The Devils started their season with a five game home stand with plenty of rest and went 3-2. There are things to be excited about, but also there are things to dread.
One week ago, I wrote a blog predicting that the Devils would go no worse than 4-1 in these five games. Instead, Jack Hughes got hurt, Johnathan Bernier got hurt, the team looked slow and as a result, they only managed to go 3-2. Now this is far from the end of the world as collecting 60% of the possible points puts them on pace to finish the season with 98 points, which would almost certainly equal a playoff birth. However, all these games were at the Prudential Center and the Devils looked absolutely lifeless out of the gate against both Washington and Calgary.
First things first, its never a good thing when you have your fourth string goalie starting back to back games, which is exactly what the Devils had in the last to games against Buffalo and Calgary. As a result of injuries to both Mackenzie Blackwood and Johnathan Bernier, Scott Wedgewood and 20 year old Nico Daws were the Devils active goalies for the last three games, with Daws starting against Buffalo and Calgary. Daws kept his team in the game in his NHL debut against Buffalo. Daws allowed just one goal on 25 shots as the Devils won 2-1 in overtime and he was named the third star. It was a different story against the Flames. Daws allowed 3 goals on 6 shots in the first period before being pulled from the game and replaced by Wedgewood, who had allowed four goals himself against the Caps on Thursday. The top two goalies, Bernier and Blackwood, can’t get back soon enough and thankfully they seem to be moving in the right direction, which is a reason for optimism.
As anytime you lose two out of three games at home, there are some things to be pretty negative about. Two of the biggest reasons to think things are looking bleak for this team are Jesper Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich. Those two guys are expected to be top six wingers based on what they have done early in their careers. So far, they have each played five games and the sum of their point totals in those games is three. Three assists from Yegor Sharangovich is the only offense the Devils have gotten from the Bratt and Yegor combined so far this season. Especially with Hughes out of the lineup, Bratt and Sharangovich need to step up and create offense. So far, they have failed to do so. In the last game against the Flames, two goals can be blamed directly on Bratt and he sat the entire second period as a result.
Just unacceptable turnovers from Bratt there. He has been in Lindy Ruff’s dog house a lot so far early in the season and it is easy to see why. If Bratt does not step his game up soon, we may see Alexander Holtz get a shot to step into his spot sooner rather than later. (Holtz has three goals in three games in the AHL)
This home stand was not all bad and we Devil fans do have things to be excited about. Namely, Pavel Zacha and Dawson Mercer. Zacha is currently the Devils leading scorer with 5 points (4G 1A) after 5 games. This includes the overtime winner against the Sabres on Saturday night. Mercer has had a strong start to his rookie year and has 4 points (2G 2A) through 5 games. Having Zacha finally break out as an offensive threat is huge for a team that struggles to produce offense, especially when Hughes is out of the lineup. Also having 20 year old Dawson Mercer able to step up and play a solid center ice while proving to be an offensive threat bodes well not just for this season, but for many seasons to come in the Garden State.
What is next for the Devils? They get a chance to clear their heads and address the breakdowns that the Flames exploited on Tuesday because they don’t play again until Saturday. However, Saturday is their first road game of the year and it is against the Penguins, serious playoff contenders within the division. With a division as deep as the Metro, all games against divisional opponents are crucial. The Penguins are 3-1-2 as of this writing and looking to only get stronger as Sidney Crosby is getting ready to make his return.
After the Penguins, the Devils play the next night, Sunday night, when the Blue Jackets visit the Prudential Center. After which, the Devils fly out west to start a west coast trip in Anaheim on Tuesday. So that is three games this week. In Pittsburgh against a serious contender, at home against a surprisingly good looking Blue Jackets squad, and out west against the clearly rebuilding Ducks. Obviously, the best case scenario here is 3-0-0. However I don’t see a win against the Penguins. I hope I am wrong but based off how they played at home against the Sabres and Flames, I am not confident they can go into Pittsburgh and beat Crosby and the Penguins. Hopefully, one of the NHL goalies, Blackwood or Wedgewood, are back by then and can keep the Devils in the game long enough to steal a victory. The Blue Jackets will be tough to beat, especially if players like Bratt and Yegor can’t find a way to contribute offensively. The Jackets are strong in net and don’t give up many high danger chances. The game being at home helps the Devils but they are playing back to back while the Jackets will be rested. I think this game will be close but the Devils will find a way to send the Jersey faithful home happy. The Ducks are next and they stink. 2-4-1 through their first seven and clearly rebuilding. Even on the opposite coast, the Devils are clearly the better team and should walk away with the win, no excuses
So, lets get to 5-3-0 and go from there.