After three days of no Devils hockey, Jersey’s team finally returns to action tonight against the same team that they beat this past Sunday. This time, however, the team finds themselves as the visitor, with three more contests on the road to come between now and next Tuesday. While the New Jersey Devils have spent time away from The Rock already this season, this is the first extended road trip with a back to back included. For a team that has looked unsteady at times as the Devils have, this next stint presents a test to the Devils.
In order to pass said test, the Devils will need to play consistently on a nightly basis. Tomorrow in particular on the back half of two in a row against a rested team is when they need to be sure to play their brand of hockey to have as good of a chance as possible to add two more points to their season total. Here are some quick hits for what the Devils can do to maximize their results on this trip:
Play to the Strengths
The Devils biggest strength so far this season has to be scoring. Even in games where the defense and goaltending has been porous, the team has found ways to put up goals and even climb out of large holes, although that result wasn’t what we wanted to see in the end. Point is, the Devils have the firepower to compete with any team on any given night and to bail out some of their woes in others areas.
The team does need for everyone to be contributing; namely, we’re all paging Dawson Mercer at this point, especially with Nico Hischier not travelling with the team. Right now, the team is very much the Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt show, with Special Guest Tyler Toffoli. While a few others have also been solid contributors (Timo Meier, Dougie Hamilton, Erik Haula, John Marino and Luke Hughes all get passing grades) they need more players to find their game to enable each unit to present a scoring threat each time they’re on the ice. If the Devils can do this, they will not only be playing to their greatest strength, they will also be a legitimate problem for any other squad in the NHL.
Get Both Goalies’ Heads in the Game
This might be easier said than done, but needs to be figured out before long. Checking the Devils’ defenders and their all situations SAT, outside of Brendan Smith, all have been over 50%. That means that generally the Devils are outshooting their opponents and typically moving the puck in the correct direction. Yes, there have been some BAD defensive gaffes this season, but there have also been some really, really, REALLY bad, stoppable goals.
While we are once again not absolving the defense of their problems, at some point the goalies need to be making the saves, especially the ones on low percentage or low danger shots. I will give some credit to Vitek Vanecek here, as he looked at least the part of an average goaltender in his most recent outing. You’d like him to allow maybe one fewer goal per game right now, but he has shut the door and made some of the key stops when needed. He needs to keep moving in that direction, and while he’s at it, if he could pull Akira Schmid along for the ride to at least league average, that would be for the best.
Pressure and Conquer the “Weaker” Teams
While the Colorado Avalanche will be a legitimate challenge next Tuesday, the other three games are all against teams that are in the lower half of the Western Conference playing below .500 hockey as of this writing. There is not doubt talent on each of these teams, however, they all have some serious flaws as well. Minnesota is a middling team in the league still being impacted by a couple of buy outs that are severely limiting heir cap space. Chicago has embraced their rebuild and while they have Connor Bedard who has performed well so far, they are still multiple pieces away from even being competitive again. St. Louis, meanwhile hasn’t exactly embraced the rebuild quite as strongly as Chicago, though it seems they are walking down that path.
The initial three games of the trip are a good time for the Devils to start correcting the mistakes that have plagued them for the first month of the season. While practice and coaching ideally should have fixed said issues, now is the time to ensure they are not happening going forward. Limiting and/or eliminating the mistakes can also help to alleviate some of the pressure on the goalies, which will lead to the results we all want to see.
What are your thoughts on this road trip for the Devils; how many wins and/or points do you expect them to take? Do you think they will be able to control the games against the sub .500 teams? Do they stay undefeated on the road? Do they at least fix the problems they’ve had so far? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!