After a stretch of two wins in 11 games and a four-game losing streak, including a shootout defeat to the lowly Ottawa Senators on Monday, the New Jersey Devils got back in the win column last night with a 3-0 shutout victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils didn’t have to sweat out much yesterday evening and largely controlled the game for 60 minutes. Here are some key takeaways as they look to build off a strong effort.
Devils’ Best Defensive Performance of the Season
Last night’s win against the Flyers started with the Devils’ five-on-five defense. They showed some defensive improvement against the Senators, but they upped their effort against the Flyers. Sure, the Flyers are at rock bottom right now. They’ve lost six in a row and are 0-8-2 in their last 10 games, which led to the dismissal of head coach Alain Vigneault.
Sometimes teams find a bit of life after a coaching change. It was a tricky spot for the Devils, but they had none of it. The Devils did not allow a single high-danger chance at five-on-five through two periods. In the end, they held the Flyers to only 1.19 expected goals (xG) at that game state and 1.49 at all situations. They made life relatively easy for goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who had a 25-save shutout and didn’t face many stressful moments.
For a Devils team that’s had its fair share of defensive struggles over the last three to four weeks, that was very much a performance worth repeating. It didn’t come at the expense of their offense, either, as they had 24 scoring chances at five-on-five. If they can build on that type of effort and make life easier for their goaltenders in the process, they should be able to start winning more consistently.
Devils Power Play Slowly Improving
It’s not where it needs to be yet, but the Devils’ power play has shown some signs of a turnaround over the last few games. Last night may have been one of their better power-play efforts in recent memory. It finished one for three thanks to Dawson Mercer, and they generated more than they’ve been able to all season, totaling 10 shot attempts, four scoring chances, and one high-danger chance.
The Devils had a whole host of issues during their two wins in 11 games stretch. Their defensive play and power play were faltering, their finishing was lacking, and they were falling behind early in games too often. With that said, a strong power play can offset many of those problems. Their man-advantage jumped from 31st to 27th in the league yesterday, and that needs to keep trending upward. There will be other stretches of the season where they’ll need their power play to dig them out of a tight game or when things might not be going their way. If the power play keeps improving and turns into even a middle-of-the-pack NHL special teams unit, it will make a significant difference for the Devils.
Ty Smith’s Best Game of the Season
It has been a real struggle for 21-year-old blueliner Ty Smith to start the 2021-22 season. No defenseman has had a bigger net-negative impact on his team than Smith. And I’m not just talking Devils defensemen; I’m talking defensemen league-wide. The Devils were routinely getting caved in at five-on-five with him on the ice, but last night was a clear step in the right direction.
Smith finished with an assist, which he tallied on Mercer’s power-play goal. He finished with a game score of 1.81, his best game score of the season, and by a relatively comfortable margin (for those who don’t know what game score is, it’s a metric used to show how productive a player is in an individual game). He totaled an xG% of 70.77 percent at five-on-five, the best among Devils defensemen.
Most thought at the beginning of the season that Smith and Damon Severson would make up the Devils’ second defense pair. Smith missed almost all of training camp and the preseason with an injury, which clearly set him back and altered those plans. He’s still has a ways to go before reaching the level he’s capable of, but his effort against the Flyers should help boost his confidence. With the Devils having a bit of a softer schedule for the next week-plus, there’s a chance for him to keep building on last night too.
Bratt Is the Devils’ MVP To Start 2021-22
It’s hard to say where the Devils would be without Jesper Bratt this season, but it probably wouldn’t be a good place. With a goal and an assist against the Flyers, he’s up to seven goals and 22 points in 24 games. That comes out to a 24-goal, 75-point in 82 games. He led all players in game score last night, including Flyers, with a game score of 2.35, his fourth-best game score of the season.
Not only is Bratt producing, but he’s been the Devils’ best forward at five-on-five. With the Bratt on the ice at that game state, the team has an xG% of 58.9 percent. That drops to 46 percent with him off the ice. To put it another way: the Devils look like legitimate playoff contenders with him on the ice but more like bottom feeders when he’s off the ice. His impact has been that significant. And with Jack Hughes still working his way back to full form from a dislocated shoulder, Bratt has filled the void better than anyone could have imagined. Once Hughes starts playing at peak form (he’s getting closer), the Devils’ top-six should become much more consistent.
Despite the tough stretch of games, the Devils are 10-9-5 and sit in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division. They’re one point behind the fifth-place Columbus Blue Jackets and four behind the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins with a game in hand. They’re nowhere near out of the playoff picture and have a chance to keep clawing back up the standings with games against the Nashville Predators and New York Islanders to close out the week.
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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