The last two Devils games have shown us how awful the Devils are, and how good they can be.
Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Coyotes, I would have expected the Devils to go 1-1 in their next two games. However, I did not think they would lose to Arizona and then turn around and beat the Hurricanes. but, that is exactly what happened. The Devils played one of the NHL’s worst teams, the Coyotes, and were totally out classed. In the next game, they played one of the league’s best teams, the Hurricanes, and won 7-4.
The Arizona game was an abomination and an embarrassment to the entire state of New Jersey and I won’t waste much time on it. The Devils came out in the first period and showed that they were the better team. They carried the play, put 12 shots on net while allowing only one shot to reach Mackenzie Blackwood, and left the period with a 1-0 lead. Three and half minutes into the second period, the shots were 19-2 in favor of the Devils, but they still couldn’t find another goal and score remained 1-0. Suddenly, Arizona scored on just their third shot on goal of the game to tie the score at one. Five minutes later, Arizona got their fifth shot and their second goal to take the lead. After this, the Devils totally gave up. Not a single Devils player, skater or goalie, put in any semblance of effort after Arizona took the lead. The Devils just got sloppier and lazier as the game progressed and the final score was 4-1 in favor of the visitors. The Devils did not play anything close to resembling a complete game and got the result they earned with their essentially non existent effort. Losing to a better team sucks but is understandable. Losing a game like this, to a team you are clearly superior to, is embarrassing and unacceptable. With one of the NHL’s best teams coming into Newark just a few nights later, Devils fans everywhere were fearing an even worse blowout was on the horizon.
The Devils stunning 7-4 win over Carolina on Saturday night makes one wonder how it is possible that this was the same team from Wednesday night. Hell, it was hard to imagine how the Devils could avoid a blowout loss after the first six minutes. The Hurricanes were dominating New Jersey and had a two goal lead before the game was six minutes old. Slowly but surely the Devils came on, got more competitive, put some pressure on Carolina’s rookie goaltender. This paid off with results as Nathan Bastian scored twice in the last three minutes of the first period to tie the game heading into the second period. On both goals, Bastian went to the front of the net and tipped the puck over the line. Bastian is a strong tough player that is great in front of the net and now has 7 goals in 20 games since being brought back to New Jersey on November 25th. Bastian is also second on the team in hits with 68. He adds a physical presence that no other Devil can even come close to. Undoubtedly a great move to claim Bastian off waivers as he has fit perfectly back into the lineup like he never left. He is a perfect bottom six player that can play tough and be a strong net front presence on the power play. He will likely never be a 30 goal scorer but he doesn’t need to have huge offensive numbers to be valuable.
While falling behind to Arizona killed the Devils mentally and ended with a demoralizing defeat to an obviously tanking organization, the opposite happened against Carolina. The Devils were down 2-0 and tied the game before the first period ended. Then Carolina took the lead again early in the second period and again the Devils fought back. This time, it was Michael McLeod putting home the rebound from an Andreas Johnsson shot to tie the game. Two fourth line players, McLeod and Bastian, were keeping the Devils in this game by continuing to crash the net and hunt for loose pucks. For a team that has struggled to score goals so far this season, 18th most in the league, it is crucially important to get offensive contributions from the third and fourth lines. As impressive as Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt have been this season, they cannot carry a team on their own. Goals from guys like Bastian and McLeod can go a long way in helping the Devils to be a more competitive team in the second half of the season.
In recent articles, I have been tough on guys like Andreas Johnsson and Pavel Zacha for not contributing enough offense. Both guys had been slumping badly in recent weeks and were not performing anywhere near up to expectations. Both guys broke out of those slumps last night. Johnsson had a goal and two assists while Zacha had a goal and an assist. Both Johnsson and Zacha are relied upon to be in the top two forward lines and produce offense. When they aren’t producing, the team struggles mightily to score goals and ultimately win games. Zacha had zero points in the five games before Saturday’s win over Carolina and Johnsson had zero points in his previous four games. These guys waking up would be a big help in the Devils long crawl back to NHL .500.
In some very unsurprising news, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier all stayed hot in this game. With a goal last night, Hughes now has 5 points in his last five games and 21 points in 21 games. Hischier had an assist last night to bring his point total for the year up to 24 points in 33 games. Jesper Bratt had a goal and now has five points in his last four games played and has 34 points in 36 games played. Those three players, all age 23 or younger, are turning into real stars in the NHL and it is very exciting for the present and future of the New Jersey Devils.
An exciting win for the Devils for sure but with four games in the next seven days, it will be interesting to see if the Devils can build upon this and get any momentum going into the All Star break at the beginning of February.
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