On November 24th, Black Friday, the New Jersey Devils played one of their worst games of the season as they fell 2-1 on home ice to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. The loss dropped New Jersey to 8-9-1, the first time they dipped below NHL-.500 all season long. However, as Caleb pointed out in the preview for tonight’s game, that contest has served as a line of demarcation this season. Since that game, the Devils have gone 7-2-0, and as a result they entered tonight’s rematch against the Blue Jackets with a 15-11-1 record, a far cry from below NHL-.500. Well we can update those numbers to 8-2-0 in their last 10 and 16-11-1 on the season, as the Devils delivered an emphatic 6-3 win in Columbus on Saturday evening.
Jack Hughes did Jack Hughes things, netting himself a hat trick to bring his season totals up to 14 goals and 37 total points. We even saw hats on the ice in Columbus upon Jack potting his third, which is very impressive to see in a road game! Jesper Bratt collected three assists, and Nico Hischier and Tyler Toffoli had a goal and an assist apiece. Erik Haula was the other goal scorer on the evening for the Devils. The stars came to play tonight, and the end result was an overall very good night at the office for Jersey’s team.
Putting the production aside, the Devils also looked good on the analytics front. According to Natural Stat Trick, New Jersey collected 60.80% of the Expected Goals For at 5-on-5 this evening. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the advanced numbers is the Devils registering a 5-on-5 xGF% of 79.80% in the third period tonight. Given the fact that New Jersey entered the final frame leading 4-2 and upped their edge to 5-2 2:50 into the period, you would figure by score effects alone the Blue Jackets would look decent in the run of play in the third. But as we saw from this team through much of last season, the Devils kept their proverbial boot on the proverbial neck of an opponent even with a lead. New Jersey’s domination of the third period was a thoroughly satisfying sight.
The one bad thing Devils fans could point to about this game is the performance of Akira Schmid, who stopped 23 of 26 shots for a Save Percentage of .885 on the night. Schmid has been much better as of late, with the high water mark of his season coming against Seattle last week, in which he stopped 37 of 38 shots in a 2-1 win. But tonight was a step backwards. It’s tough to fault Schmid for Columbus’ first goal of the evening, a power play rocket from Kirill Marchenko who was left all alone in front of the net. The second goal, however, just cannot happen. A Yegor Chinakhov shot deflected off Timo Meier’s stick and bounced around like I have not seen a puck bounce around in a long time, so I understand that “shot” being a little tricky to stop. But it was still incredibly leaky from Schmid, and it’s hard to believe a puck like that can find a way to squirt through a man of Schmid’s size.
The thing is, Schmid’s numbers were on pace to look pretty good as this game wound to a close, but Alex Texier beat him in an empty-net situation with 1:03 left in the game. It was a good shot, but a stoppable one, and that goal allowed went a long way toward tanking Schmid’s numbers on the night. You could take the glass half full approach and say the game was well in hand and one more shot beating Schmid in garbage time shouldn’t ruin a night that was overall pretty good until that point. But the second goal against was yet another soft goal that gave a Devils’ opponent life. How many times have we seen that this season, where a Devils netminder almost singlehandedly keeps opposing teams in games?
In the end, it wasn’t an awful performance from Schmid. But it wasn’t a particularly good one either, and while the domination from New Jersey’s skaters more than covered up yet another questionable performance between the pipes, it would be nice if Schmid could get right back on track the next time he gets the call.
Columbus is a bad team, and this already bad team was without Patrik Laine, Boone Jenner, and Devils ex-pat Damon Severson. Yes road games can be tricky, but this was a game that the Devils absolutely had to have given the circumstances. And while it was close for a while, the Devils accomplished the mission of leaving Columbus with two points. The Blue Jackets had their moments but in the end the star power on New Jersey’s side simply overwhelmed Columbus. The Devils remain hot, and exacted some revenge for that woeful loss on Black Friday. Tonight was a good night for Devils fans everywhere.
The Game Highlights: Bask in the glory of this 6-3 win.
Starting Off on the Right Foot
It has been a recurring theme among Devils fans to lament the slow starts this team has gotten off to in games the past two seasons. This season in particular has been rough as far as slow starts, so much so that John did a deep dive on this very subject on Friday.
So how exactly did the Devils start off this game? Well Jack Hughes scored a goal 47 seconds into the game, so I would say that qualifies as a good start! Aside from the goal, the first period was overall pretty good for New Jersey. In fact the Devils only allowed a single shot on goal through the first roughly 15 minutes of the period, which is outstanding. There was a bit of a lull in the middle of the frame, but the final 5-on-5 numbers per Natural Stat Trick favored the Devils:
Expected Goals For: 0.77-0.54 (58.82%)
Corsi For: 16-10 (61.54%)
Scoring Chances For: 11-7 (61.11%)
High Danger Corsi For: 4-4 (50%)
The HDCF battle was a dead heat, but otherwise it was a very good first period for the Devils, which is certainly a welcome sight around these parts. Now if they can figure out how to do that consistently that would be just dandy.
A Budding New Line?
Every forward line finished above breakeven in xGF% at 5-on-5 tonight per Natural Stat Trick. At the very top of the list though? Not the Jack Hughes-Jesper Bratt-Tyler Toffoli line and their 51.30 xGF%. Not the Nico Hischier-Ondrej Palat-Timo Meier line and their 55.02 xGF%. Not the Michael McLeod-Nathan Bastian-Curtis Lazar line, though they did put up a terrific 62.12 xGF%. No, the line that dominated the run of play the most was the Dawson Mercer-Erik Haula-Alexander Holtz line, which rocked a killer 88.68 xGF% this evening.
It was a terrific night for the third line, and they were rewarded for their efforts with one of the prettier goals of the season. Haula’s goal was set up by Holtz rushing into the offensive zone and snapping a shot on net that Daniil Tarasov made the save on. Holtz collected his own rebound in the corner and dished the puck to Mercer, who dropped a gorgeous behind the back pass to Haula at the backdoor for a slam dunk goal. It was a thing of beauty.
Making the dads and mentors Haula in Columbus pic.twitter.com/U1guONEsQt— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 17, 2023
I have been skeptical of Mercer’s ability to drive play as a center, and I still think he would be better suited on the wing with either Hughes or Hischier. Yes Columbus is a bad team that is missing some key contributors, but it was nice to see Mercer and pals drive play the way they did tonight.
Is The Streak In Jeopardy?
Speaking of Mercer, In the final minutes of the game, he blocked a shot and collapsed to the ice in a lot of pain. He was allowed to leave the ice on the icing that followed as a result of his injury, and while he lingered on the bench for a minute, he eventually went down the tunnel to get checked by the training staff.
Amanda Stein had this update for us after the game:
Lindy Ruff said he hopes it was just a stinger for Dawson Mercer when he blocked that shot defending 6-on-5 in the dying minutes of the game.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) December 17, 2023
“I know his dad will be proud of him.” #NJDevils
Mercer is New Jersey’s iron man, not missing a game since he came into the league in 2021-22. This is the front end of a back-to-back, so Mercer does not have much time to recover from that brutal shot block. I sure hope his streak of 191 consecutive games played reaches 192, but we will have to wait and see on that front.
Milestone Men (And One Quick Rant)
Congratulations are in order for the Devils’ head coach and their pair of franchise centers.
The win tonight was Lindy Ruff’s 850th of his career. He is currently 4th on the all-time wins list among NHL coaches. Kudos, coach.
As for players on the ice, Jack Hughes’ second goal of the night was the 100th goal of his career. On the MSG broadcast, we were told he officially became the fastest Devil to reach 100 goals, getting to the century mark in 267 games. The previous fastest Devil to 100 was Brian Gionta in 284 games.
I thought that was a great stat. And then I saw this tweet:
So in the end, Hughes did not set the franchise record, only the New Jersey record. The franchise record belongs to the great Wilf Paiement.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the Devils organization is the fact that more often than not they are all too happy to pretend their Kansas City and Colorado days never happened. Don’t get me wrong I’m under no illusion that there is much to celebrate about those days, as those Scouts and Rockies teams were generally awful. But it just doesn’t sit right with me that The Devils (and MSG) typically pretend like the franchise started in New Jersey. I would love to see much more acknowledgement of the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies, especially when it comes to stats like this one. Embrace the entirety of this franchise.
Ok rant over. Congrats to Hughes on his 100th career goal.
Meanwhile, Nico Hischier’s third period goal was the 300th point of his NHL career. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t come with a long digression from me.
Kudos to Hughes and Hischier. May we see them reach many more milestones ahead.
Father Knows Best
Tonight was the annual Fathers trip for the Devils. Many of the players’ fathers were interviewed or featured on the pregame show as well as during the intermissions. Most interviews were the standard fare you can expect with stuff like that. But there was one father that said something that made my ears perk up.
During the 1st intermission, Tyler Toffoli’s dad Rob was interviewed by Erica and Bryce. During the conversation, Rob just flat out said he hopes Tyler “signs something” to stay long term in New Jersey because he loves it here. I don’t think making a comment like that is going to change anything as far as Toffoli either returning or leaving after the season, but it was interesting to hear at least.
If Papa Toffoli is accurate, and I would assume he is, it sounds like Toffoli is at the very least open to being more than just a one-year Devil. He might be pricing himself out of New Jersey with the way he’s playing this season, and this won’t be a concern until a few more months from now, but file this one away in case we do end up seeing Toffoli sign an extension to stay in the Garden State.
Out of Town Scoreboard
Before we go, a look around the Metropolitan Division on this Saturday night:
The Islanders lost to the Canadiens, 5-3.
The Rangers shamelessly plagiarized the Devils as they defeated the Bruins in overtime, 2-1.
The Flyers turned the clock back to the Dead Puck Era with a 1-0 win over the Red Wings.
The Penguins got ground into a fine powder by the Maple Leafs, 7-0.
The Capitals fell to the Predators, 3-1.
The Hurricanes had the night off.
Overall a decent night for the Devils. It’s frustrating that the Flyers keep scratching out points, but even this has a silver lining as the Red Wings are a prime contender for a Wild Card slot in the East that the Devils may have to deal with as well. The Flyers got their 1-0 victory in regulation, so Detroit came away empty handed, which helps New Jersey’s cause.
Next Time Out
The Devils turn right around and host the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. The Ducks got off to a surprisingly good start this season, but since November 15th, they have
Yes, in more than a calendar month of play, Anaheim has collected one win and two points total. They have lost 13 of their last 14 games. Times are very, very tough in Orange County right now. The Devils would be wise to keep the bad times rolling for the Ducks.
What did you make of the Devils effort tonight? Who impressed you the most? Who were you disappointed with? How proud do you think the Devils dads are? As always, thanks for reading!