Just like that the New Jersey Devils are back in the win column. On Nov. 25 the club earned their 17th win of the season beating the Buffalo Sabres by a final score of 3-1. They now sit at the top of the Metropolitan Division with 34 points and a record of 17-4-0.
One of the biggest differences between last season and this one is the Devils’ depth at all positions. They are getting contributions up and down their lineup and as Erik Haula stated a few weeks ago, everyone is pulling on the same rope. It all started with the coaching staff being able to successfully roll four lines.
A Four Line Effort in New Jersey
Over the past few games head coach Lindy Ruff has made tweaks to his forward group, but the results have been overwhelmingly positive regardless of where players end up. Let’s break down the lines that the coaching staff deployed against the Sabres.
First Line: Tomas Tatar – Nico Hischier – Jesper Bratt
Jesper Bratt leads the team with 25 points in 21 games. At this juncture he has collected more points than Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews, and Alex Ovechkin. Captain Nico Hischier leads his team with nine goals and is an early candidate for the Selke Trophy, which is an award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. Veteran Tomas Tatar is playing some of his best hockey in recent seasons already earning 13 points through 21 games. His seven-game point streak was a career-high for the 31-year-old and he has been a threat offensively each time he’s been on the ice.
Second Line: Erik Haula – Jack Hughes – Dawson Mercer
Erik Haula may only have eight points on the season, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he is not contributing to the team. His 58.1 faceoff win percentage is the best on the team and he is utilized on both the penalty kill and power play. Jack Hughes has 22 points in 21 games and is quietly putting together another impressive season. The Devils are also 7-0-0 when he scores a goal. Finally, Dawson Mercer has now officially played in 103 consecutive games and has three points over his last three games.
Third Line: Yegor Sharangovich – Jesper Boqvist – Fabian Zetterlund
Historically, fans know that Yegor Sharangovich usually starts the season a little slow, but he has officially arrived and is currently riding a five-game point streak. Jesper Boqvist scored the team’s second goal versus the Sabres and while he hasn’t been putting up a ton of offensive numbers he has been defensively solid. At 23 years old Fabian Zetterlund has helped soften the blow of losing Ondrej Palat to injury and has four points in his last five games.
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Fourth Line: Miles Wood – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian
The “BMW Line” or “Impact Line” has been phenomenal for the Devils. Against the Sabres they combined for 10 shots on goal and five hits. The trio provides energy each time they are on the ice and will battle their opponent’s top lines. There have been nights this season where they helped propel their team to a win like their 4-3 victory against the Edmonton Oilers where they combined for five points.
Devils Can Withstand Their Injuries
One of the biggest obstacles the team could not overcome last season was the number of injuries they dealt with. The Devils went through 22 forwards, 12 defensemen, and seven goaltenders. At the conclusion of the season defenseman Ryan Graves talked about the injuries saying it was not an excuse, but a reality.
This season the Devils are not dealing with the same amount of injuries, but there are key players out like Mackenzie Blackwood and Ondrej Palat. The difference is that because of the team’s depth, the injuries have not been a major storyline of the 2022-23 campaign.
Akira Schmid has seamlessly settled in as Vitek Vanecek’s backup while Blackwood has been sidelined with an MCL sprain. The 22-year-old has a record of 4-0-0 and there is a visible improvement from last season to this one as he looks more comfortable in the crease. Regardless if it’s Vanecek or Schmid in the starter’s net there is confidence that the team will get reliable goaltending that will put them in a position to win the game.
Palat was a huge offseason acquisition for Devils’ general manager Tom Fitzgerald. The veteran was going to bolster the team’s top-six and have an immediate impact both on the ice and in the locker room. After six games he suffered a groin injury and has been held out of the lineup since. The injury allowed Zetterlund to jump in and he has performed extremely well and is currently a top-10 rookie in the league. Like Schmid, he came in and softened the blow of what could have been a massive injury to Ruff’s forward group.
Tonight the Devils will look to build off of their win against the Sabres and make it two in a row with a victory over the Washington Capitals. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for all your game updates as New Jersey seeks its 18th win of the 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.