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Devils Takeaways: Miller & Hughes Shine, Lazar Propels New Jersey to 5-2 Victory

Curtis Lazar nets a goal and assist, Luke Hughes and Colin Miller put together impressive performance in victory over Penguins.

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Devils Takeaways: Miller & Hughes Shine, Lazar Propels New Jersey to 5-2 Victory
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Another New Jersey Devils forward bites the dust.

Timo Meier missed tonight’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a result of an injury he sustained against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. As a result, head coach Lindy Ruff opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen as Colin Miller made his Devils debut.

However, New Jersey overcame the odds despite all the injuries in an impressive 5-2 victory in the Steel City.

Let’s dive into how the Devils defeated the Penguins.

Devils Quick Wrap

The Penguins struck first as Bryan Rust opened the scoring at the 6:36 mark of the first period. However, the Devils didn’t let off the gas despite being short a man on the ice. Curtis Lazar tied the game at one, beating the Penguins’ netminder on the penalty kill. Rust’s dominance against the Devils continued as he got back on the board early in the second period giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead. Yet, it was more of the same from New Jersey as they continued to play with desperation. As a result, Nathan Bastian tied the game at two just 38 seconds later.

The Devils took the lead and blew the game open on goals in the third period by Jesper Bratt, Alexander Holtz, and Tyler Toffoli. Vitek Vanecek locked down the Devils’ crease stopping 24 pucks on 26 shots. Tristan Jarry made 26 saves.

Takeaways

Power Kill

The Devils came into Thursday night remaining No.1 in the NHL on the power play. However, it was the penalty kill that was quite impressive on Thursday night.

New Jersey went to the kill in the first period as a result of a hooking call on Kevin Bahl. Despite missing a man on the ice, the Devils somehow made their penalty kill look more like a power play. According to Natural Stat Trick, New Jersey generated three chances, two of them as legitimate scoring chances, and one of them wound up in the back after Erik Haula retrieved the puck in the neutral zone, led an odd-man rush, and fed Lazar who beat Jarry five-hole.

Although the Penguins possess a plethora of talent, it’s no secret they’ve struggled on the power play this season. Maybe that had a little bit to do with New Jersey’s ability to score short-handed. However, credit New Jersey with putting emphasis on playing with urgency, even after falling behind a goal.

The Devils killed off all three of Pittsburgh’s power plays in the process.

It’s Miller Time!

The Devils desperately needed a boost on the blue line.

Miller certainly provided that on Thursday.

The veteran defenseman drew into his first game of the 2023-24 season. He sat out the first two games of the year before sustaining an injury that kept him out of the lineup for a little under a month.

With New Jersey overwhelmed with other injuries, Miller drew in as the seventh defenseman on Thursday. Right away, Miller made a positive impression as a stable defender in his own end, while creating a plethora of chances for the Devils in the Penguins zone.

The 31-year-old defenseman shared the majority of his minutes with rookie defenseman Luke Hughes, although he took shifts with all Devils blue-liners except Jonas Siegenthaler.

At the end of the 60-minute effort, Miller and Hughes totaled a combined 22-7 chance share. Individually, Miller accrued a 70.37 CF%, while Hughes totaled a 79.19 CF%.

Hughes was especially impressive with a team-best 89.76 xGF%.

Shades of 2022-23

New Jersey put an emphasis in 2022-23 on constant puck pressure. As a result, they dominated at 5-on-5 with the puck on the end of their sticks more often than not.

That identity showed up on Thursday against Pittsburgh.

The Devils won their puck battles against Pittsburgh all night long and through the blue line, pushed the puck up ice to the offensive zone.

As a result, the Devils were able to go to work whether it be off the rush or setting up the cycle in the Penguins’ zone to set up scoring chances.

That was especially present on a goal by Jesper Bratt in which Luke Hughes led an odd-man rush up ice and set the Swedish forward up for his eighth goal of the season.

However, the most important developments came on the blue line and as a result, the Devils crease. New Jersey’s ability to defend and keep the opposition’s chances to the perimeter made life on Vanecek much easier Thursday night. As a result, the Devils received the necessary saves to secure two points without having to lean on Vanecek too much. Although, when called upon, Vanecek certainly made some big stops in big moments.

The Devils hadn’t quite found their identity before Thursday night. It’s just one game of a consistent, 60-minute effort playing like the team we saw all last season. However, this was a huge step in the right direction finding their legs against a Pittsburgh team who previously won five straight games.

Quick Shifts

  • Thursday marked New Jersey’s 100th consecutive game without being shut out.
  • Lazar registered his 100th career point scoring a goal and an assist.
  • Lazar, Bratt, Hughes, and Haula all registered multi-point nights.
  • 10 different Devils registered a point.
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