It’s been a minute since writing a takeaways post, but the 2022-23 preseason got underway last night for the New Jersey Devils. They traveled to Montreal to take on the Canadiens and came away with a 2-1 victory to open up exhibition games. Here are five takeaways from last night’s win ahead of a tilt against the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Blackwood Looked Sharp
Though Nico Daws looked solid in the 28 minutes he played, the real story was Mackenzie Blackwood’s performance. In just over 31 minutes, he made 15 saves on 16 shots, good for a .938 save percentage, and finished with a goals saved above expected (GSAx) of 0.21. He also made a few impressive saves using his athleticism to keep the Devils’ deficit at 1-0.
What was most encouraging about Blackwood’s effort last night was his movement. He looked like he was moving post to post without much trouble, which was an issue for him in 2021-22. As most Devils fans remember, Blackwood had heel surgery in summer 2021 and was not anywhere near 100 percent a season ago. In his post-game media scrum, he said he’s able to play pain-free. Based on last night, that sure seems to be the case, which is an encouraging sign to start the preseason.
Devils Power Play Showed Early Signs of Improvement
There’s no way around it, but the Devils’ power play last season was nothing short of a disaster. It wouldn’t have changed their fate in the standings, but an average man advantage could’ve helped them grab a couple of more wins than they had. That’s why Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald made a change this offseason and replaced assistant coach Mark Recchi with Andrew Brunette, a Jack Adams finalist just a season ago, to oversee the power play.
While it was only the first preseason game, what the Devils did up a man was encouraging. They went 1/4, with Tomáš Tatar netting a power-play goal to tie the game at one in the second period. Over their four power-play opportunities, the Devils had eight grade B chances and three grade A chances. They did not give up anything shorthanded to the Canadiens either, which was a significant problem a season ago.
Considering the Devils didn’t have Jack Hughes or their full arsenal of power-play weapons, to see them perform the way they did up a man was a good sign. Their puck movement was much better, and their shot generation is what head coach Lindy Ruff will want to see in the regular season. If that was a sign of what’s to come on the power play, Brunette will have a significant impact on the 2022-23 Devils.
Boqvist Is off to a Good Start
It’s a pretty significant preseason for Jesper Boqvist. With prospects like Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund pushing for NHL roster spots, his spot as a regular is far from guaranteed. Add in Erik Haula’s acquisition over the summer, and Boqvist will have to show Ruff and his staff he deserves to be the team’s third-line center over the competition.
For a first preseason game, Boqvist did about as well as he could have. He tallied a secondary assist on Tatar’s power-play goal, but it was at five-on-five where he stood out. The Devils had an 18-5 shot attempt advantage — 78.26 Corsi for percentage (CF%) — and an 87.67 expected goals percentage (xG%) with him on the ice. With Nico Hischier leaving the game in the first due to cramping, he took advantage of an expanded role and made a positive mark on the game. It far from locks him into a guaranteed spot in the lineup, but it certainly got him off on the right foot.
Clarke Makes an Impression
Graeme Clarke may have a bit of an uphill climb to make the Devils’ opening night roster, but he made sure that everyone doesn’t forget about him. He scored the game-winning goal with just over five minutes remaining in the third period with a bit of luck, but it wasn’t his only scoring chance of the night.
For the game, Clarke finished with four shots on goal, three of which came at five-on-five. He had three grade B chances at five-on-five, which tied for second-most on the team, and three grade A chances, tied with Jesper Bratt for the most. Clarke’s on-ice metrics at that game state were quite good as well, as he finished with a 66.67 CF% and 73.57 xG%. He still has a ways to go before being a serious contender for the opening night roster, but he certainly made himself noticeable in a good way.
Devils Impress at Five-on-Five
While it was only a preseason contest, the Devils dominated at five-on-five. They finished the game with a 64.79 CF% (46-25 shot attempt advantage) and a 76.53 xG%, and it’s not like the Canadiens dressed a completely watered-down lineup. Cole Caufield, Mike Hoffman, Mike Matheson, and Kirby Dach were among the players with NHL experience in the Canadiens lineup. Top prospects like Juraj Slafkovsky — the first overall pick in the 2022 draft — Filip Mešar and Kaiden Guhle also played.
The Devils had their fair share of NHLers too, but it was far from their regular-season lineup. They also played most of the game without Hischier, but they still controlled play at five-on-five other than a five-minute segment in the second period where the Canadiens completely hemmed in the Devils in the defensive zone. There weren’t any glaring defensive breakdowns, and they managed to come away with a 16-1 advantage in grade A chances, another encouraging sign to begin the preseason.
- Kevin Bahl didn’t do anything flashy, but he was quietly very effective. He finished with a 60.71 CF% and led Devils defensemen with an 88.94 xG%. Starting with the Prospects Challenge ten days ago, Bahl’s ability to defend one-on-one has improved markedly from where he was two years ago. He still has work to do, but he seems like a solid bet to share third-pair duties with Brendan Smith on the left side.
- Tatar’s first season with the Devils didn’t go as hoped, but he is one of the team’s top bounce-back candidates. Aside from the goal, he finished with an 82.28 xG% at five-on-five and three grade A chances at all strengths. In a middle-six role, that’s what the Devils will consistently need from him this season.
- Brian Halonen may not have been on your radar heading into the preseason, but he had a solid showing, even though he didn’t finish with a point. He had three shots on goal and led the team with a 91.74 xG%. He’s probably heading to the Utica Comets (AHL) to start the regular season, but he could put himself in a position to be among the Devils’ first call-ups if he has a strong preseason.
The Devils return to the ice tonight to face the Islanders, the second of four preseason games this week. Make sure to stay with The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage as the 2022-23 season gets underway.
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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