The tide is turning for the New Jersey Devils.
In back-to-back games, the Devils have received adequate goaltending. It didn’t quite work out for them over the weekend, but after they filled the net thrice on Monday, New Jersey is back in the win column.
In consecutive games, the Devils have put forth really strong performances and have collected three of a possible four points. Now, they’re four points back from the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference. This season is far from over after a strong victory Monday night.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 3-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken.
The Devils did a couple of things well to start Monday night’s tilt. First, they broke a goalless power-play drought. Second, they scored first. Tyler Toffoli opened the scoring in the first period netting a power-play goal 13 minutes into the opening frame. Jack Hughes made sure the Devils picked up in the second where they left off in the first, banking a puck off the back of Joey Daccord’s helmet and in. Dawson Mercer added an insurance marker to make it a 3-0 game through 40 minutes. Will Borgen cut the Devils’ lead at the halfway mark of the final frame. However, it was too little too late for Seattle, and New Jersey walked away with two points and are back in the win column.
Nico Daws played strong, recording 27 saves on 28 shots.
Simon Nemec is the Truth
The loss of Dougie Hamilton would have been a lot worse if it weren’t for Simon Nemec.
The Devils’ rookie defenseman has been a revelation, to say the least. Nemec might not replicate the same power play production as Hamilton, but he’s certainly filled in at even strength well enough to not leave a gaping hole on the Devils’ blue line.
Nemec did a couple of things really well on Monday. Starting in the defensive end, he won his puck battles along the boards and helped push the puck up the ice toward the Kraken’s end of the ice.
Offensively, the Slovakian defenseman created a plethora of offensive chances in the offensive zone. Although he didn’t score, his rush from end to end with the puck on his stick was a thing of beauty.
— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNHL) February 13, 2024
Nemec might not get the Calder Trophy votes he deserves, but he’s certainly been one of the more impressive rookies, and players in the NHL this season.
The Devils are super fortunate he was ready to step in when he did.
Luke Hughes Struggling in Transition
Coming into Monday night, the Devils’ power play was on an 0/22 skid. However, the man advantage was clicking against the Kraken, even if one of the goals was taken off the board.
Since Hamilton went down with an injury, the Devils have depended on Luke Hughes to quarterback the first unit power play. He’s been fine once the puck is in the offensive zone. Hughes can walk the blue line just fine and facilitate chances in the offensive zone.
It hasn’t been without its blemishes though, especially moving the puck in transition.
Like most teams, when the puck is cleared from the offensive zone, the rush begins from behind the retrieving team’s net. That’s been Luke’s job on the first power play unit. However, on multiple occasions this season, and in Monday’s game, Hughes’ rushes have been thwarted by a pressuring defender.
It happened twice against Kraken forward Brandon Tanev. Tanev pressured Hughes with the puck on his stick nearing the Devils’ blue line. The Kraken forward forced a turnover that turned into a short-handed chance on two separate Devils power plays.
Despite the opposition being short a man, Hughes has struggled to create separation between himself and defenders in transition. Additionally, his decision-making under pressure has suffered likewise.
Moving forward, Hughes will need to increase his urgency and footspeed when moving the puck on the power play.
Steady in the Crease
That’s now back-to-back games where the Devils have received adequate goaltending.
The Devils’ overtime loss on Saturday was a heartbreaker in a scoreless game through 60 minutes. Sebastian Aho in overtime beat Vitek Vanecek to send the Devils home shorthanded.
Vanecek wasn’t available due to illness, and a mild lower-body injury on Monday. Therefore, Daws received his first start in about 3.5 weeks.
The Devils didn’t make Daws work a ton early. New Jersey’s defense played quite well and limited the Kraken to seven and eight shots in the first two periods respectively. Regardless, Seattle accrued four high-danger chances through the first two periods, all stopped by Daws.
The Kraken broke through in the third on one of their 13 shots, however, Daws closed the door and helped the Devils secure two points. Daws also stopped all six shots he saw on the penalty kill.
The 23-year-old goaltender begins to bring a calm, stable presence to the Devils’ crease, something they lacked for the first half of their season.
“I think (Daws) played really well,” Jack Hughes explained. “Vitek played really well in Carolina. (When) you get goaltending like the last two games, it shows in the results. I mean, Daws did a really good job tonight. We’re happy with how we played.”