Whatever system the coaching staff has instituted, it is working so far for the Devils. New Jersey has gone 1-0-1 in their first two games against last year’s President’s Cup winner Boston Bruins. On Thursday, the Devils lost 2-1 in a shootout and yesterday, they won 3-2 in OT. But its not just that the team was rewarded three points out of the four available, its how the team looked on the ice. Especially considering what was expected of New Jersey this season, and the fact that Nico Hischier is out and neither of Jesper Bratt nor Sami Vatanen have arrived.
After playing a very weak first period in Thursday’s game, the Devils have been tremendous since. It is not that the team played errorless hockey since the bad first 20 minutes, but it is that they executed what was necessary to limit Boston’s chances and maximize their own. That plus the total effort from top to bottom of the lineup, made the team competitive. All combined with the new system of four players up when possible makes this a very exciting team.
When you pick it apart though, there have been some specific standouts: First, netminder Mackenzie Blackwood, who gave up only two goals on 37 shots on Thursday and one goal out of 28 today. That’s a ridiculous 95.0 % save percentage.
Then there is 2019’s first overall selection, Jack Hughes, who seems to have grown after a good, but unspectacular rookie season in 2019-20. He already has three assists in the two games and has the most ice time of any forward in each. He appears to be gaining confidence period by period, and there is no question that he has amazing skills with the puck.
But Hughes’s success is not his alone–his other two linemates also have stood out too. Russian NHL rookie winger Yegor Sharangovich potted the game winner yesterday. Drafted in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2018 draft after performing extremely well in the World Juniors that year (five points in six games), the 20-year-old was already playing in the KHL. And he was already showing excellent hockey sense, strength, and skating ability. With this fifth round pick, the Devils appear to have gotten a steal. Currently on Hughes’s left wing (and is expected to remain on the wing), Sharangovich’s natural position is at center. Yesterday, Sharangovich scored the game winner with less than 2 seconds left in OT, off an incredible, behind-the-back, blind pass from defenseman Damon Severson.
It was Kyle Palmieri, a veteran leader on this team and Hughes’s other winger, who started the final play with a leading pass to Severson. With Hischier and Bratt out of action, it is Palmieri that gets sent out by the coaching staff in every important situation. And thus far (except for one expensive giveaway in the first game), he has answered the bell.
Another standout yesterday, and really in both games, was Miles Wood. Wood is a really interesting story. A fourth round 2013 pick, at age 25, Wood is coming into his own. He is not big, but plays big. He already has two goals, two goalie interference penalties, and one fight. Although it may be true that the goalie interference penalties may have cost the Devils an outright win in the first game, Wood was establishing much more than losing what turned out to be one point. Wood is what every team wants and needs, a guy who goes to the net, who is a threat offensively, but also is a general all-around pest. He has no problem answering the bell when a tough guy wants to fight him (even when he knows that he will be overmatched like he was against Kevan Miller in the first minute of the game yesterday), and is willing to stick up for teammates while still scoring goals.
In a nutshell, the Devils are extremely well coached and on the right track. There is no question that they will have off nights, but overall, they may really surprise all of us as well as their division opponents this season.