After blowing a lead against the Washington Capitals on Saturday evening, the New Jersey Devils redeemed themselves last night against the Montreal Canadiens. Though they did blow a lead in the final minute of regulation, they salvaged it by sealing the win in a shootout. Jack Hughes had himself a game and is emerging as a superstar in the league. Let’s dive in on his performance and a few other takeaways from the victory.
Daws Bounces Back
The Devils have asked a lot from rookie goaltender Nico Daws over the last month. He’s started every game other than the team’s 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on March 19. Even though he got the nod against the Capitals on Saturday, he was back in between the pipes last night, and he responded in a big way.
After having a goals saved above expected of -1.66 against the Capitals, Daws stopped 2.10 goals above expected against the Canadiens, making for one of the best starts of his young career. He made some clutch saves on the penalty kill that helped the Devils maintain a 2-1 lead before the Canadiens tied it up. Though he gave up a few goals in the shootout, he made the stops when needed to help the Devils come away with a deserved win.
With Andrew Hammond expected to be available soon, Daws’ workload will likely ease up over the final month of 2021-22. Still, don’t expect him to go to the AHL yet. He should split starts with Hammond, at least until Mackenzie Blackwood returns, which is expected to happen before the season concludes. Daws has played significantly better in home games, so don’t be surprised if the Devils try to start him in their home games as often as possible.
Hughes Was Electric
This is becoming a common occurrence for Hughes, but he was absolutely sensational for the Devils against the Canadiens. He finished with the team’s two goals in regulation and had a filthy goal in the shootout. Not only did he find himself on the scoresheet, but he was the Devils’ most involved player at five-on-five by a wide margin:
The Devils finished the night with a 21-6 shot attempt advantage with Hughes on the ice at five-on-five, a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 77.78 percent. They also had an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 85.58 percent, so they were very much controlling play with him on the ice. The Canadiens may have a depleted roster after trading away some key players at the trade deadline. Yet, they’ve found ways to win under interim head coach Martin St. Louis, so what Hughes did last night was no small task. With 54 points in 46 games, he’s beginning to emerge as a superstar and has a real chance at hitting 30-plus goals despite missing 17 games with a dislocated shoulder.
Bahl Shows Well
Last night was only the 13th game of Kevin Bahl’s NHL career, but it may have been the best the 21-year-old defenseman has had so far. He didn’t record a point, but he had some of the best five-on-five numbers among Devils skaters. He finished with a CF% of 73.08 percent and xG% of 66.57 percent, and he was pretty involved in creating offense from the back end.
Bahl brings a bit of a different element compared to other Devils’ defensemen. At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, he adds some physicality that only maybe Jonas Siegenthaler and Ryan Graves do consistently. At the same time, Bahl skates quite well for a defenseman of his stature, just like Graves and Dougie Hamilton. The Devils returned him to the AHL this morning, but it does look like he’s made some progress in his development. If he can keep adding some offense to his game, he has a shot at becoming an NHL regular.
Wood Returns After Lengthy Absence
After undergoing hip surgery in November, Miles Wood took part in his first NHL game of the 2021-22 season. Though he had gone months without playing in games, he didn’t miss a step. He used his trademark blazing speed to create havoc in the offensive zone, and he wasn’t afraid to throw his body around despite having a significant procedure on his hip. He finished the night with one shot on goal and 11:46 in ice time. His five-on-five numbers weren’t great, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the long layoff.
Wood is an interesting position with the Devils. He’ll be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, but a long-term deal doesn’t seem all that likely right now. Still, it’s important he gets some games in and rediscovers a little bit of what he had last season when he produced at a 25-goal pace over 82 games. He’s a crucial part of the Devils’ bottom-six and will still be in 2022-23, even if he has to accept his qualifying offer and play on a one-year deal.
Devils Special Teams Step Up
After a brutal night in Washington, the Devils’ power play got back to what made them successful a few weeks ago. Nathan Bastian returned to the first unit as a net-front presence, and they stopped deploying two defensemen, leaving Damon Severson as the lone blueliner on the first unit. They’d end up netting a goal after a sweet royal road pass from Jesper Bratt to Hughes for his second goal of the night.
The Devils’ penalty kill also had a big night, going for 5/5, though they did let up an even-strength goal a literal second after a penalty kill expired. Still, it was another solid outing for their PK unit, which has been consistently good for most of the season. Daws also stepped up when the team was shorthanded. Sometimes a team’s goaltender has to be their best penalty killer, and he was at times last night. Combined with strong five-on-five play, where the Devils won the CF% and xG% battle, and that’s a good blueprint for winning games.
Devils Sign Brian Halonen
This is unrelated to last night’s game. But per CapFriendly, the Devils signed undrafted NCAA free agent Brian Halonen to a two-year entry-level contract. The 23-year-old finished his senior season with Michigan Tech with 21 goals and 43 points in 37 games and was a Hobey Baker finalist for best player in the NCAA.
Per the team’s release, he’ll sign an amateur tryout (ATO) and finish the season with the Comets in the AHL, who are gearing up for a potential deep run in the Calder Cup Playoffs. His ELC will begin for the 2022-23 campaign, so that will be the first chance he’ll have at playing NHL games.
The Devils are off for the next three days, but be sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest Devils and NHL coverage before they take on the Bruins in Boston on Thursday evening.
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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