Before the New Jersey Devils hit the ice, goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and forward Jimmy Vesey exchanged a subtle smile in the tunnel. The team looked loose and ready to earn two points against the Philadelphia Flyers, who were desperate to celebrate a win. To the delight of the home crowd the game ended in a dominant 5-2 win for New Jersey. Forward Andreas Johnsson had four points on the night, while Blackwood made 23 saves on 25 shots. Here are some takeaways from the Devils ninth win of the season.
Vesey Keeps Earning the Trust of the Coaching Staff
Vesey continues to be an intriguing storyline this season. The 28-year-old signed a professional tryout with the Devils on Sep. 14, 2021. A little over two months later, and he led all Devils forwards with 21:08 of ice time. Head coach Lindy Ruff rewarded Vesey by utilizing him on the top line with Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier. It appears the Massachusetts native has fully embraced his role with the organization, and has been exceeding expectations.
“I think Jimmy has played well, and we moved him up [the lineup],” said coach Ruff. “I have used him killing penalties, and he has done a really good job for us. He has accepted his role, and he is the type of guy that is hungry. He likes his role and has accepted it. He’s played well.”
Hamilton Continues to Perform as Advertised
Defenseman Dougie Hamilton continues to impress coaching staff and fans each time he hits the ice. Last night he registered a team leading 10 shots on goal, scoring the first goal of the night in the first period. After the game Mike Morreale asked the Devils’ head coach if Hamilton has come as advertised.
“Well tonight he had nine shots after two periods,” said coach Ruff. “It is amazing how he can put himself in position on a 2-on-1 to get there, read the play and be able to be up ice. That’s a special gift on his part.”
The 6-foot-6 Toronto native leads all defensemen with six goals and 12 points. At the quarter mark of the season, it is clear that general manager Tom Fitzgerald’s decision to lock up Hamilton will be remembered as one of the best moves he made for his organization. He is third among all defensemen in goals behind Cale Makar and Roman Josi.
How Swede It Is in New Jersey
Both Johnsson and Jesper Bratt have found their game, and have been playing a crucial role for the team. They each have a team-leading 17 points, and make up the Devils best line along with rookie Dawson Mercer. It is hard to believe Bratt was struggling to find the back of the net at the beginning of the season. Johnsson has at least a point in 11 of the Devils 19 games played this season. Coach Ruff believes Mercer may be the reason both players have performed so well.
“I think Mercer has been a real good fit for [Johnsson],” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said after the game. “That line has a little bit of everything. … Bratt’s speed, Dawson’s creativity and Andreas feels good about his game. His desperation has been great because I think he really likes who he’s playing with.”
Nathan Bastian made his triumphant return to Prudential Center, and subsequently celebrated his second goal of the season. Hamilton got the puck from Michael McLeod and quickly passed it to Bastian who shot the puck into virtually an empty net. Bastian was excited the Devils claimed him off of waivers and brought him back home. It is clear his teammates are very happy to have the 6-foot-4 forward back in the Devils’ logo.
“Everyone loves him here and talks so highly of him,” said Hamilton. “We are lucky to have him back and he has been great so far. He’s very positive and brings a lot of energy and is a really good guy.” Johnsson added, “It feels like we are getting a family member back.”
The Devils played a complete team game, and continue to show what they can do when they play their system. Jack Hughes is inching closer to his return, and there is plenty to be happy about if you’re a Devils fan. The team is off today and will face the San Jose Sharks tomorrow at Prudential Center.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.