Another week, another sweep. The New Jersey Devils swept all three games on their road trip through Eastern Canada with a 5-1 victory in Ottawa this afternoon. The Devils dispatched the Ottawa Senators from pretty much start to finish. Often in hockey, the score does not fully reflect how the game went. This was not one of those games. The Devils were the superior team this afternoon. They went up early, never lost the lead, and prevailed with a comfortable score. If you just saw the score and figured, “Looks like the Devils crushed it,” then I would say you were right and leave it at that.
The win is the Devils’ twelfth straight win. Yes, 12 wins in a row. The 2022-23 Devils now have the second longest regular season winning streak in franchise history. If you call it a streak, then the Devils are still running ahead of the security we call life. If you call it a wagon, then the Devils are still rolling on a trail to Oregon. If you call it a juggernaut, then the Devils are still breaking through walls. If you call it a heater, then I assure you, the heat is very much on. And necessary as Winter temperatures have arrived in New Jersey.
Of course, I would be remiss if I just wrote that the Devils crushed it this afternoon, Good Game Sens, and left it at that. The performance commands more detail.
In the first period, the Devils pretty much controlled the game in 5-on-5. Akira Schmid did have to make some tough saves early. A Tyler Motte shot was the first real chance of the game for Ottawa and he was cross-checked down by Jonas Siegenthaler shortly thereafter for a power play. Claude Giroux hit the goal frame during said power play, but the Devils survived. Right after that, Erik Brannstrom hooked down Nico Hischier for a power play. During said power play, Austin Watson cross-checked Hischier right below the rib-case, causing the People Who Matter to fear that the captain was hurt. The second power play unit converted the advantage with Erik Haula rifling in a one-timer from the high slot. Yes, Haula finally scored. The Devils continued to roll on. They kept the Sens to just five shooting attempts in the first period. New Jersey took fourteen. A Dylan Gambrell hook on Ryan Graves yielded another power play. That did not do much but the final ten seconds led to Anton Forsberg freezing the puck. The fourth line stepped on. Michael McLeod won the draw, Miles Wood shot the puck, and Nathan Bastian went around Jacob Bernard-Docker to put home the rebound. The Devils continued on to threaten but the first ended at 2-0. The only concern was Nico Hischier’s health. He did not miss a shift after the power play but would he continue to play?
The answer came right at the start of the second period: Yes. Hischier started the period and would go on to play 22 shifts for a total of 17:45 this afternoon. The Devils seemingly went up 3-0 early on. After a scramble that put Forsberg way out of position, Fabian Zetterlund found Dougie Hamilton right in front to re-direct in a puck into the empty net. 3-0? No. Upon further review, Hamilton apparently shifted his back skate to try to re-direct it. That was apparently a distinct kicking motion and the goal was waved off. No matter. It did not take long for 3-0 to legitimately happen. A Yegor Sharangovich shot was stopped by Forsberg and left a juicy rebound for Jesper Boqvist to put home with his stick. Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith replaced Forsberg with Cam Talbot. The Sens tried to make a game of it, but Schmid was too good for most of the second period. He denied Brady Tkachuk at least twice. The Devils nearly scored four on multiple occasions. Bastian should have scored when he was found all along and had Talbot beat to rights. But the veteran goalie dived to glove down the shot that would have made it 4-0. Ottawa would get on the board late when a pass from Brannstrom was not intercepted and Derick Brassard beat Schmid low to make it 3-1 with less than three minutes left in the second. McLeod hooked Drake Batherson with less than two minutes left in the period. Would Ottawa get a late PPG to make it a game? No. Tim Stützle fumbled a puck. Sharangovich could not quite breakaway so he sent it across towards Hischier. Hischier carried the puck in, took a low shot off Talbot’s pads from the right side, and Sharangovich slammed in the rebound with 45 seconds left in the period. Any energy at the Canadian Tire Center was sapped. The Devils ended the second period up 4-1.
The third period was similar to the Devils’ third period against Montreal. The Devils did not create a lot of offensive opportunities. The Sens clearly out-attempted them. Yet, up 4-1, the Devils just needed to keep the puck going forward and limit the Sens from really staying in their own end of the rink or getting an odd-man rush. The Devils did this for the most part. While they allowed 17 attempts in 5-on-5 play, Schmid only faced 5 shots. The Devils kept coming in waves even if it was not generating a lot of chances just to keep the Sens honest. It was a professional approach to keeping the lead while giving everyone plenty of shifts to not tire anyone out. Smith oddly pulled Talbot for an extra skater with about 4:45 left in the period. The Devils proceeded to have at least five chances at the empty net for the next 1:42. The Hischier line was too unselfish so they did not get one in. Zetterlund later had a slapshot blocked away by Travis Hamonic. Then McLeod had a go but chipped it way wide. After an icing by the Devils, the fourth line got the puck out and McLeod was able to get past the Sens in the neutral zone from the right side. He carried the puck towards the Ottawa blueline and chipped in a backhander to make it 5-1. The Devils played out the period, ended up out-shooting Ottawa 7-5 anyway, and booing filled the arena. Which is exactly what you want to hear when your favorite team is the road team.
Notice in the preceding paragraphs who got the goals. Haula finally got one. Bastian, Boqvist, Sharangovich, and McLeod all found the scoresheet. In terms of assists, only one featured Devil got one; Hischier received a primary assist for Sharangovich’s shorthanded goal. This is not to say that Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, or Dougie Hamilton had bad games. No, they had good games for what they did (and Hamilton did have a goal taken off the board). This is to point out that the Devils are truly finding plenty of different ways to win and that includes other, less heralded players producing. Both Bill Spaulding and Ken Daneyko emphasized this during the MSG broadcast and they are right. Today was about the depth players getting on the board and contributing. That adds to a team’s overall quality; it means a team does not have to rely on one forward line or defensive pairing to win. This also includes the goaltender. Akira Schmid, who is surely now the definitive third-stringer in New Jersey, had a great afternoon. This means if Vanecek needs a break or a back-to-back is coming up (like next week), then the Devils can be confident that Schmid can do the job and the Devils still have a chance to compete.
Today’s performance against Ottawa strengthens the larger point that many of the People Who Matter know and others outside of the Devils are learning: the Devils are not just a team on a heater, they are actually really, really good. When the winning streak ends, the Devils are extremely unlikely to fall apart. It did not end today, of course. The Devils beat the Senators 5-1 and it was a decisive win. They will head home to host Edmonton with 12 straight wins. You love to see it. I know I do.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Silver Seven, Trevor Shackles’ recap highlights that the Devils outclassed the Senators. I agree with that assessment.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is the highlight video from today’s game.
Finally! Haula Leaves the Zero Goal Club: Last week, I wrote about how Erik Haula is among the leading shooters and attacking players still without a goal in the NHL. Haula continued to be snakebitten since that post. That ended today. I am sure Haula would have accepted any kind of goal. Even a fluky shot or a put-back by the opposition or a goal amid a scrum where it is not initially clear who scored it. Not so for the veteran forward. Zetterlund set him up in the high slot for a great one-timer that beat Forsberg low. Miles Wood set a legitimately good screen and, thankfully, did not touch it off. Sure, it still would have been a power play goal and the first of the game and something to celebrate. But Haula needed that goal. Before this game, per Natural Stat Trick, Haula had 39 shots on net, 62 shot attempts, 33 scoring chances, 18 high-danger chances, and an individual expected goal count of 4.81 - and zero actual goals. He was behind Mat Barzal as the most dangerous attacker in the Zero Goal Club. Haula has now left the ZGC behind.
What is more is that Haula had a good game overall today. He had four shots on net. When he was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted Ottawa 14-13 and out-shot them 7-4 in 5-on-5. On a line with Bratt and Hughes, the Devils out-attempted the Sens 13-11 and out-shot them 7-4 in 5-on-5. Haula was solid on and off the puck for nearly 16 minutes of action. Clearly, the goal is the highlight of the day for him. But he continues to be a solid hand in between or next to the two most dynamic offensive players on the team. While pointless today, Bratt and Hughes continued to press the game as they have done all season to opponents. The Senators were just today’s victims.
One Hundred: Dawson Mercer played in his 100th NHL game. This is also his 100th straight game with the Devils, which is an achievement of itself given the rigors of the sport and the NHL.
Unfortunately, it was not necessarily the greatest day for him or his line. While the line of Sharangovich, Boqvist, and Mercer did produce a goal and could have had a second had Boqvist not skied a shot after a Mercer interception in the second period, they were also the line that was caught out for Brassard’s goal. Worse, Ottawa tilted the ice against this line more than anyone else on New Jersey. All three finished below 40% in Corsi in 5-on-5 play and were out-shot - albeit by small margins. The unit was out-attempted 5-9 when all three were out there at the same time. Fortunately, the attempt disparity did not lead to a lot of shots against and, again, a goal was created from two-thirds of the line. Still, it remains an area for improvement.
Special Teams Success: Both sides of special teams should feel real good today. While the power play units were sloppy at times, the overall result is positive. The Devils drew four calls with two by Hischier. The second power play unit converted the first man advantage, thanks again to Erik Haula. The second power play of the day for New Jersey was not great but the last 10 seconds eventually set up Bastian’s goal. The third power play of the day included a lot of great possession by the first unit after sharpening up after an icing. The fourth power play of the day saw John Marino replace Zetterlund just to give him some minutes and it went OK. All told: 9 shots on net, 1 goal, and just one shot allowed. That is just fine.
The penalty kill was arguably more impressive given how leaky they have been this month. First, the Devils only took two penalties. That is a good thing in of itself. Second, they conceded five shots across both man advantages and Schmid got them all. Giroux hitting iron was an exception and something the Devils escaped from, so there was some fortune. Of course, the highlight from the PK was a SHG. Sharangovich finished a play that he helped create by taking advantage of a Sens turnover. That was their third shorthanded shot of the day and it was a goal that, in retrospect, put the opponents in a hole they were not coming out of.
When the Devils are getting goals and good performances from both ends at special teams, it really bolsters the Devils’ prospects of getting a win. Today, it bookended the goals against goaltenders and were as much as part of the win as the 5-on-5 play.
Balanced Ice Time: Here is a fun fact from the Event Summary: John Marino and Dougie Hamilton were the only Devils not named Akira Schmid to play over 20 minutes today. Even strength minutes never went above 18 for any skater. This is a benefit in going into a third period up by three goals. Not only does the team not need to intensely score goals, but they can spread around the shifts to limit some of the wear and tear. This was the Devils’ third straight road game and they will play four games in six nights next week. Any opportunity for a little rest through rotation is worth taking. Again, the Devils played a generally smart game from Hughes all the way to the pairing of Damon Severson and Brendan Smith. Schmid was solid as well. As a result, Ottawa never really had much of a chance to get back into this game. Another reason to appreciate this, the twelfth of twelve straight wins, this afternoon.
What’s Going to Happen on March 25?: Last Thursday, Thomas Chabot - who did not play today due to injury - kneed Vitek Vanecek in the head. He only got a goaltender interference call. Vanecek left in the third period for precautionary reasons. Thankfully, the hit did not yield a more significant injury.
Today, during the Devils’ first power play, Austin Watson cross-checked Hischier below the ribs in open ice. Somehow, this was not called despite the puck being nowhere near either player. Hischier went to the bench in pain. Thankfully, Hischier played after Haula’s goal and would have himself a very fine game wherein he drew two calls, took four shots on net, and took the shot that led to Sharangovich’s shorthanded goal.
I have to ask. What nonsense will happen when the Devils host Ottawa on Saturday, March 25, 2023? Who on Ottawa will go out there and do something dumb and potentially dangerous to a Devil? Hopefully no one. I do not want anything like that to happen. But, again, I have to ask because of last week’s game and today’s game.
By the way, credit to the Devils for not trying to enact revenge for either play. I understand the desire to see something like that. Yet, it is important to repress that desire and focus on the things that help win games. Taking a call in trying to provide a receipt is what an opponent would want in trying to end a 12-game winning streak. Good on the Devils for not doing that today.
Fourth Line Power: While the BMW Line did not win in the run of play, they had themselves a very fine afternoon. McLeod’s hook was not the smartest one to take. But he did get into good spots to shoot and arguably could have had a goal on Forsberg or Talbot. He did get the ENG and his faceoff win (among others) led to a Bastian goal. Bastian was very active and good on the puck this afternoon. He drew a call, scored a goal on a rebound, and really should have had a second but Talbot robbed him. Miles Wood was in motion quite a bit but did not go haywire or lose too much focus in the run of play. For a fourth line, this is a very good set of results and, again, it helped the Devils prevail in the latest of their winning streak.
A Thought About the Opponent: Ottawa pulled Forsberg for Talbot after Boqvist’s goal. Talbot played so well that I wonder why he did not get the start to begin with. Fortunately, the Devils took advantage of a flaw I kept seeing with the Senators. The Ottawa forwards are not particularly good at coming back to help on defense. The Sens defense was without Chabot but did get Artem Zub back. This and a third-period where the Devils knew they did not need to keep pushing the Sens down still led to 36 shots on net. The Devils enjoyed their shifts against Shane Pinto, Alex DeBrincat, and Drake Batherson as those three struggled to help out. It was more even he was out there, but Brady Tkachuk was not particularly noticeable when he did not have a puck on his stick. While the run of play was better for Tim Stutzle, he really did not do himself favors on the shorthanded goal against. I know that things are getting stressful in Ottawa. The team was thought to be better than 6-10-1. I would think D.J. Smith’s seat and, in the wake of the team being sold, Pierre Dorion’s seat is at least warm. But if Ottawa wants to start righting their ship, then I think they need to get their forwards to at least help out more on defense. The Devils’ four lines showed how to do that and it helped tremendously at keeping Ottawa from having extended shifts in New Jersey’s end of the rink. And Ottawa’s lack of it only helped the Devils to keep on attacking.
History Made: Per Bill Spaulding, a Devils win today would make it the first time a NHL team ever swept a Vancouver-Edmonton-Calgary trip and a Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa trip in the same season. They won today. Another reason to smile.
One Last Thought: Twelve straight wins. Feels great, man.
Your Take: The Devils beat Ottawa decisively 5-1 today for their 12th straight win. The game was as good as the score looks. What did you think of how the Devils played today? Who impressed you on the Devils this afternoon? What did you think of the opponent’s performance? What do you expect to see by the Devils going into Monday’s game against Edmonton? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.