The Devils are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, have the most wins in the Metropolitan division, and are never out of a game as dramatic comebacks and overtime wins are becoming routine in the Garden State.
The Devils have gone to overtime in four consecutive games and are 3-1 in those games, with the only loss being in Seattle on Thursday night. Dougie Hamilton has overtime goals in back to back games and Jack Hughes remains on fire with 11 points in his last six games played. Vitek Vanecek has won his last eight starts and now has a save percentage of .916 and a goals against average of 2.30 in 31 games played. There is no way around it, anyway you slice it, no matter how you look at it, the Devils are an elite team and a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.
Vanecek made 28 saves on 30 shots tonight to earn his 20th win of the season and his 8th win in a row. Tom Fitzgerald acquired Vanecek, and a second round pick, in exchange for a second and third round pick. What an absolute steal. The Devils got a legitimate top end starting goalie in exchange for a third round pick and swapping second round picks. The Taylor Hall “one for one” trade has become famous but I think the Vanecek deal was a much bigger steal for New Jersey. Vitek is putting up solid numbers and keeping the Devils in games when they are pinned in their zone and not able to establish an offensive rhythm, as he did for much of the second and third periods tonight. The Devils were able to fix their biggest issue from last season and all it really cost was a third round pick. As great as the Devils offense has been, and we’ll get to that in a minute, it wouldn’t matter if they were still getting the low quality goaltending we have had to endure for the last 5 years. Vitek Vanecek is incredible and Tom Fitzgerald is a hero for stealing him from a divisional rival for pennies on the dollar.
Dougie Hamilton’s last three goals are an OT winner, a game typing goal with under 90 seconds remaining, and another OT winner. With his overtime winner tonight, Dougie now has five game winning goals on the season. Hamilton is arguably one of the most clutch scorers in the league and he’s a defenseman. He now has 42 points (13G 29A) in 47 games played, which is a remarkable difference over his 30 points in 62 games played last year. It’s incredible what a positive difference a lack of injuries can make. Not only has Dougie been a weapon offensively, but he has been outstanding defensively lately as well. I don’t have video clips for this handy but Hamilton has solidly defended multiple odd man rushes in recent games and has started to play more physical, which was always my biggest criticism of his game. Hamilton is playing like an all around elite two way defenseman right now and the Devils are so much better for it.
Jack Hughes didn’t score a goal tonight but that doesn’t mean he didn’t radically impact the result of this game. With two assists, Hughes now has 21 points in his last 11 games played and a total of 60 points in just 47 games so far this season. The way he fought through a body check into the boards to get off a perfect backhand pass to set up the overtime winner shows that Hughes is ready for playoff hockey. He is ready for the intensity and physicality to go to the next level and he is ready to thrive in that environment. Hughes is a threat to create a scoring chance every second that his blades are on the ice and even though everyone in the league knows this, he still can’t be stopped. As PK Subban said over and over again on ESPN tonight, Jack Hughes is a legit MVP candidate. PK is spot on an there really isn’t a strong case against that. Jack Hughes is one of the the three most valuable players to his team so far this season along with Connor McDavid and maybe Tage Thompson.
The Devils are smoking hot right now and competing for a division title with a realistic chance at a deep playoff run. As we approach the All Star break and trade deadline, I don’t think it’s controversial the Devils should be buyers this year. Timo Meier and Bo Horvat are the biggest names the Devils should be targeting but how much should the Devils be willing to give up to add these pieces? I’ll be addressing that in the next week, so keep an eye out for that blog. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth. Let’s Go Devils.