The road is where the heart is. Or at least, that’s the truth for the New Jersey Devils. Despite coming into Thursday’s contest 5-2-1 on the season, playing most of those games in Newark, Lindy Ruff has made mention of how well New Jersey plays on the road and how it really brings the group together. That was evident against the Minnesota Wild in the final meeting of the regular season between the two clubs. Let’s dive into the Devils 5-3 victory over the Wild
Devils Quick Wrap
A trio of power-play goals sent the Devils to their sixth win of the regular season. Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton all scored on the man advantage. The Devils have now scored on 17 of 38 chances this season. That’s roughly 44.7% of power-play opportunities. Alexander Holtz and Michael McLeod each chipped in even strength goals as well. Kirill Kaprizov did his best to keep the Wild as close as he could potting a pair of goals. Vitek Vanecek made 22 saves on 25 shots. Filip Gustavsson made 33 saves on 38 shots.
Three Starts in a Row for Vanecek
Head coach Lindy Ruff tells us not to read into these things. However, that’s what we do in this business. Vanecek started his third game in a row tonight for the Devils. It’s clear he’s — for now– taken over starting goaltending duties.
Sure, the schedule has been spread out enough that Vanecek has been able to get the proper rest to make consecutive starts. Yet, that means Akira Schmid has been held out of game action for over a week. It’s not like the Devils are deploying Martin Brodeur who they can ride into the sunset with. Vanecek is proving to give the Devils their best chance to win, thus, he’s seeing the most action.
Thursday wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. Vanecek’s 22 saves were enough for the Devils to capture their sixth victory. Still, Vanecek is expected to make more saves than he is finishing Thursday night with a -0.35 goals saved above expected, according to MoneyPuck.
The Wild’s second goal is more a testament to poor defensive coverage. However, the first a third goals were certainly stoppable for their own reasons.
The Devils visit the St. Louis Blues on Friday night and will most likely go back to Schmid for the first time in over a week.
Hot and Cold for Alexander Goaltz
Something about Alexander Holtz on the fourth is making him find the back of the net.
On his first shift of the game, Nathan Bastian won a puck battle below the Wild’s goal line and fed a streaking Holtz in the slot who beat Gustavsson clean for his third goal of the season. The most impressive part of the goal was Holtz’s quick catch and release. With little hesitation between receiving the puck and shooting it, Holtz picked a corner on an authoritative shot.
Holtz coming in hot. pic.twitter.com/E1hhazYIwL
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 3, 2023
Perhaps it’s Bastian and McLeod’s ability to clear ice for the sniper to go to work. As of now, that seems like the logical explanation.
Despite opening the scoring for New Jersey, Holtz was still on the negative side of the chances battle. In 9:01 of ice time, Holtz was on the ice for a 5-12 chance differential. Deployment is certainly a factor. He only started one shift in the offensive zone, none in the neutral zone, and one in the defensive zone. For the nine remaining shifts, Holtz started on the fly, typically with the puck heading toward the Devils’ zone.
It’s nice to see him scoring and yes he’s on the fourth line, but the puck needs to be in the Devils’ end far less when he’s on the ice.
McLeod Rising to the Occasion
McLeod is making the absence of Nico Hischier a little easier to deal with. In the last two games, No.20 has been deployed as New Jersey’s second-line center between Palat and Bratt. As a defense-first forward, he’s brought a similar presence in the Devils’ end of the ice as Hischier. However, the former first-round pick has also picked it up in the offensive zone as well.
Playing alongside a play driver like Bratt may very well boost anyone’s offensive ability. However, putting yourself in a position to score is completely on the individual. That’s exactly what McLeod did with under five minutes left in the first period as he battled at the top of Gustavsson’s crease and tapped in a pretty tic-tac-toe play between him and his linemates.
Mikey gives us a two goal lead! pic.twitter.com/X3BdmcZpjV
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 3, 2023
In 12:55 of ice time at even strength, McLeod led the Devils with a 72 CF%, the positive side of an 18-7 chance differential. He also accrued an incredible 85.6 xGF%, as well as six high-danger chances as opposed to allowing just one, according to Natural Stat Trick.
In Hischier’s absence, McLeod is certainly rising to the occasion.
- Jesper Bratt’s point streak is now up to eight games. Timo Meier increased his point streak to six games.
- Jack Hughes’ 20 points set the benchmark for the most points before the 10th game in Devils franchise history.
- The Devils haven’t been shut out in 95 consecutive games across multiple seasons. That’s the third-longest stretch in franchise history.