The New Jersey Devils are officially facing their first bit of adversity of the 2022-23 campaign. The Philadephia Flyers have had their fair share of struggles this season, but the Devils couldn’t overcome a fantastic performance from Carter Hart, who made 48/49 saves. The result was a 2-1 loss, their fourth consecutive defeat. Still, there isn’t much reason to be concerned about the Devils yet. Here are four takeaways from last night’s contest.
Devils Dominated at Five-on-Five
Even though the Devils lost in regulation, it certainly wasn’t for the lack of effort. From the opening faceoff, it was clear they came ready to play. They had the game’s first eight shots on goal and kept peppering the Flyers’ net until the final horn sounded. They finished the first period with a 22-15 shot attempt advantage over the Flyers and controlled over 66 percent of the expected goals. Hart was the difference, and as it turns out, that was a sign of things to come.
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At regulation’s end, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers 60-41 and had 2.73 expected goals at five-on-five. When at all strengths, they had an even four expected goals, so they tested Hart. And he made every save other than a highlight-reel goal from Jack Hughes on the power play that not many netminders would’ve stopped.
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Plain and simple, the Devils got goalie’d. The lack of finish would be concerning if they were getting run out of the rink, but they clearly outplayed the Flyers. And while they didn’t control anywhere as much of the game against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss, they still had 35 shots on goal and created 11 high-danger chances. The shot generation has been there, as has the quality. If it keeps at this rate, pucks will find the back of the net. Considering they’re averaging 3.5 goals per game, tied for sixth-best in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, they should be fine.
Sharangovich Gets Going With New Linemates
Head coach Lindy Ruff made some line changes during the third period of the Stars game and stuck with them to begin yesterday. Obviously, they worked since the Devils dominated at five-on-five, but they seemed to benefit Yegor Sharangovich, who had been struggling as of late. He played one of his best games in recent memory and finished with five shots on goal, tied with Fabian Zetterlund for second on the team.
At five-on-five, the Devils had a 21-11 shot attempt advantage and 69.31 xG% with Sharangovich on the ice. The line of him, Hughes and Jesper Bratt was a big reason the Devils outplayed the Flyers at five-on-five too. The team finished with a 20-7 shot attempt advantage and 67.06 xG% with them on the ice.
As for Sharangovich, he’s one of the Devils’ best shooters. With the team’s scoring struggles the last two games, it makes sense to keep him with their two best play drivers in Hughes and Bratt. He looked the most comfortable he had the last couple of weeks, and I’m sure Hughes and Bratt had plenty to do with it. We’ve seen in the past that the goals can come in bunches for Sharangovich when he’s playing up the lineup with the team’s best players, so Ruff should stick with this trio as a combo for the foreseeable future.
Hughes Continues to Star
Speaking of Hughes, what a monster effort from him once again. He finished the night with eight shots on goal at all strengths. That’s to go along with nine shot attempts, four scoring chances and one high-danger chance. He was second on the team in xG% at five-on-five and had the highest game score among Devils skaters. As mentioned, his goal was of the highlight-reel variety:
Hughes is another reason Devils fans shouldn’t be concerned about scoring yet; he’s on pace for 40-plus goals. Night in and night out, he’s creating quality chances. The same is true of Nico Hischier and Bratt, who are in cold spells and will break out of them eventually. With these three forwards playing at the levels they are, it’s another reason not to panic (also because the Devils are 21-7-2 and still in third place league-wide).
Hodgepodge Fourth Line Impresses
It was hard to know what to expect from a line of Jesper Boqvist, Michael McLeod and Alexander Holtz. They haven’t played many minutes together, if any. And it felt like a hodgepodge of players with nowhere else to play in the lineup. But to their credit, they played very well.
McLeod finished the night with four shots on goal and rang one off iron in the third period that would’ve tied the game at 2. Holtz had one of his best games of the season and played 10:11 at five-on-five and just over 15 minutes at all strengths. He had two shots on goal and looked confident playing in the Ovechkin spot on the first power play unit. He also finished with a 55.7 xG% at five-on-five, so expect him to remain in the lineup tomorrow against the Florida Panthers.
Both McLeod and Boqvist are responsible defensive forwards, which will benefit Holtz. Each has a bit of skill too, so perhaps this combo will work better than I thought when line rushes took place during the morning skate yesterday. At the very least, they’ve earned another look. And if it gets Holtz going to the point where Ruff feels more comfortable giving him minutes with either Hughes or Hischier, that could unlock some more goal-scoring potential because of Holtz’s shot.
Devils Quick Hits
- Damon Severson was playing well…until an egregious turnover in the third period that led to Travis Konecny’s game-winner on a breakaway. That turnover can’t happen at that moment, and Ruff was rightfully harsh on him in his post-game presser. I don’t think Severson will be a healthy scratch against the Panthers, but Kevin Bahl has played well every time he’s been in the lineup this season. It’ll be something to keep an eye on during the morning skate.
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- Vitek Vanecek didn’t have to do too much last night, but he was pretty solid in a losing effort. Perhaps you’d like a save on Konecny’s marker, but it certainly would’ve been stealing a goal from the Flyers. He finished the night making 21/23 saves, a .917 save percentage, and stopped what was expected of him. Considering he had a .863 SV% in his previous four outings, it was a solid bounce-back effort.
The Devils take on the Panthers tomorrow night to conclude a busy week of games. The Panthers are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Penguins and have struggled to find their footing this season. Spencer Knight has not played this week due to illness, but his status for tomorrow is unknown. If the Devils face Sergei Bobrovsky, there’s an opportunity to break their scoring woes, as he has a .891 SV% on the season. The puck drops at 7:30 PM and can be seen on MSG SN in the New York City area.
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