Devils’ Star Players Stellar in 13th Straight Win

There was some history made last night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. With their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, the New Jersey Devils tied a franchise record winning streak originally set during the 2000-01 season. Their star players were their star players, as they had stellar performances against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and co. in capturing their 13th straight win

Devils’ Stars Took Over the Game

There was no shortage of star power in town last night. In addition to McDavid and Draisaitl, the Devils boast their own trio of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier. Those three led the way for the Devils, as they all had multi-point games en route to the 5-2 win. 

We’ll start with Bratt and Hughes, who have been linemates for most of this 13-game winning streak. Along with Erik Haula, this trio ran circles around the Oilers at five-on-five. The Devils had a 16-4 shot attempt advantage and controlled 69.95 of the expected goals (xG%) with them on the ice. One example of their dominance came in the second period on a slicking set of passing from Bratt and Hughes to set up Damon Severson for a 3-1 Devils lead: 

And not only did Hughes, Hischier and Bratt dominate at five-on-five, but they connected in the opening minutes of the game on the power play to get the Devils out in front 1-0. Hughes finished the night with two assists, while Bratt totaled a goal and an assist. Hughes is now on pace for 91 points this season, while Bratt is on pace for 104. 

Their performances shouldn’t overshadow Hischier’s, either. He ended up with three helpers, the third three-assist game of his career, putting him on pace for 100 points as well. After a so-so first period for the team in general, head coach Lindy Ruff made some tweaks to his line combos, moving Fabian Zetterlund to the third line and having Dawson Mercer join Hischier and Tomáš Tatar. The move paid off, as Hischier had the primary assist on Mercer’s goal, while he and Mercer assisted on Tatar’s highlight-reel tally. The Devils had a 77.5 xG% with these three on the ice, so expect them to stick together tomorrow against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

In all, you can’t ask for much more from the Devils’ Big 3. They’re playing like star players and can even hold up against McDavid and Draisaitl — arguably the two-best hockey players in the world. 

Other Devils Takeaways

Vanecek Continues to Play at a High Level

The Devils were the better team at five-on-five, but the Oilers’ power play is still the Oilers’ power play. They came into yesterday’s tilt converting on 31.75 percent of their man-advantage opportunities, meaning Vitek Vanecek would face some quality chances if the Devils started parading to the penalty box. 

Vitek Vanecek New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers did have four power plays, one of which they converted. Still, Vanecek was up to the task. He made seven saves on eight shots on goal while the Devils were killing the Oilers’ power plays. In all, he turned aside 27 of the 29 shots he faced and stopped 1.24 goals above expected, raising his save percentage to .917 for the season. He’s been a borderline top-10 netminder, a significant reason why the Devils are on this 13-win run. 

Mercer’s Big Night

Mercer’s had a fine enough start to the season, but he played his best game to date last night. As mentioned, he ended with a goal and an assist, but his five-on-five numbers were also impressive. The Devils had a 14-7 shot attempt advantage and 79.29 xG% with him on the ice at that game state. 

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And when looking at Mercer’s game score — an all-encompassing stat that takes traditional and advanced stats into account to measure a player’s total value for a single contest — he led all skaters last night with a game score of 3.79. Not only was that first among Devils and Oilers skaters, but it ranked eighth among all skaters leaguewide. 

Mercer is a player that can play anywhere in the top-nine, but given his success yesterday, it’d be a surprise if Ruff didn’t give him another chance alongside Hischier and Tatar. They’ve both been dominant two-way forwards this season, so Mercer should complement them well.  

Marino Shuts Down McDavid

McDavid finished the night with one assist, and it did not come at five-on-five. That’s because Devils defenseman John Marino shut him down. It’s not that McDavid didn’t generate anything against Marino; he did manage to create seven scoring chances and three high-danger chances. Instead, Marino did enough to frustrate McDavid as he did to Nathan MacKinnon a few weeks ago. Take this one-on-one rush attempt, for example: 

McDavid is coming down the ice just about at full steam. But Marino stayed with him stride for stride and knocked the puck off McDavid’s stick to end the scoring threat. I’m not sure if this is what the Devils envisioned when they acquired Marino from the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason. But he has turned into Ruff’s go-to shutdown defender when he needs to hard-match against a McDavid or MacKinnon.

Devils Quick Hits 

  • Yegor Sharangovich is starting to feel it. He netted his third goal in as many games and is now on pace for 26 this season. He’s mostly been playing third-line minutes, so it’s encouraging to see that he hasn’t needed to rely on Hughes or Hischier to find the back of the net. He finished with a 70.41 xG% at five-on-five and seems to be finding a rhythm after a slow-ish start to his 2022-23 campaign. 
  • Throughout this winning streak, the line of Tatar, Hischier and Zetterlund has dominated. But Ruff was right to break up that trio after the first period, as they had an xG% of just 5.1 percent. It probably won’t be long before they get a look again. But for the time being, Zetterlund shouldn’t have a problem alongside Sharangovich and Jesper Boqvist on the third shift if that’s how Ruff decides to configure his lines.  

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  • With Marino getting some of the harder matchups, at least on home ice with last change, that’s opened things up for the Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton pairing. The Devils generated over 1.4 expected goals with Siegenthaler on the ice and 1.6 with Hamilton on the ice. And even though they avoided the McDavid line, they still went up against Draisaitl’s unit, who did not score against Siegenthaler or Hamilton. They’re playing like an elite top pair, even though they don’t always get the most difficult matchups. 

The Devils made history once already this week and will try to break the franchise record winning streak against the Maple Leafs, who are coming off another overtime loss, this time to the New York Islanders. It should be quite the matchup on American Thanksgiving Eve, so stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage. 

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