If you follow a team in a sport long enough, then it is almost inevitable that you recognize that some players have just been consistent thorns in the side of your favorite team. It is not just that they are a great player on their own - even though they might be. It is not just that they had a great performance - even though they did. It is not even an issue of whether or not the team even won. There are just players that seemingly leave a lot of marks on your favorite team and you know they’re just going to do it again the next time they play each other. You may call them a team killer.
Who you recognize as a New Jersey Devils ‘killer’ may speak to era. In my younger days, while top stars would, well, play like top stars, I felt this way about Alexei Morozov just always brought it against the Devils. It is true that the Devils would play against the Penguins more than many teams back then, so he had more opportunities than most players. Yet, for a player with only 84 career goals in the NHL, he managed to get 11 past Brodeur back when he was the Martin Brodeur. Brodeur himself name checked Morozov as one of the top five shooters he feared the most per this Rich Chere article at NJ.com in 2014. The other four players on the list were top scorers in their day, with three of them in or will definitely be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I never understood it. Given that he only scored 63 other goals against non-Brodeur goalies, maybe he did not understand it either.
In more recent times, Artemi Panarin has been brought up as a killer. Mostly by CJ. And he is right. The dynamic winger has been a constant pain for the Devils. A pain to play against. A pain to watch in that you know he’s going to make a Devils sad at some point. A causer of pain on the scoreboard and, by extension, the standings. Knowing this makes it that much more annoying to know he will be with Our Hated Rivals for the next seven years. I am already dreading the cold reality that he could bust out a three-point night like it was nothing against the Devils in the future. No matter if he is in his mid-30s, coming back from an injury, and/or in the midst of a point-less streak, I know he can and actually possibly will do it.
For lack of a better topic, let’s explore who are the skaters and goalies who have given the Devils problems on the scoresheet in recent memory. Recent memory for this post is defined as the last four regular seasons, or the current Ray Shero Era of the Devils.
Here is the list of forwards who have scored against the Devils since the 2015-16 season from Hockey-Reference. 286 different forwards have registered at least one point against New Jersey in the last four regular seasons. 45 have put up at least ten points against the Devils. Panarin is tied for seventh in terms of total points, which does make him one of the top scorers against the Devils since the 2015-16 season. Panarin has put up five goals, eleven assists, and 33 shots for 16 points in 12 games. Columbus has benefited from their games against the Devils with the Bread Man. Joining him in points is ace Washington center Nicklas Backstrom with seven goals, nine assists, and 31 shots in 15 games; and rising star Brayden Point, who has an impressive six goals, ten assists, and 31 shots in just nine games. Point’s line is arguably more impressive given that he has done this in fewer games. It is still a lot of hurting against the Devils over the past four seasons by those three players.
There are six players with more points in those four seasons. In reverse order:
- Jakub Voracek - Philadelphia - 17 GP, 2 G, 15 A, 17 Pts., 38 SOG
- Claude Giroux - Philadelphia - 17 GP, 3 G, 14 A, 17 Pts., 38 SOG
- Johnny Gaudreau - Calgary - 8 GP, 4 G, 13 A, 17 Pts., 27 SOG
- Nikita Kucherov - Tampa Bay - 11 GP, 6 G, 13 A, 19 Pts., 43 SOG
- Alex Ovechkin - Washington - 16 GP, 8 G, 11 A, 19 Pts., 62 SOG
- Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh - 17 GP, 9 G, 11 A, 20 Pts. 61 SOG
The man with the big, goofy smile in the headline photo is your current season leader for points against the Devils in recent memory. It should not be that much of a shock that it is an opponent within the Metropolitan Division. However, Crosby has made a career of just finding all kinds of ways to make things happen. From making reads, controlling plays, and even batting pucks into the net in mid-air, Crosby gets his stuff in. And the shot count is telling. Only Ovechkin - a supreme volume shooter - has fired more shots on net against the Devils than Crosby (and anyone else) and it is by just one. And Crosby has even out-scored the living legend of goal scoring against the Devils. The Devils can claim having the last laugh on many nights against the Penguins in the last four seasons. For example, like the night Brian Boyle dropped a natural hat trick at the Paintcan. But Crosby has led in terms of gross points. He may not be charismatic or a big presence. He will continue to light it up.
Most of the other names on this group of six are to be expected. I was surprised to learn that Philly’s big money forwards, Voracek and Giroux, have scored a mere five goals between the two of them. Yet, they have found many of their teammates to finish plays to make the Devils feel some disappointment. Ovechkin is a safe bet to assume as someone who has been crushing your team with shots, goals, and points because that is what he does. He clearly has done so. Of note is that seven of his eight goals against the Devils came from the power play. No other player has more PPGs against the Devils in the last four seasons. Nikita Kucherov’s line is very impressive in that he has played fewer games than the other four names mentioned since the bullet list. The man has been a point machine in recent years and the Devils have suffered his wrath - and will likely continue to do so.
The odd name here is Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary. He leads the list of killers from the Western Conference. It could be argued that Gaudreau has been the biggest killer just because he has averaged over two points per game against the Devils in only eight games. He is a great player on his own, but for whatever reason, he seemingly brings his ‘A’ game when the Devils are involved. There are plenty of other Western Conference notables. Gaudreau’s teammate, Sean Monahan, has been a real thorn in the side of the Devils with seven goals, six assists, and 23 shots on net in eight games. That’s a shooting percentage above 30%, which is simply bonkers. Staying within the Alberta province, it is no surprise that Connor McDavid rates well on this list with twelve points in seven games. The curious thing is that all twelve points have been assists. No goals by McDavid against the Devils ever so far. I would think that would have to end at some point given his elite-tier talent level. Getting away from Alberta, I think Devils fans know and respect Vladimir Tarasenko as a dangerous scoring threat. While he only has scored three goals against the Devils, his ten assists and 34 shots on net in eight games is enough to justify the concern. I think Devils fans should know and respect Alexander Radulov a little more. In just seven games, he has scored three goals and put up eleven assists. That is a little better than Tarasenko and not nearly as renowned. Who is renowned is Patrick Kane. Chicago fans come to the Rock for him (and Towes) and largely are pleased by the winger. And why not? He has put up seven goals, eight assists, and 44 shots in only eight games against the Devils. Kane is right between Gaudreau and Radulov in terms of Western Conference forwards lighting up the Devils and it is a group of really, really skilled players.
What about players who are not as known for their skill? Have anyone unexpected been a real problem for the Devils in the last four seasons? A few come to mind. Anders Lee is not a scrub. However, even I was surprised to learn that he has nine goals against the Devils (16 GP) in the last four seasons. Lee and Crosby are currently tied in goals against the Devils and that is an odd sentence to write. Boone Jenner scored 30 four seasons ago and has not come close since. Yet, he has enjoyed his 17 games against the Devils with seven goals and four assists. It is the same amount of production as his teammate, Cam Atkinson, but Atkinson has been the more productive and better player. You would expect it from him, less so from Jenner. Sticking with Columbus and while I think he’ll have a better career than Morozov, Oliver Bjorkstrand is emerging as a player who is not one of their team’s best or most notablew players who has been very productive against New Jersey. The 23-year old has six goals, four assists, and 30 shots against the Devils in thirteen games. I am realizing that Columbus in general has been a pain for New Jersey (and for one more huge reason, more on that later).
As far as defensemen, it is hard to really gauge who has been excellent and who has not been excellent from a defensive standpoint. According to Hockey-Reference, the two standout names are John Carlson and Erik Karlsson. Similar sounding last names and the only two defensemen to have registered at least ten points over New Jersey. but two different styles. Carlson became the top defenseman on Washington and has fed fellow productive-against-Devils teammates Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Kuznetsov. Two goals and ten assists in 15 games makes him the leader. Karlsson’s time on this list started in Ottawa and finished in San Jose. He has always been known for his offensive wizardry and it showed in the last four seasons in games against the Devils. In eleven games, he has amassed two goals and eight assists to join Carlson as the lone defenders in double-digits.
There are a few to stay on the lookout. Philly’s two young studs on defense, Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are already high up on this list. They could surpass Karlsson (likely) and Carlson (maybe, not as likely) very soon. Brent Burns put up 29 shots in eight games and has three goals and six assists against the Devils. With Karlsson on the same squad, he may get more looks and even better matchups that may facilitate more offense. Somehow and someway, Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi each have three goals against the Devils in Nashville’s eight games against New Jersey in the last four seasons. Lastly, look out in Colorado games for Tyson Barrie. He is the only defenseman with four goals against the Devils in the last four seasons. With Colorado’s firepower up front, his point total may rise to join the likes the others mentioned in this section.
Admittedly, defensemen scoring is not so exciting. But if you want a position that really knows how to frustrate fans and make even the most rational spit out hot takes, then we must look at the goalies.
In these recent seasons, most teams run two goalies regularly and the schedule plays a large role in terms of who plays on a given night. This means there are not a lot of goalies who have played a lot games against the Devils in the last four seasons. Only three even made more than ten appearances against the Devils. The population size was already small for this post and it will be even smaller for this position. So keep that in mind as I note which goalies have given the Devils shooters so many fits from Hockey-Reference’s list.
Far and away the leader is Sergey Bobrovsky. He is the leader in games against the Devils with fourteen. And Bobrovsky has utterly fantastic in those fourteen games. He has posted an astonishly great 95.1% save percentage: 404 saves out of 424 shots. That is right; Bobrovsky has allowed a mere 21 goals in 14 games. In fact, it’s technically 21 goals in 11 games because he shutout the Devils three times in the last four seasons. His performances have resulted in many losses for the Devils as Bobrovsky has a record of 12-2-0 over the last four seasons. Bobrovsky was the huge reason why Columbus was such a difficult and trying opponent. Not only did Panarin, Jenner, and Atkinson among others light up the Devils’ net, Bobrovsky kept the Devils’ scoring to a minimum. It is for this that I am very happy Bobrovsky is now outside of the division.
While great save percentages have been shared by those who have played a little against New Jersey (e.g. Curtis McElhinney having a confusingly high 95.8% in three games) and those who have at least five appearances, I would like to highlight the latter. Jake Allen barely made the cut but still has a sparkling 95% save percentage and five wins out of five games against the Devils. Martin Jones has been very successful against the Devils by going 6-2 with a 94.8% save percentage. Tuukka Rask (94.7 Sv%, six games), Thomas Greiss (94.2 Sv%, six games), Frederik Andersen (94.2 Sv%, eight games) and Ben Bishop (94 Sv%, six games) all have done extremely well against the Devils. It was surprising to me to see Petr Mrazek (93.5 Sv%, seven games) and Jaroslav Halak (93 Sv%, nine games) high up the list but they made their presence known. This is to not disrespect those who had a couple of appearances and shined; but there is more validity to a goalie being a problem with such a high save percentage over more than just a handful of games.
I will offer some disrespect to the goalies the Devils enjoyed playing against. While this post is about Devils killers, for the sake of some positivity, I will note a few goalies that the Devils have lit up quite a bit in recent seasons. Matt Murray of Pittsburgh has posted a real-bad 88.7% save percentage in nine games against New Jersey. Sign me up for more of that. Ottawa has been leaning on Craig Anderson and will seemingly continue to do so as the team is in the dumpster-fire mode of its rebuild. With a 87.9% save percentage in six games against New Jersey, I do hope the Devils make it a little more bitter. I also hope the Devils get to see some of Devan Dubnyk (85.4 Sv%) and Corey Crawford (84.8 Sv%) given that each have posted heinously low save percentages in six appearances. Lastly, while his save percentage against the Devils is not as low as these netminders, the 90.4% from Andrei Vasilevskiy is way lower than I would have thought. There is a lot to fear on Tampa Bay these days. Apparently, their goaltender may not be worth the fear. At least based on past Devils-Lightning games.
Truth be told, there have been several players who have lit up the Devils in the past four seasons. A good number of them are all stars or near all-star level at their positions. Knowing that Crosby, Ovechkin, and Kucherov have been eating the Devils’ collective lunch is not exactly a revelation. Knowing that Panarin, Backstrom, Point, and several top stars in the other conference have also stacked their point count against New Jersey is not exactly a shocking reveal. Knowing that Carlson and Karlsson have put up points from the back end is not exactly an epiphany. Knowing that the top goalies against the Devils include Big Names like Bobrovsky, Rask, and Bishop is no real surprise. Still, there is value to confirming that they are guys who have given the Devils more issues than most. No, it may not happen in every game, but there has been enough damage dealt by them that they are worth your attention and perhaps your worry in the future games.
And there is also value in finding out the “lesser” names who are rising up in the points vs. Devils chart. Jenner and Bjorkstrand may end up being to some fans today like a Morozov was to me about two decades ago. Someone like Jake Allen or Thomas Greiss may continue to thwart the Devils for reasons unknown. Maybe it will be Mattias Ekholm of all defensemen who will match or even exceed Barrie’s total of four goals among defensemen in the last four seasons. Of course, there will always be more to come. More to frustrate the Devils. More to become killers in the eyes of the fans.
The good news: The Devils players can also be problem-causers for their opponents and be killers in the eyes of their fans. And I do not think any of them will have a smile like Crosby’s.
Who do you remember from the past as someone who just seemingly had it in for the Devils just about every time they played them? Who do you fear the most among opposing players for this season and beyond? Please leave