In the dying breaths of the Devils television broadcast tonight, right after the final horn sounded, Ken Daneyko offered an observation on both tonight’s game and New Jersey’s early season performances: “It never comes easy”. That might not be a verbatim quote, but that was the gist of it. Well it looked like it might be relatively easy for a little bit, but Mr. Devil was right. On a night where the Devils were missing their captain Nico Hischier due to injury, New Jersey escaped with a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday evening, killing off a 6-on-4 situation for the final 1:37 of the game to secure the hard-fought win.
Jesper Bratt was the star for New Jersey this evening, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on another. He potted a third as well thanks to a terrific effort and pass by Alexander Holtz from behind the Minnesota net in the second period, but after a review the play was deemed offside and the goal was erased from existence, never to be heard from again.
Vitek Vanecek got the start and made some wonderful saves tonight, showing us all that he still has plenty of that “The Vitek” swagger in him. According to Natural Stat Trick, Vanecek allowed his three goals on 3.73 expected goals against in all situations tonight, so overall it was a solid effort from the Devils netminder. It’s only one game, but seeing a nice bounce back effort from the Devils’ goaltending is quite encouraging, as the Vanecek-Akira Schmid tandem is looked at by a lot of Devils fans as the biggest concern for this team.
The Devils special teams played a big role in carrying New Jersey to victory tonight as well. The Devils powerplay went 2-for-3 this evening, continuing their absolute onslaught against opposing penalty kills. The team is now up to 14 powerplay goals in their first eight games this season, a staggering number and one I never thought I’d see this franchise achieve. Meanwhile, while the penalty kill got completely caved in on more than one Wild man advantage tonight, the unit killed off five of six Minnesota powerplay opportunities, including the huge 6-on-4 to ice the game.
As Daneyko said, it’s never easy. Aside from perhaps the Montreal game earlier this month, nothing has come easy for the Devils in the early going this season. But a win is a win is a win, and against a quality if banged up Minnesota Wild team, you take the two points any way you can. New Jersey closed out their weekend with a hard earned win, and now they get a few days off before beginning their first long road trip of the season.
The Opposition Opinion: Hockey Wilderness
No Captain, My Captain
Nico Hischier missed tonight’s game after taking a headshot from the Buffalo Sabres’ Connor Clifton. Devils fans around the world collectively hold our breath as we hope to see the captain return to action soon.
In his absence, the Devils lined up like so tonight:
#NJDevils with some moving parts with Hischier out today. Here’s your lineup from warmups:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) October 29, 2023
➠ McLeod moves into Hischier’s spot
➠ Tierney in
➠ Haula starting at center
➠ D remains the same
So how did these new look lines fare? Well it was a mixed bag. The Jack Hughes line, the only trio that remained intact, got blitzed in the run of play according to the numbers at Natural Stat Trick. The top line only managed a 35.71 xGF% at 5-on-5 this evening. Hughes was even (gasp) held without a point against the Wild! I guess you can take that as a positive though, choosing to see it as New Jersey getting a victory despite a rare off night from their superstar.
As bad as that line was though, it was significantly better than the Holtz-Tierney-Bastian line. That unit got crushed at 5-on-5 to the tune of a 19.14xGF%. They didn’t get a ton of ice time, but when they were out there it wasn’t good.
Meanwhile the other two lines fared very well. the Mercer-Haula-Lazar trio combined for a terrific 83.44 xGF% at 5-on-5. But they weren’t even the best line tonight! That honor belongs to the Bratt-McLeod-Palat unit, which put up an astonishing 97.03 xGF% together. Bratt and pals absolutely crushed Minnesota tonight, and while neither McLeod nor Palat found the scoresheet, Bratt was rewarded for his efforts with a two-goal, three-point night.
So in the end, the Devils forward groupings were up and down without Hischier tonight. It’s nice they had a couple units clicking, but the sooner the captain can return, the better.
They Finally Did It!
It took eight games, but the Devils finally scored the first goal! Bratt’s opener at long last put an end to the Devils’ annoying penchant of having to play catchup right off the bat. Of course, they still managed to fall behind in this game, but at least it wasn’t right away. For the love of god Devils, please start doing that more.
One inauspicious streak that did not come to an end, however, is Dawson Mercer’s pointless stretch. The third-year forward failed to reach the scoresheet yet again, despite having approximately 8-million chances at the empty net (or at least an assist on an ENG) at the end of the game.
Mercer put together a very good game according to the advanced metrics at NST, so it’s not all doom and gloom. At the very least, it’s nice to see him win the territorial battle against a solid team. But man this kid simply can’t buy a point right now. We all know that eventually he’ll get on the board, but this is such a tough stretch for Mercer. What’s promising is that the Devils have been getting wins without points from him, and once he start racking up the tallies, then New Jersey might really look scary.
Next Time Out
Did you enjoy tonight’s game against the Wild? I hope so, because you’ll be getting another one very soon! This was the last game of October for New Jersey, and they get three days off before embarking on their first long road trip of the season. The Devils next hit the ice on Thursday as they’ll play the back end of this home-and-home against Minnesota. That one will be an 8pm ET start here on the east coast.
What did you think of the Devils’ effort tonight? Who stood out to you? What would you like to see changed for the next game against the Wild? As always, thanks for reading!