Welcome to the New Jersey Devils 3 Up, 3 Down for the 2022-23 season. This will be a weekly column released on Mondays, chronicling the highs and lows of the previous seven days.
The New Jersey Devils are currently the hottest team in the NHL, with a record of 9-1-0 in their last 10 games. After an 0-2 start, the club has come together, riding a six-game win streak, and they returned to New Jersey after sweeping their three-game Western Canada road trip.
Here’s a look at some of the good and bad from the week that was for the Devils.
Plus 1: The Emergence & Play of John Marino
If one player has earned MVP honors, it is newly acquired defenseman, John Marino. The 25-year-old leads all skaters on the penalty kill, averaging 3:11 with three points in his last five games. The coaching staff has given him the difficult assignment of defending against the opposition’s biggest offensive threats, and he has been a pleasant surprise overall.
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After the Devils’ victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 30, I caught up with Damon Severson and asked him his thoughts on Marino’s performance thus far.
“He’s just very steady and calm within his game. He makes easy plays and doesn’t get himself into trouble,” Severson said. “… I have a lot of positive things to say about him. If he continues to be steady for us, that’s going to be a real calming presence back there. It’s nice to have.”
Minus 1: Devils Lose Blackwood to Injury
New Jersey was hit with their second injury of the season, losing goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood during the second period of last Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. Head coach Lindy Ruff confirmed that it is a lower-body injury and that the Thunder Bay native met with doctors in Calgary and will meet with doctors in New Jersey on Tuesday.
The Devils recalled Akira Schmid from their American Hockey affiliate ahead of their game against the Calgary Flames (Nov. 8) to back up Vitek Vanecek. The 22-year-old has a 1.97 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in four games for the Comets this season.
Plus 2: The BMW Line
New Jersey’s fourth line of Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, and Miles Wood had themselves a week. They will each start the week on a four-game point streak and played a key role in the Devils’ latest victory over the Oilers, combining for five points. After the Oilers game, Ruff talked to the media about the trio.
“The energy that line brings, the physicality,” Ruff said. “You know, I think Miles’ game is really starting to come to the forefront. His skating, again, is something that you notice every shift.”
The team finally has the depth that they were desperately looking for last season and have been able to roll four lines, which has been a huge reason for their success this season.
Minus 2: Holtz Finds Himself in the Suite
The 20-year-old Swede had an impressive training camp and preseason and earned a spot on the opening-night roster. He scored the team’s first goal of the season on Oct. 13 against the Philadelphia Flyers but has not played since Oct. 25.
Some fans believe Holtz should get playing time over 24-year-old Jesper Boqvist. After the team’s victory over the Colorado Avalanche (Oct. 28), I asked Ruff for his thoughts on Boqvist’s performance, only his second appearance of the 2022-23 season.
“I thought he skated, competed, and there were some battles he got in,” Ruff said. “You know, the speed that he added coming up the ice was really evident.”
What jumped out at me was that Ruff specifically mentioned Boqvist’s speed. He has an advantage over Holtz in that area, who said during development camp that is an area the organization wanted him to improve upon. Boqvist can take faceoffs, can be trusted defensively, and spent 41 seconds shorthanded against the Avalanche. The coaching staff has stressed versatility, and unfortunately for Holtz, his fellow countryman has an advantage, which is why he has earned his ice time.
Plus 3: Jesper Bratt Picks Up Where He Left Off
What else is there to say about Jesper Bratt? He bet on himself by signing a one-year deal this summer and has delivered so far, with 17 points in 12 games, including five points in his last five appearances. The 24-year-old ranks ninth in the league in points and is playing at the same level as David Pastrnak and Matthew Tkachuk.
Minus 3: Haula Has Yet to Score His First Goal
It’s not that Erik Haula has not been a huge contributor for the Devils so far; it’s that he has been snake bitten. Through 12 games, he has four assists. The former Boston Bruins forward has averaged 1:39 of ice time on the power play and leads all forwards shorthanded, averaging 2:32.
He has been extremely efficient in the faceoff circle and leads all Devils with a face-off win percentage of 62.05. Since Ondrej Palat’s injury, he has been building chemistry with Jack Hughes and Bratt. As my colleague Hannah Garfield stated this summer, “Haula performs at his highest level when he has consistent linemates. Things seem to really click for him once he gets the opportunity to build that chemistry.” If fans give Haula a little bit more time, they will see him start to show some scoring consistency.
That does it for the first edition of the Devils’ 3 Up, 3 Down. Hopefully, next week we’ll break down the team’s successful three-game home stand at Prudential Center.