Nine wins in a row. What else can you start with when summarizing this game then that? The New Jersey Devils beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 for their ninth win a row. Nine wins in a row. That is something the Devils have not done in over a decade. 2007, to be specific. The saying is cliche but that does not make it any less true. The New Jersey Devils continue to find ways to win games in various ways. Teams that are hot get that. Teams that are legitimately good do that. The Devils are both right now. I would not fault you if you just went, “Yep, all good. Onto Montreal.”
That said, I have to keep it real and focus on this particular game. It was a sloppy start from the Devils. Passes were off the mark, leading to turnovers for the Coyotes. Reads were missed, which helped Arizona push forward. Despite Arizona being one of the crummiest 5-on-5 teams this season, they out-did the Devils in the first period. Out-attempted 8-13, out-shot 5-7, and out-chanced 3-5 in 5-on-5 by Arizona. Fortunately, the Devils’ talent advantage made it a 2-1 first period. Tomas Tatar finished right in front thanks to a lovely set up by Fabian Zetterlund. After Arizona scored a fluke, Jack Hughes - The Big Deal - charged in and made Karel Vejmelka look like a shooter tutor with a shot that picked the top right corner. A total rocket that you expect from a star player. The first ended at 2-1. Good lead. Not so good process. I mean, seriously, the Devils had six shots on net.
The Devils would sharpen up as the game went on. This was most apparent in the second period where the Devils out-attempted the visitors 16-3 and out-shot them 9-1 in 5-on-5 hockey. They even got a goal. Jesper Boqvist put in his own rebound to leave the Zero Goal Club and have a reason to feel good. Alas, much of that period and the third period were not in 5-on-5. I wanted the Devils to keep this game at 5-on-5 and less than 40-minutes were played in 5-on-5 situations in this game. Granted, that was largely the result of the Coyotes taking nine penalties and giving the Devils eight power plays. Some of them were shortened power plays, but eight man advantages is still a lot. The Devils took calls too and did get punished for them. One of which happened in the second period; Clayton Keller scored off an entry to make it 2-2 for a bit. Fortunately, Boqvist’s goal happened and Dougie Hamilton put home a long shot to give the Devils a big insurance goal in the second period. A 4-2 lead. A better lead and a better process - in 5-on-5.
The thing is that the Devils’ power play, despite Hamilton’s goal, left something to be desired. Even with some shortened power plays, the Devils took just six shots on Vejmelka across eight different man advantages. Arizona’s pathway to stay in this game was to get their power play on the board and get their penalty kill functioning. They arguably did that by going 2-for-2 on their first two power plays and 2-for-4 on the night. The Coyotes PK kept the Devils to fewer shots on net than man advantages. Fortunately for New Jersey, their own PK stepped up late; Hamilton would convert one power play; and Arizona just kept taking avoidable penalties. All three in the third period were just stupid by Arizona. Keller breaking his stick slashing Yegor Sharangovich being the stupidest as it ended their own late third-period power play in a 4-2 game.
At the end of the game, I am quite pleased with how the Devils handled much of this game. Their second period was a legitimate improvement over the first. They certainly did not get intimidated by Vejmelka being hot. I would like to think the Tatar and Hughes goals helped that confidence. And despite his recent form, the Devils put four past him. Their power play could have been a lot better but did provide an insurance goal. Their penalty kill did succeed to keep Arizona from getting more than the two goals. The defense limited Arizona to 18 shots, which meant plenty of easy stops for Akira Schmid. Schmid made some tough stops, such as a one-on-one with Matias Maccelli wherein the Devils defense were caught changing. As the third period winded down, the Devils did well enough to shut down the game without too much risk. It was a professional, keep-the-lead performance in the third period and it succeeded. As with most wins, there is a lot to like.
I would have liked the Devils to have racked up 40+ shots on an Arizona team that has bled shots this season. They did it to the Islanders, Edmonton, and so many others - why not Arizona of all teams? I would have liked the Devils’ power play to have been sharper and more threatening. I really would like the start of the game to be better because there will be a game where that hurts them and the Devils may not be able to catch back up. But they did not and they still prevailed with a decisive 4-2 win where it was clear one team is better than the other. It is the team with nine straight wins. It is the team who just tied the third longest winning streak in franchise history. It is the team that is going to Eastern Canada next week. It is Our Favorite Team, the New Jersey Devils. And the hotness, the story, and the wins will continue. I rather like that.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Five for Howling for their take on this game, which did end a winning streak for the Coyotes.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is a link to this game’s highlights.
Apologies Given: In the home opener, the People Who Matter booed head coach Lindy Ruff at his introduction and chanted “Fire Lindy” after a four-goal second period in a 2-5 home opening loss to Detroit. Clearly, the Devils have rebounded. With each win, more of the People Who Matter online and in person figured that an apology was in order. In tonight’s sellout crowd at the Rock - yes, an Arizona-Devils game sold out - one was given. Ryan Novozinsky, among others, has the proof of a “Sorry Lindy” chant:
No word yet on whether they are accepted. (Update: Per Mike Morreale of NHL.com, yes, Ruff has accepted the apology.) But this is the function of winning. Lose badly at home in a game that seemingly was a continuation of an awful season? You will be booed. Win a whole bunch of games in a row with strong processes to go with those results? You will be exalted. Such is the fickle nature of fandom.
For what it is worth, the atmosphere has picked up in this past week. Attendances against Calgary, Ottawa, and Arizona were quite good. The crowds were loud as the Devils gave them a lot to cheer for. The winning streak has had a lot to do with it. I hope this is recognized by management. A successful team will draw, even during football season, and the fans will provide energy - which makes it more appealing to go to games.
Streaks Beyond the Win: More streaks were kept up with this game. Off the top of my head:
- Tomas Tatar, who had a fabulous game and earned First Star of the Game by Tonight’s Attending Media, scored a goal in his second straight game and picked up an assist on Hughes’ goal. The two points extend his point-streak to seven games. Should he score a goal on Tuesday in Montreal (which would be sweet), he will add a goal streak within his point streak.
- Dougie Hamilton now has four-straight games with a point with a power play goal tonight. Fun fact: His two goals on this streak are both power play goals. It would have been three, but Nico Hischier tipped it in against Ottawa on Thursday night.
- Nico Hischier, who also had a fabulous game, had the secondary assist on Tatar’s goal. Make no mistake, it was a legitimate and important assist on that play. Hischier now has seven straight games with a point. Also: The Devils are 11-0-0 when Hischier registers a point in the game. Another fun 13-related streak.
- The power play may have underwhelmed with just six shots on net over eight man advantages lasting 11:56. But Hamilton’s PPG has made it four games in a row where the Devils converted a power play. In fact, they have at least one power play conversion in every game since the winning streak started except the 4-3 win in Edmonton.
- Now a negative streak. The penalty kill conceded two power play goals tonight, which meant they allowed at least one power play goal in each of their last three games. The streak has allowed five total; and since November began, the PK has had one only perfect game - the 4-3 OT win in Calgary. While the team cannot do much about odd caroms off Jonas Siegenthaler’s glove, they can look to see where the pain points are and cut down on those PPGAs.
Kind of the Story of the Night in 5-on-5: The Devils’ best line in 5-on-5 play was Hischier, Zetterlund, and Tatar. Their CF% as a line was over 77%, which is ridiculous. Only they only out-attempted the Coyotes 7-2, out-shot them 3-1, and out-scored them 1-0. If only they had more time, but this game had a lot of penalties forcing both teams to mix up lines to recover after special teams situations. Pretty much everything went well for the Devils in 5-on-5 after the first period. If only there were fewer calls to let this line and a re-shaped Hughes line cook.
A Re-Shaped Hughes Line?: At some point late in the second period and more notably in the third period, Erik Haula and Yegor Sharangovich were swapped. Yes, Haula was moved to take draws on the third line with Dawson Mercer at wing. Yes, Sharangovich was next to Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes. Again, with a lack of 5-on-5 situations, I would have like to see the switch get more time. But early indications were good. With Sharangovich, the Hughes line played over 6 minutes, out-attempted Arizona 10-5 and out-shot them 6-2. With Haula on the third line, they got 3:21, out-attempted the Coyotes 5-3, and was involved in Boqvist’s first goal of the season. I know Lindy Ruff likes to not change things when things are good. I would still like to see this switch start off in Montreal. I think it could help Sharangovich get going (Aside: Put him on a power play unit too) and let Haula relax from all of the not-scoring.
Congratulations: Jesper Boqvist was one of the 60 forwards with at least 50 minutes played this season who were goalless. No more. Boqvist scored to leave the Zero Goal Club. Congratulations to him. It even stood up as the game winning goal; another reason for Boqvist to feel good. Haula now stands alone as the Devils forward in that group. I hope he gets out of there soon. He deserves it for this season, albeit not so much from this game.
I also want to extend some congratulations to Akira Schmid. He did get his first NHL win on Thursday night as the goalie of record for the overtime win. However, this was his first start that led to a win. If there was a team to have an AHL goalie start against, then Arizona would be it. He did not get in his own head after a blooper beat him for a PPG. He did not crumble after the second PPG. The Devils did an excellent job to keep Arizona to fewer than 20 shots total. But Schmid did make some strong stops along the way. He was as part of this win as much as the others. The goal was to be decent enough to warrant Vitek Vanecek getting a night off. Schmid did that and a little more. The fans, who were vocal and supportive, yelled for “Schmiiiiiid” after saves. He earned them on a night where he out-performed a then-hot Karel Vejmelka.
Lastly, for those who watch the MSG broadcast, tonight was Erika Watcher’s last game for some time. She is going on maternity leave after this game. I do not know who will stand in for her. She mentioned in the post game that she will return in 2023. I, and everyone else among the People Who Matter, wish her the best as she enters the final stages of pregnancy and the eventual delivery.
One Last Thought: I can see why Arizona is expected to do as poorly in spite of their now-former winning streak. When the Devils stopped missing on passes and sailing pucks into no man’s land, the Coyotes just could not make much work. The Devils did not shoot the lights off of them but they did keep Arizona to fewer than 20 shots total tonight. Even when the Coyotes would get a stop on defense, they were prone to losing pucks or just making bad decisions to help the Devils make good ones.
And the penalties. Goodness. You could argue some of them were soft but at some point, you have to take the blame for taking so many. The hooking call at the end of the first period was killed and the team took a too many men on the ice call shortly after that. After Bratt ended that with ahold, Troy Stetcher hooked Sharangovich in the neutral one. All three third period penalties, again, were avoidable and dumb. Yes, Vejmelka had an ordinary-at-best night in the net, but the Coyotes found a way to lose this game as much as the Devils found a way to win it.
As much as they are still in the mix standings-wise, I now get why many predict them to pick high in what should be a tantalizing 2023 NHL Draft class. It is a squad that is not that great and does not play smart hockey. That is a combination for a lot of losses in this league. Should they want to establish a brighter future, then they should establish a smarter squad to find pucks and not take calls in addition to adding more future talent. They can start that this season, too. It certainly was not the case tonight.
Your Take: The Devils won 4-2. It could have been better, but what happened ended up being pretty good on its own. It was more than enough to secure a staggering ninth-straight win to keep the Devils among league leaders in the standings. You know what I thought of the game, now it is your turn. What did you make of the Devils’ 4-2 win over Arizona? What did you like about this win? What did you not like and want to be fixed before Montreal on Tuesday? If you attended the game at the Rock, then what was the atmosphere like? How long can this winning streak go on? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, read the preview, and followed along at @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter. Thank you for reading.