After an impressive road trip out west that saw the New Jersey Devils come away with a 3-1-1 record, they returned home last night to take on the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately, the good vibes from their road trip didn’t continue, as they fell by a score of 5-2. Like many games this season, the power play and goaltending were significant factors in why the Devils weren’t able to come away with the win. Here are four takeaways as the final seven days of the 2021-22 campaign begin.
Goaltending & Power Play Sink Devils Again
I feel like a broken record at this point, but the Devils’ goaltending and power play were crucial factors in yet another loss. After an impressive start against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday in which he stopped 42 of 44 shots, Andrew Hammond got the nod again last night, but things did not go particularly well.
At 0-0 about midway through the second period, Hammond gave up a shorthanded goal from beyond the blue line that gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead. Just moments later, he would make a good stop on an Alex Tuch shorthanded breakaway. But he lost track of where the rebound went, and Tuch put the puck in the net from a bad angle after banking the puck off the back of Hammond’s skate.
After a comeback from the Devils saw them narrow their 3-0 deficit to 3-2, Hammond gave up a back-breaking goal to Owen Power, his first career NHL goal, which made it a 4-2 game. The puck either went under his pad or through his five-hole. But whatever the case may be, it’s a goal he should have stopped. In all, he gave up 2.41 goals above expected, so it was a rough outing.
As for the power play, the Devils generated some quality looks. Jesper Bratt hit the post on a wide-open net during the team’s first power play that could’ve changed the look of the game. But as has been the case this season, the Devils’ power play was a rollercoaster. The two shorthanded goals were more Hammond’s fault than the power play itself. But some poor puck play, as coach Lindy Ruff mentioned after the game, resulted in shorthanded opportunities. Hence why the Sabres had a high-danger chance advantage of 2-1 on the Devils’ power play.
With last night’s game, the Devils’ power play is 0 for its last 29 and has been outscored 2-0. However, they’ve averaged 14th-most high-danger chances per 60 minutes over that stretch, so they are due for a goal. On the flip side, the same problems that have persisted since the start of last season — poor puck play, giving up high-danger shorthanded chances — continue to plague them. If Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald makes a coaching change in the coming weeks, the power play’s lack of success since the start of 2020-21 will likely be a significant factor in that decision.
Okhotiuk Shines in NHL Debut
Last night was the first NHL game of Nikita Okhotiuk’s career, and the 21-year-old defenseman impressed. He tallied his first career NHL goal in the third period that brought the Devils back to a one-goal deficit at 3-2. Not only did he score, but his five-on-five numbers were some of the best among Devils skaters.
Okhotiuk finished last night with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 73.91 percent; the Devils out-attempted the Sabres 17-6 with him on the ice. He also finished with an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 84.22 percent, second-best among Devils skaters to Fabian Zetterlund. Okhotiuk added seven shot attempts and four shots on goal, which led Devils skaters at five-on-five. For someone not really known for his offense, it made his outing all the more impressive. With the Utica Comets gearing up for an AHL playoff run, getting in a couple of NHL games and playing well could give him additional confidence before returning to Utica.
Another Strong Outing for Hamilton
It hasn’t been the first season in New Jersey many envisioned for Dougie Hamilton, but it appears he’s heading for a strong close. He finished last night with a CF% of 59.26 percent and xG% of 55.21 percent. He also totaled four shots on goal and nine shot attempts at all strengths, so he looked like the high-volume shooter that he’s been during his NHL career.
Over his last six games, Hamilton has a CF% of 54.97 percent and xG% of 55.22 percent. Only Janne Kuokkanen has a better CF% than Hamilton during that stretch, while his xG% ranks fifth on the team. Hamilton also leads the Devils in shots on goal (17) and shot attempts (32) at five-on-five. He’s starting to look more like the player he was before breaking his jaw in a game against the Washington Capitals just after New Year’s, so he should find some points before the season ends a week from today. At the least, that’s a good sign for the Devils heading into the summer.
Boqvist Continues Goal Streak
Well, it’s not quite a streak, but Jesper Boqvist did tally his fourth goal in his last five games. The goal, his 10th of the season, came in the final seconds of the second period and helped give the Devils life heading into the third, where they nearly managed to tie it at 3-3. If they knotted the game and perhaps got the win, he would’ve been the spark that got the comeback started, but they had no luck this time around.
With the marker, Boqvist hit double-digit goals for the first time in his NHL career. He has 21 points in 50 games, a 34-point pace over 82 games. If we narrow that down a bit, he has 17 points in his last 35 games, a 40-point pace over 82 games. Either way you look at it, that’s solid third-line production. Devils analyst Bryce Salvador shared some stats about Boqvist during the broadcast that showed he’s second only to Nico Hischier in zone entry/exit efficiency in April. He’s legitimately playing well, so it’s possible the Devils have found their third-line center of the future.
The final week of the NHL season is here, with the Devils having five games left on their schedule. Ruff mentioned the plan is to have goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood get in some starts before the final buzzer sounds on 2021-22. With only five contests and seven days left, one would think that’s coming soon. That’s something to watch ahead of the team’s back-to-back with the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings this weekend.
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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