What a trip that was. The New Jersey Devils did something they haven’t done in 26 years. Yes, you read that correctly. In defeating the Calgary Flames 4-3 in overtime, they swept their Western Canada trip (3-0-0) for the first time since 1996. The victory extended their current winning streak to six games and moved them to 9-3-0 on the season as they return to New Jersey to complete a home-and-home against the Flames on Tuesday. Here are five takeaways and some quick hits from last night’s win.
Zetterlund Comes Up Big
Fabian Zetterlund, one of the Devils’ top 10 prospects, is starting to find his way in the NHL. He had been playing well since entering the lineup after Ondrej Palát suffered a groin injury that required surgery, but last night was his best performance yet. He got on the scoresheet in the first period to give the Devils a 2-1 lead, but he saved his best for last with a one-time blast on the power play in overtime to give the Devils the win:
Zetterlund finished the night with two goals and played quite well at five-on-five, totaling a 56.94 expected goals percentage (xG%). Though he found the scoresheet and contributed offensively, he also had a sneaky good game on defense. It may go unnoticed, but he has an active stick and does a good job breaking up opponents’ transition game in the neutral zone. He’s also a workhorse in the defensive zone and does a good job killing plays.
An injury to a player like Palát would’ve killed the Devils a season. But so far, they haven’t missed a step because of players like Zetterlund making a positive impact, and his defensive effort last night wasn’t a one-off. He’s had strong two-way metrics in his seven appearances this season, which will help him stick on the first line alongside Nico Hischier.
Hughes Dominated the Flames
Though Jack Hughes is a bit snakebitten when it comes to goal-scoring, he’s still finding plenty of ways to help the Devils control play and win contests. He picked up two helpers last night, bringing him to 12 points in 12 games this season. But his performance was about much more than just picking up a couple of apples.
With Hughes on the ice at five-on-five, the Devils had a 23-8 shot attempt advantage over the Flames. He led the team in five-on-five xG% at 77.66 percent and was a chance-generating machine at all strengths, finishing with nine shot attempts, seven shots on goal, seven scoring chances, and three high-danger chances.
If Hughes keeps up his shot and chance generation, it’s only a matter of time before he finds the back of the net more often. And even though he’s going through poor shooting luck, he’s still at a point-per-game pace. Once he starts scoring, it’s going to come in bunches.
Vanecek With Another Solid Outing in Net
The Devils made life relatively easy for Vitek Vanecek in the first period. That changed over the final 40 minutes, however, as he faced quite a bit of rubber. Some of that was easier than others, especially at five-on-five, where the Flames had plenty of lower percentage point shots. Still, he made the saves when called upon.
In all, Vanecek stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced and gave up three goals on 3.37 expected goals, meaning he essentially saved what was expected of him. It was hard to fault him for any of the goals he gave up, and he was excellent on the penalty kill, as he made seven saves on seven shots and stopped 1.28 goals above expected at 4-on-5. Had it not been for his effort on the kill in the second period, the Flames could’ve flipped the game sooner than they did.
Special Teams Helped the Devils Pull Through
Speaking of the Devils’ penalty kill, it was another strong effort for one of the NHL’s top-ranked units. They only faced two Flames power plays, but they came at a crucial moment later in the second period when they had already trimmed the Devils’ lead to 3-2. New Jersey had to kill nearly four minutes of consecutive power plays, including about 30 seconds of a 5-on-3. As mentioned, Vanecek played a crucial role on the kill, but his penalty killers helped him get the job done.
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As for the power play, they were having a relatively rough night until Zetterlund’s overtime winner. Yet, even though they weren’t at their best, they were still creating chances, as they had five high-danger chances in regulation. With Zetterlund’s power-play tally, the Devils have a goal on the man advantage in five of their last six contests. There’s been a noticeable improvement in how it operates compared to a season ago, which assistant coach Andrew Brunette deserves plenty of credit for turning around. They should be scoring a bit more than they are while up a man, but it’s hard to complain about their process.
The Devils’ Ultimate Driving Machine
On paper, the BMW line of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian is the Devils’ fourth line, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they’re scoring. Bastian and Wood each picked up a goal and assist, while McLeod had the primary assist on Wood’s tally, extending all three players’ point streaks to four games.
Wood, in particular, has been on a tear lately, totaling seven points in his last four games. He finished last night with a game score, an all-encompassing stat that measures a player’s total value for a single game, of 2.26. That finished second to Hughes on the Devils and fourth among all skaters.
When a team can boast a “fourth line” producing at the level of the BMW line, it makes life difficult for any opponent that the Devils have to face. They might not have great on-ice metrics at five-on-five, but they have been hard to play against in the offensive zone because of their ability to get in on the forecheck and wear down their opponents. That’s a nice luxury for head coach Lindy Ruff to have at his disposal.
- I’m usually quick to defend Damon Severson because he does take a fair bit of unwarranted criticism on social media, but last night was not his best game. He didn’t make a hard enough play on the Flames’ first goal, and though their second goal wasn’t entirely his fault, it was enough for Ruff to bench him for most of the second period. He has been playing well to start this season, but he will need to be better than he was yesterday on Tuesday night in the Devils’ rematch against the Flames.
- Let’s talk about Jonas Siegenthaler. On Thursday night, he made life miserable for Leon Draisaitl. Yesterday, he completely locked down Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm, holding both players to an xG% below 21 percent in about seven minutes against each at five-on-five. In all, the Devils gave up just 0.31 expected goals when he was on the ice. His game score of 2.21 ranked first among Devils defensemen, and he’s now adding some offense to his game. His 2021-22 season was clearly no fluke.
- Jesper Bratt’s point streak may have ended at 11 games, but he still had a strong outing. His 71.91 xG% at five-on-five was second to Hughes, and he had eight shot attempts, five shots on goal, five scoring chances and three high-danger chances at all strengths. Not exactly a game you’d think a point streak ends, but that’s how hockey goes sometimes.
The Devils couldn’t have had a better Western Canada trip (literally). After completing their home-and-home with the Flames on Tuesday, they’ll take on the Ottawa Senators, Arizona Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens in their next three games. There’s a significant opportunity ahead to pad their place atop the Metropolitan Division.
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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