The New Jersey Devils played one of their best games of the season last night. However, they also ran into a goaltender who had one of the best performances of any netminder this season. The Devils put 49 shots on goal, but Adin Hill made 46 saves and stopped all four Devils’ shootout attempts to seal a 4-3 win for the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are four takeaways and some quick hits as the Devils wrap up their final west coast trip with a tilt at Mullet Arena against the Arizona Coyotes tomorrow night.
Devils Dominated in All Facets
Right out of the gate, the Devils absolutely took it to the Golden Knights. Even though Vegas opened the scoring, New Jersey had the run of play from start to finish. In the first period alone, the Devils put up 1.74 expected goals at five-on-five compared to only 0.61 for the Golden Knights.
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Vegas played better in the second period, but the final frame and overtime were all Devils. They put up 2.5 expected goals in the final frame at five-on-five and finished the game with 6.06 xG at all strengths. They had 69 scoring chances and 29 high-danger chances too. They utterly dominated the Golden Knights, but Hill had other plans. Were it not for his play in the third period and specifically overtime, the Devils would have come away with two points instead of one.
Hill stole the game, which happens from time to time. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of from that performance if you’re the Devils. More often than not, you won’t run into a goalie who had the outing that Hill did. The process is there, and they will keep winning games with efforts like that, especially once the newly-acquired Timo Meier returns from an injury.
Hischier Line Continues Rolling
The Devils have found themselves a dominant top line, even when Meier takes the ice for them. Once again, the trio of Tomáš Tatar, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer ran circles around their opponents. The Devils controlled 80.99 percent of the expected goals (xG%) with them on the ice while creating 1.40 expected goals.
Mercer scored another goal, the eighth straight game where he’s found the back of the net. It was the only marker this line had, but it wasn’t for the lack of chances. The Devils out-chanced the Golden Knights 18-3 with this trio on the ice and had a 9-2 advantage in high-danger chances. Tatar led the team with an 88.03 xG% and had 2.44 expected goals when on the ice.
They won’t put up gaudy totals like that every night, but they have been controlling play at five-on-five since head coach Lindy Ruff put them together a couple of weeks ago. For the foreseeable future, they’re untouchable as a unit. That likely means sliding in Meier alongside Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, which should give the Devils a very threatening top six.
Graves & Marino Had One of Their Best Outings of 2022-23
With the Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton pairing still struggling at five-on-five, the Devils have needed their other two defense pairs to step up. They got that last night from the combo of Ryan Graves and John Marino. The Devils out-chanced the Golden Knights 20-4 with them on the ice, partly because they were out with the Hischier line the most from the Devils’ forwards.
But it’s not like Graves and Marino played soft minutes to put up those totals. Their most common opponents were Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault, two-thirds over the Golden Knights’ top line. In Graves and Marino’s minutes, the Devils out-chanced and outshot the Eichel line by a significant margin at five-on-five. With a difficult schedule this month, they’ll need this pairing to continue locking down opponents’ first lines.
Devils Bottom Six Is Playing Well
A significant reason why the Devils are cruising at five-on-five again is their bottom six has picked it up. Miles Wood tied the game at 3-3 in the third period and now has three goals and six points in his last six games. Jesper Boqvist picked up the primary assist on Wood’s tally, and Michael McLeod won 64 percent of his faceoffs.
Not only did the bottom six find their way onto the scoresheet, but they also had strong games at five-on-five. Boqvist finished with a 77.1 xG% and had one of his best outings of 2022-23, while Wood, McLeod and Nathan Bastian all had xG percentages above 60 percent. Depth is so crucial for the stretch run of the regular season and in the playoffs. The Devils’ depth players are playing some of their best hockey right now, and they should get some insurance with Curtis Lazar, who was a trade deadline pickup yesterday.
Devils Quick Hits
- One of the perks of having Damon Severson in a third-pair role is it allows him to feast offensively at five-on-five. He had one of his best games of the season, as he was highly active and jumping into plays to keep the attack alive. The Devils generated a crazy 3.31 expected goals with Severson on the ice at five-on-five, and he played a key part in Wood’s game-tying goal. It’s a luxury having a defenseman like him on the third pair.
- Yegor Sharangovich saw his minutes reduced in the third period after he was on the ice for the Golden Knights’ second goal. He failed to make a play along the boards that led to Marchessault tying the game at two. I don’t think Ruff will take Sharangovich out of the lineup when Meier is available, but it’s probably safe to assume he’ll move down to the third line with Ondrej Palát and Erik Haula at a minimum.
The Devils will wrap up their west coast swing with a Sunday evening tilt against the Coyotes, who fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 last night. Be sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage as the post-deadline stretch run of the season begins and playoff races start to heat up.
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