Long Island — The New Jersey Devils set out for their first away game of 2023-24 on Long Island Friday night. They faced the lossless New York Islanders in their barn at UBS Arena. With a new-look forward group and questions to answer regarding their recent performance, let’s dive into the Devils’ 5-4 overtime win in which New Jersey’s power play dominates.
Devils Quick Wrap
A pair of goals from Brock Nelson and an outstanding showing from Ilya Sorokin kept the Islanders a little closer than they should have been. However, a four-point performance from Jack Hughes including the game-winning overtime goal sent New Jersey to their second victory of the season. New Jersey had four different skaters find the back of the net on Friday. Those names include J. Hughes (scored twice), Luke Hughes, Tyler Toffoli, and Dougie Hamilton. Akira Schmid recorded 28 saves on 32 shots. Sorokin stopped 34 pucks on 39 shots.
A Far Better Start
Now that’s the start head coach Lindy Ruff has been looking for.
Had the Islanders not had Sorokin in net, the Devils easily could have led by a goal or two after the opening frame.
Rather than starting the first period on their heels, the Devils matched the intense pace of the Islanders, and then some through the opening 20 minutes. By the end of the period, New Jersey out-shot the Isles 14-8. Despite a tie on the scoreboard, New Jersey controlled the puck producing 26 chances as opposed to the Islanders’ seven, resulting in an astounding 78.79 CF%.
Hamilton’s first-period blast tied the game up at one. However, had it not been for a ridiculous glove save on Hughes, New Jersey should have exited the first period leading at least 2-1.
Regardless, it was the kind of first-period Ruff has been looking for. It was a fast start with constant puck pressure in all three zones.
“I thought (tonight) really looked (more) like our club,” Ruff explained. “We created a lot of turnovers, a lot of inside shots, and a lot of good opportunities. I thought our play around the puck was a lot stronger than it has been the first few games.”
A Night of Firsts
As the Devils go, so do the goals on the scoresheet.
For Toffoli, the Devils newcomer has had an excellent start to his Devils tenure. He started the year playing on a line with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt. At 5-on-5, the trio of forwards created the most scoring chances of any forward line amongst the Devils. However, he had no goals through the first three games of the season.
After Ruff shook things up a bit, the Devils head coach swapped centers and it was Hischier centering Toffoli and Bratt in game No.4. The new trio showed instant chemistry with a plethora of scoring chances. However, it was on the power play where Toffoli scored his first goal as a Devil. The most impressive part of the goal was not picking the far corner, but instead using Pelech as a screen and still finding twine.
Just two minutes and a goal against later, the Devils went back to the power play where Luke Hughes scored his first of the season as well. Receiving a pass from his brother, L. Hughes’ point blast found its way through traffic and behind Sorokin. Much like the rest of the Devils, it’s been a subpar start to the season for L. Hughes. Friday night was a stronger showing for the rookie defenseman.
“It was a better game (for Luke),” Ruff said. “I think he’s gonna continue to grow. He had unbelievable legs. I think the fact that he can out-skate the opponent, can shake the opponent when they’re forechecking (is a plus). Great shot (tonight). I thought on his goal there was a great screen. We had two guys in the lane and it found a hole. There was no chance (Sorokin) could see that one. But again, it’s just trying to remain consistent.”
Ruff Pushed the Right Buttons
The Devils head coach wanted more out of his forwards and he certainly got it. At 5-on-5, the new-look offense was cooking against the Islanders on Friday night.
Flipping Hughes and Hischier was a subtle, yet necessary change Ruff made in the top-six. The result was a dominant performance against a veteran Islanders team with elite goaltending.
Paired with Hughes and Toffoli, Meier played a much stronger, more disciplined game. Individually, the Devils forward helped create plenty of scoring chances with a personal 61.76 CF%. With his new linemates, the trio of Toffoli, Hughes, and Meier put together a strong showing. The result? Meier and co. ended the night with an elite 64.00 CF%.
Even more impressive, however, was how Hischier and his new line responded to the shake-up.
The Devils captain was one of New Jersey’s best forwards all night. The 2023 Selke nominee did what he does best in limiting opponents’ chances and curating defense into offense. As a result, Hischier ended the night creating 20 chances versus allowing just three chances against.
He may not have found the scoresheet, however, more nights like that will see him on the board in no time. Unfortunately, the Devils captain was absent from the third period of the game. According to Ruff, it’s an upper-body injury. No timetable was provided.
Ondrej Palat, Hischier, and Bratt ended Friday night’s contest by dominating 5-on-5 play. The trio created 18 chances while allowing just 3.
Going back to the well with Palat, Hischier, and Bratt certainly already looks like the right call. Ruff pushed all the right buttons in this one.
Devils Power Play Dominates
The Devils came into Friday night’s contest with the fourth-best power play in the NHL. Despite their struggles, New Jersey converted on 31.3% of power plays through the first three contests.
That man advantage made the world of a difference against the Islanders as Sorokin was dialed in and tough to beat at even strength. New Jersey played far more disciplined than they had in the previous three contests with just two penalties in the 60-minute effort.
New York, on the other hand, didn’t show the same discipline and allowed New Jersey to go to the man advantage five times. The Devils converted on four of those power plays between both Hughes brothers, Hamilton, and Toffoli.
The power play was near perfect, recording eight attempts and converting on four of them.
“The execution was really good,” said Ruff. “You don’t have many nights like that where you click and all those opportunities go in. But, it’s something that we’re going to just continue to keep working on on a daily basis. I think we found the right spots and we got some talent that can bury opportunities.”
- Jack Hughes extended his point streak to four games, recording four points (two goals & two assists). He’s up to four goals and six assists in four games.
- Jesper Bratt’s three-point night (three assists) is on a three-game multi-point streak (three goals, five assists in that span).
- Nico Hischier was dominant in the faceoff dot winning 11/18 draws.