The New Jersey Devils come out of this weekend without suffering a regulation loss during their four-game home stand, in which they went 3-0-1. New Jersey played some formidable opponents in the Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, and managed to outscore them 12-8. This weekend, the Devils went 1-0-1 in back-to-back contests, losing a 3-2 heartbreaker in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks (and backup Keith Kinkaid’s season debut) on Friday before evening their season series with the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1 win). While the Devils made some considerable strides forward in aspects like secondary scoring, face-offs, and special team play, they still have some work to do moving forward. Here are some notes and observations from last weekend’s matchups…
Penalties…Discipline has been a nagging issue for the Devils, and continued this weekend. The Devils took ten minutes-worth of penalties against Chicago, including a double minor by Vernon Fiddler, which the Hawks used to tie the game with under three minutes in the third. Even against the Lightning, the Devils accumulated 13 penalty minutes that came in the form of four minors and one fighting major by Sergey Kalinin, while the Lightning limited their shorthanded time to two minutes. The Devils are currently the sixth most-penalized team in the Eastern Conference, and have committed the six-most minor penalties in their conference. Friday night’s game wasn’t the first where their undisciplined play spoiled a late-game lead for them, and it certainly won’t be the last if this doesn’t change.
Face-offs…Coming out of the weekend, the Devils are 15th in face-offs among NHL teams (49.5%), but had polarized results in that department in their last two contests. While they struggled mightily against the Hawks in face-offs going 43%, the Devils had much better results against the Bolts in last night’s contest when they bested them in the face-off dot by going 54%. Travis Zajac (50.6%), Vernon Fiddler (53.3%), and Jacob Josefson (66.7%) have spearheaded New Jersey’s early season success in the face-off dot, where the team finished 29th in the league last year. It’d be hard to say their improvement down the middle isn’t reflecting in their overall play, and goes to show how subtle changes in departments that don’t show up on the score sheet can have early positive ramifications on a team’s play. Hopefully this trend persists throughout the season.
Secondary scoring…As of writing this, the Devils are 26th in scoring, and were 30th going into Friday night’s game. While their bump in the scoring ranks really isn’t much to brag about, the way New Jersey achieved it certainly is because it came from their secondary scoring. Before this weekend’s matchup, only five players scored for New Jersey- Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, PA Parenteau, Travis Zajac. This is reminiscent of the issue that plagued last year’s forward lines when the vast majority of their scoring output came from the same four or five players. Three of the five goals the Devils scored last weekend came from defensemen and 7th-12th forwards (John Moore, Damon Severson, DSP), and were each significant. Moore gave New Jersey the go-ahead against the Blackhawks, while Severson scored the game-winner in last night’s matchup. Smith-Pelly’s goal was his first this season, and extended his point streak to three games.