Ahead of a pivotal showdown with the Carolina Hurricanes, the New Jersey Devils didn’t get caught looking ahead. On the last of a mini two-game road trip, they used a strong first period to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1. With that, they’ll play the Hurricanes for a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Here are three takeaways and some quick hits ahead of a crucial divisional matchup.
Hischier Line Dominates Again
Right from their first shift, the Tomáš Tatar, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer line came to play. They took the opening faceoff and spent the first 1:40 of the game in the Canadiens’ defensive zone, applying relentless pressure. To the Canadiens’ credit, they did well by keeping things to the perimeter for most of the game. Yet, the Hischier line found ways to generate shots and chances.
The Devils had a 26-8 shot attempt advantage with this trio on the ice at five-on-five, good for a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 76.47 percent. But they only controlled 47.18 percent of the expected goals (xG%) because of the Canadiens’ ability to keep things to the perimeter.
Even then, the Devils still managed a 17-5 scoring chance advantage with the Hischier line on the ice. They converted on a goal with about a minute left in the first period from Hischier, thanks to some slick passing from Mercer and Damon Severson. And they iced the game when Tatar put home the empty-net goal with just over a minute left in the third period. There’s no question they were the Devils’ best line, and if they’re to beat the Hurricanes tonight, they’ll need to be at their best again.
Hughes’ Line Needs a Shakeup
After a solid showing against the Washington Capitals in a 3-2 win on March 9, the unit of Timo Meier, Jack Hughes and Jesper Boqvist struggled to get anything going at five-on-five against the Canadiens. They finished with a 42.58 xG% and had only one high-danger chance. Hughes and Meier were out of sorts, as Hughes had zero shots on goal while Meier had only two.
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Head coach Lindy Ruff went to this combo ahead of the Capitals game. It was worth the experiment since Boqvist was playing well, and they’re still trying to find the right combo with Hughes and Meier. With that said, it’s probably time to pull the plug on this experiment and reunite Jesper Bratt with Hughes and Meier, with Meier playing on his more natural right wing. Though the sample is small, here’s what Bratt, Hughes and Meier have done since the Devils acquired Meier:
- 61.54 CF%
- 60.97 xG%
- 17-9 scoring chances
- 6-4 high-danger chances
This trio looked legitimately awesome together before Ruff broke them up a little more than halfway through a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 7. They deserve another chance together, especially with Hughes and Bratt going through mini-slumps.
Schmid With Another Quality Start
With Vitek Vanecek approaching a career-high in starts, Ruff went to Akira Schmid for a second consecutive game. The 22-year-old was more than solid against the Canadiens, who generated plenty of quality chances, as he made 23 saves on 24 shots while stopping 1.92 goals above expected (GSAx). That moves his save percentage to .927 on the season and his GSAx to plus-7.72.
The most notable part of Schmid’s game is his calm and collected manner in between the pipes. His positioning always seems to be sound, and he never panics. Coupled with his size and athleticism, and it’s why he’s caught the eyes of almost everyone who’s watched him play this season, especially as of late.
With Vanecek struggling in his recent starts and Mackenzie Blackwood still out with an injury, Schmid has a .944 SV% across his last five appearances and has proven the Devils can rely on him in big spots. He’ll likely be the odd man out once Blackwood returns, but the Devils know they have a reliable No. 3 goalie who could turn into a true starter in his prime.
Devils Quick Hits
- The BMW line of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian had a rough night against the Capitals, but they rebounded against the Canadiens. Bastian scored the first goal of the game and finished with five shots on goal. Wood picked up the assist on the tally by forcing Kaiden Guhle into a turnover on the forecheck. They finished with a 68.09 xG%, the best among Devils line combos.
- Severson did have an egregious turnover that led to the Canadiens’ lone goal, but overall, he had another strong outing. His 69.25 xG% was second among Devils skaters to Bastian, and he was once again creating plenty of offense in a third-pair role, picking up the primary assist on Hischier’s goal.
- Ondrej Palát and Erik Haula have played well with Bratt on the third line, but that unit seemed to have more juice with Boqvist. He’s an ideal bottom-six forward who plays well defensively and forechecks. He was putting up points with Palát and Haula while helping that line dominate at five-on-five. Ruff should make the switch and flip him with Bratt not only to give Bratt another chance with Hughes and Meier but also to put back together what was the Devils’ best third line this season in Palát, Haula and Boqvist.
With the Hurricanes’ 4-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Devils can tie the Hurricanes with 94 points in the standings. Carolina will have a game in hand on New Jersey, but needless to say, this tilt could have significant implications for who wins the Metropolitan Division. If the Devils lose in regulation, they’ll be four points back, with the Hurricanes having a game in hand. Grabbing two points is a must for the Devils since it’s the last time they face the Hurricanes this season.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick