The Devils killed nine penalties and Vitek Vanecek was great in route to a big win.
The Devils were in a serious 1-7-1 slide before beating the Penguins on Friday night. However, going on the road to beat a division rival that currently occupies a playoff spot could be a momentum swinging moment to get the season back on the right track. Last year at this time I was writing a blog about how the season was basically already over. This year, it’s almost the polar opposite of that, with the Devils sitting in second place in the Metro. However, after this tough nine game stretch, the playoffs have become far from a sure thing. A road win like Friday night can do a lot for the confidence of one of the NHL’s youngest teams.
This was a great team win. The Devils killed off nine Penguins power plays and added a short handed goal from captain Nico Hischier. Vitek Vanecek made 25 saves on 27 shots without allowing any soft goals and the Devils are headed into the new year feeling confident after going on the road to beat another playoff contender inside the division. The Devils are only 4 points ahead of the playoff line right now so a win was much needed and the Devils best players came up huge.
Jack Hughes scored two goals tonight, including an empty net to seal the win late in the third period. Hughes now has 20 goals and 41 points through 36 games, putting him on pace for 93 points. Hughes is proving every night that he is a super star in the NHL. Jack can beat you by setting up a goal with his great passing and vision or he can pick a corner and snipe the puck past your goalie. Hughes is also proving to be clutch, like tonight where his goals tied the game, and ended the game with an insurance goal late in the third. He is under contract with the Devils for seven more season after this season ends. The Devils are very lucky to have such a bargain for such a long time.
Devils captain Nico Hischier is continuing to have the best season of his career to date, now earning 18 goals and 33 points in 35 games. Hischier is incredibly valuable in all situations, which he proved tonight, playing over 6:30 on both the power play and penalty kill. If the Devils are going to maintain their playoff position, they need Hischier to continue dominating all three zones of the ice, in all situations of the game, just like he did tonight. The Devils have Hischier under contract through 2027 so along with Hughes the Devils have an incredible 1-2 punch down the middle for this season, as well as the next five, at a minimum. Not only are the Devils in position to compete in the playoff this year, but the next five years as well, at least.
Anytime you take nine penalties, you are going to need your goalie to be your best player. Vanecek did not allow a single goal in nine penalty kill situations. He allowed one goal on a Evgeni Malkin breakaway and one goal off of his own teammates skate. Under a lot of pressure in short handed situations, Vanecek stood on his head, giving his team a chance to win. In 24 games so far this season Vanecek now has 13 wins, a save percentage of .911 and a goal against average of 2.38. He is the average to above average goaltending the Devils habve been search for in each of the last several years. Tonight, he was well above average and was one of the biggest reasons the Devils were able to get two points while preventing the Penguins from getting even one point.
My last blog was me panicking about the state of the season. However, if the Devils can beat division leading Hurricanes on New Years Day, then get hot again over the first week of January, the Devils will be looking much more like a serious contender. You can follow me on Twitter t PatBoooooth.