On March 25, 2023, the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils achieved a major goal. For the first time since 2018, the New Jersey Devils are going to the playoffs. Thanks to the Devils’ season up until that point and Our Hated Rivals beating Florida, the Devils officially clinched a playoff berth by the first intermission of their game against the Ottawa Senators. Which the Devils did win, so they would have clinched on that night regardless of what happened in Manhattan. Winning that game also saw the 2022-23 Devils earn their 100th point in the standings - the first time the Devils have done that since the 2011-12 season. Two major accomplishments were achieved before the end of this month. That should be seen as the major takeaway of what the Devils did in March.
As far as the month itself, outside of those accomplishments, the Devils ultimately won the month. They went 8-5-3 in 16 games. They earned 19 points, which put them in the upper third of the NHL for March. They had all kinds of performances ranging from the excellent to the concerning. Before the final stretch run in April and an actual playoff round, let us review the month that was for the Devils.
The Games of March 2023
The month began with a road trip through Colorado, Las Vegas, and Tempe. All were close games. All had their own moments of drama and concern. March 1 saw a goalfest between the Devils and Avalanche. The Devils went up as much as 5-1 in the game. Then they proceeded to concede three goals within two minutes to make it a tense game. The Devils held on to win 7-5. On the day of the NHL Trade Deadline, the Devils visited the Golden Knights. This would be a close game largely featuring Adin Hill, who absolutely goaled the Devils. The worst goalie-ing of the season so far. Even then, the Devils put three past him because of how much they got through Las Vegas. But Hill was perfect in overtime, the G-Knights won the shootout, and so the Devils lost 3-4. The trip ended at Arizona State University where the Devils visited the Coyotes. Timo Meier made his Devils debut and scored the game’s first goal. But the Devils defensive miscues saw 4-2 lead go to a 4-4 game requiring overtime with two minutes left. Thankfully, Nico Hischier scored quickly in overtime to deny the choke job and get the win, 5-4. The trip was successful at 2-0-1 but the issues on the ice would remain.
The Devils returned home on March 7 to host Toronto prior to another two game trip. The Devils would play a close one. The game even featured a brace from Eric Haula, Ondrej Palat scoring a PPG after getting high-sticked in the mouth, and then a choke job. Up 3-2 with ten minutes left, Michael Bunting was able to get free to tie it up with less than five minutes left. Meier took a regrettable penalty that led to Auston Matthews converting the resulting power play with less than three minutes left. The Devils could not miracle an equalizer, and so they lost 3-4. On March 9, the Devils visited Washington D.C. to play the Capitals. It was another close affair. A bad break for an opening goal against, Erik Haula scoring again, Dawson Mercer scoring shortly after that, and Dylan Strome freely tying it up. Despite a deluge of shots in the third, there would be no breakthrough. Overtime was tense until Meier was called for tripping. The Devils hung on to force the shootout where Meier redeemed himself. He scored the winning goal for a 3-2 win, the Devils’ second shootout win of the season. On March 11, the Devils visited Montreal. It was a strong performance with a two-goal first period only made close due to a Damon Severson turnover yielding a Denis Gurianov goal near the end of the second. However, Akira Schmid was perfect in the third period and Tomas Tatar sealed the 3-1 win with an empty net goal. Carolina lost that day, which set up for a massive game on March 12 in Newark where the Devils could tie the first place team in the division in points.
That March 12 game against Carolina was easily one of the best of the season. Jack Hughes scored his first goal in several games off a steal from Calvin de Haan to open the scoring. Jesper Bratt scored his first goal in several games off a feed from Hughes and a second from the chaos caused by a fumbled puck by Pytor Kochetkov. The defensive effort kept the Canes to a small number of scoring chances. Vitek Vanecek stopped everything from the routine shots to the scrambles to those chances. The Devils shutout Carolina, 3-0. First place in the Metropolitan Division seemed possible once again.
That would take a hit over the next four games, which featured three against the Tampa Bay Lightning within five days of each other. The Devils would fall apart on rush plays by the Lightning on March 14 to suffer a 1-4 loss. In the rematch on March 16, the Devils tilted the ice their way more often. The third period saw a brace from Timo Meier, including a 6-on-5 power play goal late in the third to force overtime. OT did not solve the game. In the shootout, the Devils were beaten 1-2, yielding a 3-4 shootout loss to the Lightning. A step forward but not a win. On March 18, the Devils went to Sunrise, Florida to play the Panthers. All looked good going into the third period with a 2-0 goal lead thanks to a Hischier shorthanded goal and a Jesper Boqvist goal. But the Panthers hit back hard in the third with three goals within two and a half minutes. There was no response by the Devils and an ENG secured a 2-4 loss to the Panthers. The four games would end more positively. On March 19, the Devils went to Tampa Bay. The Lightning scored the first two, but Bratt almost instantly scored after Tampa made it 2-0. Bratt scored again a little late to make it 2-2. Hischier broke the deadlock to make it 3-2. Nolan Foote added an insurance goal in the third period to make it 4-2. Bratt made it rain hats when he put in the empty netter for his first ever NHL hat trick. A great accomplishment in a big 5-2 comeback win by the Devils.
There was little time to rest. The Devils returned to the Rock on March 21 to host Minnesota. Filip Gustavsson did his best to match Adin Hill in goalie-ing the Devils. He was fantastic, as was Vitek Vanecek. The Wild scored in the third on a wraparound after a defensive breakdown. Meier responded with a wrap of his own that went in off Gustavsson’s skates. Overtime ensued and the two teams fought back and forth. It all ended after Hughes hit the post, Matt Boldy got ahead of Dougie Hamilton, and Boldy finished the breakaway with 1.3 seconds left. The Devils lost 1-2 in overtime. Yet, other results in the East meant the Devils could officially clinch a playoff berth with a win in their next game: March 24 in Buffalo. The Devils dug themselves in too deep of a hole. While they were down just 2-3 after the first period, Buffalo put them down further at 2-5 by the end of the second period. Despite Jack Hughes scoring a brace, the Devils made too many mistakes and could not complete the comeback. They lost 4-5 in regulation to Buffalo. The Devils would have to try to clinch the playoffs on March 25 at home against Ottawa. A game that saw Miles Wood and MacKenzie Blackwood return to the lineup and the Devils going with seven defensemen. They technically did so by the end of the first period thanks to Our Hated Rivals beating Florida earlier in the day. But the score was 1-1 and the Devils sought to win the game. They went up 3-1 early in the second, only for Ottawa to claw their way back to 3-3 by the end of the period. Dougie Hamilton would finish a rush play by scoring off Dylan Ferguson - as in off his body - to make it 4-3. The Devils clamped down on the game. Tatar iced it with an empty net goal. The Devils won 5-3, earned their 100th point of the season, and received the all-important ‘X’ in the standings. The 2022-23 New Jersey Devils are going to the playoffs.
This did not mean the work was over. There is much for the team to figure out. There are even additional accomplishments the team can achieve with nine games left in the season. March would end with the two New York City based opponents. On March 27, the Devils visited Long Island. It would not be a fun time for Ryan Graves, who was “highlighted” in two goals against. Ditto Ondrej Palat who created a killer third goal against. Goaltender Ilya Sorokin goalied the Devils the second worst time this month (Adin Hill, man) in what would be a 1-5 loss. This and other results set up a massive game against Our Hated Rivals on March 30. The Devils were hosting Manhattan. Not only have they been sitting in third place for months on end, but they entered the night just two points behind the Devils for second place. It was a playoff preview, a game for second in the division (at least), and another chapter in the rivalry between the Devils and the Rainbow-fearing Blueshirts. What happened: An Erik Haula tip-in, a Timo Meier PPG, a bad bounce off a clearance for a PPGA, and a full-on team effort. The game was tense, the game was close, the game was a victory for the good guys. The Devils beat Our Hated Rivals for the third time this season, 2-1. A great way to end what has been an ultimately successful month of March.
By the Numbers
All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com where mentioned. Data was pulled on the night of March 30, so the ranks may shift after tonight’s games. Remember, the following stats are from March only.
5-on-5 Play: The Devils averaged 51:10 minutes per game of 5-on-5 hockey in March, which was second to Las Vegas barring tonight’s games. There was a surprising figure in this group of otherwise really positive stats.
The surprise: the Devils were cold! Well, their sticks were to some degree. By the metrics of generating shot attempts, shots on net, and scoring chances, the Devils were expected to bury teams in goals. They did not with actual goals. They were out-scored in the month of March in 5-on-5 despite crushing it in the run of play. Clearly, getting goalied by Adin Hill and Ilya Sorokin did not help, but those were just two games out of sixteen. What happened?
Speaking for me, I know the Devils have been a high-scoring team all season long. They have yet to be shutout once. In this month, they opened the month with seven, three (despite a goalie master-class by Adin Hill), and five goals in their first three games. They scored at least three goals in those games plus seven other games. But that speaks to some of the disappointment and concern the People Who Matter were noting throughout the games within this month. The Devils really could have scored more than they did. These metrics prove it. Despite a successful 8-5-3 record, it could have been even more.
The goaltending was not so hot either but it ended up being below league median as opposed to being in the bottom ten teams in the league. It helped that Vitek Vanecek did improve as the month went on with a shutout against Carolina, nearly goalied Minnesota before Matt Boldy’s last second OT winner, doing his best against the Isles (three goals against him, two were ENGs), and prevailing over Our Hated Rivals. He pushed his way up to a 90.8% save percentage in 5-on-5 by the end of the month. That said, he gave up two to three more goals than expected. As did the other two Devils goalies. Akira Schmid fell to a 89.4% before being sent down - as necessary since he was an emergency recall - with that first period blasting he undeservedly got in Buffalo. He ended March with 13 goals allowed with a 10.92 xGA in 5-on-5. MacKenzie Blackwood returned to start against Ottawa. He conceded three goals with a 1.75 xGA in 5-on-5 for a save percentage of 89.3%. It was just the one game but it did not and does not instill confidence. These numbers are hardly wonderful going into the postseason, but as the team stats show, it could have been far worse.
This all surprised me because the Devils really controlled a lot of the play against a varying array of opponents and situations. No one finished below 50% CF% in the month. No one finished below 52.5% xGF% in the month. Both are remarkable facts. It is disappointing they did not get more in the back of the net despite leading the league in scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances. It is encouraging because once the puck luck improves a bit, the Devils are primed to return to their first-half ways of filling nets and crushing opponents. Which is exactly what you do want to see ahead of the playoffs. Perhaps we shall see this manifest in April’s seven games.
Power Play Situations: I regret to inform you that for all of the complaining about the Devils power play, it really was not that bad in March! Really!
The Devils managed to generate a good amount of offense, beat the expected goals model in the month, and shot quite well relative to the rest of the league. No, they were not the best; but the power play units were not in a feast-or-famine mode. I get it: they should have converted the two-minute 5-on-3 against Tampa Bay and not concede a goal after that ended. But the Devils converted about one out of four power plays in the month. That’s really good.
The real issue in March, with respect to the power play, is that the Devils just were not on the power play that much. They finished near the bottom of the league in ice time and situations. The low number of situations helps make the conversion rate look better than maybe what you have expected. Those who wanted to see how the Devils would handle hockey where the refs are just not going to give them calls got to see a lot of that in the month. The answer appears to be that they could still succeed. And at least a couple of those PPGs were crucial, such as the 6-on-5 PPG from Timo Meier to force overtime in the second game with Tampa Bay and the eventual GWG PPG from Meier against Our Hated Rivals.
Incidentally, those two goals were Meier’s contributions to the power play. Not a ton, but only Jack Hughes put up two PPGs in the month. He was also the PP scoring leader with five points. Followed surprisingly by Dawson Mercer, who bounced between both primary and secondary units, and Erik Haula. Yes, Erik Haula.
If there is one other positive to point out, then it is that the second unit has not been a total waste. Miles Wood, Ondrej Palat, and Haula each have a PPG. They did not have to end up on a first unit to get them. It is not much but it is a step forward compared with past months. Should the Devils get relatively more power play situations, then I think the goals scored will help soothe any issues about their power play.
P.S. That SHGA total included at least one empty net. I’m not so worried about that.
Penalty Kill Situations: The penalty kill was great in March.
No, it was not the league’s best. No, it did not have an astounding fact like Vancouver putting up seven shorthanded goals in March. But look at all of that green. Stats in the top ten from top to bottom. Just as the Devils power play did not get a lot of opportunities, neither did their opponents. Even with some real dumb, avoidable penalties taken in the month - including Timo Meier’s in his first few games as a Devil.
The Devils were able to take care of business down a man and did it very well. A -3 goal differential over a month is just a cherry on top of the delicious sundae that the PK units provided. That the goaltending was also quite good adds some encouragement that perhaps the Devils are not so weak in the crease. The ranks show that, yes, it could be better; but I do not think you can really complain about how the Devils’ penalty kill performed over the whole month. I certainly will not.
Additions and Subtractions
The Devils acquired Timo Meier on February 26. Meier was dealing with an “upper body injury” at the time of the trade, so he would make his Devils debut in March. Specifically, on March 5 in Arizona wherein he scored a goal. Meier has been active in all eleven games since then with a total of five goals and two assists. Unfortunately, he has taken his share of avoidable and regrettable penalties so it has not been all good. Still, it is apparent that Meier has added an extra dimension to the Devils’ offense as it has allowed Lindy Ruff to mix and match his forward lines more for different and tantalizing looks.
On the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline itself, the Devils made one acquisition. The Devils traded a 2024 fourth round pick to Vancouver for Curtis Lazar. Lazar is a fourth-line forward who is pretty good defensively and adds little offensively. Visa issues kept him from joining the team shortly after the deal so he would not be able to join the team after a week. Then it took until March 14 to draw into the lineup against Tampa Bay. Lazar was apparently injured in the March 18 game in Florida; he has been out since then. Lazar has been a fourth-liner since his arrival and has no points. Anyone expecting production from Lazar may be expecting too much. Anyone expecting Lazar to return from injury soon will also be disappointed. Per Mike Morreale, he is not going to skate for a while. How long is a while remans to be seen; my guess is not before the end of this season - which is two weeks away now.
There were a couple of other injuries in March that impacted the roster within the month. Miles Wood left the March 14 game against Tampa Bay early with just over five minutes played. He was out hurt and would not return to the lineup for March 25’s game against Ottawa. Nathan Bastian played through the March 12 game against Carolina but was ruled out injured after that game. He has been out of the lineup since then. He returned to skate with the team ahead of their game in Long Island on March 27. However, he was ruled out of that game as well as the March 30 game against Our Hated Rivals. A return is likely to happen in April. Again, Lazar was hurt from the Florida game and has yet to skate again.
Between Wood, Bastian, and Lazar’s injuries, the door was opened for Yegor Sharangovich to return to the lineup. He has since remained in the lineup after being scratched from March 5 through March 16 (six games). He has put up an assist and one goal. Nolan Foote even received a recall and played in three games, wherein he scored a goal in Tampa on March 19. He was taken out of the lineup for Wood’s return and Brendan Smith drawing in as a seventh defenseman in the March 25 game against Ottawa. As was Boqvist. After another 11/7 approach to the Isles on March 27, the Devils returned to 12 forwards and 6 defensemen with Boqvist and Sharangovich in the lineup and Bahl out.
The Devils would get a return in net. MacKenzie Blackwood was out with what is now known as a groin injury since February 19. He was cleared to return and started on March 25 against Ottawa. With Blackwood out, Akira Schmid was up with the Devils on an emergency recall basis as the Devils’ #2 goalie behind Vitek Vanecek. Schmid made seven appearances and six starts in March. He effectively split time with Vanecek in a busy March schedule. Schmid was sent back to Utica on March 26 as the emergency for his recall clearly ended with Blackwood’s start on March 25. Blackwood’s return means the Devils have to sort out who their second goalie is behind Vanecek. Blackwood’s issues with consistency has made many of the People Who Matter want Schmid to take the job. The next few weeks will surely be used to make that determination. Pay attention if or when Schmid is recalled as a sign as to how the Devils see it.
The blueline has been mostly intact save for a rotation of #6 defensemen. Brendan Smith did miss some time due to personal reasons, but has been a healthy scratch when he was not playing. Kevin Bahl has taken his spot in the lineup and played in it for most of March. Save for a seven defenseman set up against Ottawa, Bahl’s ten games compared with Smith’s five point to whom the Devils coaches favor. Again, expect some more rotation as the Devils look to sort out their preferred six defensemen ahead of the postseason. Do not expect Luke Hughes to join the team until the final week of the season at best. Michigan beat Colgate and Penn State in the NCAA tournament and are heading to Tampa for the Frozen Four on April 6. The championship game is on April 8, so that is the latest the Devils could sign Hughes - presuming they want to do so right after his season ends.
While Luke Hughes is still in college, the Devils did make one entry-level contract signing. The Devils announced on March 31 that they have signed Josh Filmon to an entry-level contract that will begin next season and he will join Utica on an Amateur Tryout Contract. Filmon was drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 NHL Draft. Since being picked, Filmon has been a scoring machine for the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL (also known as the league that Connor Bedard is currently dominating). As of this writing, he is tied for fourth in the whole league in goals with 47 and he leads the team in points with 75. A huge improvement over his 23-goal, 45-point season in his draft year. We shall see soon enough what Filmon can do. Might I suggest adding some weight given his official listed weight of 161 pounds?
Devil of the Month
In a month where the performances were not so consistent, the standout players seemingly just had runs. Mercer’s DAWG point streak ended with that win over Carolina and he has registered just two points in the ten games since then. Jesper Bratt started the month with two points in his first two games, scoreless in the next four, put up a brace on Carolina, went pointless in three games, put up a four-game point streak starting with a hat trick, and then has been pointless since the win over Ottawa. Even The Big Deal had a pair of three-game stretches without points - and still put up 13 in 16 games in the other ten games. And those three skaters were among the Devils scoring leaders in March. To that end, the two who have been more or less consistently productive in the month stick out even more.
For the honorable mention, I am choosing the defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton’s 5-on-5 on-ice rates were second only to Damon Severson in the month. Which were still very impressive on its own. Hamilton plays a lot for the Devils, faces a lot of difficult opponents, and the Devils still managed a nearly 62% xGF% and nearly 56% CF% in 5-on-5. Severson may have better numbers, including an astounding SA/60 of 22.85. The difference is that Severson often plays against weaker competition next to Bahl or Smith; Hamilton has not committed the damaging turnovers and other errors Severson has done; and Hamilton was more involved in the attack. While their point totals were close, Hamilton took 48 shots on net to Severson’s 18. Hamilton was also regularly involved in production with just one instance of going pointless for two games all month. Hamilton often picked up assists to help make plays. His second goal of the month secured a win over Ottawa that would have guaranteed a playoff spot had it not been for the help of Our Hated Rivals. Dougie Hamilton is well beyond a career best season for production. He is currently putting up one of the most productive seasons ever for a defenseman in franchise history. It will take some good fortune, but he still has a shot at catching Barry Beck in goals (22, Hamilton is three away) and Scott Stevens in points (78, 83 game season, Hamilton is nine points away). I think that he continues to provide this value is worthy of being the honorable mention for Devil of the Month of March 2023.
The actual Devil of the Month of March 2023 was the one Devil who averaged a point per game in March: Nico Hischier. He put up five goals and 16 points with 49 shots on net. Only Timo Meier and Jack Hughes shot the puck more than him. Hischier also had a rotating cast of wingers as Lindy Ruff is still figuring out whom to play with whom along with making adjustments if/when periods go bad and the team needs a bit of a spark. The captain abided and just kept on putting in that work. Hischier’s 5-on-5 rates are a bit behind Tatar, Meier, Bratt, and Boqvist in the month in CF%; but he was still quite good at 55.5% CF%. Hischier posted a stunning 67.68% xGF% over those 16 games, which dwarfed every Devil forward (and defenseman) save for Nolan Foote’s call up with limited fourth line minutes. When Hischier was on the ice, the Devils were constantly pushing in the right direction in 5-on-5. With that push came the points, supplemented by just three on special teams: two power play assists and a shorthanded goal. Three of Hischier’s five goals ended up securing wins, including an overtime winner in Arizona that avoided an embarrassing slip-up in Tempe. Hischier continued to prove his worth all month long even when the other Devils were not getting points on the board or helping out in other ways. Hischier was held pointless for five games this month and only once in back-to-back games. All else, his game log shots a lot of 1s and 2s for points because he just kept on adding as his line with whoever is on it kept adding to the Devils’ efforts. For that, I declare Nico Hischier to be the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for March 2023.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
Above all else, the New Jersey Devils secured their first playoff berth since 2018. They have also reached 100 points for the first time since the 2011-12 season. No matter what you thought about this month or this season or even what happens next month, this is a successful season.
I will not accept any arguments otherwise. Were there people who were predicting the playoffs prior to this season? Yes. Among the AAtJ staff at the time, nearly all of the predictions - except for Nate’s - have been proven wrong. The Devils are not getting in by virtue of the wildcard and/or finishing fourth in the Metropolitan Division. The People Who Matter who commented on that post felt about the same, also with one exception (and that person is technically wrong too). They have also been proven wrong. Sure, the Devils could still fall to third place in the face of Our Hated Rivals. They also could maintain at least a second place finish for home ice in the first round and still challenge Carolina for first down the final stretch of the season. Anyone who saw that coming back in September or October 2022 is very lucky and possibly not remembering what they actually thought then.
But who cares? Predictions and takes and such are fun to discuss, but what matters are the performances and the results. The Devils have been putting in competitive performances all month and all season long. March showed, once again, what the team’s issues are. On defense: weakside defending and offense getting caught too deep when the puck is turned over, leading to dangerous counter-attacking rush plays. The goaltending has not been hot or even lukewarm in March, which is a concern going into the final two weeks of the season and the playoffs. The power play has been inconsistent. Yet, despite these issues and various players going cold for stretches, the Devils have earned points in 10 out of their 16 games and won 7 of them. They scored loads of goals and won in all kinds of close games. They remained ahead of Our Hated Rivals to hold second place while still being close enough to Carolina for them to worry a little. This is a very good hockey team! They have the results of a very good hockey team. Even Boston had to make 20+ comebacks this season and are bad run of goaltending form away from being exposed. They (Boston and New Jersey) are not perfect, but no team is. This month secured the success of the season.
Sure, I will be far from thrilled if the Devils limp into the playoffs and make a quick exit like they did in 2018. But I cannot and will not be disappointed or bothered or upset because of what the 2022-23 Devils accomplished. They not only made the playoffs, but did so on March 25 during their 73rd game - which they won so they would have clinched on that night anyway. They are the third team in the East to do so. And they are entering April with four points ahead of Our Hated Rivals, one point behind first place in the Metropolitan Division, and with reason to believe they can hang with anyone given that they have 47 wins this season and a real shot at 50. Yes, the team has flaws. They also have a lot of successes! They even won this month! Why shouldn’t I have some faith in them going forward? And so I will.
By the way, I am waiting until after the season to look into what really improved between this and last season. I want to compare 82 game seasons, not 82 and 75.
Now that you have read my views on and my review of March 2023 for the Devils, I want to know what you think. What did you think of the Devils performances throughout the month? Are you more or less positive about the team going into their final seven games of the season? What do you want to see from them in the final two weeks of the season? Do you agree with Hischier as the Devil of the Month and Hamilton as the honorable mention? Please leave your answers and last thoughts about the last month in the comments. Thank you for reading.