The New Jersey Devils played their best hockey of the season last night. Their 7-1 victory – which was the largest of the season – gave fans a much-needed Devils’ Christmas present heading into the mandatory three-day break. With the victory, the Devils improved to 12-19-5.
Interestingly enough, the Chicago Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. Zack Smith was able to finally put the puck home after Mackenzie Blackwood made two great original saves. Rookie Jack Hughes answered back and ended his 18-game goal drought with a beautiful snipe of a shot in close on Crawford (see below). At the end of the first period, the score was 1-1.
The second period is when the Devils put the game away. They scored four goals, three being at even strength and one shorthanded. P.K. Subban got the scoring going, as he ended a long goal-less drought of his own. Damon Severson, John Hayden, and Travis Zajac (shorthanded) also scored, bringing the Devils run to five unanswered goals by the end of period two.
The Devils added two more goals in the third period. Blake Coleman scored a partial breakaway goal just 18 seconds into the period, while Pavel Zacha scored off a nice wrist shot in the slot with under two minutes remaining. These two goals completed a run of seven unanswered goals to get to the final score of 7-1.
Blackwood – who rebounded nicely after a rough start against Washington – made 32 saves on 33 shots for the win. Blackhawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford was credited with the loss after making on 16 stops on 20 shots. He was relieved by Robin Lehner, who also had a large workload, making 21 saves on 24 shots. The final shots on goal for the game were 44-33 in favor of New Jersey.
- Nikita Gusev was brilliant and has been the Devils’ most consistent forward as of late. He tallied three assists last night, four shots, and an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 77.22, which was third on the team. He now has 20 points on the season (5G, 15A), which is second on the team. It is safe to say after some early-season struggles, Gusev has finally adjusted to North American ice.
- Mackenzie Blackwood showed the game against the Washington Capitals was just a fluke. After getting pulled after making just 21 saves on 26 Capitals’ shots two games ago, and getting the night off against the Blue Jackets, he rebounded nicely. Given the Devils are basically out of the playoff race, the rest of the year should be used for evaluation. And Blackwood’s performance will be one of the most important aspects.
- The Devils completely dominated. They led the Blackhawks in all aspects of the game, and by a wide margin. In all situations, shot attempts were 72-61, and they also had an xGF% of 63.74%. The above heat map shows how dominant the Devils were on the offensive side of the ice, as well as how they did not give up a large majority of high-danger chances. Before the season, tonight’s performance is how many envisioned the Devils to play. Hopefully, they can build on this performance and pick it back up after the Christmas break.
- Damon Severson has been largely underwhelming thus far this season. However, last night – both offensively and defensively – may have been his best performance of the season. He racked up three points (1G, 2A), and was second among Devils’ defensemen with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 57.89% and an xGF% of 77.04. He contributed this stellar output while leading the team in ice time, playing over 25 minutes, so this was certainly encouraging to see.
Next Game: Friday the 20th, vs. Washington