4 Devils Takeaways From 5-2 Win Over the Canucks

The New Jersey Devils continued their winning ways last night, defeating the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 for their fourth straight win to begin their western Canada trip. The Devils were a bit slow out of the gate, but a couple of timely goals and strong goaltending from Mackenzie Blackwood in the first period helped pave the way for an early lead the team would never relinquish. Here are four takeaways from last night’s win as the Devils prepare for a tilt against the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow. 

Blackwood Came Up Clutch

With Vitek Vanecek having played very well last week, Blackwood made his first start since a 6-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Oct. 24. That was not his best performance, so a bounce-back effort was needed from him. That’s what he gave the Devils, as he saved 21 of the 23 shots (.913 save percentage) he faced and stopped 0.80 goals above expected. 

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Blackwood was particularly great in the first period when the Canucks had the better of play at five-on-five. At one point in the opening frame, shots on goal were 10-4 Canucks, but he made stops to keep it a 1-0 Devils lead before Michael McLeod scored a goal late in the first to make it 2-0 heading into intermission. 

MacKenzie Blackwood New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Though the Devils did keep the Canucks below 25 shots on goal for the game, something they’ve done to all their opponents this season, Blackwood still faced quite a bit of quality. He answered the bell on those chances, as he was 7/7 on saving high-danger chances. With Vanecek playing well, these performances from Blackwood are what the Devils need to have a reliable tandem. 

Jack Hughes Is on a Mission

I imagine part of the motivation came from facing off against his brother Quinn Hughes, but Jack Hughes was arguably the Devils’ best player against the Canucks. He finished with a goal and an assist, bringing him to a point-per-game pace on the season. 

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Not only did Hughes pick up a couple of points, but he was a one-man wrecking crew at five-on-five. He finished with seven shots on goal (eight at all strengths), nine shot attempts, eight scoring chances(!), and one high-danger chance. His on-ice metrics were solid, as he finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 61.29 percent and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 52.76 percent. 

Hughes has not had any trouble creating chances this season; the points just weren’t coming. That’s changing now, as he has eight in his last four games. With Jesper Bratt having 16 points in ten games and still firing on all cylinders, the Devils’ offense could really pop with Hughes beginning to break out. 

Sharangovich Made an Impact

Not only did Hughes have himself a night, but Yegor Sharangovich made his presence known too. He made a beautiful pass to Dawson Mercer that led to a shorthanded goal to give the Devils a 3-0 lead. Just minutes later, he’d add a tally to make it 4-0, courtesy of some top-end passing from John Marino and Jesper Boqvist: 

Though Hughes was the team’s best facilitator, Sharangovich led all skaters — Canucks included — in game score at 3.07, an all-encompassing stat that measures a player’s total value for a game. His 62.32 xG% at five-on-five was second on the team to McLeod, and his points helped the Devils double their lead from 2-0 to 4-0. With their top performers already playing at a high level, getting consistent efforts from complementary players like Sharangovich last night will help the Devils win plenty more games. 

Devils Special Teams Had So-So Performance

It was a mixed bag for the Devils’ special teams units. They scored a power-play goal and added a shorthanded tally, but they also gave up two power-play markers to the Canucks. The Devils’ penalty kill was succeeding at an unsustainably high rate, so they were due to give up a goal or two. They also took quite a few minors again, as they did in a 1-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday. With the Oilers on tap tomorrow night, they will have to be more disciplined against a power play that contains Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.  

As for the power play, the Devils only had one man-advantage opportunity last night, but they made the most of it with a Nico Hischier goal to get the scoring started in the first period. Leading up to the tally, Hughes and Bratt had some crisp passing to set up Hischier for a redirect in his usual bumper position. 

After being a liability the last two seasons, the Devils’ power play is starting to become a real weapon with Andrew Brunette taking over as the assistant coach in charge of power-play duties. They’re averaging the fifth-most shot attempts and second-most expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. If that keeps up, they will have one of the top power plays in the league, and they certainly have the personnel to do it. 

Quick Hits

  • It was another excellent outing for Marino, whose acquisition continues to pay massive dividends. He led Devils’ defensemen with a 58.62 xG% and played another sound defensive game. But what has impressed the most is his ability to activate offensively. Of course, there was his stretch pass in the video above, but he nearly set up Boqvist for his first goal of the season in the third period. Marino showed offensive upside during his rookie year with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019-20, and it appears he’s regaining some of that form with the Devils. 
  • Speaking of Boqvist, he had a solid night playing on the third line with Sharangovich and Mercer. He finished with a game score of 1.74, ranked in the top five among all skaters who took the ice last night. With head coach Lindy Ruff not comfortable playing Alexander Holtz at the moment, Boqvist has stepped up and played well with the minutes he’s received. Look for him to remain in the lineup for the foreseeable future. 
Jesper Boqvist New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Jesper Boqvist (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • One reason the Devils have won seven of their last eight games is their depth up front has been on full display. Getting contributions from Sharangovich and Boqvist works, but their fourth line has been producing too, as Miles Wood, Nathan Bastian, and McLeod all picked up a point. McLeod was one of the Devils’ top forwards last night, finishing a goal, a 76.84 xG%, and a game score of 2.55, second among all skaters. When Ruff can get efforts like that out of his fourth-liners consistently, the Devils will be a very tough out. 

The Devils couldn’t have gotten off to a better start on their western Canada trip. They’ll now face their toughest test of the 2022-23 season when they take on Draisaitl, McDavid and the Oilers. That has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games during the early part of the year, so stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage. 

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