The first place Devils went up to western Canada and won three straight games to extend their winning streak to six games.
There is no two ways about, the New Jersey Devils are one of the best teams in the NHL so far this season. The Devils are third in the entire NHL in points, fourth in the league in point percentage, and fourth in goal differential. New Jersey currently sits atop the Metropolitan division with 18 points through 12 games. These last three games in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary showed the Devils ability to win in a variety of ways.
Goaltending was the Devils biggest issue last year and looked shaky to begin this season. However, the Western Canada trip showed some spectacular goaltending from New Jersey’s duo in net. Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 21 of 23 shots in Vancouver to help the Devils earn a 5-2 win. The Devils started the game slow and were outplayed by Canucks, especially at even strength, throughout the first period. However Blackwood played well, kept the puck out of the net, and the Devils skaters took over the game in the second period. Blackwood followed up that strong performance with a solid showing in Edmonton, until he left the game with an injury in the second period. Prior to his injury, Blackwood was pretty good, stopping 16 of 18 Oilers shots. After Blackwood left with injury, Vitek Vanecek game into the game and stopped 18 of 19 Oilers shots. Vanecek prevented the Oilers from running away with the game and gave the his teammates a chance to tie the game in the third, which they did, before taking the lead a few seconds later. Vanecek remained a brick wall in the final three minutes of play and was a huge reason why the Devils continued their winning streak.
The severity of Blackwood’s injury is not public information at this time, but the club did call Akira Schmid up from Utica which indicates they anticipate Blackwood to not be available in the immediate future. This means that Vitek Vaneck will get the vast majority of the starts for the time being, and Devils fans should feel confident in that. Vanecek has a .908 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average through seven games so far this year. That is counting his 18/19 performance in Edmonton and 27/30 performance in Calgary. He may have started the year on a bad note, but Vanecek has been a solid goalie of late, keeping his team in the game and being a big part of the victories. The Devils don’t have another set of back to back games until November 25th and 26th, so I would not be surprised to see Vanecek start all eight of the Devils next games between now and that back to back after Thanksgiving.
Obviously it is not just goaltending alone that that is carrying the Devils to these victories. The Devils are producing a lot of offense as well. The Devils are second in the NHL with 39.1 shots on goal per game. Much of this comes from guys like Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Jack Hughes but everyone already knows how good those three super stars are. The Devils are also getting offense from the fourth line, the BMW line, of Bastian, McLeod, and Wood. In the last four games, the BMW line has combined for 16 points. Not only has this fourth line started to find the back of the net more consistently, but they are a real pain to play against. Bastian, McLeod, and Wood are 1,2, and 3 in hits among Devils forwards. They are using their speed and physicality to create space and produce offense. No team can be successful relying on just their top one or two lines to score and the Devils finally seem to have some reliable depth scoring.
You also can’t talk about the Devils recent success without talking about Fabian Zetterlund. Since Ondrej Palat went down with an groin injury, Zetterlund has seen his playing time increase significantly and he is making the most of it. He has only played in seven of the Devils 12 games so far but he has earned 3 goals in that time, including the beauty that sealed the win in Calgary in overtime. Zetterlund always seems to be in the right spot on the ice to rip his laser of a shot and is getting over three shots on goal per game played. You can see his confidence growing and it is not hard to imagine his offensive output continuing to improve as well.
The Devils are on fire right now and it looks sustainable. The goaltending is solid, they are not relying on just one or two lines to produce offense, they are playing solid team defense. The Devils are doing pretty much everything right and are being rewarded with the results. In my season preview I predicted the Devils would finish 4th in the metro and earn the second wild card spot. If things keep going the way they are right now, I may have underestimated the potential this team has. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.