After a tough 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening, the New Jersey Devils bounced back yesterday with a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jack Hughes led the way again, with a goal and two assists, but there were plenty of other standout performances. Here are five takeaways from their victory ahead of the conclusion of their home-and-home with the Blue Jackets in Columbus tomorrow night.
Blackwood’s Big Bounce-Back Performance
It hasn’t been a great season for Mackenzie Blackwood. He entered last night with an .895 save percentage (SV%), one of the worst save percentages in the league for qualified starters. But he bounced back in a big way for the Devils, stopping 31 of 32 shots he faced. That was the first time he posted an SV% above .900 since Dec. 8 against the Philadelphia Flyers when he had a 25-save shutout.
Blackwood was particularly stellar in the first period. The Devils scored the first goal of the game, but it was the Blue Jackets who controlled play in the opening frame. They had a 25-13 shot attempt advantage over the Devils at five-on-five and a whopping 2.16 expected goals (xG) at all strengths. Blackwood stood tall, allowing one goal, the only one he would give up for the rest of the contest.
In all, Blackwood finished stopping 2.58 goals above expected, one of his best performances of the season. He kept them in the game in the first period when they shouldn’t have been in it. The expectation is he’s going to play quite a bit moving forward, given the team has a fair amount of breaks in their schedule due to COVID postponements. So they’ll need more of that from him to keep up this impressive stretch of play they’ve had since the Christmas break.
Hughes Continues Showing Why He Was a First-Overall Pick
Another game, another “well that was impressive” performance from Jack Hughes. With the goal (empty net) and two assists, he now has 12 points in five games since the Christmas break — a 197-point pace over 82 games. That’ll come down over time, but he keeps dominating games at five-on-five, along with linemate Jesper Bratt.
Hughes finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 51.43 percent and xG% of 54.48 percent. He was creating for himself and his teammates, as he led the Devils in shot contributions by a wide margin (shot assists are passes that lead to shots on goal):
He’s not there yet, but Hughes is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the NHL. That’s why the Devils gave Hughes an eight-year, $64 million contract extension just before Thanksgiving. With 20 points in 18 games, that’d put him on pace for 91 points in 82 games. That’s production worth an $8 million cap hit and then some. There’s still a long way to go before even considering the Devils have a shot at a playoff spot. But at the very least, Hughes playing at this level for the rest of 2021-22 should make for some fun hockey and could have the team playing in meaningful games in March and April.
Hischier Doesn’t Miss a Beat, Even With New Linemates
Nico Hischier returned to the lineup after a one-game absence with a lower-body injury. Though his line didn’t score, they sure made an impact. Hischier, along with linemates Nathan Bastian and Jimmy Vesey, skated the Blue Jackets into the ground at five-on-five. With that trio on the ice, the Devils had a CF% of 77.78 percent and xG% of 71.51 percent. They out-chanced the Blue Jackets 6-2 and won the high-danger chance battle 4-0.
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Looking at the lines during the pregame skate, and one (including myself) wouldn’t have guessed that trio would’ve clicked, but it did. Bastian had one of his best games of the season, with three shots on goal and an assist on the power play. Vesey didn’t find the score sheet, but he was noticeable and led the team in CF% (81.82 percent) and xG% (83.28 percent) by the time the final horn sounded. With Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich and Andreas Johnsson in COVID protocols for at least the next few days, the Devils will need a repeat performance or two from Vesey, Hischier and Bastian until reinforcements arrive.
Siegenthaler & Severson Shut It Down Again
It’s been quite some time since the Devils have had a true shutdown defense pair. But they seem to have one now in Jonas Siegenthaler and Damon Severson. With Dougie Hamilton out indefinitely after having surgery to repair a broken jaw, Siegenthaler and Severson have been getting the heavy workload. And they are delivering in those minutes.
The Blue Jackets were shorthanded, but their top forwards were all in the lineup. Siegenthaler and Severson got a majority of those matchups, and the Devils had a clear advantage in CF% and xG% when matching them up against the Blue Jackets’ best players:
Though xG% isn’t pictured above, it was at 50 percent or better for Siegenthaler and Severson against all those players. Siegenthaler, in particular, is beginning to emerge as one of the NHL’s elite shutdown defensemen. For someone who the Devils acquired for just a 2021 third-round pick from the Washington Capitals last season, he’s turned out to be one of their most valuable additions.
As for Severson, he gets a lot of criticism on social media from Devils fans, but it’s unwarranted. He’s a borderline top-pair defenseman at five-on-five, and he can handle the minutes he’s going to get with Siegenthaler. If they keep shutting down opponents’ top lines the way they are, they’ll help give the Devils a chance every night.
Devils Penalty Kill Comes Up Clutch
The Blue Jackets may have been missing Zach Werenski due to COVID protocols, but they still had their top power-play weapons. The Devils’ penalty kill stood up to challenge, however, as they killed off all four Blue Jackets power plays. And they did it in the manner they have for most of the season.
The Devils have one of the best shot-suppressing penalty kills in the league; only the Carolina Hurricanes are better. Last night they showed why that’s the case, as they only allowed two high-danger chances to the Blue Jackets power play. With the four successful kills, the Devils now have a success rate of 82 percent on the penalty kill — 11th best in the NHL. With a power play that’s beginning to improve, their special team units are finally starting to have a positive impact.
The Devils will close out the week and their home-and-home tomorrow night in Columbus. Assuming no one else enters COVID protocols, expect the same lineup to take the ice. If they perform the way they did over the final 40 minutes last night, it should result in their fifth win in six games.
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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