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Devils Postgame

Devils Takeaways: Devils Begin Final Third of Season with Big Victory Over Avalanche

Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Erik Haula turn in multi-point efforts in the Devils 5-3 victory over Avalanche.

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New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Newark — The New Jersey Devils spoiled Miles Wood’s return to Newark.

A victory over the Colorado Avalanche is exactly how the Devils wanted to start the final stretch of the regular season.

Before the 10-day break, the Devils were a battered a bruised team physically, and a demoralized team mentally. Time away from the rink was exactly what they needed to mentally reset in their pursuit back to the playoffs.

Before the puck even dropped, it felt like the Devils were already behind. Tyler Toffoli was a late scratch due to illness. Max Willman slotted into the lineup instead and Tomas Nosek jumped back in for the first time since mid-November. Coming off long-term injured reserve, Nosek provided a defensive boost.

The Devils played one of their best games of the season on Tuesday against the juggernaught Avalanche squad and did so without their best player.

Let’s dive into New Jersey’s 5-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Devils Recap

True to their character this season, the Devils gave up the first goal of the game yet again. It’s the 35th time this year. A turnover in the Devils’ end of the ice found twine on the stick of Mikko Rantanen for an early Avalanche lead. Chris Tierney, however, scored his first goal of the season and first as a Devil just 42 seconds later to tie the game. The Devils took control of the momentum in the second period and cashed in on goals by Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer. The Avalanche mounted a comeback in the third period, however. Cale Makar and Sam Girard scored 30 seconds apart to tie the game in the final frame. Yet, John Marino salvaged the regulation win, beating Justus Annunen with 2:17 remaining in the third period. Erik Haula hit them empty net to send Colorado packing in the Devils’ 5-3 victory.

Vitek Vanecek had a strong night making 35 saves on 38 shots.

Takeaways

Santeri Hatakka Keeps it Simple

Following the Devils’ Tuesday morning practice, head coach Lindy Ruff recognized what forced the Devils management to recall Santeri Hatakka.

It’s not the fact that they’re short two defensemen due to injury. It’s because Hatakka plays a simple, yet effective game to help the Devils keep the puck out of their own net.

Ruff highlighted that Hatakka is a left-shot which allows them to deploy three lefties and three righties. More important, however, was the fact that Ruff recognized Hatakka’s skating, ability to defend, and capability to handle the speed coming toward New Jersey’s end of the ice in transition.

All of those things rung true again against the powerhouse Avalanche club. Skating alongside Colin Miller, Hatakka blocked multiple shots, was unafraid to hit, and registered multiple shot attempts. However, perhaps the biggest takeaway was Hatakka bringing an element the Devils have surely lacked for much of the first 47 games of the season, clearing out the slot for the Devils goaltender.

The Devils got a glimpse of Hatakka for the first time over the summer after they acquired him as part of the Timo Meier trade. Yet, the fact that he’s been able to replicate his simple game from a rookie development camp to the NHL level is certainly impressive.

Aggressive Penalty Kill

The Avalanche aren’t a top-three team in the NHL without knowing how to draw a few penalties.

Once they’re on the man advantage, a power play unit consisting of Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Nathan Mackinnon is going to know how to score. They converted on an NHL seventh-best 25.3% of chances coming into Tuesday’s tilt.

However, that wasn’t the case on Tuesday night. The Devils’ PK was aggressive, limiting the Avs’ best scorers in a 2-2 wide-box formation that held the Avalanche shooters to mostly perimeter chances. Any shots that happened to get through shooting lanes were promptly stopped by Vanecek. If a rebound occurred, the Devils were quick to the puck and cleared it from their zone rather quickly.

Speaking of Vanecek, he was strong on the disadvantage making 6/6 saves to keep the Avalanche’s power play off the board.

A new addition to the penalty kill unit this season is Jesper Bratt. His presence alone has been excellent for the Devils’ PK. Bratt is quick to the puck carrier and occasionally forces a turnover at the blue line. He did that Tuesday and headed for a breakaway chance. Annuen stopped the shot, but it killed about 15 seconds off the clock for New Jersey.

It was a strong night for the penalty killing units.

Shut ‘Em Down

The Avalanche might have scored twice in the third period. However, none of Colorado’s goals came as a result of Nathan Mackinnon.

In fact, Mackinnon didn’t register a single point in Tuesday night’s contest, marking just his eighth pointless game in 51 contests this season.

That had everything to do with the play of the Devils’ captain, Nico Hischier. Hischier was tasked with shutting down the Avalanche All-Star and the captain came through. His most defining moment of the game came in the closing moments of the third period with the Avalanche’s net empty and an extra attacker on the ice.

With Mackinnon on the Devils’ far wall, Hischier applied a plethora of pressure to the Avalanche forward, forcing Mackinnon to turn over the puck and negate Colorado’s chances of sending the game to overtime. That was just one of many times Hischier forced Mackinnon to turn the puck over to New Jersey.

“I think Nico didn’t one heck of a job,” Ruff said of Hischier. “There was a lot of battles, a lot of one on one battles where Nico did a terrific job on the walls with Mackinnon, keeping him there and not letting him come off the walls.”

Before the All-Star break, Hischier explained he wanted the Devils to look themselves in the mirror while away from the rink. In their first contest in the final third of the 2023-24 season, Hischier led the Devils by example.

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