The shortest month of the year featured ten games for the New Jersey Devils. It was a very successful month. The Devils went 7-2-1, establishing one of the best records in the whole league in February. Some of the wins were dramatic, some were well-earned, and some were somewhere in between. The continued success kept the Devils in second place in the Metropolitan Division all month long, holding the position away from Our Hated Rivals who had a similarly hot February. If that was not enough, the Devils got a whole lot better on paper by acquiring Timo Meier from the San Jose Sharks after their final game in February. Before a difficult March schedule begins - and the NHL Trade Deadline happens on Friday - let us re-visit February 2023 one more time with this summary.
The Games of Feburary 2023
The Devils were successful in January but showed concerning issues in several performances that month. Perhaps a break would do them well. Other than The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, the Devils were off for a week with a bye. Hughes represented the Devils at the NHL All-Star Weekend in Sunrise, Florida. They would return to action on February 6 to start their ten-game slate of games. They would even get defenseman John Marino back from injury for that one.
That game on February 6 was against Vancouver, a non-playoff team who just got a new coach and already traded one of their top scorers well ahead of the deadline. It was anything but an easy contest. Andrei Kuzmenko scored first. The Devils blew the game up to a 4-1 lead in the second period with braces by Hughes and Ondrej Palat. And then it slipped away with goals conceded to Luke Schenn, Curtis Lazar, and Phillip DiGiuseppe. Overtime was needed against this Canucks team. A power play was drawn and Jesper Bratt ended it for the 5-4 win. An auspicious start to the month after a week off. The team was tested by a better Seattle Kraken team on February 9. Worse, the Devils had to do it without Jack Hughes, who out injured for “week to week” at the time. MacKenzie Blackwood was on his game. While Adam Larsson opened the scoring, Dougie Hamilton tied it up on a power play shortly after that goal. And then he broke that tie in the third period. Marino sealed up the game with an empty netter for the 3-1 win. A pair of wins at home to start the month is indeed good. But one wished the Devils would have handled it better. Perhaps a road trip would be good given the Devils’ massive success away from the Rock this season? A four-game trip would ensue.
The first stop was a tough night in Minnesota. Joel Eriksson Ek got the Wild up early, Tomas Tatar scored twice to give the Devils a lead, and that lead ended when Ryan Hartman tied it up in the third. The Devils did not get a lot on Filip Gustavsson and would get nothing else past him. Not in the third, not in overtime, and not even in a shootout. The Wild did and so the Devils lost 2-3 through the shootout.
The second stop was in Ohio. The Devils had not won in Columbus since 2017. Between their awful record and injury list, surely, the Devils would take care of the Blue Jackets. They got a very competitive effort from Columbus on Valentine’s Day. A game where Vitek Vanecek had to be very good. A game wherein a Yegor Sharangovich score was answered by Johnny Gaudreau with two seconds left in the first period. A game wherein a Jesper Bratt goal off the opening faceoff in the second period would be answered by a floater from Adam Boqvist. It seemed like overtime was inevitable - and fortunate. Only for Michael McLeod to deke Andrew Peeke out of his skates and find Ryan Graves at the crease with 1.4 seconds left in regulation. The Devils won 3-2 in dramatic fashion over the 32nd place Blue Jackets.
The third stop was in St. Louis. While the Blues traded Vladimir Tarasenko away before the game, they were in good form. They gave the Devils problems, who struggled in the game similar to their struggles from their other four games in February - and their games in January. Defensive coverage woes, a lack of finish against Jordan Binnington, a headshot by Miles Wood, and a 2-4 loss. One of the few positives was a goal by Dawson Mercer. Keep that in mind. Fortunately, it would get better.
The fourth and final stop was in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, deep in a battle for the wild card spots in the East, was struggling. The Devils sought to add to it. Evgeni Malkin may have opened the scoring, but it would be the Devils to hammer Dustin Tokarski. A goal from Mercer. A PPG from Hamilton. A beautiful shorthanded goal from Nico Hischier on a give-and-go with Sharangovich. An empty net goal from Hischier off a great clearances from Mercer. Hischier assisted those first two goals mentioned for a four-point night. Oh, and Jack Hughes returned to the lineup and set up a Bratt goal in the solid 5-2 win in Pittsburgh. The trip ended at 2-1-1 and the Devils had one week left to play in February - all in Newark.
For the first time this season, the Devils would play Winnipeg. It was not at all ideal that they were to play them right after the Penguins game. Going down 1-2 in the first period was also not ideal, as Mercer scored in between a Cole Perfetti putback and a Neal Pionk long shot. Fortunately, Blackwood got better as the game went on. The comeback would happen in the third period. Erik Haula set up Fabian Zetterlund for an equalizer from behind the net. Michael McLeod dropped a dime that Miles Wood got just enough on to give the Devils a go-ahead goal. Mercer showed the hockey world how many DAWGS are in his ribcage when he darted ahead for a gutsy empty net goal to secure the 4-2 win. Back-to-back wins on the weekend are always nice.
What was not nice was the game against Montreal on February 21. The Devils conceded three out of four goals on basically the same play. Devils converged on the right side where the puck was. No one picked up or could pick up a Canadien on the weakside on the left. Three goals against. Nick Suzuki torched Vanecek for an additional goal. Worse, Sam Montembeault goalie’d the Devils harder than even Binnington this month with 38 saves on 40 shots. Only a Bratt laser and a Mercer rebound PPG beat him in the 2-5 defeat to the worst team in the Atlantic. A loss that would hurt if it led to further defeats.
Fortunately, the final two games would get better. Against Los Angeles on February 23, the Devils had to suffer first. Their first shot against was minutes into the game; an Anze Kopitar breakaway goal. Not long later, a Hughes turnover led to a Hamilton flop on a 2-on-1 that led to Viktor Arvidsson putting home a Kevin Fiala-created rebound for a 0-2 deficit. But the Devils would take the game over and take the game back. Mercer set up Tatar to get the Devils on the board in the second period. Tatar set up Mercer for further DAWGNESS and an equalizer. A weakside one-timer from Sean Durzi put the Devils down 2-3 with less than five minutes left. Only for Hughes to fire a shot that Hischier re-directed in with 39 seconds left in regulation to make it 3-3. Overtime was all New Jersey. Hughes hit the post. The Devils took control. Just about halfway through, Hughes drew one King away while Hamilton saw Mercer get past his man. Pass, one-touch from Young Dawgson, and a 4-3 win. A dramatic result that even outdid the Vancouver and Columbus games for how it all went down. And it helped that the Kings are not bottom-feeders this season.
Anyway, for the last two months, the line for the Devils has been that they always Find A Way to Win. Which is true, but I would have wanted the Devils to find some ways that involved not giving up the first goal or not losing after one period or not needing overtime or last-minute magic to get results. Why not a good, old-fashioned beatdown? I would get what I wanted and what many of the People Who Matter would enjoy when the Devils hosted Philadelphia on February 25. A night where the 2003 Stanley Cup championship team was honored. After a nondescript first period, the Devils cracked Philly with a Jonas Siegenthaler long shot that found its way in. The floodgates were opened after Hughes scored his first goal since the Vancouver game by turning a Siegenthaler clearance into a highlight. Mercer extended his six-game goal streak and his eighth goal of the month. Hischier added a top-shelf shot; Hamilton got a shot just inside the left post; Hughes spun to set up Bratt for a tap-in; and Nathan Bastian got a tip-in goal from a Kevin Bahl shot for the seventh goal of the game. No drama. No stretches where the goalie - Akira Schmid, on this night - had to be the only Devil playing well. No comebacks. Just wonderful butt-kicking wherein Philly supplied a whole lot of butt. The Devils won 7-0 to end their month with a 7-2-1 record.
Then they got Timo Meier. More on that in a bit.
By the Numbers
All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned. Data was pulled on the night of February 28, so the ranks should be accurate. Remember, this is all within the short month of February.
5-on-5 Play: The Devils averaged just over 51 minutes per game of 5-on-5 hockey in February, which ranks in the top five in the NHL for the month. Unlike last month, the 5-on-5 play from the Devils was far better in February.
Last month was a whole lot of red. This month, there is a lot more green as the Devils’ 5-on-5 play was more successful. Sure, it was not fun to see the Devils repeatedly go down early in games or have slow starts. But these numbers point to how the Devils have made as many comebacks as they have in February. They did not just merely out-PDO teams as they did in January. They actually controlled stretches of play more than just once in a while. It is true that this is from just ten games, but it is an improvement. It speaks well of the coaching staff even if weakside defense, defensemen defending no one in 2-on-1 situations, and other roster decisions still rankle. The Devils did quite well in the most common situation in hockey. I would hope that would be the case in a month where they went 7-2-1 and so it is. Good for the Devils, Ruff, Andrew Brunette, Ryan McGill, and others.
What surprised me was how just about the entire was positive in 5-on-5 play. In terms of CF%, only two players fell below 50% and you would be surprised when I inform you that those two were Mercer and Marino. Even Miles Wood and his rather frustrating lack of contributions at times in February (and earlier) was well in the green in that regard. Do you prefer expected goals? In that case, five Devils fell below 50% - including the productive Bratt and Hughes (six games) to go with Holtz (one game), Wood, and Marino. How about just shots? That would be no one outside of Holtz’ 9:16 of ice time; per NST, all of the Devils saw the Devils out-shoot their opponents over the course of February. Who excelled with their on-ice rates? Among forwards: Tatar, Hischier, and the returning and scratched for a few games, Nathan Bastian. Brendan Smith, Kevin, Bahl and Damon Severson also looked real good by these numbers but keep in mind that they played fewer and weaker minutes than Marino, Ryan Graves, Siegenthaler, and Hamilton. What about the production in 5-on-5? It was definitely by committee in February. Everybody but Holtz (one game) and Smith (four games) registered at least a 5-on-5 point in the month. Two-thirds of the roster put up at least one goal with Mercer, Hughes, and Tatar all tied with six for the team lead. Mercer, as you would expect, had the most goals with five. Hamilton and Ryan Graves, of all players, led the team in 5-on-5 shots. And Erik Haula, yes, him, had the highest individual xG in 5-on-5 play at 2.74 - at least he scored a goal in February. But the impressive part was that the majority of the roster shined at different points when it came to the scoresheet. In the run of play, the on-ice rates tell a similarly strong tale.
What was not so strong was goaltending. As a team, it was perfectly fine in February. A 91.3% team save percentage is nothing to sneeze at. That said, the team save percentage was held up by Blackwood putting up a 92.2% in three appearances and Schmid’s shutout of the Flyers. The team’s starter, Vitek Vanecek, posted a not-good 89.3% save percentage in 5-on-5 play. He was expected to give up 10.84 goals and he actually gave up 14. Not the best February for Vanecek. He was actually doing quite well with a 92.9% before that poor outing against Montreal and Los Angeles scoring three out of twenty shots. It would be easy to handwave this away by saying “small population size,” but the fact remains: a sub-90% save percentage in 5-on-5 is still not good. I am confident Vanecek will rebound short of entering a slump. And, hey, this is why the 5-on-5 on-ice rates being good is a positive. The Devils did not have super-hot sticks like they did January and they still managed to get goals and get wins in five out of Vanecek’s six appearances because they did a good job in pushing the play forward and helping their goalie out outside of when the opposition rushes against them. Which is a problem every NHL team has, to be fair.
Power Play Situations: I regret to inform you that while the 5-on-5 play for February was good and the Devils were quite productive, the power play left something to be desired.
The Devils were awesome at generating offense in power plays last month. They were decidedly not awesome in February. They fell to the bottom third or below the league median in on-ice rates during man advantages with the exception of their shooting percentage. Even that was not particularly high at 12th in the NHL. The power play success rate was decent, but the Devils converted just five of their 26 situations. Four of those five were crucial: an overtime winner against Vancouver (which had an assist from Hamilton) and power play strikes against Seattle (2 of them, both from Hamilton) and Pittsburgh (also Hamilton) led to those wins. Still, just five PPGs and a relatively small amount of attempts, shots, and chances in a month? That is not praise-worthy. At least they did not give up any shorthanded goals. That was a big improvement over the three shorties allowed in January.
The main issues with the power play reared its ugly head in February. Struggling to get set up against steadfast penalty killers on the blueline. Struggling with aggressive penalty killers. A second unit that has yet to threaten anyone to score a goal for months. Hughes missing four games was a big loss for the power play as a whole. As much as I like Andrew Brunette, he really needs to sort some things out and make at least some adjustments. Timo Meier joining the Devils can only help the power play from what it was in February. While the success rate was certainly not bad, I think it is reasonable to expect a lot more from the Devils on man advantages than this.
Penalty Kill Situations: The penalty kill, like the 5-on-5 play, did improve quite a bit over last month’s struggles. How much of an improvement? How about one of the better ones in the entire NHL in February?
The green indicates stats in the top ten. While the success rate was not as gaudy as Toronto being perfect for February or Minnesota’s 96.7%, it is a very good rate. Giving up just four power play goals all month long is very good. Generating a shorty - against Pittsburgh - was big. Even the amount of shorthanded situations is not that high. As stupid as Miles Wood’s and Brendan Smith’s penalties were, they each only took three in February. The penalty killing effort received the same level of goaltending but because of the reduced number of attempts, shots, chances, and high-danger chances allowed, the Devils were able to get more kills. Both by the expected goals model and in actual reality.
Who should get the credit? McGill, Ruff, and the other coaches are a good place to start. Based on the on-ice rates, the Devils’ PK was especially awesome when Yegor Sharangovich took to the ice. The return of a healthy Marino (Montreal game aside) was a big help. Erik Haula, Nico Hischier, and Dawson Mercer put in good work too. Even Michael McLeod in a secondary role did quite well. Similar to the 5-on-5 numbers in February, the Devils’ solid penalty kill in February was very much a team effort.
Additions and Subtractions
Well, you know about the addition by now. Let me try to recount the other moves first.
The Devils opened up February with John Marino returning to the lineup after an injury that kept him out since December 20, 2022. Marino played in all ten games in February, although he was apparently sick on February 21 and questionable for that loss to Montreal. He was pretty solid and his return allowed Severson to play more limited minutes, wherein he generally crushed it.
Unfortunately, the Devils were hit with a set of bad news after the overtime win against Vancouver. Brendan Smith picked up an injury and Jack Hughes was announced as “week to week” with soreness. The good news is that both returned to the Devils just four games later on February 18 in Pittsburgh. They both traveled with the team on the road trip, and their injuries were less severe than originally feared. Smith played in three games before being a healthy scratch for Kevin Bahl against Los Angeles and Philadelphia to close out this month. I hate to say it but Smith kind of earned it as he has took poor calls and helped the opposition attack a few too many times. The Big Deal, on the other hand, was the Big Deal. While he would not score a goal until the final game of the month, Hughes kept setting up scores along the way. He ended up with three goals and seven assists in February in just six games. Again: Hughes is The Big Deal.
In between all of that, the Devils had some internal movement. In the wake of Hughes’ injury, Alexander Holtz re-entered the lineup in the Seattle game on February 9 for the first time since playing 8:55 against Our Hated Rivals on January 7. Holtz played 9:52 and would be demoted back to Utica on February 17. I understand that Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff wanted more from Holtz and wanted improvement. I am unsure how he was supposed to get that by being a scratch for all but four appearances since 2023 began. Anyway, he is with the Comets and picked up an injury shortly after his return to Utica. A rough month for the young player.
It would be a more fortuitous February for Kevin Bahl. When Smith went out, Bahl stepped in. He struggled initially but has picked up his game in his last two games. It is an open question whether Smith or Bahl will end up being the sixth defenseman on the team for the postseason. The Devils have a month and a half to figure it out. Jonas Siegenthaler was a healthy scratch for a game in the month after a particularly rough game. He seems OK now. The three-point night against Philly for only the second time in his career surely helped his confidence.
Ditto for Jesper Boqvist. He re-entered the lineup on February 11 in Minnesota after being scratched after the Las Vegas game on January 24. Boqvist has shown off his speed and made himself a bit more involved in the bottom six compared with past entries. I still think he is on the periphery of the roster, but the coaches clearly favored him over Holtz. He has been in the lineup since the Wild game. We shall see if he continues to earn his spot. He could be argued to be ahead of Bastian, who was held out of the lineup for four games as Boqvist and Zetterlund (scratched once) would perform.
The last injury of note was goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood suffering in a morning skate. On the morning of the Los Angeles game, the Devils had to - and did - call up Akira Schmid from Utica on an emergency basis. The tandem has since been Vitek Vanecek and Schmid, with Schmid earning his first NHL shutout against the Flyers on February 25. It is unfortunate for Blackwood, who was quite good in his three games in February. (Exception: the first period against Winnipeg.) Yet, between the injuries and general lack of quality except in spots, Blackwood remains out of favor among many of the People Who Matter.
Of course, what the People Who Matter wanted was Timo Meier. Many pundits agreed that Meier would be an excellent pick up - especially for a Devils team that was still lacking another top-six winger. Sure, the Devils have been rather successful this season. Sure, the Devils are getting loads of production from many like The Big Deal, Bratt, Hischier (he’s nearly at a point per game average!) and Hamilton. Sure, Dawgson Mercer has supplemented the goal scoring with a recent streak and both Tatar and Palat have been fine forwards. But the team really could use one more big producer who can push the play forward to really make them dangerous. Mike Rupp wish-casted it online. Kevin Weekes took to the streets to ask randoms about whether they saw Meier. Every day had another reporter claim how the Devils were still in on him ahead of Carolina, Las Vegas, and others.
And then it happened. On February 26, 2023, the Devils acquired Meier. The news came out in the afternoon. After 8 PM, the full details of what ended up being a large, complicated trade came out:
The New Jersey Devils today acquired forwards Timo Meier, Timur Ibragimov, defensemen Scott Harrington, Santeri Hatakka, goaltender Zachary Emond and a fifth-round pick (originally Colorado’s selection) in the 2024 NHL Draft via trade with the San Jose Sharks in exchange for New Jersey’s first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft (conditional), defensemen Shakir Mukhamadullin and Nikita Okhotiuk, forwards Andreas Johnsson and Fabian Zetterlund, a conditional second-round selection in the 2024 NHL Draft and a seventh-round selection in 2024. San Jose will retain 50% of Meier’s 2022-23 salary as part of the trade.
Jared wrote a great post about the trade after the details came out here. It goes into why this is a something so many of the People Who Matter wanted. Go read it. My main thought is that I like this deal for multiple reasons. Tom Fitzgerald addressed a need on their roster that was still present despite the team’s success this season. He made a trade that got him the best player in the deal and in a position to negotiate for a long-term deal. Fitzgerald managed to get Meier while still keeping Mercer, Holtz, Sharangovich, Bastian, Simon Nemec, Luke Hughes, Akira Schmid, Seamus Casey, Arseni Gritsyuk, Graeme Clarke, and Topias Vilen. I like Zetterlund a lot, I think Nikita Okhotiuk needed a change of scenery, and Shakir Mukhamadullin’s spot was already being squeezed out in a system loaded with talented defenders. These and the picks - which should be late ones now - are all worth the price of admission. The Devils have Meier and still have a bright future from their prospect pool for 2023-24 and 2024-25. If Fitzgerald can lock up Meier to a reasonable extension and salvage Holtz’s development as a player, then this deal is even better.
When will Meier play? Soon. He did join up with the team on Tuesday in Denver. He was suffering an upper body injury, so I would think the Devils will want him at 100% before his debut. Which would be soon since he practiced yesterday with his new teammates albeit without contact. Once he is taking contact in practices, then expect his first official game wearing #96 to soon follow.
What about the other players? The other players coming back were basically to fill out the deal. San Jose was up against the 50-contract limit, so they had to send some players back to stay compliant. They are of little-to-no significance at the NHL level. Scott Harrington was placed on waivers on February 27. He was claimed on February 28 by Anaheim; he never even left the state of California. The other Sharks coming back are Utica players; which may be of benefit for the Comets in their own tight race in the North Division. Who will be without one of their best forwards Graeme Clarke for a few days as he was called up hours after Harrington was claimed. We shall whether Clarke can show he has something at this level.
Yes, the Devils ended February with a 7-0 smackdown of the Second Rate Rivals and Fitzgerald bringing in Timo Meier the next day. You love it. I love it. The vast majority of the People Who Matter love it.
Devil of the Month
For this monthly award (or pair of awards), I tend to favor consistency over quality. I was very tempted to break that for February 2023. This is because I can only name Dawson Mercer as the honorable mention for Devil of the Month.
Yes, Dawson Mercer is hot right now with a six-game-and-counting goal streak. Yes, the Devils do not go 3-1-0 at home in their final week in February without Mercer. Yes, just two players in the entire NHL scored more goals than Mercer’s 8 goals in February. Yes, Mercer has a kennel of Dawgs in him. The issue I have is that Mercer was rather quiet before this run of goals. Not only did he have no goals in the first four games in this month and not only did have no points in those four games, Mercer had one shot total in those four games. One! Further, Mercer’s 5-on-5 on-ice rates in February ranged from the legitimately awesome (a 60% xGF%!) to confusing (a CF% of 48.52%, one of just two Devils regulars to post a CF% below 50% in February). As much as I appreciate the young forward finding positions in front of defenders and pockets of space for goals - big goals, even - I worry that he is going to cool off and then just be kind of there like he was in the five games before this goal streak. While he is among team leading scorers for the month with 10 points (tied with Jack Hughes, who did it in six games) and he is among league leading goal scorers for the month, I have to give Dawgson Mercer the Honorable Mention for the Devil of the Month of January 2022
I was more impressed with the more consistent results of Dougie Hamilton. Sure, he flopped in defending a 2-on-1 against L.A. He didn’t do anything there that the other five defenders have not done this season - especially Damon Severson. What Hamilton did do was continue to be a positive factor throughout the whole month. Hamilton went into February with a four-game point streak and extended that to a seven-game point streak, which was snapped in the Columbus game on February 14. After a pointless night in St. Louis, Hamilton went back to getting onto the scoresheet with two goals and three assists in the next five games, only being held pointless against Montreal. That’s just three games out of seven where Dougie did not get on the board. Further: Dougie’s points were often important. A three-assist night against Vancouver included one for the OT winning goal. His goals against Seattle tied up and then won that game. His PPG put the Devils ahead 2-1 at the time in Pittsburgh. While shotless against Los Angeles - his only shotless game - he had two assists including creating Mercer’s overtime winner. His eleven points, the most on the Devils in February, had plenty of importance.
Hamilton impressed in other ways. Despite having to carry Brendan Smith for a few games on his pairing and seeing his usual partner Siegenthaler get scratched, Hamilton ended up positive in 5-on-5 play for the month. Severson’s numbers may have been better but Hamilton took on more and tougher minutes than him. Hamilton took all of three penalties in the month and drew just as many - not easy for a defenseman to do. Mercer absolutely owned the second half of the month. Hamilton was playing like a big-money defenseman all month long, which was important as Hughes missed some games, some goal droughts were ongoing (Mercer and Hischier), and the first five or six games in February were far from comfortable. Hamilton helped big-time to get results in most of those games - as well as in the latter. Come on, he fed the Dawgson a bone for a win on February 25. Anyway, I name Dougie Hamilton the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for February 2023.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
The New Jersey Devils went 7-2-1 in February, played well overall despite some slow starts, kept second place in the division all month long ahead of Our Hated Rivals, and acquired Timo Meier while still keeping their top prospects and young players. I would say the Devils won the month of February.
I would also say that the Devils are absolutely “going for it.” The Meier trade confirms it. As they should given their astounding record. In my opinion, my own expectations for the Devils were raised by Christmas 2022. (Aside: The Devils now just need 17 out of the next 40 potential points to reach 100 points this season.) Recall all of the amazing things that have happened so far. The likelihood of a repeat of the Devils running off something like a 13-game winning streak, securing a winning road record for the season in February at 21-4-3, and having multiple awesome seasons from The Big Deal, Hischier, Bratt, and Hamilton along with those wins is low. Sure, Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, and Hamilton will be big producers for years to come but the team success has been far better than anyone would have expected - even from the most optimistic of The People Who Matter. If there is a time to push a team to the next level, then this is the time. This means higher expectations. I would like to think management’s and ownership’s expectations have also increased, which drove the Meier deal and perhaps any others made by Friday.
I would even say that the People Who Matter who worry about the postseason with how hard it is and how tough a first round against Our Hated Rivals to relax a bit. The Devils are at a point where opponents absolutely worry about them. The playoffs are always tough anyway. They consist of series of four to seven games against opponents that range from good to best in the NHL in short time periods. Everyone has an incentive to perform, everyone has to adjust plans on the fly, and everyone has to be cautious of everyone else. This coming month of March where the Devils will play a lot of playoff-bound teams - including a brutal stretch of three games against Tampa Bay alone within six days - with little rest will really show how legit they are. Honestly, with how they performed in February, I am confident they can do quite well. Sure, the March 30 game against Our Hated Rivals will be hyped up as a playoff preview. Even if that goes awry, the Devils beat them twice and took them to overtime in the non-win. Have a little faith in New Jersey. Surely, they earned that much by now.
Are there things the Devils need to clean up? Absolutely. This is hockey. No one is perfect. The Devils get caught on the strong side on defense sometimes, which has cost them goals. The Devils can be too predictable forcing breakouts and zone exits up the walls on the strong side. The Devils’ cycling could stand to use some work or flourish. The power play in February was not good. However, even with these flaws, the Devils demonstrated that they can handle their business in 5-on-5 as they did earlier in this season. The Devils’ activation of defensemen may be risky at times, but it has borne more fruit (read: goals) to keep the Devils in games. The penalty kill remains strong even without supreme goaltending carrying them. The top scorers were not always the strongest play drivers in some games and they still found ways to contribute in February, which is another a positive sign. The NHL Trade Deadline is on Friday and the Devils will have 21 games from then on to play to make those adjustments. The stretch run is here and the Devils are in a position to be more than just happy to be involved for the first time since 2018. This past month’s results, performances, and the Meier acquisition are great reasons why that is the case. If they can be successful in March after this schedule - and I think they can - then I would suggest getting really, really, really excited for April. Regardless of the match-up.
Now that you have read my take and review of February 2023 for the Devils, I want to know what you think. Were you surprised that the Devils won as many games as they did? Were you surprised that their 5-on-5 stats were as good as they were in February? Other than adding Meier, what can the Devils do with their power plays going forward? What aspect of the Devils’ performances would you like to see them improve upon in March? Would you agree that Hamilton was the best Devil of the month of February? Did you wish I threw Mercer a bone instead for the award? Please leave your answers and last thoughts about the last month in the comments. Thank you for reading.