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Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils in EHM Part 3: Surpassing Expectations

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In the third part of the Let’s Re-Do the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils season in Eastside Hockey Manager series, the Devils continue to surpass expectations by winning a lot. This post features the best player in the (simulated) NHL, a top rookie, a suspension, and a quad dropped on a hated rival.

Kyle Palmieri dropped a quad on Our Hated Rivals to end a very successful November for the New Jersey Devils in November 2019.
Kyle Palmieri dropped a quad on Our Hated Rivals to end a very successful November for the New Jersey Devils in November 2019.

I do not know what the world is like in the Eastside Hockey Manager simulation season. Purely from a fan perspective of the New Jersey Devils, it is a wonderful world. After a stunning 8-0-2 start in October, as chronicled in Part 2 of this Let’s Re-Do series, the Devils showed they were no fluke in November. Yes, they lost a game in regulation. They even had a losing streak. They still are on top and well ahead of any expectations for the team in actual reality or within this game.

Before going over what happened in November, GM Sherman Abrams and I would like to thank those who commented from the previous post and offered their suggestions on what to do. Thank you to luozhen, Veron, alslammerz, gosawks, acasser, LedHotZeplinPepr, OfManNotMachine, and EliasStillRocks.

The Games of November 2019 in EHM

Ahead of the first game of the month, GM Sherman Abrams instructed AI John Hynes to tell the fourth line to play less offensive hockey. Their mentality was switched to defensive, their passing was set back to normal from creative, and their tempo was switched from high to normal. The other three lines kept what they had as it was working. The Devils did enter this month with an eight game winning streak. It would continue to for a little while longer.

First of the month - a win against the Second Rate Rivals thanks to a last-minute PPG by Wayne Simmonds.
First of the month - a win against the Second Rate Rivals thanks to a last-minute PPG by Wayne Simmonds.

EHM has a flair for the dramatic at times and it came near the end of this one. After a largely strong performance by the skaters - led by Jack Hughes with three assists and a 10 rating - it was tied late in the third. Then Kevin Hayes elbowed someone. Within the final minute, Wayne Simmonds took a long rebound off a Travis Zajac shot, powered to the net, and torched Brian Elliott for the game-breaking PPG. The Devils won 4-3. The streak became nine wins.

On the next night, the Devils started a five-game road trip that would send them off to Western Canada. They stopped in Raleigh first. This time, it would be New Jersey giving up the late goal in the third period. They went into the third up 3-2 with goals by Simmonds (PPG), Gusev (PPG), and Pavel Zacha At least it was only an equalizer. Overtime could not solve it. The Devils went to their second shootout of the season. Taylor Hall went up: No. Sami Vatanen went up: Yes. Nikita Gusev: Yes. Only Sebastian Aho scored for the Canes. The 2-1 shootout result yielded a 4-3 shootout win and the team’s tenth in a row.

As a quick aside, the best attributes for shootout taking appears to be dekeing and creativity. The best three Devils skaters in that stat, in order, are Hall, Vatanen, and Gusev. Nico Hischier and Hughes are on the cusp. But that is why the game defaulted to those three; they are the best options. And with the Devils being 2-0 in shootouts in 2019-20 so far, they have been effective.

Also of note from the Carolina game, Kevin Rooney made his season debut in this game in place of Noel Accari. GM Sherman Abrams tried to move Rooney. The responses were only rejections. He kept coming back to the same statement: “He has not played enough games for our liking.” Pittsburgh and San Jose apparently still want him by month’s end so Abrams will keep trying.

Alas, the good times had to come to an end and they ended in Winnipeg. The first period went well enough with goals by Kyle Palmieri and Jesper Boqvist, who scored his first as a Devil in this one. But Patrick Laine scored an equalizer early in the third period. In overtime, it took less than a minute for Mark Schiefele to end the winning streak. The Devils lost 2-3 in overtime. The winning streak ended at ten. The point streak did continue to eleven games. At least there was that.

Unfortunately, there was another loss in that game in Winnipeg. Nico Hischier suffered a neck strain and would be out for about ten days. GM Abrams put him on injured reserve. With the Devils carrying 23 players on the trip, they did not need to call anyone up. So Abrams did not. He did move Hughes and Zajac up a line and switched Zacha back to a center position. Hughes would be in between Hall and Palmieri.

Hischier hurt!
Hischier hurt!

The Devils bounced back in a big way in Calgary. They crushed the Flames in the first period with three goals in just under three minutes. Hall, Simmonds, and Hughes lit them up. The new first line with The Big Deal in the middle each put up a ‘10’ in the game. Milan Lucic, clearly unhappy with the game, decided to throw down with P.K. Subban and went about it the wrong way. He got two for instigating, five for fighting, a ten-minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. I do not even know if he even won the fight. Calgary did not win much at all. Andrew Mangiapane converted a power play to deny the shutout, but NJ cruised to a win. Hall unselfishly sent a pass across to Palmieri for an empty net goal to make it a 4-1 win. The point streak became twelve games long.

That would come to an end the next night in Edmonton. Connor McDavid was in this game for this re-match. However, it was James Neal who was a nightmare for the Devils. New Jersey could not get much going despite scoring first with another PPG by Simmonds. Neal put up two goals and set up Leon Draisaitl for a score and the Oilers decisively beat the Devils. New Jersey lost 1-4 for their first regulation loss of the season. Since that was on November 8, 2019, it was an impressive run to go without any regulation losses.

The road trip would end in Vancouver and end with the unexpected: a shutout.

The first shutout of the 2019-20 EHM season for the Devils
The first shutout of the 2019-20 EHM season for the Devils

Mackenzie Blackwood was absolutely perfect in British Columbia on November 10, 2019. He stopped all 28 shots by Vancouver. Elias Pettersson and Sven Baertschi each had seven and six shooting attempts each. None of the fazed Blackwood. Or Sami Vatanen, who had a hand on all three goals. They were all secondary assists, but there was nothing cheap about them. Especially on the second goal, when he took down a lobbed clearing attempt, put it perfectly into space for Jesper Bratt, who set up Zacha for a bullet from the slot. It was a great win. It would be the last win for a week.

The Devils returned home on Wednesday, November 13 to play Ottawa. Ottawa was and is (at the time of this simulated season) the worst team in the NHL. You would not have known it at the Rock. The Devils came out flat. They stayed flat. Even an uncommon event like a Miles Wood goal did not get them to be not flat. They could not respond to a one-goal deficit in the third period and conceded two empty net goals for a 2-5 loss. Yuck.

The struggles continued on Friday when they hosted Pittsburgh. Jake Oettinger had issues. Vatanen and Zajac had poor nights. The Hall-Hughes-Palmieri line that was so electric in Calgary was out of juice in Newark. The Pens stormed the Devils and New Jersey had no answer for Evgeni Malkin or Dominik Kahun. They lost 2-5 and were one away from the first losing streak of Sherman Abrams’ young tenure as Devils GM in EHM. (As a quick aside, Ty Smith returned to the lineup in place of Nick Holden. He did well and this would not be a one-off for Smith.)

I do not know what AI John Hynes said but the team at least battled harder in Montreal the next night. Blackwood was fine. Vatanen bounced back in a big way, going from a 5 to a 9. The team may have received a lift from the return of Nico Hischier. He was taken off IR before the Pittsburgh game but Abrams decided to hold him from playing until the Montreal game. He re-united with Hall and Palmieri and scored a goal. That line played better than they did in the previous two games. Jack Hughes returned to Gusev and Blake Coleman and put up two assists. That line also got a boost. Gusev gave the team a chance in the dying minutes of regulation to make it 2-3. But they could not beat Carey Price. The Devils lost a third game in a row. Would a free fall begin?

No. The Devils turned it around against Boston. They out-shot the B’s 38-22. Blackwood was sensational. Nobody in red, white, and black had a bad game. Goals came from the middle of the lineup: Zacha, Bratt, and two by Coleman. The Devils won 4-1. They would go on to make up for the three losses with three wins.

The Devils visited Pittsburgh on November 22 and sought revenge. They got it. It was tense as both teams combined for five goals in the second period. Taylor Hall converted a power play, Coleman struck again, and Hischier also converted a power play. It was 3-2 going into the third. John Marino provided a very quick equalizer, shortly after the period began. However, the Devils had a response. Palmieri swiped a puck from Erik Gudbranson, saw Nico Hischier open in the middle, and pass, shot, 4-3. (The only goal not involving Hughes. The Devils held on to win by that score.

The very next day, the Devils took on Detroit and shelled them with shots. 45, to be precise. They also shelled them with goals. Palmieri scored the first two in the first period; Hischier and Zajac scored the next two in the second period; and Coleman and Hall on an empty netter scored the final two in the third (And Palmieri unselfishly passed to Hall on the ENG instead of going for the hat trick.). The Devils prevailed 6-3 for their third win in a row. The losing streak was a thing of the past.

A loss would come on November 26 when the Devils hosted Minnesota. Jack Hughes was not the problem. He scored the team’s first hat trick of the season. The problem was that they could not stop Luke Kunin. Not from making it a one-goal game in the second period about five minutes after Hughes made it rain hats at the Rock. Not with six minutes left in regulation when he tied it up. He was at least not involved in overtime; but Kevin Fiala was - and he ended the game to hand NJ an OTL. It was not a bad performance at all, but still a loss.

Jesper Boqvist out hurt in EHM
Jesper Boqvist out hurt in EHM

There was also another loss in the game. Jesper Boqvist strained his rotator cuff in the 3-4 OT loss to Minnesota. The Devils’ bottom six has seen a lot of changes as Abrams saw fit. Boqvist, Wood, Acciari, and Rooney all rotated around and in and out of the active roster. The only constants were Simmonds (who cooled off after a hot start), Zacha, and Bratt. Abrams still had 23 players with New Jersey so he called no one up since he had a spare. Since other teams apparently need to see Kevin Rooney play before agreeing to a deal for him, Abrams figured he had depth already on the roster.

The Devils stunned the Montreal Canadiens in their penultimate game of the month. They did not just score the first three goals. They did not just score the first three goals all in third period. They did it all within a minute of each other. 8:04 - Palmieri scored. 8:16 - Hall scored. 8:36 - Hall scored again. You love to see it. The Canadiens fans were likely beside themselves. Nick Suzuki got them on the board in the second period, but Montreal could not break down the Devils or Jake Oettinger a second time. Zajac scored early in the third period to put the game out of reach. The Devils won 4-1 - and lost another player in the process.

Miles Wood receives the first suspension of the 2019-20 Devils in EHM
Miles Wood receives the first suspension of the 2019-20 Devils in EHM

This time, it was not an injury - although the play could have caused one. Miles Wood was called for clipping with just under three minutes left. That was (and is) a major penalty. Wood also received a game misconduct. His night was done. The game was out of doubt regardless. The Disciplinary Committee decided to issue a two-game suspension right after the win. Sherman Abrams did not appeal the suspension. It was just two games, Wood was not quite set as a regular, and clipping is a very stupid penalty to take.

Last and certainly not least, the Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals to close out November. I do not know what Abrams said to the players. He did make one interesting change. In the first game against Montreal, Damon Severson did not have a particularly good game. So Abrams swapped him out for Ty Smith. Smith played quite well so Severson sat. Severson has not been bad at all this season but he was just the odd man out. With Boqvist out hurt and Wood out suspended, he thought: Why put in Acciari when I can just play all seven defensemen? I do not know if that led to the result. I do know that I loved seeing this transpire in the simulation:

Glorious. Simply glorious.
Glorious. Simply glorious.

Kyle Palmieri put up a natural hat trick as part of a four-goal game. He did it by taking his regular shift after jumping on the fly from the second line. He and the Devils straight up dumped all over Igor Shestyorkin (that’s how EHM spells it) and New York’s defense. They kept taking calls and the Devils kept on flying. Sure, they scored two in the second period but they were consolation goals at that point. The only Devil who did not have a good game was Kevin Rooney. This one game propelled Palmieri to the league’s top-ten in goals. The win made it a 9-4-2 month. Expectations continue to be surpassed.

(By the way, I have not save-scummed or did any modification to the game. The lines are set, I run the game, and let it happen. I have not touched the tactics other the one change to the fourth line. I have not touched training. The Devils are just dropping that many suckers. It surprised me playing it.)

Devils’ November schedule at a glance (with a short preview of December to come)
Devils’ November schedule at a glance (with a short preview of December to come)

The Devils & NHL at a Glance After November

The Devils remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as of December 1, 2019 in the simulation.

Devils in first place after November 2019 in EHM
Devils in first place after November 2019 in EHM

It is by no means safe. Buffalo is a point behind them for the Eastern Conference lead and the New York Islanders - who have a game in hand on the Devils - are just behind by two points. They are the hottest team in the NHL at this moment of the simulation. Still, the Devils are in a fantastic position. If you subscribe to the theory that a team in a playoff position by Thanksgiving is likely a playoff team, then the Devils have a bright future in this simulation.

Do note that Montreal and Our Hated Rivals are solidly in the playoff hunt too; those wins were quality wins. Detroit and Carolina have fallen a bit from the playoff race but they are there. Pittsburgh is joining them as wild card fighters, although they have some work to do to catch Tampa Bay and Washington. Boston and Columbus have been surprisingly poor. Florida and Ottawa remain terrible.

Devils in second place in the league standings.
Devils in second place in the league standings.

The Devils are second overall in the league standings. Edmonton is in first, Winnipeg is in third, and suddenly going 0-1-1 against them does not seem so bad. Do note the special teams success rates. The Devils’ power play is still good but it has cooled off. The penalty kill success rate remains very poor but that is mitigated by conceding few shorthanded situations. All the same, the Devils are in a great position in the standings. They have outscored their opposition overall by a healthy margin (+21), they have only been to two shootouts (and won both) and they have games in hand on most everyone.

In terms of league leaders, I want to start with the rookies. Check out The Big Deal.

Jack Hughes is the leading rookie scorer now.
Jack Hughes is the leading rookie scorer now.

Jack Hughes put up a stunning 19 points in November. While most have been assists, he did put up a hat trick against Minnesota. Plus, his 61 shots on net means he is not shy about shooting. The first few games without Hischier, Hughes, Hall, and Palmieri were quite effective. They cooled off, so when Hischier returned, Hughes re-united with Gusev and Coleman and that trio became more productive. Hughes has been playing at a point on the first power play unit and that has also led to plenty of contributions. And it is not just the points; his average rating of 7.4 is quite good since he is A) a rookie and B) 18-years old. His November was so good, the league recognized him for it:

Jack Hughes: Rookie of November in EHM
Jack Hughes: Rookie of November in EHM

You love to see it. I know I did.

In terms of league leaders in overall scoring,five Devils made the top 50 with three making the top 24.

NHL League Scorers: Top 24
NHL League Scorers: Top 24

Both Palmieri and Hall are tied with 29 points each, which is in a six-way tie for sixth most in the NHL. Jordan Eberle took the scoring leader role from Jeff Skinner and Dylan Larkin, but both are right behind him. Draisaitl looks to crash that party as does Eberle’s teammate, Anthony Beauvillier. By the way, Skinner, Beauvillier, Anthony Mantha, and Clayton Keller are all tied for the goal scoring lead with 17. I could have not guessed any of those four being the goal scoring leaders two months in.

The Devils not in this picture that did make the top fifty in overall scoring are Hischier and Gusev. Each have 22 points, which puts them in a big tie with plenty of other players. Hischier is 43rd due to 12 goals and Gusev’s 10 goals places him 45th. Let’s hear it for tiebreakers.

In terms of defensemen scoring, Sami Vatanen is tied for the league lead in points.

NHL League Scorers by Defensemen: Top 24
NHL League Scorers by Defensemen: Top 24

Vatanen is the sole defender on the Devils’ first power play unit. However, he just has six power play points (one goal, five assists). Most of his production comes from even strength. He is still playing a ton due to his penalty killing work and being the top right-side defenseman on the Devils. Still, it is good company to see Vatanen tied with Shea Weber, Justin Faulk, and Jeff Petry in points - and that he is only behind Weber in average rating. Not far behind those four are a lot of defensemen, which includes P.K. Subban. He has been on the second PP unit for New Jersey and he has not been shooting the puck a lot at all. Just 28 shots in 25 games. That is odd. But he keeps being involved in plenty of scoring plays for 16 points. No other Devil defenseman made the top fifty in scoring.

The Devils’ goaltending tandem had a better November.

NHL Save Percentage: 27th through 50th
NHL Save Percentage: 27th through 50th

Blackwood is now above 90% in terms of save percentage. A 90.5% is not anything to hype up on its own. Still, being 34th in the top 50 save percentages in the NHL is progress. 25th place is owned by Price, who has a 91.2%. That can be seen as a goal of sorts. Jake Oettinger also improved to an 89.4% and so he is 46th on the list now. Both goalies have an average rating above seven so they have not been too bad. Seeing this progress is a positive. Now let us hope it keeps improving.

Lastly, here are the league players by average rating. Guess who is at the top.

NHL Players by Average Rating: Top 24
NHL Players by Average Rating: Top 24

Despite being quiet during that three-game losing streak, Hall has continued to be an amazing player for the Devils. He had three ‘10’ ratings and three ‘9’ ratings with just two ‘6’s in the entire month. Only Mikko Ratanen is close to him in terms of average rating and he is still 0.05 behind him. As the game uses average rating to determine who has been having standout performances, we can conclude that Hall is the best player in the NHL in this simulated season. By the same logic, Palmieri has been a top-ten player in this season. The quad dropped on Our Hated Rivals was another 10 in a month where he had three of them - just like Hall. This duo has been dynamite in the run of play. Only one other Devil made the top fifty in terms of average rating: Nikita Gusev. The Goose has been soaring in November. While he did not have a single ‘10’ game, he never had a rating below a ‘7’ all month long and he had more ‘8’s than ‘7’s. In other words, Gusev has become one of the better players in the entire league.

Let us now look at the Devils players by scoring:

Devils players by scoring as of December 1, 2019 in EHM
Devils players by scoring as of December 1, 2019 in EHM

The first five on this list are in the top-fifty for the entire NHL. But you can see there has been more support behind them. Travis Zajac is just behind the top five scorers with 20 points already. He has been very good as the center on the second power play unit, where he has 9 power play points. Only Palmieri has as many points on the man advantage in this simulation so far. Blake Coleman and Wayne Simmonds got hot for a couple games in the month, which boosted their goal totals. Pavel Zacha chipped in a bit more too.

The remainder is a menagerie of bits here and there. The only Devils to not have picked up a point are the goalies and Martin Hanzal, who is on injured reserve for the whole season. Yes, even Rooney has got on the score sheet (two assists, nine games). Of note is that Ty Smith has been very good in his eight appearances, managing to get four assists and plenty of good ratings as a third-pairing defender.

In terms of average rating, here is where it stands:

Devils players by average rating
Devils players by average rating

That bottom six has not been good. Boqvist has struggled to fit in prior to his injury. Wood, Acciari, and Rooney keep cycling in and out with neither of them doing enough to hold onto a roster spot for more than a handful of games. Abrams did try to move Rooney. Alas, it was not to be because he has not played enough. Hopefully, he can make a move before needing to play him more often.

Defensively, Andy Greene has shown his age. His minutes have been cut to the third pairing and penalty killing situations. He still behind the other defensemen in terms of rating. Ty Smith should be playing ahead of him all things being equal. Since he is the captain, Abrams does not want to scratch him. Not with the team playing as well as they have been. This is why Smith has only made eight appearances. He has came in when Nick Holden or Damon Severson have a rough game. Smith did well enough to keep Severson sitting for a few games. Something may have to give to give the young man more minutes.

Still, GM Sherman Abrams is feeling very good. No, he has not been able to move Rooney. No, he did not try to move Simmonds - especially after the start of the month. No, he did not call anyone up from Binghamton such as Michael McLeod, who continues to crush it alongside Ben Street, Joey Anderson, and Nathan Bastian. No, he did not sign anyone to a new deal. As much as he wants to listen to the people - especially the People Who Matter - the job is about results. That pleases the powers that be and the powers that be are pleased:

The owners are still happy after November.
The owners are still happy after November.

The 2019-20 Devils in this EHM season have earned a lot of very good ones. If only we were in that world instead of the one we have now with the 2019-20 Devils squad that melted down right before our very eyes.

Your Turn

The Devils are leading the Metropolitan and the Eastern Conference by the start of December. There is no real need to make massive changes to the roster. But GM Sherman Abrams still wants your take on all of this as I keep telling him, you are the People Who Matter. Here are the major issues:

  • The Devils have three fairly ineffective fourth-liners in Wood, Rooney, and Acciari. Rather than Abrams looking for a shrewd deal, should Abrams just move them for just about anything so he can call someone up like McLeod or Anderson?
  • Should Abrams waive any of Wood, Rooney, or Acciari if no deal is to be had?
  • During the game, Abrams did offer Rooney to Carolina straight up for Jack Bean. That was understandably rejected but they counter-offered for Patrick Moynihan and Boston’s fourth rounder in 2020. Abrams rejected it then since he does not think Bean is going to crack this lineup; especially with Timmins still in Binghamton. Should Abrams make that deal happen anyway?

As ever, please leave your answers and other suggestions about what you think Sherman Abrams should do with the 2019-20 Devils in the comments. Even doing nothing is an option. After all, the team is 17-4-4 and leading their division and conference.

Part 4 will cover what happened in December. I will likely simulate December’s games on Thursday night, so do not hesitate to get your suggestions and comments in. Thank you for reading.