“The great teams find a way to win.” – Allan Ray
The New Jersey Devils stole two points on Jan. 22 when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime. It marked the first time this season the Devils played in three consecutive games decided past regulation. They beat the San Jose Sharks in a shootout on Jan. 16 and fell to the Seattle Kraken in overtime three nights later.
Dougie Hamilton netted his fourth game-winning goal of the season and eighth career overtime game-winning goal in front of a sold-out crowd at Prudential Center on Sunday afternoon. A little over two minutes into overtime the blueliner blasted a one-timer past Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry to secure his team’s seventh win of the month of January.
New Jersey Still Looking to Improve
It is no secret that the Devils have not been playing their best hockey as of late. After the team’s overtime loss to the Kraken head coach Lindy Ruff bluntly said, “we’re not happy with the way we’re playing.” Between sluggish starts and poor puck management, he continued to say there are things that have to change and the team has been trending in that direction.
Throughout the season the Devils have done a good job of keeping each other accountable and holding themselves to a higher standard than in past seasons. Media members heard it during the team’s 13-game winning streak, and again after earning nine points out of a possible 10 on their most recent five-game road trip. They remain at the top of the league standings with their 30 wins being the most earned by any team in the Metropolitan Division.
It’s refreshing for fans to see the team so critical of their play considering where they are in the standings. Over the past few months, the Devils have evolved from a team that had a surprising start to a legitimately competitive club. Even so, Ruff and his players aren’t fully satisfied and it shows a new standard has been set.
Puck Luck Finally Working in the Devils Favor
The Devils’ record for the month of December was 4-7-2. There were multiple games where the club deserved a better outcome, but the bounces were not working in New Jersey’s favor. It’s when things are not going a team’s way that fans hear players and coaches use the term “puck luck”. It’s seldomly heard when the team is on a winning streak, but anyone who watched the Devils’ most recent couple of games, knows luck was on the club’s side.
During the second period of last night’s game versus the Penguins, Ruff’s team only registered two shots on goal courtesy of Jesper Bratt and Ryan Graves. The visiting team dominated play and kept New Jersey hemmed in their own zone for the majority of play. It’s a game that the Devils did not necessarily deserve to win and throughout multiple stretches, the team looked exhausted. Afterward, Hamilton spoke to the media and talked about how fatigue became a factor for his club.
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“There are no excuses but definitely would say so, but we did a good job battling and Vanecek was unreal and kept us in it throughout the whole game,” he said.
Despite it not being the club’s best performance, the Devils continue to find ways to win. As Damon Severson and Ruff have previously stated, every night won’t be a Picasso. At the end of the day, this is a league that is all about winning and is results-based. As long as Ruff’s team can earn a point or two a night, the rest can be worked on accordingly during practice.
Devils’ Reminded of How Important Competent Goaltending Is
New Jersey’s game versus Pittsburgh served as a friendly reminder of how important it is for a team to have competent goaltending. Vitek Vanecek was the undisputed best player on the ice for the Devils making 25 saves on 26 shots and earning a .962 save percentage. He talked to the media about that tough second period where the Penguins had an 11-2 shot advantage.
“It’s always one period that is harder and the goalie has to step up and make the save,” said Vanecek after the game. “They helped me in the first and then in overtime.”
The 27-year-old earned a career-high seven-game win streak after last night’s victory and became one of six goaltenders in franchise history to achieve that accomplishment. Through the first 46 games of the season, he has emerged as the team’s go-to player in the crease and the netminder fans have been waiting for.
The Devils will be off on Jan. 23 and will return to Prudential Center on Wednesday, Jan. 24 for a 10:30 a.m. morning skate before hosting the Vegas Golden Knights who have a record of 29-17-2 and sit at the top of the Pacific Division. New Jersey will look to continue to find ways to win as they pursue a playoff appearance for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
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.