The Matchup: New Jersey Devils (6-2-1) at St. Louis Blues (3-4-1)
The Time: 8:00pm ET
The Broadcast: MSGSN, BSMW
Last Devils Game
The Devils played the back end of their home-and-home with the Minnesota Wild last night, finishing off the sweep with a 5-3 victory. Jesper Bratt had a four-point night (one goal, three assists), extending his point streak to eight games and helping the Devils to their third straight win.
Last Blues Game
The Blues last hit the ice on Wednesday, losing a road game to the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1. Robert Thomas was the lone goal scorer for the Blues, who dropped to below NHL-.500 on the season.
The Unstoppable Force
New Jersey entered their game against the Wild leading the league in power play efficiency. Through the first month of the season, the Devils scored at a rate of 42.4% on the man advantage, a ludicrous number that is sure to regress very soon...right? Well it sure seems like the Devils are thoroughly disinterested in regression, as they put up a 3-for-5 performance on the power play last night. Timo Meier, Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton were responsible for the power play markers, and each goal was a beauty in their own right. Minnesota came into the game with the league’s worst penalty kill at 67.9%, and lo and behold the mismatch on paper translated into a mismatch on the ice.
Looking ahead, St. Louis sits around the middle of the pack in the league with a 78.3% penalty kill. While not the complete mismatch the Wild presented for the Devils, New Jersey might be able to have some fun with any man advantage situations they draw this evening.
Jack and Jesper Can’t Be Stopped
As mentioned above, Bratt collected four points last night against Minnesota. Bratt is now up to 18 points through nine games this season, and if you’re doing the math along with me, you will find that Bratt is currently at an even 2.00 points-per-game pace. He certainly won’t be keeping that torrid pace up, but with Nico Hischier missing some time due to the head shot he took from Connor Clifton last week, Bratt continuing to step up in the captain’s absence is a welcome sight.
Meanwhile Jack Hughes registered a pair of helpers against the Wild on Thursday. Those assists got him to 20 points, making him the first player in the league to reach that mark on the young season. What’s amazing is that every team the Devils play know Hughes is the focal point of the offense. Opponents gameplan around stopping him each and every night, taking liberties with body checks and stick whacks and any other dirty trick in the book they think they can get away with. Teams do all of that, and they are STILL powerless to stop the one and only Jack Hughes.
It seems like every game preview or recap has a huge portion of the overall piece dedicated to Hughes and his brilliance. Maybe you’re tired of reading about it, and there are only so many different ways you can say that Hughes has been amazing...but Hughes has been amazing. We are witnessing something special at the outset of this 2022-23 season.
But What About the Other Hughes?
While Jack is garnering most of the headlines and praise from both Devils fans and the national hockey media, his younger brother Luke is putting together a promising start to his rookie campaign. There are many stats I could point to that would illustrate how well Luke has been performing thus far, but the one that fascinates me the most (at least in the short term) is this one: Luke led the Devils in total ice time last night.
The teenage blueliner clocked in at 22:01 TOI against the Wild (four seconds more than Jack). In his 5-on-5 minutes, he put up some very strong underlying numbers, such as a 57.14% share in both Scoring Chances For and High Danger Corsi For, as well as a terrific 70.35% Expected Goals For percentage. It speaks volumes that head coach Lindy Ruff is entrusting the youngest Hughes brother with all that ice time so early into his career, and clearly Hughes has been earning that ice time with wonderful performances like last night. Some of the rookie mistakes will not be going away any time soon, but Hughes is doing a lot of good things on the ice every single night.
For a long, LONG time, the Blues were a model of consistency. St. Louis had a stretch from 2011-12 to 2021-22 where they made the postseason in 10 of 11 seasons (including the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup title in 2018-19). Heck, prior to a rough six season period from 2005-06 to 2010-11 that saw the team miss the playoffs five times, the Blues ripped off a streak of 25(!!!) consecutive postseason berths from 1979-80 to 2003-04.
I bring all this up to note that St. Louis appears to be entering one of their rare dark eras. The Blues missed the playoffs last season, finishing with 81 points off a 37-38-7 record. That was their first season below a .500 points percentage since 2007-08.
What makes it likely that 2022-23 was not just a blip on the radar and more of a harbinger of things to come is the average age of the team’s “star” players. Brayden Schenn, Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, Brandon Saad, Jordan Binnington, and Pavel Buchnevich are all between the ages of 28-32. Given what we know of aging curves in the NHL (and professional sports in general), I think it’s safe to say that most of these players’ best days are behind them.
St. Louis is not totally devoid of young talent though. Robert Thomas, their leading scorer this season with two goals and six total points, is 24-years old. Thomas had a big breakout season in 2021-22, scoring 77 points in 72 games, and he followed it up with a very good 2022-23, registering 65 points in 73 games. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but Thomas has proven himself to be a solid contributor at the NHL level.
There’s also Jordan Kyrou, who at 25-years old might be the Blues’ best player. Kyrou put up 37 goals and 73 points last year, a season after putting up 27 goals and 75 points in 2021-22. He’s off to a slow start this season with only a single goal and three total points in eight games thus far, but the Devils would be wise to not underestimate Kyrou.
Believe it or not, as bad as the Blues record looks at 3-4-1, it actually could (and probably should) be worse. According to the advanced team stats at Natural Stat Trick, St. Louis is at or near the bottom of the league in all the major 5-on-5 shot/goal share stats.
Corsi For%: 39.67% (32nd out of 32)
Scoring Chances For%: 41.72% (31st out of 32)
High Danger Corsi For%: 41.18% (30th out of 32)
Expected Goals For%: 41.70% (31st out of 32)
Yes, when it comes to CF%, the Blues are worse than even the astonishingly bad San Jose Sharks. The Devils have not yet fired on all cylinders, and they probably won’t as long as Hischier is out of the lineup (although their “slow start” to the season analytically might not be as bad as you think). However, this is a matchup New Jersey should absolutely feast on if they’re playing anywhere close to the top of their game tonight.
The only thing keeping St. Louis within shouting distance of respectability this season is their goaltending. Binnington has started six of their eight games, and has put up a solid .916 save percentage with a 2.61 goals against average. He is 2-3-1 on the season, but for the most part he has done his job, especially considering how little help he’s been getting in front of him. Even the St. Louis backup, Joel Hofer, is 1-1-0 with a .913 save percentage and a 3.01 goals against average. Things could be a lot worse in St. Louis without the quality goaltending they’ve received.
What will you be looking for in tonight’s game? Will Jesper Bratt extend his point streak to nine games? Who on the Blues are you most worried about? As always, thanks for reading!