Newark — In the words of Taylor Swift, New Jersey Devils captain Nico Hischier is in his revenge era.
New Jersey activated their captain from the injured reserve prior to puck drop on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres. Hischier last played against the Sabres on October 27th before suffering an upper-body injury. Just under a month later, he’s back in game action against the team that sent him to the IR.
The Devils looked much more like themselves on Saturday night. After a rough afternoon against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, Jack Hughes and the Devils came into Saturday much more determined to find their game against Buffalo.
Let’s get into the Devils 7 -2 victory over the Sabres on Hockey Fights Cancer Night.
Devils Quick Wrap
New Jersey’s game at 5-on-5 looked much better on Saturday. Tyler Toffoli helped lead the Devils to victory scoring his 10th and 11th goals of the season across the opening two periods. Hischier and the second line got back to basics and dominated play with goals coming from Hischier and Ondrej Palat. Jesper Bratt collected a pair of helpers in the process, and Alexander Holtz added a single tally as his play continues to improve, as did Dawson Mercer. On the power play, Luke Hughes scored his second goal of the season.
Vitek Vanecek was rarely called upon on Saturday making 10 saves on 12 shots. The Devils chased Eric Comrie after the opening frame as he made 14 saves on 18 shots. Devon Levi stopped 17/20 pucks in relief of Comrie.
The Kid’s Alright!
It was anything but smooth, but Holtz is finally starting to figure it out. The 21-year-old sniper scored his sixth goal of the game on Saturday, his second in as many nights. He’s also tallied the Devils’ first goal in back-to-back games.
After seemingly having a tough conversation with New Jersey’s brass a few weeks back, Holtz is beginning to do all of the little things they wanted to see. He’s winning puck battles, positioning himself in the right spots on the ice, and even positioning himself in high-danger areas. As a result, he’s scoring goals.
Holtz’s positive play rubbed off on his linemates as well. Playing alongside Michael McLeod and Erik Haula, the trio of forwards put together an impressive game outchancing their opponent 10-0.
Holtz now has six goals on the season. He finished the game with 94.25 xGF% in what might have been the best game of his career.
Brendan Smith, Forward
Look, say what you will about his defense, but Brendan Smith was given his second go at forward Saturday night and he impressed.
Smith’s been deployed on the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Nathan Bastian. On the surface, it’s a curious move as New Jersey has Max Willman on the roster. He even took warmups and was seemingly available.
However, head coach Lindy Ruff opted for Smith as a forward. It’s not completely untraditional as Smith has experience at forward playing for the New York Rangers.
In the opening frame against Buffalo, Smith was a difference maker. In a different role than he’s used to, Smith forechecked well and even made some plays with the puck on his tape.
With Buffalo called for a delayed penalty, Smith distributed the puck well in the offensive zone. Away from the rubber, Smith planted himself in the slot in an effort to disturb Comrie’s view. Not only did it work, but Smith pushed the puck up to Toffoli who scored New Jersey’s second goal of the game.
If you needed any more of a reason to appreciate Smith after Saturday, he dropped the mitts with Clifton to defend Hischier following his injury from a month ago.
Smith and Clifton go at it after the Devils take a 4-0 lead over the Sabres 😳 pic.twitter.com/R0KYR1MsDd
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 26, 2023
When they talk about “glue guys” in the locker room, they talk about Brendan Smith.
Welcome Back, Cap!
You couldn’t script this game any better.
Smith making things happen out there, seemingly winning over Devils fans. Holtz put together a really strong performance. And, the captain returns promptly to help the Devils flip the script on their season.
Hischier was an immediate impact from puck drop.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence (although not likely), but with the Devils captain back in the lineup, New Jersey appeared far more systematically intact. New Jersey pressured the puck in all three zones, won puck battles, created a plethora of chances, and scored a ton of goals.
Leading the scoring charge was, in fact, Hischier’s line at 5-on-5. In the first period alone, the trio of Hischier, Palat, and Jesper Bratt out-chanced the opposition 4-0.
Amid those chances, Hischier scored in his first game back, his third of the season with Clifton defending on the ice. Just about three minutes later, Palat converted as well.
It’s safe to say the Devils missed their captain and received quite the boost in his return.
- New Jersey saw 11 players register at least one point on Saturday. Eight players recorded at least two points.
- Hischier won 9/14 faceoffs in his return (64.3%).
- McLeod’s faceoff dominance continues winning 12/14 draws (85.7%).