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The April 2023 Month in Review of the New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils closed out the 2022-23 NHL regular season with a 5-2-0 run to secure franchise records. In the playoffs, they are entering May with a Game 7 against Our Hated Rivals. Read on for a summary of how April went for the Devils and who was named Devil of the month.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers - Game Four
The Big Deal.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The 2022-23 season for the New Jersey Devils was already a massive success prior to April. A team that many of the People Who Matter would have been pleased with a team just playing some meaningful games in March secured a playoff berth on March 25, 2023. Their first playoff berth since 2018. Did the Devils rest on their laurels? Nope. They had seven games left in the regular season and a shot at taking first place from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division. While the Devils fell short of taking first, they would go 5-2-0 to set a franchise record in regular season wins with 52 and points with 112.

They would lock up second place in the division to ensure a first round match up with Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. This playoff series would take up the second half of the month and is clearly of more interest than any of those seven regular season games. Nonetheless, April is over and for the first time in a long time, I can say there will be action in May for the New Jersey Devils. As their month effectively ended yesterday, let us look back before the next one begins.

The Regular Season Games of April 2023

The regular season slate of games in April began with the Devils’ final back-to-back set of the season. A weekend on the road in Chicago and in Winnipeg. On April 1, there was more of a fight put up by the hapless Blackhawks. But the Devils pulled away as time went on with scores by Jesper Boqvist, Ryan Graves, and Timo Meier in the 6-3 victory. An expected result given Chicago’s position in the standings. Winnipeg on April 2 would be a tougher game as the Jets had a lot to play for. Alas, the Devils would not end up sweeping all of their games against Canada this season. Winnipeg took advantage of a lack of attention to detail over and over and over and over and over and over again. That is six overs, one for each goal scored. The Devils lost 1-6 to Winnipeg. At least the back-to-backs were over.

While the Devils’ own playoff position was secure, they had another opponent fighting for their playoff lives on April 4. The Devils were hosting Pittsburgh, who were falling behind on the playoff bubble at the time. New Jersey responded to the loss to the Jets by absolutely crushing Pittsburgh. The Devils ran up five goals featuring a hat trick by Dawson Mercer, further showing how much DAWG he had in him. While the Pens got one, it was far too little and far too late for it to matter. The Devils won 5-1 and dealt a big blow to Pittsburgh’s then-playoff hopes. The Devils would host Columbus on April 6. The Devils creamed the Jackets way back on October 30. Fortunately, the Devils would make it rain more misery on Ohio’s team. Johnny Gaudreau left the game early with an illness. The Devils chased Michael Hutchinson from the net. Jon Gillies came in and gave up three goals on the first four shots he faced. The Devils dominated Columbus by a massive 8-1 victory. While that game was meaningless as Columbus was locked into last in the division, the Devils played a far tougher meaningless game on April 8. They went to Boston to take on the then-secured #1 team in the NHL. Mackenzie Blackwood had a rough start with a deflection conceded to Pavel Zacha (OK, that happens) and a total mispositioning on a rebound from the endboards also finished by Zacha (what). Blackwood stepped his game up, Jesper Bratt scored a slick goal, and the two teams would proceed to neutralize each other for the remainder of the game. The B’s may have out-Devils the Devils in spaces in this game. All the same, the Devils lost 1-2 to Boston - like so many teams before them this season.

The season ending games were up next. The home closer on April 11 against Buffalo had the appeal of Buffalo still technically having a shot at the playoffs. They just needed to win out and get some help. The Sabres, coming off a win in Manhattan, certainly put in the effort. But the Devils attacked enough at Devon Levi and he would crack. First from Jesper Boqvist, then from Jonas Siegenthaler, then from Miles Wood, then twice from Tomas Tatar. Jack Hughes just needed one point to set the franchise record for most points in a season and he got it with the empty netter in a 6-2 victory. A win that eliminated Buffalo from the playoffs. A win that sent the home fans home happy. A win that included the debut of one Luke Hughes. Jack’s younger brother would be a standout in the season ending game in Washington D.C. Blackwood got the start and quickly showed why he should not have as he conceded three goals within the first 10 and a half minutes. Erik Haula gave the team some life, but that went away with an early score from Tom Wilson. Down 1-4, Lindy Ruff replaced Blackwood with Akira Schmid. In a preview of his future in this month, Schmid shut out the Capitals out of 20 shots against. The Devils would claw back into the game. Wood made it a two-goal game on a power play late in the second. Haula scored his second of the game to make it a one-goal game early in the third. Dougie Hamilton tied the franchise record for goals by a defensemen with a screaming slapshot to tie the game. The Devils came back from 1-4 to 4-4 and forced overtime. In OT, Luke Hughes would be the hero. With touches by his older brother (who reached 99 points in this game) and Nico Hischier, Luke drove to the middle, put a shot through Darcy Kuemper, retrieved the puck that trickled through behind him and outside of the net, and went for a wraparound for the win. Luke Hughes’ first NHL goal was a legitimate A+, 10 out of 10 highlight reel worthy game winning goal. And so the Devils ended their season filled with comebacks and dramatic OT wins with another one, 5-4.

Then came the playoffs.

The Playoff Games of April 2023

The Devils began their first playoff appearance since 2018 against the one team all of the People Who Matter want the Devils to beat: the New York Rangers, Our Hated Rivals. Questions abounded. Could New York slow down the rush, rush, and rush some more offense of the Devils? Could the Devils handle a juiced Rangers lineup featuring Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, two scorers brought in specifically for a playoff series? Could Vitek Vanecek hang with Igor Shesterkin? All this and more began to be answered in Game 1 on April 18.

The answer was a bad one. The Devils were indeed slowed down. They opted for hits and to start scrums and to be tough. None of which threw Our Hated Rivals off their game. It also led to penalties that Chris Kreider punished twice. The Devils had a real bad game - led by a power play that went shotless in eight minutes - and the only solace was that Jack Hughes scored on a penalty shot. All to avoid a shutout loss in a 1-5 defeat at the Rock. For Game 2, Ruff decided to promote Miles Wood despite taking an offensive zone penalty on Artemi Panarin that led to a PPGA, take out Jonas Siegenthaler for Brendan Smith, and continue the go-after-them mentality. The refs were not fans and so the whistles went on. Smith was abysmal. Wood took another offensive zone penalty on Panarin that led to a PPGA. While Erik Haula scored a power play goal early, the second period was a total disaster. Our Hated Rivals continued on and comfortably won a second time, 1-5. The Devils’ plan was not working. The quick transitions were no longer there. The rushes were not happening. The discipline was awful. The team was playing a game that the opponents were not and the referees were not allowing. While Vanecek played better in Game 2, he still conceded nine goals over two games. Something had to change.

Changes were indeed made as the team went to Manhattan. Wood would be out. In came Curtis Lazar. Jesper Boqvist also re-entered the lineup for Yegor Sharangovich, who technically played in Game 2. Smith was pulled out for Siegenthaler on defense. The biggest change and the biggest risk: the team turned to the rookie backup goalie, Akira Schmid. Blackwood did not even dress for Games 1 or 2. The season ending game in D.C. confirmed what the most of the People Who Matter knew and hoped for - Schmid over Blackwood. While Vanecek was certainly not The Problem, again, things had to change. Schmid being in the net at all could at least send a message to the squad to at least play hard for the rookie. To say it worked would be an understatement.

On April 22, at the World’s Most Overrated Arena, the Devils needed a win to have a realistic hope of a comeback in this series. They would get it, albeit in a grind-it-out, tense affair that looked a lot like Games 1 and 2 at times. Schmid was calm as calm could be as he would get in front of shot after shot. It helped that some OHR players like Panarin saw their accuracy take a hit with big misses. While a Kreider shot off the rush beat Schmid, The Big Deal provided the answer with a high shot wired past Shesterkin for a PPG and a tie game. The score held until overtime. Against OHR’s fourth line, the Devils got a very Devils-like play going and it worked out. Mercer with a clearance to Hischier. Hischier to Bratt streaking into the offensive zone. Bratt deking a puck away from Barclay Goodrow while keeping it from Ryan Lindgren. With the Rangers collapsed, Dougie Hamilton activated - and became the hero of the night. He beat Shesterkin high for the 2-1 overtime win.

Game 4 would be another tight, low-event affair in terms of shots. But the Devils started to find more opportunities in the middle of the ice. They started to win more pucks in the neutral zone. They kept OHR on the outside and whatever was not was largely stopped by the calm and collected Schmid. A crease-clearance from Siegenthaler set up The Big Deal for a breakway goal to open the scoring. While Vincent Trocheck tied it up on a second rebound try early in the third, the Devils would re-take the lead. Hischier gained the zone, delayed, saw a wide open space that Siegenthaler would skate into, and sent a killer pass across the Royal Road. Siegenthaler hammered a far post shot off the frame and in to make it 2-1. The Devils kept attacking to keep OHR honest. When Ondrej Palat put home a puck from a Bratt miss at an empty net, the Devils could relax a bit. They won 3-1 to tie up the series.

Game 5 built on the successes of Game 3 and 4. Game 3 showed the team could rally even when not able to play their game. Game 4 showed that the team could play more of their style of hockey even if the volume was low and still hang in a tightly-played game. Game 5 would show how the Devils could just demoralize New York. In front of a very heavy Devils crowd at the Rock, the Devils got going with a favorable bounce after a faceoff loss that gave Ondrej Palat a goal for an early 1-0 lead. They never looked back. Schmid’s glove was on form as he robbed multiple Rangers. The Devils pressed for offense and would beat Shesterkin, who did everything to keep his team in it. Like many goalies this season - Shesterkin included - the goals would come. A tip in at the end of a power play by Haula snuck through to make it 2-0. A bounce off Panarin led to a 2-on-1 for Haula and Mercer that ended with a shorthanded one-timer for DAWGson. The third period had the shots at 20-2 in favor of New Jersey, the team that was leading 3-0. Our Hated Rivals could not function, lost discipline, and bizarrely pulled their goalie which led to Haula sinking in a 175-foot shot for the 4-0 win. The Devils put on a masterclass of a performance in their penultimate game of the month. They came back to put Our Hated Rivals on the brink.

On April 29, the Devils played their final game of the month. The team had the opportunity to eliminate Our Hated Rivals. A victory would only elevate 2022-23 to new heights in the ongoing history of the New Jersey Devils. A defeat would mean the ultimate pressure cooker. Game 7. On May 1. Which is technically in May. And I’m not going to write such a summary of April either the agony or ecstasy that would follow that game. So this section will end here and that is why you are seeing it today.

Anyway, the Devils lost Game 6. They did not take the opportunity to eliminate Our Hated Rivals. The scoring followed the same path of Game 2. The Devils scored first - a put-back rebound by Curtis Lazar - and Our Hated Rivals responded with five straight over the next 24ish minutes. A brutal Dawson Mercer turnover led to a penalty by Mercer and it was punished by Chris Kreider’s leg. After surviving two offensive zone penalties by Ondrej Palat, Kreider hooked up an open Zibanejad for a one-timer in the slot. Late in the third, a brutal turnover by Michael McLeod led to a Vladimir Tarasenko goal. Kevin Bahl being beaten on a pinch yielded a 2-on-1 that Barclay Goodrow batted in a mid-air rebound. Braden Schneider scored through traffic to send Schmid out and in came Vitek Vanecek. A late power play yielded Mercer slamming in a juicy rebound past Shesterkin for a consolation goal. Sure, the team battled with an empty net but a loss is a loss and a 2-5 loss in Game 6 is a bitter pill to swallow. In what could have been a night of glory, the Devils are now forced to win the ultimate win-or-go-home game in a playoff series and coming off the back of whatever the hell that was on April 29. No, I was not happy about it.

And so that ended April. Game 7 is on May 1. Please win it, Devils.

By the Numbers - Regular Season Only

With the playoffs still going on and the fact that playoff games are limited to one opponent at a time, I will look at playoff stats separately and in a different post. So this is just for the seven regular season games before the six against Our Hated Rivals. All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and where mentioned.

5-on-5 Play: The Devils averaged 50:03 minutes per game of 5-on-5 hockey in April’s regular season games, which placed seventh. The leaders, incidentally, were Our Hated Rivals. Despite a mix of opponents with something to play for, two who stunk, and one that was dominant in the league and could not stop the dominance, the Devils came out really, really well in 5-on-5.

New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in April 2023 - Regular Season
New Jersey Devils 5v5 and Score & Venue Adjusted 5v5 Stats in April 2023 - Regular Season
Natural Stat Trick

The Devils have been a strong 5-on-5 team all season long. While the score and venue adjustments were not kind to them in shot attempts and shots, these numbers are a stark contrast to what we have seen in the playoffs. I know the playoffs is said to be a different experience but seeing this and knowing how it took five games before the Devils could crack 30 shots total in a game is just shocking. The Devils were cooking real well going into the postseason. And it stopped. Which makes the comeback in the series all the more impressive. As well as shameful for the opponent, who seemingly figured out the Devils. Because no one in the regular season games figured it out in 5-on-5. The Devils attacked, attacked, attacked, and attacked some more to a lot of success.

This is further supported by the team’s PDO, or shooting and save percentages. The goaltending group of Vanecek, Schmid, and Blackwood were not bad as a whole. A team save percentage tied for 13th in the NHL is above league median, after all. Individually, it could have been better. Vanecek put up a 90.9% in four games 5-on-5 play, which is OK but not impressive. Blackwood played his way out of the trio in Game #82, but I would like to think he earned his way out with an 86.2% over four appearances. Schmid absolutely took his spot for the playoffs and cemented it in Game 3. In his one appearance, Game #82 in Washington, he was perfect in relief. The larger point is that the Devils did not go 5-2-0 because the goalies carried them. As a group, it was acceptable. Individually, it could have been better and Blackwood probably needs to be jettisoned. That he has yet to dress for a playoff game even as a backup suggests that management agrees he’s third-rate behind Vanecek and Schmid (or is it Schmid and Vanecek?).

As far as the scoring, the team scored quite a few goals as a result of their volume and not so much from hot sticks. Sure, there were some hot shooters. Haula had four goals in April amid his surge that carried into the playoffs. Jesper Boqvist scored two out of six shots, who also ended up being tied with Haula in April season points. Siegenthaler got a regular season goal out of five shots, so that’s a 20% shooting percentage for him. Dougie Hamilton tied Barry Beck with 3 goals out of 14 shots. DAWGson Mercer had a poor April in terms of production except for that night against Pittsburgh; his hat trick yielded a shooting percentage of 27.27% as he took 11 shots total in the month. While those were hot, plenty of points came throughout the lineup with less impressive Sh% values such as The Big Deal (6 points in 5-on-5), Jesper Bratt (4 points in 5-on-5), Nico Hischier (5 assists), and John Marino (4 assists).

But the run of play is seen in Corsi, scoring chances, shots, and expected goals and the Devils were once again dominant. Performances are not like light switches. One does not turn on or turn off how it goes provided there are no sudden changes to the team’s gameplan and/or tactical philosophies. Ruff had his Devils players rush up ice in transition after quick exits and encourages defensemen to activate. This has worked well in the run of play and on the scoreboard and so it did in April before the playoffs. And after multiple games, we have seen it work in the playoffs.

Power Play Situations: If you only look at the success rate for the seven regular season games, then you would think the Devils power play was fine until the playoffs. However, a closer look at the rate stats show that their form going into the postseason was over-achieving at least a little bit.

New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in April 2023 - Regular Season
New Jersey Devils Power Play Stats in April 2023 - Regular Season and Natural Stat Trick

The Devils nearly scored on a third of their power plays in the regular season part of April and conceded no shorthanded goals. Normally, that would be great. However, the issue is that the Devils absolutely over-performed the expected goals model at NST. While the model is not perfect, beating it by nearly 3 shows the team may have scored some PPGs they should not have expected. Even with a high rate of high danger shot attempts generated, the team was upper-mid for scoring chances in total, and had relatively low rate of shots generated. That speaks to a feast-or-famine-like power play performance. The near 21% team shooting percentage further supports that. I think the struggles you see in the postseason with the power play were present in these seven games, but the goals scored on the relatively few amount of opportunities. It also got boosted by two PPGs scored within 3:38 total of power play ice time against a real bad Columbus team who had a real bad night on April 6.

In terms of who provided the PPGs, the five were spread among four players. Timo Meier had two; Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Miles Wood had one each. Yes, Wood finally got a second PPG this season after spending most of it on the secondary power play unit with little avail or reason of being. In terms of assists, Hughes provided 3, Bratt provided two, and one each came from Mercer, Hischier, Meier, Hamilton, and Tatar. In a half-month of season action, the primary PP unit provided most of the production once again. Weirdly, that has not carried over into the postseason. Again, the flaws from the power play in the regular season appear to have been magnified against what is a really strong set of PK units by NY.

Penalty Kill Situations: The penalty kill was better than the success rate suggests.

New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats for April 2023 - Regular Season
New Jersey Devils Penalty Kill Stats for April 2023 - Regular Season and Natural Stat Trick

To be fair, a penalty kill success rate of 88.2% is still really good. In the shortened month for the season, extremes are more easily seen. However, this is exactly why I look at other stats beyond the success rate. The Devils were just a -1 in goals allowed and allowed just two PPGs prior to the playoffs in April. For the record, one was in the 1-6 loss in Winnipeg and the other was the first Zacha goal in the 1-2 loss in Boston. Nothing was allowed in the winning efforts. The Devils’ discipline was relatively good with just 17 shorthanded situations. I do not think the Devils should be faulted for not taking more situations to kill for bumping up that percentage to the top ten in the NHL.

Especially when you look at the on-ice rate stats. The Devils were a top-ten team nearly across the board. In the regular season portion of April, the Devils’ PKers put up the best xGA/60 rate in the NHL. They were very good at limiting attempts, shots, and scoring chances - both high danger and otherwise. The goaltenders were largely good as a team save percentage above 86% on a PK is generally good. Again, a short month means more extreme results. The penalty kill was quite good going into the postseason. Which, like the 5-on-5 stats, is a shock given how Our Hated Rivals ripped apart the diamond formation in the first two games. Fortunately, the Devils have made the appropriate adjustments - far fewer free chances in front - and the PK is back to the form we have seen in the seven non-playoff games in April.

Additions and Subtractions

In this time of season, there is not much in the way of additions and subtractions. The trade deadline was well in the past. That said, some moves were made by GM Tom Fitzgerald that added to the franchise’s roster.

The biggest one involved Luke Hughes. Michigan lost in the Frozen Four semifinals to Quinnipiac on April 6. On April 8, Luke Hughes joined the Devils in Boston and officially signed his entry level contract. Luke would make his NHL debut on April 11 against Buffalo to much adoration from the People Who Matter. He did not do too much. But he did flash a few moments of dynamic play here and there. On April 13 against the Capitals, he was more involved and he stood out. The tall defender was a threat in both ends, picked up a secondary assist for his first NHL point, and scored this legitimate goal-of-the-season candidate to win the game in OT. While he has remained on the bench for the playoffs, he demonstrated in just two games why he could be an impact player in the near future.

The Devils also made another entry level contract signing and a transaction with another. After Swift Current’s season ended, Josh Filmon was signed to an entry level contract on March 31. He joined Utica on an Amateur Tryout deal. He has played in four regular season games with the Comets, put up six shots, and scored a goal. He absolutely has to put on some muscle and continue to hone his game. But this is known and he will work on it. The AHL is likely his spot in the future. On April 16, the Devils locked up another prospect to their system. Goaltender and 2022 fourth round selection, Tyler Brennan, was signed to an ELC. The contract will start next season and he could be eligible to return to the WHL next season. Technically, Topias Vilén can now join Utica given that Pelicans lost in the Liiga playoff finals to Tappara. (Vilén was tied for third on the team in playoff scoring with four goals and nine points in 18 games, most among Pelican defensemen - even more than Ben Blood.) He was loaned back to his Finnish team for this season. However, I do not know if he will join the Comets in time.

The remainder of moves involved little rests and minor (as far as we know) injuries. Haula missed a few games. Brendan Smith, Kevin Bahl, and Luke Hughes all got some minutes on defense in spots. The goaltending duties were largely shared between Vanecek and Blackwood until Schmid replaced Blackwood in Washington D.C. A cheapshot by Brad Marchand on Michael McLeod led to McLeod missing the last two games of the season, but he returned to the lineup for the playoffs. Likewise, Curtis Lazar was back to full strength and returned to the lineup in the season closer after being out since March 18. The Devils have been fully healthy, for a given sense of health, in this postseason. Any movements in and out of the lineup have been driven by performances (e.g. Schmid for Vanecek, Wood and Smith out after Game 2) or coaching decisions (e.g. the bizarre Siegenthaler scratch for Smith in Game 2).

Devil of the Month

While the numbers section was for the regular season, this part cannot ignore the playoffs. How can it? It took up half the month and those six games against Our Hated Rivals mean a whole lot more than those meaningless games against Chicago, Columbus, or Washington.

In terms of an honorable mention, I will break away from tradition and give it to someone who was a hero of sorts in April: Akira Schmid. Yes, this is odd to write after he got pulled for giving up five goals in Game 6. The reality is that the Devils maybe would not have been in a Game 6 if it was not for Schmid. The Devils bet big on the rookie in getting the start in Game 3 over Vitek Vanecek. Schmid conceded two goals in his next three appearances and shut out Our Hated Rivals in a crucial Game 5. Prior to Game 6, he stopped 100 of 102 shots against between his relief effort in D.C. and those three big playoff wins. Even as bad as Game 6 went for Schmid and the Devils as a whole, Schmid’s efforts saved the series and effectively created a 7-game series. After all, going up 3-2 in the series means two chances to win it. Plus, those worried about Mackenzie Blackwood can feel assured that Schmid all but blocked him out of the goaltending tandem right now. Yes, Nico Hischier has been a statistical dynamo in 5-on-5 in the regular season and playoffs. Yes, Erik Haula is on a surge for the first time all season. Yes, Hamilton tied one of the few franchise records that held up since the days of the Rockies and won Game 3 in overtime. As anxious and nervous as I am for tomorrow’s Game 7, there is no Game 7 without Schmid. Just like there was no comeback effort in Game #82 without Schmid. That is more than enough in my mind to name him the Honorable Mention for Devil of the Month of April 2023.

Who is the best Devil? Can I name anyone other than The Big Deal, Jack Hughes? In a playoff series where the Devils’ scoring has been few and far between, Hughes’ three playoff goals is massive. Sure, the first one was a consolation penalty shot goal in Game 1. His power play goal in Game 3 tied up the game and there would be no victory without that one. His breakaway goal to start Game 4 set the tempo of the game and the game held at 1-0 until early in the third. In the regular season portion of April, Hughes went on a tear with three goals and nine assists for 12 points. He was a mere point away from reaching 100 points; he still set the franchise record for points in a season with 99. With that 99th point being a primary assist for his younger brother’s first NHL goal, an overtime winner.

But beyond the points, Jack Hughes demonstrated that his critics and haters are losers. For all of the snide comments about his size or how not tough he was or the playoffs would be a question, Hughes’ compete level against Our Hated Rivals was second to none on the Devils. Sure, I would like him to score more - but he has three more goals than Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Tomas Tatar. He leads the team with 30 shots on net in the playoffs with a mind-boggling 9 in Game 6 even as the game was all but lost. (Only Meier is close with 26.) He threw hits, plural, on Chris Kreider and busted his hump back constantly to backcheck. Most recently in denying at least 4 empty net tries during an extended 6-on-5 effort to make the score closer. Whether the criticism was based on real things (e.g. he is not big) or things that does not matter (e.g. his background, his pedigree), it does not matter anymore/ I do not want to read one more word out of the People Who Matter questioning Hughes’ heart or work ethic or desire or effort in games like this one. Combining the regular season and playoffs, Hughes provided six goals and ten assists in 13 games. He broke Elias’ record, which stood for over two decades, and he is one of the few Devils who contributed in more than one playoff game on offense. Yeah, he’s The Big Deal. I do not know what more he has to do to prove it to anyone. I, for one, will continue to acknowledge him. This time as the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for April 2023.

Concluding Thoughts & Your Take

It bears repeating that the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils set franchise records. The team set a new franchise high in wins with 52 and points with 112. The team also set a franchise record for most points earned on the road with 60. The team set a franchise record for most wins in a row with 13. Jack Hughes set the new franchise record for most points in a season with 99. Dougie Hamilton tied Barry Beck for most goals by a defenseman in a season with 22. Dawson Mercer put up an 8-game goal streak, the most by a Devils player under the age of 21 and one behind Wayne Gretzky for the league record. The Devils had the biggest season-to-season improvement in NHL history for an 82-game season by going from 63 points in 2021-22 to 112 in 2022-23. These are all fantastic achievements and should be seen as such.

However, we cannot overstate the importance of the playoffs in terms of how we see a season. Even if the Devils over-achieved massively to not only make the playoffs but lock up home ice and finish just a point behind Carolina for first, how the 2023 playoffs would go would determine how this season is viewed. For example:

The previous team with the point record was the 2000-01 Devils with 111 points. That team was absolutely amazing. Some of the older People Who Matter will say that squad was better than the Cup winning team in 2000. I cannot say they are wrong. Alas, they were denied a second straight Stanley Cup by Colorado in a seven-game series. The Cup was the one thing that would have immortalized that season as one of the best ever in the history of the team. Which it still was as many of the People Who Matter who remember that season recognize it as such; helped in part by that run to the very last game of the Stanley Cup Finals. By the way, that was also the season that Elias put up 96 points to set the franchise record for points in a season.

The previous team with the win record was the 2008-09 team that won 51 games. They were taken out in the first round by Carolina in one of the most enraging moments I ever witnessed as a fan. Given how Brent Sutter left to take care of his family take the Calgary job shortly thereafter, this season is not so well regarded.

The previous team with the best road record was the 1998-99 Devils with 59 points earned away from New Jersey. A very, very good team that few of the People Who Matter remember as they were eliminated in the first round by Pittsburgh in seven games. It also helped that the following season’s team won it all; appropriately getting the glory.

The season where Beck scored 22 goals as a defenseman was way back in 1977-78 when the team was in Colorado. The Rockies were awful in that season with a 19-40-21 record. So was their entire division. Colorado managed to finish second in a Smythe Division with just 59 points. Just ahead of an awful Vancouver team, no less. By rule, the top two teams in a division were guaranteed a playoff spot. This meant the Rockies got to play Philadelphia in a best-of-three preliminary round. While not blowouts, they were 0-2’ed out in what was Colorado’s most successful season. Only trivia, contrarians, and historians still care about that.

The larger point is that, right or wrong, how the team performs in the playoffs does a lot to set our perceptions of how a season went. The 2022-23 Devils not only made the playoffs but drew Our Hated Rivals of all teams in the first round. The one team the Devils should always strive to beat. The one team the People Who Matter will always support beating. The one team you do not want to see get one over on the Devils. The pressure and the fear were real. As was the opposite. Beating Our Hated Rivals in the playoffs after the season the Devils just had will all but cement it as one of the best in franchise history. Which perhaps it should be just on the regular season. But life is not about shoulds or deserves; the playoffs matter.

The Devils have one more chance tomorrow to give this season the credit that it deserves in the eyes of the People Who Matter and the hockey world at large. Do not let the story be about how the Devils fell short once more to their hated rivals. Do not let the lazy narratives about experience and not being ready and other things that could only be written by people who paid zero real attention to this series. Do not let the good things be overshadowed by falling short. Rise! Reach for the stars! Do not just play for victory but take it as you have done 55 times (52 in season, 3 in playoffs) in this campaign. The thousands and thousands of the People Who Matter want you to do it. Your agents absolutely want you to do it. Your family wants you to do it. Your bosses want you to do it. You and your teammates want you to do it And you’ve done it three times already. Win one more game. This 2022-23 Devils team has made so many comebacks and achieved so much. One more victory will elevate it as it should be elevated.

Now that you have read my views on and my review of April 2023 for the Devils, I want to know what you think. What did you think of the Devils performances throughout the month of April? Do you agree with Hughes as the Devil of the Month and Schmid as the honorable mention? Will Game 7 tomorrow determine how you feel and talk about this season? Please leave your answers and last thoughts about the month of April in the comments. Thank you for reading.

And, please win Game 7, Devils.