Road games have not been kind to the New Jersey Devils this season. While they played well against the Kraken in their first-ever contest at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, they’d fall via the shootout by a final score of 4-3. They got some solid performances from their younger players, most notably Kevin Bahl, who’s beginning to show he belongs in the NHL. But some of the problems that have plagued the Devils this season cost them again. Here are five takeaways from last night’s loss.
Devils Power Play Squanders Chance for a Win
You had to have figured when the Devils announced Jack Hughes would miss the remainder of the season with a low-grade MCL sprain that their power play would suffer. However, the lack of production has even surprised me. Last night was a prime example of the Devils’ power play letting them down when they needed it most, much like was the case when Hughes missed 17 games earlier in the season with a dislocated shoulder.
The Devils had three power plays on the night but were unable to do much of anything with them. They finished with just five shots on goal across three man-advantages and generated only 0.86 expected goals in those six minutes. By comparison, the Kraken had five shots on goal and 0.60 expected goals in 2:40 of power-play time, excluding their 4-on-3 power play at the end of overtime.
Essentially, the Kraken generated the same amount of shots and chances as the Devils’ 5-on-4 power play in less than half the time. And, of course, the Devils’ power play failed to build on a 2-1 lead the team had in the second period. They had two opportunities to do so but couldn’t. The Kraken eventually tied the game at five-on-five a few minutes after the Devils’ third power play, and they took a 3-2 lead on a power-play marker of their own moments later. That shifted the tides and ultimately cost the Devils a shot at a win, which is far from the first time that’s happened this season.
Bahl Showing Notable Progress
With Jonas Siegenthaler done for the season with a broken hand and Ryan Graves perhaps out for the next game or two after taking a skate to the chin against the Colorado Avalanche, some big minutes could be ahead for Kevin Bahl. Since getting recalled after Siegenthaler’s injury, he’s played well, with last night being one of his best efforts yet.
Bahl played in 18:10 last night, including some crucial minutes on the Devils’ penalty kill during the Kraken’s overtime power play that he helped kill with Nico Hischier and Damon Severson. At five-on-five, he finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 58.33 percent and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 68.04 percent.
Bahl is using his long reach to break up opponent’s rush attempts, is making smart decisions with the puck on his stick, and is winning one-on-one battles more often than in previous NHL call-ups. The Devils’ top two defense pairs are set for next season, but with P.K. Subban on an expiring contract and unlikely to return, Bahl may be playing himself into a spot on the team’s third defense pair alongside Ty Smith for 2022-23.
McLeod Showing Signs of Life
It’s been a while since Michael McLeod has made a positive impact, but last night was one of his best games in weeks. He finished with a CF% of 55.56 percent and xG% of 50.47 percent at five-on-five. He also added two assists, including a pretty primary assist on Severson’s game-tying goal:
I’ve been a critic of McLeod’s play lately, mostly due to a lack of offensive production. But he’s picked it up, tallying three assists in his last five games. He’s still doing the little things he does well, like winning faceoffs and killing penalties. If he can add a bit more offensive consistency to his game, his two-way value would go up significantly. The last few games have been a step in the right direction. Now let’s see if he can keep it up.
Zetterlund Bounces Back After Rough Outing
Though Fabian Zetterlund got demoted from the first line to start the third period, much like he did against the Avalanche, I thought he played much better against the Kraken. While he didn’t find the scoresheet in this one, he finished with three shots on goal. He also had a CF% of 61.1 percent, fourth-best among Devils skaters, and an xG% of 86.45 percent, the best among Devils skaters.
While Ruff switched lines to start the third period by re-uniting Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, it wasn’t an indictment of Zetterlund’s play. My guess is Ruff sticks the Zacha, Hischier, Bratt unit moving forward, but I’d still like to see Zetterlund get a shot in the top-six. It’s a small sample size, obviously, but he has a CF% of 52.63 percent and xG% of 65.96 percent in five games since his call-up, so he’s had a positive impact.
If Zacha, Hischier and Bratt stick together, Zetterlund should slot in on the right wing alongside Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Boqvist. That’d give the Devils a forward group that looks like this:
- Zacha – Hischier – Bratt
- Sharangovich – Boqvist – Zetterlund
- Andreas Johnsson – Dawson Mercer – Tomáš Tatar
- Janne Kuokkanen – McLeod – Nathan Bastian
Boqvist has been playing great hockey lately, and Sharangovich is Sharangovich. He’s a high-volume shooter and has a wicked shot, giving Boqvist two shooting threats on his wings. Since the Devils’ season is almost over, they should be giving their young players the best minutes they can. And pairing Boqvist and Zetterlund together with Sharangovich might be best for everyone involved.
Daws Solid in Net
After giving up a rough first goal, Daws settled in nicely and made the stops expected of him. He finished the night with a goals saved above expected of minus-0.44, which adds up considering the first goal was the only one he should have stopped. He even made a few key saves on the Kraken’s power play in overtime that helped the Devils get to the shootout.
Daws has had his fair share of struggles on the road this season, but he has played well on this five-game west-coast swing. He had one of his best starts of the season in a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars a week ago and stopped what he was expected to in a 6-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
The Devils only have three road games left this season, so he might not get many more chances away from the Prudential Center until 2022-23 at the earliest. If that’s the case, he has something to build on from this road trip before heading back to the AHL for the Utica Comets’ playoff run.
The Devils’ five-game road trip ends tomorrow night with a tilt against a streaking Vegas Golden Knights team that’s 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. The Golden Knights are in a battle to clinch a playoff spot. They will not take the Devils lightly, so they’ll need to be ready to go from the opening faceoff.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
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