The New Jersey Devils are heading back home today with two more points accredited to their name in the standings after last night’s 2-1 hard-fought victory over the New York Islanders. The most memorable moment of the night came at the hands of Nico Hischier, who barreled his way to the net and put home what would end up being the game-winning goal less than two minutes into the third period.
Key to Victory for the Devils
One of the main reasons why New Jersey was able to walk away with their third straight victory last night was because of their goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood. After struggling to start the season on the right foot, the 23-year-old goalie has seemed to find his footing in the team’s last nine games. In the month of December, Blackwood improved his save percentage by five percent since the beginning of the season, from a mediocre 87% to a respectable 92% in December. He also improved his goals-against average significantly over the last few months, decreasing the October average of 3.31 to 2.43 in December.
Although the Devils have allowed the league’s third-most amount of goals, we stated in our preview that it would be a low scoring game because of the lack of scoring production for both teams. However, it was the efforts of the Devil’s goalie that allowed two goals to be enough for his team to win the game. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Blackwood stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced against the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. He was all over the crease the entire night, but the save of the game came 8:31 into the third period when the Devils’ netminder used his blocker to get a whistle after a hectic sequence in the defensive zone.
The slap shot by Islanders’ defenseman Johnny Boychuck was redirected in front by his teammate, Anthony Beauvillier, which left the puck rolling freely in the crease until Blackwood quickly covered it with his blocker. If it weren’t for the great hockey senses of the Devils’ goalie, the Islanders could’ve easily tied the game up at two goals apiece, turning the momentum of the game back in their favor. New York would later pull their goalie to try and tie the game back up with a man advantage, but New Jersey only allowed three shots on goal within the last two minutes of the game, thanks to their three blocked shots in that time span.
Production from Key Players
Besides the outstanding efforts in goal, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and Nico Hischier each played a major part in New Jersey’s victory Thursday night. Subban buried his fourth goal of the season to tie the game at one in the waning minutes of the second period. He also led all defensemen in shots on goal (four) for the night. Gusev had a hand in P.K.’s goal, grabbing an assist while finishing second in shots on goal (three) out of all the Devils’ forwards for the night. Hischier was the man with the game-winning goal after he drove to the net after winning the faceoff and barreling around Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov. He was also tied with Kyle Palmieri for leading forwards in shots (four).
If the Devils expect to continue this much-needed win streak, they must get consistent production from these key players. When Devils’ general manager Ray Shero traded for Subban and Gusev this past offseason, he and the rest of the fan base expected the two to put up big numbers, similar to what they put up against the Islanders last night. Even though the season is about halfway over and both players have overwhelmingly underperformed, there is still time left for the duo to build off performances like this and develop into their true “star” forms.
They will have their opportunity to shine again Saturday night at The Rock against the second-best team in the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche.