The New Jersey Devils’ preseason record improved to 4-1-0 as head coach Lindy Ruff’s team shut out the visiting Boston Bruins by a final score of 1-0. Fans were able to see a few familiar faces on the visiting team as Keith Kinkaid, A.J. Greer, and Connor Carrick were all in the lineup for Jim Montgomery’s squad. Let’s break down the biggest takeaways from Monday night’s contest.
New Jersey’s Lineup:
Yegor Sharangovich – Jack Hughes – Jesper Bratt
Tomas Tatar – Dawson Mercer – Alexander Holtz
Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Fabian Zetterlund
Andreas Johnsson – Nathan Bastian – Graeme Clarke
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Kevin Bahl – John Marino
Michael Vukojevic – Robbie Russo
Tatar Continues to Have a Strong Training Camp
Tatar is beginning the final year of his contract with the Devils, and over the past couple of weeks has displayed a real fight to earn a spot on the team’s final roster. He scored his third goal of the preseason on Monday night getting the puck past former Devils goaltender Kinkaid.
The 31-year-old is not guaranteed a spot, and has really stepped up and has been one of the more noticeable players on coach Ruff’s squad. Over the past week, he has played alongside a few linemates including Mercer, Holtz, Haula, Zetterlund, Hischier, and Bratt. It hasn’t mattered who he’s been on a line with either, as he has scored in every preseason appearance so far.
After the game, Tatar talked to the media and discussed how he was feeling at this juncture of the preseason.
“I’m feeling good. I worked pretty hard during the summer to come here and prove a point,” he said. “I was excited and anger kind of dragged me through the summer and hopefully we will kick start the season on the right step.”
Tatar later admitted that he was very unhappy with the way things went last season, and said it was easier coming back for a second year knowing a little bit more about the environment. Entering training camp, there were a lot of questions surrounding the veteran and what he can bring to the team, but over the past few games he has shown he can still be an impactful player for the club.
Alexander Holtz Analysis
For the first time this preseason, fans saw Holtz play on a line without Hughes. After the game, Ruff explained that putting the youngster with Mercer was to see how he fit in with other players, nothing more than that. On Monday night he had six shot attempts, three shots on goal, and two grade-A scoring chances.
Throughout three preseason games, the 20-year-old has just one assist. Holtz has yet to find the back of the net at the NHL level, and his goal-scoring ability is a big reason the Swede was selected so high in the draft. Scouting reports describe him as a dynamic goal-scoring winger (from ‘Pronman’s scouting report: What the Devils are getting in Alexander Holtz’, The Athletic, 10/6/2020) and that is part of his game that fans have not seen in New Jersey yet.
It is clear that Holtz has made improvements, and the coaching staff is continuing to give him the best shot of earning a spot in the top six. As I was watching him against the Bruins, I thought about last season when Ruff formed the Johnsson – Mercer – Bratt line. The combination brought out the best in each player, and Johnsson was one of the team’s highest point-getters during that time. When the line was split up, Johnsson had a tough time finding that level of success, and even now, he is battling to simply earn a spot in the lineup. The reason I bring up this comparison is that fans would like to see Holtz be an impactful player on his own, and not be dependent on Hughes to contribute to the team similarly to how Johnsson’s success was dependent on Mercer and Bratt.
The former seventh-overall pick seems to be doing everything right, but fans are still waiting for him to put the puck in the net. Time will tell if Holtz can be an impactful top-six player for New Jersey because one would have to think if he can’t consistently perform as a top winger, the Utica Comets could be in his future.
Goaltending Remains a Positive for New Jersey
The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come, and it appears the Devils’ goaltending has come a long way in the past several months. Vanecek got the call on Monday night and played a perfect game stopping all 24 shots faced. His performance between the pipes is giving fans confidence that this season could be different as the goaltending has been a bright spot during this first week of the preseason. After the game Ruff talked about the 26-year-old’s play.
“He’s made a big save two or three times in the game,” Ruff said. “He didn’t have a lot, but he made the breakaway save on the mistake where we let the guy get in behind us. The play in the second period when we had a bad change and the guy was in all alone, [Vanecek] showed really good composure. And there were a couple of tip plays that he was able to track the puck and make the save. You know you get those saves, it gives you a really good chance to win.”
- A rainy Monday and the fact that it was preseason hockey made for a sparse crowd at Prudential Center. An NHL official confirmed to me that only 5,077 fans made the trip to Newark to watch the contest.
- The coaching staff opted to utilize 24-year-old Nathan Bastian as a center. After the game, he said he spent most of his life in that position, but noted it was different in this league. It was an adjustment for the 6-foot-4 forward, but he confirmed that he became more comfortable as the game went on.
- I noticed assistant coach Ryan McGill was very vocal on the bench with his defensemen. He spent a good amount of time talking with 22-year-old Bahl when he returned from a shift with John Marino.
- Kinkaid collided with Bastian within the first five minutes of the third period and was taken out of the game for the Bruins.
The Devils’ next game will be on Thursday at UBS Arena as they face the New York Islanders for the second time this preseason. There are only two games left until the regular season opens up on Oct. 13 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.