The New Jersey Devils have concluded their first ten games, and boy did they impress. After starting the season 0-2-0, they’ve won seven of their last eight to sit at 7-3-0 and are atop the Metropolitan Division. Ten games aren’t enough to declare a team a legit contender, but there’s a lot to like about how the Devils have played. Here are ten observations from their first ten games.
1. Devils’ 5-on-5 Dominance
Much has been made of the Devils’ dominant five-on-five on play through their first ten games. Their Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 62.54 percent ranks second to the Carolina Hurricanes, while their expected goals percentage (xG%) of 67.37 ranks first.
Not only are their percentages in the top two of the league, but so are their per-60 rates. They’re averaging the second-most shot attempts and the most expected goals per 60. Defensively, the story is much of the game; they’re giving up second-least shot attempts and the least expected goals per 60.
Most of these numbers rival the Hurricanes, who many expect to be a Stanley Cup contender this season. The question for the Devils is, can their five-on-five results last? Especially as their schedule toughens up. Their next three games come against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, which might offer a glimpse of whether this team is ready to compete with playoff contenders this season.
2. Devils Penalty Kill Excelling
Even though they gave up a couple of power-play goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-2 win on Tuesday night, the Devils’ penalty kill has still been among the league’s best. They’re killing off 88.24 percent of the power plays they face, ranked fourth in the NHL. And not only are they killing penalties, but they’ve looked good doing it.
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The Devils are giving up an average of 71.81 shot attempts and 5.19 expected goals per 60 at 4-on-5, ranked third and first in the NHL, respectively. Though they don’t generally look to counterattack when down a man, their two shorthanded goals tie for third-most in the league, along with five other teams.
Even during their struggles in previous years, the Devils always had a reliable penalty kill. It was fair to wonder how it would look with assistant coach Alain Nasreddine parting for the Dallas Stars and Ryan McGill taking over, but it hasn’t missed a beat. Perhaps there are other areas of their game that may regress, but I expect the Devils’ penalty kill to remain a strength this season.
3. Oh Captain, My Captain
The 2021-22 season was a breakout year for Devils captain Nico Hischier, as he finished with 21 goals and 60 points in 70 games — a 70-point pace over 82 games. That strong campaign has carried over into the start of the new season, as he has five goals and 10 points in nine games, which equates to a 45-goal, 91-point pace over 82 games.
Time will tell if Hischier can keep up that scoring rate, but he’s off to a fantastic start. Not only is he scoring, but his defensive game has been outstanding. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek has been pumping the Hischier for the Selke Trophy campaign on recent episodes of 32 Thoughts and The Jeff Marek Show, and he’s got a strong argument for it. Hischier will have to compete with Patrice Bergeron for a Selke, but his defensive impact has been tremendous. And even if he doesn’t end up a Selke finalist, it’s safe to say he has arrived.
4. Devils Power Play Seeing Significant Improvement
After being a liability for most of the last few seasons, the Devils’ power play is turning a corner. Though their man advantage ranks 15th in the NHL with a 22.22 percent success rate, they are generating way more shots and chances than they did under previous assistant coach Mark Recchi’s power play system.
Related: 4 Devils Takeaways From 5-2 Win Over the Canucks
Through ten games, the Devils are averaging 121.41 shot attempts and 10.81 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-4. Those stats rank in the top five of the NHL, with only the New York Rangers averaging more expected goals per 60 minutes than the Devils. Hiring Andrew Brunette has made a significant difference for an anemic power play that needed a spark. If their shot and chance generation keep up, their conversion rate should increase too.
5. Jesper Bratt’s Point Streak
Maybe you expected Jack Hughes to be in this position through ten games. You wouldn’t have been wrong in thinking so, and he’s off to an excellent start himself. But it’s been Jesper Bratt stealing the show offensively, with 16 points during his ten-game point streak to start 2022-23.
Bratt leads the league in five-on-five scoring and is averaging 4.91 points per 60 minutes, which is the best scoring rate among forwards to start the new season. It is a bit early to be taking stock in RAPM charts, which measure a player’s individual impact, but we have seen this kind of chart below from Bratt before:
There’s no doubt that Bratt has been one of the Devils’ best players through ten games. The scoring may regress a bit, but he’s solidified himself as a bonafide first-line winger. With him having bet on himself with a one-year contract this past summer, a big payday is likely in store once he becomes eligible for an extension in January.
6. Devils Goaltending Holding Up So Far
It has been a rollercoaster for the Devils’ goaltending so far, but they have gotten the job done as of late. After a brutal first start in the team’s second game of the season, Vitek Vanecek has settled in, posting a .955 save percentage (SV%) in his last three outings — all wins. His SV% is now up to .903 on the season, which will do for the Devils.
Mackenzie Blackwood has been a bit more inconsistent than Vanecek, but he has posted an SV% of .900 or better in four of his last five starts. He is 4-2-0 on the season and has been quite good in his four wins. With that said, his two losses have been…bad. There are nights where a goalie takes a loss that’s no fault of his — he makes 37/39 saves, but his team doesn’t score enough, and they lose 2-1. That’s not the case with Blackwood, as his two losses were more or less on him.
But to his credit, he has been improving. For Blackwood, it’s about avoiding nights where he doesn’t give the team a chance to win. Tuesday’s win against the Canucks was a perfect example of him giving the team a strong effort, as he was the Devils’ best player in the first period when the Canucks controlled the better of play. If Blackwood can do that more often than not, the team should be in good hands with him and Vanecek as their tandem.
7. John Marino Has Been a Difference-Maker
I wrote a standalone piece on Marino’s impact late last week, so I don’t want to rehash all of it. Still, it would be remiss of me not to mention how good he’s been across the Devils’ first ten contests. His defensive game was his strength in his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But with the Devils, he’s starting to show the offensive upside he displayed as a rookie in 2019-20.
Through ten games, Marino has five points, which puts him on pace for a career-high 41 points. They aren’t of the empty-calorie variety either, as he’s been quite engaged since the Devils’ system looks for their defensemen to activate offensively. Add in what he already brings defensively, and he’s really solidified a right side of the blue line that already had Dougie Hamilton and Damon Severson before the Devils acquired Marino from the Penguins this summer.
8. Forward Depth Shining
Aside from Ondrej Palát, who’s out indefinitely after undergoing groin surgery, the Devils have managed to stay healthy up front. Still, he figured to be a significant contributor for the Devils this season, so losing him will sting. However, their forward depth hasn’t caused them to miss a beat without him.
Fabian Zetterlund has stepped into Palát’s role alongside Hischier and has played very well. He’s only converting on 5.9 percent of his shots on goal, but that will come in time since he has an impressive shot and is creating plenty of quality chances. His defensive game has also been quite good, giving head coach Lindy Ruff a formidable two-way line with Zetterlund, Hischier, and Tomáš Tatar.
Related: Devils ‘CBGB’ Line: Where Are They Now?
With Ruff not comfortable playing Alexander Holtz for the time being, Jesper Boqvist has stepped in and played well on the third line with Yegor Sharangovich and Dawson Mercer, both of whom are pacing for 50 points at the moment. Palát won’t be the only one who misses time, but this Devils roster is better equipped to handle injuries than in previous years, as they’ve shown with Zetterlund and Boqvist picking up some of the slack left by Palát’s absence.
9. Elite Two-Way Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler?
Devils fans are aware of the defensive breakout Siegenthaler had a season ago. He was one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, but if he lacked something, it was a bit of offensive upside. He only has three points in ten games, but that would put him on pace for 25 in 82 games, which would easily be a career-high. And when looking at his impacts, there may be a stout two-way defenseman developing:
As mentioned with Bratt, it’s too early to put too much stock into RAPM charts. With that said, this is a noticeable change from how Siegenthaler’s looked a season ago. The first three bars on the left are offensive statistics, which were in the red and below the league average in 2021-22.
Perhaps playing alongside Dougie Hamilton is helping Siegenthaler’s offensive impact, but he’s been much more active offensively than he was a season ago. He’s not jumping up in the play as much as Marino or Hamilton are, but he is contributing. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues over the next ten games and beyond, but turning into a high-impact, two-way defenseman would be a positive development for the Devils.
10. Hughes Has Yet to Go Off
Hughes has eight points in his last four games, so perhaps he’s in the process of going off. But he hasn’t broken out, and when he does, the points should come in bunches since his shot and chance generation are through the roof. Only Auston Matthews has more scoring chances than Hughes, while Hughes ranks in the top five in high-danger chances among forwards. It’s weird to say he’s only at a point per game, but he should be scoring a bit more than he has to start the season. The good news is that’s on the horizon, and it should help the Devils maintain their winning ways.
What Do the Next 10 Games Hold in Store?
The Devils made it through the easy part of their schedule with a 7-3-0 record. But things will get more difficult tonight, starting with a tilt against the Oilers in Edmonton, followed by a home-and-home with the Calgary Flames. How they fare in those three contests will set the tone for this next ten-game stretch.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey