The New Jersey Devils 2023-24 season is still in its infancy, but there’s already been a startling number of highs and lows for this group and the fan base. With a number of things going well, and a bunch of others trending in the opposite direction, I decided today to look at three from each group and to analyze what’s going well and how the team can do better as they continue on.
Jack Hughes is first in the NHL in points with an unreal 17 scored in the team’s first six games. The Devils franchise centerman has been everything he has been advertised as and then some to start this season. Add to this the fact that only Jesper Bratt (who is now driving a line of his own) has hit double digits and the Devils collectively are playing sub-.600 hockey, and Jack’s hot start looks even more impressive. For comparison’s sake as well, at this point in the season last year, Jack only had one goal and two assists; right now he has more goals (4) than he had points. Jack is currently on pace for an absurd 22 points and while I don’t think this torrid rate is sustainable, I do think we could finally see the season where a New Jersey Devil eclipses the century mark.
Back End Bright Spot
One player who stood out in a good way last night: Kevin Bahl. The TNT broadcast was very complimentary of him, and while he did not play a mistake-free game, he did do well on closing down opposing players many times. For the Devils to be a successful team long term, they need players like Bahl to continue to hoe their game. While he might top out as a #4 defender or a bottom pairing guy, I would still rather have a competent player in that position than one who is playing as effectively as a traffic cone would. Bahl needs to continue to use his size and his reach while minimizing the mistakes he makes; he’s not the fastest skater, but he does have the size to help assuage those concerns.
Okay, who had Tyler Toffoli picked as their leading goal scorer at the six game mark?
Alright, fine maybe that’s an arbitrary and strange numbers of games to pick, but I will give kudos here as Toffoli has contributed the goal scoring that the Devils brought him on board for. He, Hughes and Timo Meier are starting to look like a menacing line that could be a problem for even some of the best defenders around the league. I particularly enjoy Toffoli being a trigger man for Hughes to feed the puck to, and Toffoli’s success so far could be part of why Hughes has started so strongly. While I do think their line expended everything they had prior to period three last night, the trio still combined for eight points before the wheels fell off the bus. Speaking of which...
The Not So Positives
About Last Night...
Aside from us as a collective fan base wanting to forget about it, the imperfections of the Devils as they are currently built reared their ugly heads. If you haven’t read Chris’ review of it yet, you really should, as he spent time breaking down the big issues as well as their root causes. I appreciated the fact that the expected goals against was highlighted, as were the lapses on defense, as these were really the back breakers last night. Expectations for this team are sky high right now, and the Devils can’t afford many stinkers against teams that they should be defeating. Chalk up the loss, figure out how to fix some of these issues that have been recurring since game one, and let’s move on to better days.
Insert Iron Maiden Reference Here
The Devils are the sixth best team in the NHL right now with 4 goals per game being scored. Unfortunately, they are also tied for sixth WORST (along with the San Jose Sharks) in terms of goals against at 3.67. While the former is certainly a good thing, the latter needs to be cleaned up if the Devils hope to be a powerhouse this year. I don’t think any team in recent memory/years has won a cup letting in that many goals per game. The good news here? It’s also only been six games played for the Devils; with 76 to go, they have some time to figure out the issues and hopefully rectify them.
I’m probably going to get accused of it here, and I’m not the type of person/writer to advocate for someone losing their job, but I just don’t see how Dave Rogalski continues to be employed by the Devils. In his entire tenure here (since October 2020) I don’t think we have seen any goaltenders improve, nor do I feel as though we have seen a young goaltender get developed properly. Is a goaltending coach’s job not to help develop and enhance the team’s goaltending? I’m not saying I expect Vitek Vanecek or Akira Schmid to turn into a Top 5 goaltender overnight, but there should at least be some consistency in their games. With Rogalski, I just feel like we keep seeing them make the same mistakes; some of that blame can certainly be placed on the goalies and their tendencies, but at what point do we have to look at the common denominator in hopes of solidifying the position?
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Devils and their start so far; how many points do you think Jack Hughes gets? Are you happy with Toffoli and/or Bahl so far this season? Does last night’s result worry you for what lies ahead? Is the goaltending, their coaching and the goals per game a bigger concern to you than the defense lapses or vice versa? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!