Have you heard the news? The New Jersey Devils are a wagon. In a highly-anticipated matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the hockey mecca of the world, the Devils came out on top with a 3-2 overtime win to extend their winning streak to 11 games. The victory may have been the Devils’ most impressive of this run, as they controlled the game at five-on-five and leaned on their defense to lock down the Maple Leafs’ top guns for an impressive road win.
Devils Relied on Their Defense
The Maple Leafs may not have the forward depth they’ve had in recent seasons, but they still have one of the best top-six groups in the league. There aren’t many teams that can match up against Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares and Mitch Marner. But the Devils are one of them, with their defense coming to the forefront last night.
The Devils have been one of the best five-on-five teams in the NHL this season, but so have the Maple Leafs. Both teams can play with pace and have high-end scorers, so a shootout wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. That’s not how the game played out, however.
Even though the Maple Leafs had five power plays (more on that in a second), most of the game ended up getting played at five-on-five. The Devils stood up to the task, holding the Maple Leafs to just 1.3 expected goals. When looking at the heat map from Natural Stat Trick, they did a great job of limiting the Maple Leafs’ grade-A chances from the slot and high-danger areas when the game was at five-on-five:
The Maple Leafs didn’t score a five-on-five goal, as both of their tallies came at different game states; Matthews scored on the power play, while Nylander’s goal game at 6-on-5. And the Maple Leafs’ lack of chances isn’t just because the Devils played well defensively. Their offense had plenty to do with it, as their ability to dominate puck possession prevented the Maple Leafs from getting out on the rush to create any chances of their own.
The penalty kill also played a significant role in helping the Devils pull off the win. After giving up a power-play goal to Matthews in the first period, they killed off the next four Maple Leafs’ power plays, including two in the final frame.
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The Devils held the Maple Leafs to just eight shot attempts on the power play and a measly 0.33 expected goals. They even generated 0.23 expected goals shorthanded, turning some stout defensive work into a bit of offense a man down. Their all-around defensive effort came through, and it exemplified how they’ve found different ways to win during this 11-game spell.
Other Devils Takeaways
Vanecek Keeps Rolling
Yes, the Devils did make life relatively easy for goaltender Vitek Vanecek, but he still played quite well. He gave up two goals on 1.84 expected goals, but his performance was better than the numbers suggest. Matthews’ goal came on a perfect pass from Michael Bunting, and Nylander’s marker took an unfortunate deflection off Jonas Siegenthaler’s stick to tie the game.
Other than two goals that Vanecek didn’t have too much chance of stopping, he was rock solid. He made 25 saves on 27 shots, good for a .926 save percentage. He’s now 8-0-0 during the Devils’ 11-game winning streak and has an SV% of .933. His SV% for the season sits at .916, which is much more than the Devils could’ve asked for when they acquired him from the Washington Capitals in July.
Hughes & Hischier Dominated
In a game featuring star power, the Devils needed their stars to show up and outplay the Maple Leafs’ top guns, even with the team’s defensive effort. Their big names showed up, as Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier outdueled Matthews and co. last night.
Hughes finished with only one point — an assist — but it was a big one. After a turnover of his own, he made a great read in overtime to intercept a pass from a tired John Tavares, who was out for an extended shift. He then drove to the net and fired a shot on goal that Matt Murray saved, but Yegor Sharangovich was there to clean up the rebound for the game-winner. Hughes finished with a game score of 2.39, ranked third among all skaters — Maple Leafs included.
Hischier performed even better, as his game score of 2.59 led all skaters. He had a wicked wrist shot on a 2-on-1 in the second period to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. And some of his puck work on the cycle was nearly impossible for Maple Leafs skaters to defend. Even on the rush, he was dangling defenders and creating scoring chances. He’s playing with that kind of confidence right now:
The Devils are getting contributions from just about everyone during this run, but their star players are playing like star players. When Hughes, Hischier, and Jesper Bratt, who had a goal and is up to 22 points in 17 games, it will be difficult for teams to beat them consistently.
- Sharangovich had a fantastic game, so it was good to see him get the ultimate reward with the game-winning goal in overtime. His game score of 2.15 was the second-best of his 2022-23 season, and he played very well at five-on-five. He fired four shots on goal at that game state and finished with an 80.23 xG%. He entered last night on a six-game point drought, so perhaps that effort gets him going.
- Siegenthaler logged most of his minutes against the Matthews line at five-on-five, and has been the case throughout most of his Devils tenure, he held an opponent’s top line in check. The Devils won the xG battle with him on the ice against the Matthews line and did not allow a goal against them at five-on-five. If there were a poster boy for the Devils’ defensive effort last night, Siegenthaler would be it.
- Erik Haula may be cursed beyond belief when it comes to goal-scoring, but he’s still finding ways to contribute. He had a beautiful primary assist on Bratt’s goal and had a strong game at five-on-five, finishing with a 77.84 xG%. His game score of 2.44 ranked second among all skaters from both teams. He’ll eventually score a goal, but at least he’s having a positive impact and helping the team win in other ways.
- Though Hischier is the primary driver on the top line, his linemates are perfect complements. Last night, it was Fabian Zetterlund who made an impact. His work to muscle off Jordie Benn to create the 2-on-1 that Hischier scored on encapsulates the type of player he is. He has some skill but will do the dirty work to generate chances when he has to. He finished second on the team in xG% at 82.23 and continues to perform at a high level alongside Hischier and Tomáš Tatar.
The Devils close out their Eastern Canada swing with a Saturday matinee against the Ottawa Senators, who they beat in an overtime thriller just a week ago. If the Devils extend their winning streak to 12, they’ll be one short of tying the franchise record of 13 consecutive wins.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017