It wasn’t always pretty, but the New Jersey Devils came away with a scrappy 3-2 win against the Golden Knights last night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The Devils got off to a strong start and were the better team through the first 20 minutes. But with their playoff hopes on the line, the Golden Knights applied unrelenting pressure over the final 40 minutes. Fortunately for the Devils, they got timely goals and stellar goaltending from Andrew Hammond, which may have ended the Golden Knights’ playoff hopes.
Hammond Was Terrific
There haven’t been many games where a goaltender has stolen a win for the Devils this season, but last night was one of them. Hammond didn’t face much work in the first period, but that quickly changed to start the second period. The Golden Knights fired 34 shots on goal over the final 40 minutes, but Hammond allowed just two to get past him. And one of them was a deflection that went off the skate of P.K. Subban.
In all, Hammond stopped 42 of the 44 shots he faced and finished with a goals saved above expected of 2.52. It was one of the best performances the Devils have gotten from a goaltender this season. Starts like that are why they acquired him at the trade deadline, to give themselves a chance to win some contests to close out the season. The Devils have six games left in 2021-22, with two sets of back-to-backs. If Hammond gets the nod against the Buffalo Sabres and has a repeat performance Thursday, we’ll likely see him carry the load to end the season.
Devils’ Fourth Line Sparks the Offense
Though the Devils had one of their worst five-on-five performances of the season, their fourth line stepped up and provided the offense last night. Nathan Bastian got the scoring started in the first period when he put home a rebound off a Michael McLeod one-timer from the high slot to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. Later in the game, Andreas Johnsson would score the go-ahead tally, his 13th goal of the season, in the third period for a 2-1 lead.
Not only did the trio of Johnsson, McLeod and Bastian find the scoresheet for the Devils, but they were the team’s best line at five-on-five. Bastian finished with an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 67.68 percent, which led all Devils skaters. Johnsson finished with an xG% of 61.81 percent, while McLeod had an xG% of 61.67 percent, which were second and third among Devils skaters.
With Jack Hughes out for the rest of the season with a low-grade MCL sprain, the Devils need their bottom-six to step up and provide some scoring if they want to end 2021-22 on a high note. Last night was a perfect example of them getting bottom-six production, especially when the Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt lines struggled to generate much offense after the first period. With a relatively easy schedule across their final six games, the Devils’ depth lines could have a chance to continue their strong play from their west-coast trip.
Bahl Looks Like He Belongs
After last week’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche, this was the stiffest test for Kevin Bahl since the Devils called him up after Jonas Siegenthaler went down for the season with a broken hand. The Golden Knights have a pretty stacked roster up front with Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Marchessault. They were a significant reason the Golden Knights caved in the Devils at five-on-five, but Bahl stood up to the task.
After the Devils’ fourth line, Bahl was the only player to finish with an xG% above 50 percent (50.61 percent). He also made a great read and keep at the blue line that led to Johnsson’s goal in the third period. He pinched down the wall on his strong side and launched a one-timer from the blue line that Robin Lehner couldn’t handle with his glove. The puck squirted loose, and Johnsson put home the rebound to make it a 2-1 game.
There’s been a noticeable step forward in Bahl’s development since getting called up ahead of this west-coast road trip. The game doesn’t seem to be moving too fast for him anymore. He’s adjusting to NHL pace, and it’s leading to good play for the most part. His skating was always there, especially for someone who measures 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. But now, the decision-making and puck management are coming along, all positive signs as the season winds down.
A Road Trip Worth Savoring
The Devils have been one of the worst road teams in the league in 2021-22. They entered this five-game west-coast swing with an 8-24-2 record on the road. The initial thought would’ve been, well, this is probably going to end poorly. As it turns out, it was the team’s best road trip of the season.
The Devils went 3-1-1 with wins against the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights, two teams in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. They did lose to the Avalance, but they were competitive. And they probably should’ve come away with a win against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night had it not been for their power play.
A big reason for the success on this road trip was goaltending. Nico Daws had one of his best starts of the season against the Stars, and he followed that up with two league-average starts against the Arizona Coyotes and Kraken. And, of course, there was Hammond’s terrific display against the Golden Knights.
But the Devils’ success wasn’t just about their goaltending; they got contributions from their young players too. Bahl didn’t just play well last night; he played well a majority of the trip. Jesper Boqvist continues to make his case as the Devils’ third-line center, with three goals and four points in five games out west, including this highlight-reel goal where he schooled Alex Pietrangelo and froze Lehner:
With that tally, Boqvist has six games to try and reach double-digit goals for the first time in his NHL career. With how he’s played lately, finding his 10th goal of the season shouldn’t be too difficult. Janne Kuokkanen has looked more like his 2020-21 self since returning at the beginning of the month from a wrist injury. And finally, Hischier has very much gotten people’s attention as a legitimate top-six, borderline first-line center.
With four of the Devils’ final six games coming against the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings (x2) and Sabres, there’s an opportunity for them to end 2021-22 on a winning note heading into the summer. With goaltending such as last night and contributions from their young players, it could make for a hopeful ending to what’s been a difficult season.
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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick
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