After a frustrating 8-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday evening, the New Jersey Devils responded with a decisive 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks last night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period and did not look back after then. Here are five takeaways ahead of tonight’s tilt against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
Daws With Another Quality Start
Good goaltending has been hard to come by this season for the Devils, but Nico Daws has given them some hope in his last two starts. He stopped 1.63 goals above expected in a 6-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week and followed that up by stopping 0.92 goals above expected against the Canucks yesterday. He made 36 saves on 38 shots, moving his save percentage (SV%) to .918 on the season, though in a small sample size of six games played.
While these last two games from Daws are some of the better goaltending efforts the Devils have gotten this season, goalies are voodoo. A bigger sample size will tell us more about how sustainable his play has been lately. With that said, the net is his to lose with how Jon Gillies has performed. The Devils are on the second half of a back-to-back tonight but don’t have another back-to-back until March 15 and 16 in Vancouver and Calgary. I would expect Daws to get a majority of the starts until then, especially if he keeps giving them above average netminding.
Hamilton Returning to Form
Yesterday was only Dougie Hamilton’s third game back since breaking his jaw on Jan. 4 against the Washington Capitals. But he looked much more like the Dougie Hamilton we saw during the first half of the season before the injury. He added the Devils’ seventh and final goal of the game late in the third period, but his performance was much more than just a late-game goal.
Hamilton finished yesterday’s game with an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 72.85 percent, which led all Devils skaters. His game score of 4.07 topped all skaters among both Devils and Canucks, and it was his second-best game score of the 2021-22 season. The Devils aren’t making the playoffs; that’s been clear for a while. But getting Hamilton back into form over the final 29 games after missing so much time due to injury would be a plus. Based on last night’s effort, it sure looks like he’s getting closer to that.
Hughes’ Line Is Clicking
Since head coach Lindy Ruff put together the trio of Yegor Sharangovich, Jack Hughes and Dawson Mercer on Feb. 15 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Devils have been lighting the lamp quite a bit. All three players finished with a goal and an assist last night, and their stats since Feb. 15 are quite impressive:
- Hughes: 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in four games
- Sharangovich: 6 points (4 goals, 2 assists) in four games
- Mercer: 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in four games
Their on-ice results as a unit at five-on-five have been a mixed bag. But they’re scoring in bunches, so there’s zero reason to break them up. Plus, their game scores have been positive, except for Mercer’s against the Blackhawks on Friday. Hughes has been particularly ridiculous, totaling a game score of two or higher in three of his last four games. By Hockey Stat Card’s definition, those count as great performances. He’s up to 38 points in 33 games — a 94-point pace in 82 games, and he finally seems to have some proper linemates in Sharangovich and Mercer.
Boqvist Continues to Shine
It’s been a long time coming for former top prospect Jesper Boqvist, but it appears it’s starting to click for him in the NHL. He finished last night with a goal and assist, and both were of the flashy variety. His marker came on a fantastic individual effort where he outmuscled Quinn Hughes and eventually deked the puck past Jaroslav Halak for a 4-1 Devils lead:
Boqvist capped off his night with a beauty of a saucer pass as the primary assist on Hamilton’s goal to give the Devils a 7-2 lead. His game score of 2.39 was his third-best of the season and was fourth-best among all skaters last night. He’s now up to 12 points in 27 games — a 36-point pace over 82 games. He seems to have settled in as the team’s third-line center and has found chemistry with Andreas Johnsson and Tomáš Tatar as his linemates. It wasn’t long ago that Boqvist was a consistent healthy scratch, but don’t expect him to come out of the lineup anytime soon with his recent run of play.
Devils Scoring in Bunches
Not only was goaltending a problem for the Devils earlier this season, but so was finishing. However, the team’s inability to find the back of the net seems to be a thing of the past. Over their last seven games, they’ve scored 37 goals, an average of 5.28 goals per game. Their shooting percentage over that stretch is 16.59 percent at all strengths, the highest mark in the league.
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The Devils have certainly not been lacking for chances either. They’re averaging 2.84 expected goals per 60 minutes (xGF/60) at five-on-five over their last seven games; only the Florida Panthers have averaged more. They’re averaging 12.8 high-danger chances per 60 minutes, ranked eighth in the league during this stretch. Even their power play is beginning to generate more chances, as it’s averaged 6.47 xGF/60 over their last seven games, the 15th-best rate in the league.
A 16.59 shooting percentage is most likely unsustainable. But if the Devils are going to keep generating the high-grade chances that they’ve been lately, they’re still going to find the back of the net consistently, even with a bit of regression. If Daws can keep up his strong play, there should be some more wins in the immediate future.
The Devils wrap up their back-to-back tonight against the Blue Jackets before a tilt against their Hudson River rivals, the New York Rangers, on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Be sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage.
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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