The Devils went 3-1-1 on their longest road trip of the year, a successful trip despite the state of the season.
If this road trip had taken place in October, November or December, I would have been over the moon with excitement. Especially considering the fact that Jack Hughes and Jonas Siegenthaler were not a part of it, this was a highly impressive road trip from Jersey’s Team. It is just a shame that it happened only about 90 days after the Devils season realistically ended. Standings be damned, this was still an impressive trip and in my mind, there is never a bad time to get 7 out of a possible 10 points, especially on the road.
One of the most impressive moments from the trip, that I didn’t already gush all over in my last Nico Hischier blog, was Jesper Boqvist’s game winning goal against the Golden Knights. Boqvist absolutely embarrassed one of the best defensemen in the NHL in Alex Pietrangelo and then fired the puck past Robin Lehner so quickly that Lehner didn’t even move until long after the puck had hit the back of the net. An absolutely gorgeous play from a player that could be an important piece to the Devils future. The now 23 year old Boqvist was picked by New Jersey in the second round of the 2017 draft. This season has been his best professional season to date, seeing him earn 20 points in 50 NHL games and 8 points in 7 AHL games. The value of Boqvist finding his game and becoming an NHL regular is as a third line center. If Boqvist can continue to develop into a bottom six center role in the NHL, that can permanently move Dawson Mercer to the right wing of one of the top two lines alongside Hughes or Hischier, making the top 6 far more dangerous. Center depth is incredibly important in the NHL as center is the position with arguably the most responsibility of any on the ice. Centers are expected not only to create offense and produce points but also to play almost like a third defenseman in their own zone. If Boqvist can take the 3C role full time, Mercer can be on the right wing of either Hughes or Hischier full time and hopefully the Devils can be higher than 18th in the NHL in goals scored next season.
As horrible as the trade for Andrew Hammond was, and as terrible as he has played since coming over to the Devils, he absolutely stole a game from Vegas and potentially ended their playoff hopes with a 42 save performance in the Devils 3-2 win. I hope he never plays another game as a Devil once this season ends and this one stellar performance doesn’t overshadow the unwatchable hockey he has played since coming to New Jersey, but we have to be honest and give credit where credit is due. Andrew Hammond was spectacular in that game and stole two points from the Golden Knights and gifted them to the Devils. It obviously doesn’t mean anything in terms of standings or future since the Devils have been dead for months and Hammond HOPEFULLY won’t play a single second for the Devils after this season ends, but it was still nice to see a goalie steal a game for the Devils instead of give a game away.
Nathan Bastian has also continued to play well in his fourth line role, as he has since he returned to the Devils early this season. His 12 goals this season is a career high and he is dominating physically as he leads New Jersey in hits with 180 in only 54 games. The 6 foot 4 inch 205 pound winger brings a toughness to the Devils lineup that has been lacking for years and the team still doesn’t have enough of. Being physical is part of being tough to play against and is something every playoff contending team can do. The physical game often gets overlooked in today’s age of analytics and “advanced” stats, and that is a mistake in my opinion. All of the skill and “expected” goals in the world can’t help you win if you are constantly getting run over by the other team.
A good road trip is a teeny tiny bright spot in this awful season. Hopefully there are far more five game spans with this level of success next year. We hope and pray. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth