The New Jersey Devils wrapped up an impressive week by winning three consecutive games. On Saturday afternoon they hosted the visiting San Jose Sharks and earned their third victory of the season beating their opponent by a final score of 2-1. Yegor Sharangovich and Dawson Mercer lit the lamp while Jesper Bratt kept his point streak alive with eight assists in his first five games of the 2022-23 season.
Devils Lineup vs. the Sharks
Ondrej Palat – Nico Hischier – Bratt
Sharangovich – Jack Hughes – Mercer
Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Tomas Tatar
Nathan Bastian – Michael McLeod
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves – John Marino
Brendan Smith – Damon Severson
Coach Ruff Continues to Utilize 11 Forwards and Seven Defensemen
Alexander Holtz, Jesper Boqvist, and Fabian Zetterlund watched Saturday’s contest from the Devils’ suite as the coaching staff once again used seven defensemen and 11 forwards. After the game head coach Lindy Ruff spoke about the benefit of this type of lineup.
“You know, I think when you play 11 forwards, and dishing a little bit of extra ice time, I think all the players like it,” said Ruff. “If you look at minutes, guys who normally 14 or 15 are getting 17 or 18 minutes and they like that. I mean most lines want to play every third shift and get into a little bit of a rhythm. By dropping Palat or Jack [Hughes] on with Bastian and McLeod or giving Wood a few extra shifts, it gets everybody else a little bit more amped up, where all of a sudden you’re not waiting three shifts [to get back on the ice].”
There is a question as to whether this method is sustainable for players like Hughes and Palat who are being double-shifted, but for now, the coaching staff’s decision has worked in the team’s favor. At this point, I guess the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies as they continue to earn the two points.
New Jersey is Firing On All Cylinders
Did you know the Devils made franchise history on Saturday afternoon? For the first time in their history, they recorded 36 or more shots in five consecutive games. Their 196 shots are the fourth highest in the league behind the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, and Seattle Kraken. It’s worth noting that all three of those teams have played one more game than the Devils. When looking at individual shot leaders around the league New Jersey has three players in the top 25: Hughes, Hamilton, and Haula.
Sharks goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen faced 36 shots and had to be sharp to keep his team in it. After the game, he spoke with Mike Morreale of NHL.com and reiterated what Mathew Barzal said about the Devils’ speed after their victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night (Oct. 20).
“The Devils play fast. They have a lot of players that can skate. Good team, fast team.”
Breaking Through on the Power Play
Entering Saturday’s matinee, the Sharks’ penalty kill was perfect, but in the second period, they conceded their first power play goal of the season when Mercer scored on the man advantage. Fans have seen New Jersey’s power play improve under associate coach Andrew Brunette, but the results have not been there since Holtz scored a power play goal in the season opener. After the game, Mercer talked about finding the sweet spot and getting the puck past Kahkonen.
“I found that open ice in the middle, and Nico’s a playmaker,” Mercer said. “He found me below the goal line, and lucky enough I got the rebound chance come back to me and had another shot at it. It was a great feeling.”
Mercer Talks About the Afternoon Start Time
Hockey players are known to be creatures of habit who stick to a consistent routine. Knowing this, I asked Mercer what adjustments, if any, need to be made when the game is scheduled for 1:00 P.M. instead of the normal time of 7:00 P.M.
“Obviously it’s different,” he said. “The benefit with it is that it’s kind of like a normal practice. You come here, have your breakfast, do your morning routine, and instead of going out there for practice, you go out for a game.”
There was one downside for the 20-year-old when it comes to an early start.
“No nap, and I’m a big nap guy,” he said with a smile.
Mercer continued to say the matinee games aren’t exactly easier because the players are used to their standard routine of going to the rink, heading home for that pregame nap, and then coming back to do their ritual and getting ready for the game. At the end of the day, it’s all about the players being 100 percent ready to go like they were on Saturday. When I asked if he liked the early starts he gave a typical Mercer answer.
“I actually don’t mind it, I kind of like it,” he said. “I haven’t played too many of them, but I can’t complain, today went good. So it was great.”
The Devils are off today and will be back on the ice for a morning skate on Monday, Oct. 24 at 10:30 a.m. before hosting the Washington Capitals at Prudential Center. Fans will have the opportunity to meet Smith and Haula today from 12:00 P.M. – 2:00 P.M. for an autograph signing at Sports Minded Unlimited located in Warren, New Jersey.