I thought the New Jersey Devils were going to buck the trend of slow starts on the opening shift, but Dougie Hamilton was denied on a wide-open chance in front of the net when Nico Hischier worked along the wall to open up the pass to the low slot. Thankfully, the Devils continue getting chances. Yegor Sharangovich patiently waited for the defenders to open up on a two-on-two for a pass across to Jesper Boqvist, who was denied on a good shot that sprung away high off Soderblom’s blocker a few minutes later. Nearly five minutes in, Severson caught the Chicago Blackhawks in a change and sprung Hughes for a rush shot that was ripped wide.
The Devils offense was absolutely dominant throughout the first several minutes. The Hughes line had nearly a minute in the offensive zone - and Hamilton was denied by a diving Soderblom at one point - and the Devils looked like they were on the power play. When the Blackhawks finally remembered they had five skaters on the ice, the Devils got caught up high by the boards. The Blackhawks then got a two-on-one, but Mackenzie Entwhistle could not beat Vanecek when the pass was taken away.
Off tail end of an absolutely beautiful work of stickhandling around the zone by Jack Hughes, Dougie Hamilton ripped a one-timer to the left corner over Soderblom’s shoulder, putting the Devils up 1-0.
Jack Hughes dancin out there pic.twitter.com/uzjPi1lPiw— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) December 7, 2022
The Blackhawks did not have much on the Devils. All their chances were one-and-done: saved by Vanecek, followed by a possession for the Devils. It only became back-and-forth when there were four minutes left in the period to play. The Blackhawks had two rushes that Vanecek had to make big saves on - one on Kane and one on Domi. Aside from that, the Devils did not give them much room to work with. Late in the period, Dawson Mercer took a high sticking minor. This was right after Hischier was hooked by Kane and elbowed by McCabe in the ribs when chasing a loose puck, that he did not possess. But the Devils went to the penalty kill with 1:15 to play in the period. Vanecek had to deal with pressure a couple times on the kill, fighting off a shot by Kane and smothering the rebound among several players fighting for the puck. John Marino cleared with 22 seconds to play, and the Blackhawks could not get another chance before the period was over.
The Devils were able to kill the remainder of the Chicago power play, with Vanecek only having to save a far shot from Seth Jones. At the end of the penalty kill, Nico Hischier received a stretch pass from John Marino that gave him a breakaway that drew a hooking penalty from Connor Murphy as Soderblom made a good save. With the Devils on the power play, McCabe made a big block on Hamilton and left the ice after the first clear. Colin Blackwell later got a shorthanded breakaway, but Vanecek stayed with his backhand and got a piece of the puck to deflect the short side shot behind the goal. Damon Severson skated the puck from behind the net all through the zones to set up the second unit. Tatar and Holtz’s shots went high and wide, with Holtz’s going out of the zone. After the Devils regained the zone, Tatar took a shot from the dot that seemed to deflect off Soderblom’s mask and out of play, but the power play expired shortly thereafter.
Jesper Bratt was going to draw a penalty for hooking as he set up a beautiful chance for Hischier to slam home a pass to the other side of the net. However, Nico did not want to be denied his goal. The Devils kept the Blackhawks off the puck, somehow, and worked the puck back up high. Nico wound up for the one-timer and the Rock erupted in cheers - 2-0, Devils.
Hischier can rip it. Yes he can. pic.twitter.com/Cca7Tzm46f— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 7, 2022
Shortly after the goal, play was blown dead for offsides and Brendan Smith lazily threw a big body check after the whistle, drawing an roughing penalty as he complained he could not hear the whistle. This kill was a breeze for the Devils, however. The Blackhawks only had one shot in the two minutes.
After a few more minutes of Devils domination, the Blackhawks were being called for a penalty as Dougie Hamilton skated the puck into a scoring chance that was denied by Soderblom. He got the puck back for another shot attempt on the delayed penalty that was deflected out of play. Reese Johnson was called for interference away from the play on Holtz. The Devils would not be kept out of the net this time. Hamilton and Hughes played it back and forth before Hughes sent a no-look pass across to Jesper Bratt on the far dot that went over Soderblom’s head and under the bar! 3-0, Devils - and they were in complete control at this point.
Nico Hischier set Tomas Tatar up for a one-timer at the side of the net, which was saved by Soderblom. As Soderblom got across, Jack Johnson pushed Tatar into the goal - and Soderblom was down on the ice after Tatar’s stick got through his mask. Fortunately, he was able to stay in the game.
Play was a bit slower paced in this period, but the Devils still generally possessed the puck early on. After several minutes of controlling play, John Marino got his stick up on Max Domi while chasing him in the Blackhawks’ end. Chicago went to the power play with eight minutes into the period. Despite the fact Marino was in the box, the Devils penalty kill stood up well yet again against the Patrick Kane-led power play. Ryan Graves made a great block on Kane near the end of the kill - and 10 seconds later he found John Marino coming out of the box. Marino shielded himself well but couldn’t get a high enough backhand off, keeping the score where it was. The Blackhawks did not get a shot on their power play - and they finally got their first of the period about a minute after play returned to five-on-five.
The Devils defense was perfectly structured. With the Devils allowing four shots in the period, and taking three quarters of even strength shot attempts - this was the easiest third period I have ever watched as a Devils fan. Most importantly, Vitek Vanecek sealed his 24-save shutout as the team coasted to their 21st win of the season.
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Triple H Show
If you saw the Devils on offense, there’s a good chance you saw one of these three players at the center of the action: Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Dougie Hamilton. Dougie Hamilton, in particular, was absolutely ridiculous tonight - and I think this was one of the best individual performances of the season. With Dougie on the ice, the Devils outshot Chicago 19-4: those chances and attempts worked out to a 89.31 xGF% and a 77.50 CF%. You cannot lose a game where your top defenseman is that good. His three points brings him up to 19 in 26 games. He is currently on track for 22 goals and 37 assists: he is on another level.
Dougie Hamilton with a 6-pack tonight on the Game Score chart.— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) December 7, 2022
Best game from any Devils skater all season according to that metric. pic.twitter.com/DfExouxnES
Jack Hughes, with two points tonight, is on a torrid pace with 11 multi-point games and 31 points in total. The offense tonight was unstoppable when he had the puck. He cut through the Chicago defense like butter with regularity, and he was a constant threat to set up a big scoring chance for himself or a teammate. I liked seeing him out there for the final minute - you would not normally think of the end of a 3-0 game against a pretty bad team the time to put your superstar out there. Hughes was competitive until the end of the game, though - he was not going to let Chicago get any cheap chances off at the end.
50 seconds of Jack Hughes doing whatever he wants. pic.twitter.com/Wks7j3W6r7— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) December 7, 2022
And of course, there’s Nico Hischier, who does it all. At even strength, he had a 69.23 CF% while the Devils generated six high-danger chances - the most of any forward. I definitely feel like he deserved more than his one goal, but his main line was absolutely dominant. In 10:43, Tatar-Hischier-Bratt had a 77.27 CF%, outshot Chicago 9-4, and only allowed 0.07 expected goals against with their 92.72 xGF%. So many of Chicago’s shots were just hoping getting the puck on goal would lead to something, and the play of the Hischier line played a big role in that.
Vitek Vanecek was solid tonight. He only faced a total of 1.71 expected goals against from the Blackhawks, but his 24 saves included a few dangerous chances. Still, this was his second shutout of the season and a great follow-up performance to his start in Nashville where he did not have his usual results. He is now 12-2-1 as a Devil. The Devils have a great thing going on in goal right now, and how could you not appreciate this guy?
Wholesome Vitek content delivery just in time for the holidays. pic.twitter.com/XjAfVeNjtA— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 7, 2022
These days, you can sit back and relax to enjoy the Devils play with a lead. This was an easy watch, and the Rock crowd seemed like they were loving it. It’s hard not to when the home team can willfully control the flow of the entire game, and the Devils did tonight. This was reminiscent of their early win-streak games.
There were a few things I noticed that I haven’t already mentioned. First on my mind is that I would not want the Devils to have anything to do with Patrick Kane in this year’s deadline market. Even at maximum-allowable salary retention, I would not take a single player out of the Devils lineup for him. Kane can still stickhandle and shoot, but the Blackhawks were repeatedly hemmed in with him in the defensive zone. He just seemed ineffectual to me, in general. Add his history with Chicago and consider the Devils have a young team with few veterans - he’s not a guy I’d want in the mix.
Second is I really do not jive with Fabian Zetterlund in the bottom six. I think this has put him in a tough spot. Miles Wood is just not a guy he can whip the puck around with - and McLeod has leveled out to mediocre offensive skills himself. With any other line, Zetterlund would have the freedom to do something other than play for a net-crashing play: and it is just too limiting to use him like a fourth liner. There was one point this game where Wood tried to walk the blueline and put himself offsides - this just isn’t the line to do that with.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How quickly into the game did you think the Devils were going to walk away victorious? Who stood out to you most? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.