away while Palmieri couldn’t get his stick on the puck to poke it over the line. In doing so, Jenner put the puck past Bobrovsky. While it created the chaos, I cannot really say Butcher really assisted this goal. And I cannot really say Palmieri even scored the goal. He just had the last touch before Jenner accidentally put it in himself. But, hey, Hall’s assist was an actual pass for a shot. So there’s that.
Game #50 - February 11 - vs. Boston - 11:07 into 2nd - Primary Assist - Secondary Assist: Vatanen, Goal: Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
After five straight secondary assists, Hall gets a primary assist on this goal and it’s a good-looking one. The play started in the Devils’ own end of the rink. Vatanen chased down a loose puck along the sideboards and knocked it past Ryan Spooner (and collided with him) to get it up to the neutral zone. Hall got to the puck while David Krejci was right on him from behind. Hall got away from one hook by Krejci, collected the puck, and was hooked again as he carried the puck in. A penalty was to be called, but the rush was still going. Krejci and two other Bruins were looking at Hall and did not see Palmieri streaking towards the net behind them. Hall did. Hall sent a puck to the slot. Adam McQuaid was too late to intercept the pass and Palmieri slammed the pass past a sliding Khudobin for a goal. It was a great play in transition as Hall showed his strength as well as his vision with the puck. The goal made it 3-3 at the time. Alas, the Devils lost this game 3-5.
Game #52 - February 15 - vs. Carolina - 8:03 into 3rd - Primary Assist - Secondary Assist: Kinkaid, Goal: Hischier - NHL.com Video Link
You are not misreading that line. Keith Kinkaid picked up the secondary assist on this play. As with most assists given to goalies, he got a touch of the puck through making a save. Specifically, he turned Brock McGinn’s shot aside and the puck went wide and around the boards. Hall tried to poke it away from a pinching Hayden Fleury. It did not quite work and Hall lost his stick. But the puck did bounce right to Nico Hischier, who took the puck and darted forward. Fleury’s pinch meant there was a lot of free space behind him. Palmieri joined the rushing Hischier in a 2-on-1. Hischier kept the puck and beat Scott Darling straight-up to on his blocker side. I cannot really say that either assist was legit. Hall’s attempt was to create an odd-man rush of his own; but the fortuitous bounce of the puck led to Hischier charging ahead. The goal, though, was 100% pure goodness by the rookie. It also opened up the score as the Devils went up 4-2 at the time of the game; the Devils would score again just 32 seconds later for the final score of a 5-2 victory.
Game #53 - February 17 - at Tampa Bay - 3:13 into 2nd - Primary Assist - Secondary Assist: Vatanen, Goal: Hischier - NHL.com Video Link
This is a little similar to the previous assist in that Hall got the primary assist on a 2-on-1 goal where Hischier scored blocker-side. The assist was not as fortunate, though. On defense, Vatanen recovered a puck behind the goal line and made a pass up the zone to Hall. Hall tried to get around Nikita Kucherov. He lost the puck. However, because of how Kucherov engaged him and how was trying to cut towards the middle of the zone, the puck slid right to Hischier, who was heading up the middle of the zone. Hischier took the puck and skated ahead with Hall for a 2-on-1. Hischier, again, fired a wrister by the inside part of the right circle that beat the goalie. I’m kind of on the fence as far as whether Hall’s assist was legitimate. On the one hand, it is not really an actual pass. On the other, I can see the intent of what Hall was trying to do and what happened did spring Hischier forward to go on an odd-man rush. I’ve marked it down as “no” for now. I may change my mind later. Anyway, this goal made it 2-2 in the game at the time as the Devils won 4-3 thanks to an incredible game by Eddie Lack.
Game #57 - February 24 - at NY Islanders - 3:13 into 2nd - Primary Assist - Secondary Assist: Vatanen, Goal: Hischier - NHL.com Video Link
After three games without an assist (Hall was busy scoring goals), Hall picked up two against the Isles on Patrik Elias Night. The assists were the only two goals the Devils scored in a 2-1 victory. This is the first one. It started with Hischier stick-checking Josh Bailey on a shooting attempt. The puck missed and went around the boards. At the right point (right, relative to Jaroslav Halak), Hall was about to collect the puck. He saw Anders Lee right in his face, so he made a one-touch pass through Lee’s legs to Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri collected the puck, charged ahead all alone, and with two defenders, fired a scorcher of a wrist shot past Halak right to the top left (Halak’s left) corner. Yes, Hall nutmegged Lee for Palmieri to make Sebastian Aho look ineffective, Johnny Boychuk look useless, Halak’s butterfly look small, and the Devils fans marvel over a fantastic equalizer. That’s a legit primary assist for Hall (sorry, Hischier, yours wasn’t actually a pass or anything like one) and one heck of a highlight reel goal for Palmieri. Unfortunately for the Isles, this would not be the final time in 2017-18 where the Devils would make them look silly.
Game #57 - February 24 - at NY Islanders - 6:35 into 3rd - Primary Assist - Secondary Assist: Hischier, Goal: Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
This is the second assist on Elias Night, which contributed to the game-winning goal. It was also Hall’s fortieth of the season. It started with a dump-in. Hischier and Nick Leddy chased the puck to the end boards to Halak’s right. Hall went down to the board battle in case the puck got loose towards the right corner. That happened as Leddy kicked the puck away. Hall fired the puck through the bodies and around the boards to the left point. Vatanen moved from the top of the left circle back to the point to await the puck and immediately fire a wrist shot. Palmieri, who was also outside of that board battle and curled towards the net, re-directed the shot in front of the crease to make it 2-1 New Jersey. While it was not a direct pass, Hall’s intention and execution was clear so I recorded this secondary assist as a legitimate one. It also has been his sole assist so far where he just fired the puck along the boards towards a teammate.
I have two fun facts about this single-season milestone from Hockey-Reference: Hall’s assist made him the first Devil since Jaromir Jagr’s 2013-14 season to earn at least 40 assists in a season. Also: Hall’s assist made him the 38th player in Devils franchise history to reach that mark. Note that this occurred in Hall’s 57th game of the season. There are 19 games left for him.
Game #58 - February 27 - at Pittsburgh - 3:13 into 2nd - Secondary Assist - Primary Assist: Vatanen, Goal: Palmieri - NHL.com Video Link
The tenth and final assist by Hall in February came from his own end of the rink. With Sidney Crosby coming in a forecheck, Hall tossed a short, backhanded pass to Damon Severson at New Jersey’s blueline. Severson skated the puck ahead and turned towards the middle after crossing the red line. This is because he saw Palmieri coming down his way. Severson laid a drop pass for Palmieri, who took the puck and carried the puck on the right side of the zone. Despite his presence, Jamie Oleksiak allowed a bubble of space for Palmieri to work with. Palmieri took the puck to just above the right circle before he sniped a goal with a wrist-shot. He used Oleksiak as a screen as he threaded the shot through his legs. Casey DeSmith may not have seen this one going to his right side, much less past it. Palmieri’s shot is the highlight here, but Hall’s and Severson’s assists were legitimate on this play.
An Arbitrarily Decided Assist of the Month: On the one hand, the assist to Palmieri against Boston featured Hall taking a potential play and turning it into a great one with little downside. What happened obviously worked. If it didn’t, the Devils were going to get a power play because Krejci fouled him. On the other hand, the primary assist for Palmieri’s equalizer was a cool little pass. You don’t see too many nutmegs in hockey and it sprung Palmieri forward for a great goal. Not all great passes need to be long or particularly impressive; a quick move can be more than enough. Plus, it led to an important goal on an important night. I’m going to give it to the primary assist against Boston because it had more going on. Palmieri’s first goal against the Isles was mostly him turning a little something into greatness. But those two stood out to me.
Let’s start with the assists. One of the overall conclusions of this point review that I’m coming to is that discounting secondary assists as “noise” or thinking they should not be counted is foolish. Out of the ten assists in February, six were secondary assists by Hall and only one of those were not legitimate. It could have been if Boyle received the puck better, although, who knows if the play would have continued how it did. By contrast, two of the four primary assists were not really passes or what could be described as a legitimate, intentional assist. OK, one was a grey area; but it shows that primary assists aren’t always “good” assists either.
The one on February 15 for Hischier’s goal against Carolina was easily the “cheapest” of the bunch. It could be argued that the point-streak should have ended on that night. I’m glad it didn’t, of course. Still, even with the qualms, seven out of Hall’s ten assists were real ones. Two other oddities sutck out to me. First, three of them happened in New Jersey’s end of the rink. All three resulted in zone exits that became scoring plays. Not that Hall necessarily made the defensive play that led to that opportunity; but it showed that a move there can pay off big time on three occasions. Second, Palmieri benefited the most by far from Hall’s assists in February. Six times did an assist by Hall lead to a goal by Palmieri. The line of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri were very stable at this point of the season and it was clear why. It was working well.
As for the goals, goodness, eight out of nine were non-flukes. Hall was a scoring machine in February and these goals were almost entirely all on him. The one that was a fluke wasn’t necessarily on Hall; he didn’t control how the puck bounced right to him below the left circle. Hall did benefit from some poor play by goaltenders for three of them. Neuvirth should have covered the post. Bobrovsky was open on his shortside. Ward lost a rebound (and Hanifin didn’t help him much). If you want to consider the opposition as a whole, then throw in Hamilton’s giveaway to Hall for his goal against Calgary too. But in all four of those cases, Hall made the finish happen.
What was impressive about the nine goals was how diverse they were. In terms of situation, three of them were on power plays, one was in an extra skater situation, and one was an overtime winner. In terms of the shot, while Hall’s wrist shot continued to amaze, we saw a rare slap shot goal from Hall in addition to two put-backs off his own rebound. He made Hamilton suffer for his turnover, he made Marchand look like a chump with a toe drag, and while the assist wasn’t intentional we did see an assist credited to Keith Kinkaid. They weren’t just nine of the same kind of goal.
Lastly, Hall’s 19 points in February were meaningful ones for the Devils at their time. Out of nine goals, five of them tied up the game at the time they were scored and three of them put the Devils up by one. Out of ten assists, four led to equalizers, two led to goals where the Devils went up by one, and one put the Devils within a goal of tying up the game. These weren’t points put up in garbage time. Only two assists put the Devils up beyond one goal - and they only put them up by two at the time, so insurance did not sweeten Hall’s production in this month. No, these points did not always result in Devils wins. But Hall was often involved in keeping the Devils in their games in February. I’d like to think that this was noticed as the buzz for Hall being a contender for the Hart Trophy started picking up. Maybe I’m reaching. Regardless, it is truly remarkable.
I now turn to you, the reader. What did you think of Hall’s goals and assists in February? What impressed you the most about the goals and assists by Hall in this past month? Which were your favorite? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Hall’s points in February. Thank you for reading.
Oh, and the next post will be longer. Hall put up 20 in 15 in March.