With the first 13 games in the books, the New Jersey Devils are only five points out of sitting in fourth in the MassMutual East Division. One of the things New Jersey has done recently is tightening up the hockey club’s power play. Marco Recchi has found ways recently to get players in the past few games since the first few back after the two-week quarantine. Coach Lindy Ruff has made it known that his team needed to rethink their strategy after taking a COVID-19 hiatus.
So far, the Devils have beaten the Rangers and Bruins, both done in close contests since making their return. Despite New Jersey’s losses to Buffalo and the Washington Capitals, one of the key concerns I had after watching both is that a few of their defenders misread on the power play and they only seemed less informed by coach Alain Nasreddine when it came to the penalty kill. Just recently, I spoke with an anonymous source, inquiring about the state of New Jersey’s PK coaching, meaning that person sees a personnel amendment in the replacement of Alain Nasreddine.
As of February 22nd, the Devils currently have 14 points as well as a win percentage of .538. New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald was named the new captain ahead of Saturday’s matchup. Back in Hischier’s draft year, not only did he stand out during the World Juniors, but his character and play from the old Cherry vs. Orr Prospects game at that time stood out to me as well. His interview on NBCSN back in 2017 outside Bridgestone Arena made me think of him as a future captain and that is what made me think that former GM Ray Shero and Tom Fitzgerald made the right decision in selecting the centreman.
What head coach Lindy Ruff mentioned in one of his recent press conferences was that Nico Hischier has the energy and work ethic, but his endurance isn’t quite there yet after being injured before the season began, which saw him playing games back home in Switzerland. Nico Hischier doesn’t have to worry too much about anchoring the first line because Jack Hughes has been absolute dynamite on that first line for the New Jersey Devils. If Hischier can get something going soon, while the Devils third and fourth lines start to click, this means the offence will be unstoppable.
The Devils defence, since Vatanen and Murray both returned to the lineup, has looked a little loose defensively. On the contrary, prior to that, New Jersey’s defence as a whole has improved immensely over the past season. Lindy Ruff’s style of coaching has allowed his team to play more physical, gritty, aggressive and very exciting.
Mackenzie Blackwood has shown he can not only steal games, but dominate opponents as well. The Devils have been much sharper under him and the backstop should be up for a Vezina. Aaron Dell didn’t win against the Washington Capitals this past weekend, but he certainly made some very key saves and kept the Devils within a one goal margin despite being pulled for the extra attacker. Nikita Gusev did score on the six-man attack, getting rid of the heavy weights on his shoulders.
New Jersey has the right leadership structure in place, but one small tweak or two will really benefit them on the penalty kill. Once the Devils begin clicking on the penalty kill, they’ll be a true powerhouse, as they grow during their progression looking onward.