After a shaky first two games of the season, the New Jersey Devils have been on a tear. They’ve won 13 of their last 14 games and are riding a 10-game winning streak heading into tonight’s tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their goaltending has been great, but it’s not just goaltending that’s gotten them to this point. Here are 10 observations from a 10-game run that’s seen the Devils rise to the top of the Metropolitan Division and league standings.
Devils Have Gotten Quality Goaltending
We might as well start with the Devils’ goaltending since it has been exceptional. It begins with Vitek Vanecek, who’s started the majority of the team’s games with Mackenzie Blackwood sidelined for a few more weeks with an MCL sprain. Over the last 10 games, he’s made eight appearances and posted a 7-0-0 record with a .934 save percentage (SV%).
In that time, Vanecek has posted a .943 SV% at five-on-five, placing him ahead of Igor Shesterkin, Ville Husso and Carter Hart. Vanecek’s five-on-five high-danger SV% of .850 over this stretch is identical to the mark he posted last season with the Washington Capitals. The .943 five-on-five SV% will regress eventually, but he did post a .926 at that game state in 2021-22. So far, so good for the Devils after acquiring Vanecek from the Capitals at the draft in July.
And even though Vanecek has received the majority of playing time in between the pipes, Akira Schmid and Blackwood have also played their part. Blackwood played well against the Canucks in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, while Schmid kept the winning streak alive with some stellar play in overtime against the Ottawa Senators last week. He’d follow that up with a good enough start against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and has posted a .920 SV% in his limited sample with the Devils this season. Combined with Vanecek’s efforts, goaltending is a significant reason why the team has won 10 in a row.
Hughes Has Arrived
Well, he actually arrived a season ago. But following a sort of slow start to the 2022-23 campaign, Jack Hughes has come alive. Following the Devils’ 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday evening, in which he had two goals and an assist, he has 15 points across his last 10 games — a 123-point pace over 82 games.
Over that stretch, Hughes has crushed the competition at five-on-five, posting a 62.2 expected goals percentage (xG%). He has 25 scoring chances at that game state, tied with Miles Wood for most on the team. And after some poor shooting luck to start the season, his shooting percentage has risen to 10 percent at all strengths, right on par with his 10.2 career SH%. With Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier producing the way they are, teams will have trouble defending the Devils’ offense with Hughes joining the party.
Hischier’s Line Emerging as Dominant Two-Way Threat
Hischier has gotten off to a fabulous start this season. He has 17 points in 15 games and just had a seven-game point streak come to an end against the Canadiens. During the Devils’ 10-game bender, he leads the team in xG% at 66.67 percent. He’s totaled six goals and 11 points and has put himself into the early Selke Trophy conversation during this run.
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Hischier hasn’t done it alone, though. His linemates, Tomáš Tatar and Fabian Zetterlund, have helped form one of the best line combos in the league. During this 10-game spell, the Devils have a 63.95 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and 68.49 xG% with them on the ice. Their work on the cycle has given teams fits, as it did against the Canadiens. Head coach Lindy Ruff has shaken up some line combos here and there during the winning streak, but the Hischier line has stayed intact. With the way they’re playing, it’ll remain that way too.
Hamilton Back to Playing at an Elite Level
After an injury-riddled 2021-22 season, Dougie Hamilton has returned to being an elite top-pair blueliner. He’s at a point-per-game during this 10-game run and has a 63.5 xG% at five-on-five. His impacts at even strength (visual below) are back to where they were before he suffered a broken jaw and toe during the middle of last season.
While Hamilton is playing well defensively, his offensive game is driving his excellent results, as should be the case. He leads the team in shots on goal and shot attempts at five-on-five during the winning streak, and he has 19 scoring chances to boot, an impressive number for a defenseman. He’s also returned to being one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the league, with seven power-play points in his last 10 games. It’s clear his health bogged down his performance in 2021-22, and he’s now living up to the $63 million contract the Devils gave him in July 2021.
Siegenthaler Continues to Impress
Since we just finished talking about Hamilton, we should also probably bring up his defense partner, Jonas Siegenthaler. The Devils have outscored opponents 14-3 with Siegenthaler on the ice over the last 10 games. His defensive game is still his strong suit, as the Devils have only given up 1.9 expected goals per 60 minutes with him on the ice during this run. But he’s also been much more active offensively, though he probably won’t become a big-time scorer any time soon.
While it’s still early, Siegenthaler has been one of the most valuable defensemen in the league to start this season. His goals above replacement (GAR) — which measures how many goals a player adds to his team relative to a replacement-level player — of 6.6 ranks fourth in the NHL among blueliners. Only Erik Karlsson, Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen have been more valuable. Time will tell if that lasts, but there’s no doubt Siegenthaler has been a pivotal player during this 10-game spell.
Tatar Bouncing Back
Tatar’s bounce-back season is in full swing. He’s at a point-per-game pace since the team’s first win of this run and is right behind Hischier in xG% at 66.03 percent. His scoring at five-on-five, though likely unsustainable, has been impressive, as he’s averaging 4.24 points per 60 minutes. Not only has Tatar been one of the Devils’ best two-way players, but he’s been one of the best two-way forwards in the league:
When the Devils signed Tatar as a free agent in the summer of 2021, the hope was he could help contribute to the top-six. That didn’t materialize a season ago, but his underlying metrics showed bounce-back potential. He now looks more like the two-way, play-driving force he was in his three years with the Canadiens, and he’s played a significant role in helping the Devils get to this point.
BMW Line Adding Depth
Every team needs depth to succeed, and the Devils’ fourth line of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian (BMW) have stepped up over the last 10 games. Wood leads the way with eight points, while McLeod and Bastian each have six. All three players bring different elements to the fourth line too.
For example, Wood can play with pace, but he’s also a menace on the forecheck and will throw his body around. McLeod is responsible defensively and can win draws, while Bastian is perhaps the team’s best forechecker and more than holds his own in the defensive zone. I’m not sure how sustainable their scoring is, especially since they’re the fourth line. But at least when it comes to these 10 wins, they’ve played their part in making it happen.
Devils Power Play Coming Through
The Devils’ power play has had some ups and downs, but it’s been productive during this heater. They’ve scored nine times on 34 power-play opportunities, a success rate of 26.4 percent. Their shot and chance generation rank in the top 10 of the league during this spell, with their shot attempt and expected goal rates each ranking seventh. Could they be scoring more? Sure, but a 26.4 percent success rate is where a top-flight team needs their power play to be.
Boqvist Has Been Reliable
No, Jesper Boqvist is not lighting the scoresheet on fire, but he has played well. His 60.8 CF% ranks fifth on the team during their winning streak, while his 65.06 xG% ranks third. He’s played mostly on the wing, but based on the line changes Ruff made at the end of the Canadiens game, Boqvist could stick at center alongside Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich.
As has been the case with Boqvist throughout most of his NHL career, he needs to become a more aggressive shooter. The skill is clearly there, and he’s a high-end skater, something that helps him excel in transition. If he can be a little more aggressive and opportunistic offensively, he should start scoring more consistently based on his five-on-five play.
Devils’ 5-on-5 Numbers Back up the Wins
I’ve mentioned plenty of individual’s five-on-five numbers, but what about the team’s? One way to measure whether or not this 10-game winning streak is legit is by looking at the Devils’ five-on-five metrics. Their 57.16 CF% ranks third in the NHL over their last 10 games, with only the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers ahead. Meanwhile, their 58.05 xG% ranks second only to the Los Angeles Kings.
Defensively, they’re giving up an average of 2.26 expected goals against per 60 minutes, the fifth-best rate in the league since the winning streak began. They’re also only allowing 50.6 shot attempts per 60, so they’re preventing quality and quantity. To sum it up, their 10-game winning heater has not been a fluke.
The Devils Are for Real
The Devils’ magic won’t last forever, but what they’ve done over the last 10 games has completely changed their trajectory. Before the season, most writers (myself included) predicted they’d be a bubble team. At least for the time being, the talk around them should be if they can compete with the Carolina Hurricanes for the Metropolitan Division crown. Time will tell, but there’s no doubt the Devils are for real. And their last 10 games have proven as much.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017