5 Takeaways From Devils’ 5-1 Win Over the Canadiens

What a run it’s been, and it hasn’t ended yet. The New Jersey Devils began their swing of Eastern Canada with a resounding 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens to extend their winning streak to 10 games. They now sit at 13-3 on the season ahead of a highly-anticipated showdown against Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. Here are five takeaways and some quick hits from the Devils’ latest win.

Vanecek Helped the Devils Weather the Storm

You might not know it by looking at the final score, but the Devils did not get off to a great start last night. Some of their top players struggled during the first period, which helped the Canadiens have the advantage over the opening 20 minutes. They had a 21-15 shot attempt advantage over the Devils and controlled 65.74 percent of the expected goals (xG%) at five-on-five. 

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Fortunately for the Devils, goaltender Vitek Vanecek stood on his head in the first period. He made 15/15 saves, including an incredible stop on a Michael Pezzetta one-timer off an odd-man rush with 4:15 remaining in the opening frame. In the first 20 minutes alone, Vanecek stopped 1.15 goals above expected at all strengths. Were it not for that performance, the team would have a tall task ahead of him trying to rally from behind. 

Vitek Vanecek New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils would reward Vanecek early in the second period for his first-period efforts. Jack Hughes (power play) and Dougie Hamilton would score two goals within the first six minutes to give the Devils a 2-0 lead, and the team didn’t look back from there. They completely tilted the ice in their favor over the final 40 minutes, and some line juggling from head coach Lindy Ruff did the trick once again. 

Ruff Pushes the Right Buttons Again

Because the Devils struggled out of the gate, Ruff wasted no time shaking up his lines. Similar to what he did in the team’s 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, Ruff kept the Nico Hischier and BMW lines intact and moved around his middle-six. Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Bratt found themselves alongside Jesper Boqvist, while Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer moved up to Hughes’ wings. 

The results paid off, as the newly formed lines helped the Devils tilt the ice for the final two periods. They had a 42-22 shot attempt advantage over the Canadiens at five-on-five after the first and controlled 63.2 percent of the expected goals. After allowing four high-danger chances in the first period, they allowed just four the rest of the way. 

Related: Devils’ Fabian Zetterlund Proving He Belongs in Lineup

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The new lines also got Hughes going after a rough first period, as he finished with a game score of 4.33, which ranked third in the entire league last night. The trio of Hughes, Haula and Mercer finished with a 93.17 xG%, with Hughes finishing with two goals and an assist at all strengths (1g, 1a at five-on-five). Mercer also added two helpers, helping end a five-game scoring drought. Hughes and Mercer seem to have chemistry whenever they’re linemates, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ruff stick with them and Haula against the Maple Leafs. 

And though Bratt, Boqvist and Sharangovich didn’t score a goal as a trio, they also fared well. The Devils finished with an 11-3 shot attempt advantage and 67.92 xG% with them on the ice. Ruff once again pushed the right buttons to help the team get going after a so-so start, so I’d expect this unit to remain together tomorrow too. 

Hamilton Playing at an Elite Level

The Devils signed Hamilton to a $63 million contract for a reason. For performances like the one that he had last night. He tallied an assist on Hughes’ power-play goal and had a laser of a wrist shot to give the Devils a 2-0 lead a few minutes after Hughes’ tally. There was so much mustard behind it that I wasn’t sure if the puck hit the back of the net or iron at first: 

Hamilton was right behind Hughes in game score, at 4.05, and it wasn’t just his offense either. He finished the night with a 73.57 xG% and only allowed 0.27 expected goals against when he was on the ice. Part of that is because Jonas Siegenthaler, who had an excellent game himself, is his defensive partner. But Hamilton’s defensive impacts have been impressive to start this season. He’s been playing at an elite, top-pair level, and his effort last night was an example of why he’s been so good early on. 

Marino’s Defensive Prowess Made a Difference

Hamilton wasn’t the only Devils defenseman to put on a show last night. John Marino had a whale of a game, making several key defensive plays. In the first period, Marino broke up a sure goal for Cole Caufield by deflecting a pass from Nick Suzuki on a 2-on-1. Later in the game, during the third period, he canceled out a rush attempt from Caufield by muscling him off the puck and gaining possession. 

For his efforts, Marino would put in the empty-net goal with less than 10 seconds remaining to give the Devils a 5-1 win. And as Devils color commentator Ken Daneyko said after the Devils took a 4-1 lead and made it clear the game was out of reach, it was obvious Marino was frustrating some of the Canadiens’ top-six forwards. With Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs’ high-flying offense up next, the Devils will need a repeat performance from Marino, which he’s more than capable of doing. 

Hischier’s Line Caused Problems

It was a rare night off the scoresheet for the Hischier line, but they still made life difficult for the Canadiens in the defensive zone. Their work on the cycle hemmed in the Canadiens a few times, and they didn’t have much of an answer for the work of Hischier, Tomáš Tatar and Fabian Zetterlund when they had puck possession in the offensive zone. 

Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Per the Devils’ MSG broadcast and analyst Bryce Salvador during the post-game show, the Devils had a clear advantage in scoring chances off the cycle over the Canadiens (14-3, to be exact). The Hischier line wasn’t responsible for all of them, but they surely played their part, as the Devils had seven scoring chances with them on the ice. That’s why they’ve been one of the NHL’s best lines at five-on-five. Not only are they creating off the rush, but their work on the cycle has made it very difficult for teams to defend against them. 

Quick Hits

  • It may have seemed like a quiet night for Bratt, but he still ended the game with a goal and an assist, bringing him to 21 points in 16 games — a 108-point pace over 82 games. With Hughes totaling 15 points over his last 10 games, the Devils’ offense is firing on all cylinders. 
  • Perhaps it was overshadowed by the performances from Hughes, Hamilton, Marino and Vanecek, but Nathan Bastian was excellent too. The Devils finished with a 16-8 shot attempt advantage and 72.27 xG% with him on the ice at five-on-five. He sacrificed himself multiple times to block shots, even after the team had put the game to bed. And he provided the screen on Hughes’ power-play goal in the second period. That type of effort will get him noticed by the coaching staff. 

Related: Devils’ Hamilton Anchoring Defense in Bounce-Back Season

  • I mentioned Siegenthaler before, but his performance deserves its due as well. It’s not just about his defensive game anymore. He’s not going to find the scoresheet often, but he’s much more active offensively than a season ago. He finished last night with three shots on goal and accumulated 1.06 expected goals when he was on the ice. It’s not affecting his defensive game, as he’s still locking it down. Add in how well Hamilton has been playing, and they’ve been one of the best top pairs in the league through 16 games. 

Can the Devils make it 11 in a row when they take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto tomorrow evening? One thing is for sure: it has the potential to be one of this season’s most entertaining games to this point. Make sure to stay plugged into The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage. 

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