June 7, 2023

The New Jersey Devils are the hottest team in the NHL these days. With last night’s 4-3 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators, the Devils extended their winning streak to eight games to move to 11-3 on the season. Their victory didn’t come without some adversity, though. After goaltender Vitek Vanecek took a knee to the head in the second period, he’d leave about halfway through the third and was replaced by Akira Schmid. Yet, they found another way to capture a win. Here are four takeaways from the Devils’ eighth victory in a row. 

Schmid Stellar in Place of Vanecek

The biggest story of last night was what happened in between the pipes for the Devils. Schmid came in cold with about nine minutes remaining in regulation and the game knotted up at 3-3. The Devils were playing quite well, especially at five-on-five, where they tilted the ice for most of the affair. Still, that’s a tough spot for a goaltender to come in, especially a 22-year-old with only six games of NHL experience. 

The moment didn’t seem too big for Schmid, however. The Devils did a good job in front of him in the third period and did not let him face much work. It was a different story in overtime, though, specifically on the Senators’ power play, where Schmid made a few impressive saves to keep the Devils’ winning streak alive, including this athletic pad stop: 

Schmid made seven saves on seven shots and stopped 0.98 goals above expected in just 13:49 of ice time. Head coach Lindy Ruff said he has no concern about Vanecek’s injury. But if he can’t go Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes, Schmid should be able to make a start and handle himself well after a performance that should give him plenty of confidence. 

It’s Hischier’s World, & We’re Just Living in It

Nico Hischier showed elite two-way potential during the second half of the 2021-22 campaign. That has continued to start this season and then some. He tallied two goals, including the overtime winner, to bring his totals to eight goals and 16 points in 13 games — a 50-goal, 101-point pace over 82 games. 

Last night, Hischier was one of the Devils’ best players, finishing with a game score — an all-encompassing stat that takes traditional and advanced stats into account to measure a player’s total value for a game — of 2.96. That was second among all skaters to Dougie Hamilton, Senators included. And it’s not just Hischier’s offense that’s making a difference, as his defensive impacts have been tremendous. 

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Hischier spent most of his time against the line of Brady Tkachuk, Claude Giroux and Tim Stützle and finished with an expected goals percentage (xG%) just above 81 percent against them. Not only is he scoring, but he’s shutting down opponents’ top lines and helping the Devils control play. His game score average of 2.00 ranks fourth among all skaters league-wide. He’s been the Devils’ most valuable player and one of the league’s most valuable players to this point. 

Hughes Quietly Doing His Thing

While Hischier may be grabbing most of the attention, as he should, Jack Hughes is still playing very well. The goal-scoring hasn’t come yet, but he added two helpers last night, bringing him to 14 points in 14 games. 

The Senators had quite a bit of trouble containing Hughes at five-on-five. The Devils finished with a 26-13 shot attempt advantage — a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 66.67 percent — and 73.15 xG% with him on the ice. Whenever he was on the ice, he found ways to create chances for himself or set up his teammates for quality shooting opportunities. And it’s worth noting that he drew the penalty on Thomas Chabot that led to Hischier’s game-winning power-play goal in overtime.

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At the rate Hughes is creating chances, the goals will come in time. But for now, he’s doing everything else the Devils need him to do to win games. There have even been more than a few moments where he makes a strong play backchecking and ends up with the puck on his stick after a takeaway. Eventually, he’ll be rewarded for his all-around efforts. 

The BMW Line Scores Again

It was just another day at the office for the trio of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. All three players picked up a point, with McLeod and Bastian tallying assists on Wood’s goal, which made it a 3-2 game in the second period. As has been the case for them offensively, it came with some strong work on the forecheck. This time courtesy of Bastian, who won a puck battle behind the net to get it out in front of the crease before McLeod and Wood finished the job.

We’ll see if the BMW Line can keep their scoring magic going. With that said, they’re always going to bring something to the game. Wood plays with pace but adds a physical element. McLeod is solid defensively, as is Bastian, who’s the team’s best forechecker. They give Ruff depth and the ability to roll four lines, a significant reason why they’ve won eight games in a row. 

Quick Hits

  • Fabian Zetterlund continues to impress since coming into the lineup for an injured Ondrej Palát. Zetterlund didn’t find the scoresheet, but he was a shooting machine, finishing the night with ten shot attempts, three shots on goal and six scoring chances at all strengths, partly because he received minutes on the first power-play unit. He was a handful at five-on-five, as the Devils had a 21-7 shot attempt advantage (75 CF%) and 84.11 xG% with him on the ice, with both stats finishing first on the team.
  • After a tough 2021-22 season that saw Hamilton miss significant time due to a broken jaw, he’s come back firing on all cylinders. He tallied the primary assist on Hischier’s game-winning goal on a one-time blast set up by Hughes to bring him to 11 points in 14 games. As mentioned above, his game score of 3.03 led all skaters who took the ice. His passing has been on point to begin this season, as he’s played a big part in helping the Devils get the rush started. And he’s playing well defensively too. 

Dougie Hamilton New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • Brendan Smith has played decent hockey in a third-pair role, but he needs to cut down on the penalties. He took two minors in the first period, one of which the Senators capitalized on. It killed a bit of the momentum the Devils started the game with, and though he hasn’t cost them a win yet, he may if he doesn’t play with more discipline. With Kevin Bahl having not played since Oct. 24, getting him into the lineup against the Coyotes tomorrow could be a good change of pace. 
  • I’m not sure who put a witchcraft voodoo spell on Erik Haula, but he’s had zero puck luck. After last night, he has no goals on 35 shots on goal through 14 games, and he had multiple opportunities. He finished yesterday with eight shot attempts, six scoring chances, and three high-danger chances but had nothing to show for his efforts. He needs a flukey bounce to go his way because once he gets one, he should start scoring consistently with the quality he’s creating. 

The Devils will look to make it nine in a row when they face a Coyotes team that has won three in a row and is playing quite well at the moment with a 6-6-1 record after a 2-0 shutout of the New York Islanders. Look for Schmid to get the nod if Vanecek can’t go.

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat TrickHockey Stat Cards

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