On Saturday, the New Jersey Devils defeated Minnesota by an OT score of 2-1. The very competitive game included an exciting finish–Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique teaming up for a perfect give-and-go to allow Hall to beat the still moving goaltender Devan Dubnyk through the five hole. The second straight home sellout Prudential Center crowd erupted and Hall was named the game’s first star.
Thus far this season, Hall has posted three goals, and he has the game-winning goals in each of the Devils two home victories. But, scoring goals is not all that Hall can do. Both in Windsor, during his junior career, and in Edmonton in the NHL, Hall has been more of a playmaking winger. It was fellow teammate Adam Henrique who was more of the goal scorer in junior.
So while everyone is focusing on Hall himself, we have only just begun to see what Hall and Henrique are capable of together. For two junior years, the two lit up the OHL, and there is no reason to believe that, over the course of the season, it will be any different here in New Jersey.
While you are pondering this, think about the fact that Hall and Henrique are not the only threats that the Devils have this season. PA Parenteau, who was picked up on waivers from the Islanders after being the dropped as first-line winger to John Tavares, has been playing with a chip on his shoulder. Parenteau, a 33-year old right winger, has two goals and one assist in five games thus far, and has previously proven that he can put up the points in certain situations. The issue with Parenteau is that he is not particularly fast, but he can both score and playmake from the wing. Ironically, New Jersey may be the perfect place for Parenteau, where he is a complementary player, with lower expectations placed upon him than there would have been on the Island.
When you add the likes of forwards Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, Michael Cammalleri and Pavel Zacha to the mix, there is firepower on this team. Although it is true that Cammalleri may be at the tail end of his career, and Zacha hardly started, there is potential scoring in more than just the top two lines in New Jersey. Plus, the addition of 27-year old Johann Auvitu on the back end has made an almost immediate impact offensively. Auvitu, who can also play on the wing, has an outstanding shot and good instincts. Not big, but able to skate well around the ice, Auvitu moves the puck extremely well. It will take some time for him to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface, but Auvitu just might be the power play quarterback that the Devils will need going forward.
So, while we have been hearing the name Hall aplenty over the last few weeks, and it is he that is providing the excitement that is drawing fans to the Rock, Hall is not the only player making this team competitive. The whole team looks hungrier on the ice and more players are taking chances with the puck.
The statistics bear this out too. New Jersey currently has a 2-2-1 record, with eight goals for and nine goals against the team in five games. Although it is true that the most the team has scored is two goals per game (and of the eight goals, three were scored by Hall), at least one noticeable statistic indicates that the team is performing well. The team is currently averaging 29.4 shots per game, about average for an NHL team. Last season’s Devils put only 24.4 shots on goal per game, a total that was last (that’s right, 30th) in the league. No shots on goal, no goals, obviously.
With a consistent 29 or more shots on goal per game, this team should put up two or more goals per game (a number that Schneider can work with).
We will have to watch over the coming weeks, but we admit that we may have underestimated this team. Now, I am not saying that New Jersey is anywhere near a Cup contender at this point, but if the plan this year is to try to make the playoffs, and Hall and Schneider stay healthy, there is a chance that Ray Shero and group may be able to announce at the end of the season, “Mission Accomplished.”