After an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils rebounded by putting up seven goals on the Carolina Hurricanes en route to a 7-4 win. Nathan Bastian had one of his best games of the season since the Devils claimed him on waivers from the Seattle Kraken, while Andreas Johnsson and Pavel Zacha broke long goal droughts. Here are four takeaways from yesterday’s game ahead of a tilt against the Los Angeles Kings tonight.
Devils Get Needed Depth Scoring
More often than not, the Devils need to rely on Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt for most, if not all, of their offense. All three players found the scoresheet against the Hurricanes, but it was the Devils’ depth scorers that showed up and made the difference.
After falling behind 2-0 early in the first period, Bastian tallied two goals late in the opening frame to draw the Devils even heading into the first intermission. He finished with a game score of 1.89, his best game score in all of 2021-22. He’s now up to seven goals in 20 games since the Devils claimed him from the Kraken, which would be a 29-goal pace in 82 games. His defensive impacts have always been strong, but he’s found some extra finishing ability this season. It’s safe to say he’s turning into one of the team’s best young, bottom-six forwards.
After going 17 and 18 games without goals, Johnsson and Zacha finally found the back of the net. Johnsson finished with a goal and two assists and led all skaters with a game score of 3.96, his second-best game score of 2021-22. Zacha assisted on Johnsson’s goal and finished off the night for the Devils by tallying their seventh and final goal of the game. His game score of 2.18 was also his second-best of the season.
The Devils don’t have the goaltending to win low-scoring games this season. They’re going to need to get into high-scoring affairs to have a chance, and that won’t happen without contributions from players like Johnsson, Zacha and Bastian. It was particularly encouraging to see Zacha and Johnsson break out of slumps. Hopefully they begin to find more consistency to their game because the Devils will need it.
Gillies Shakes Off Bad Start
Jon Gillies got off to a rough start when he allowed two soft goals in the first period. He did settle in nicely after then, however. He gave up four goals on 2.09 expected goals, and you can probably figure out which two goals those were. What matters is he did come up big when the Devils needed him late in the game.
The Hurricanes had the better of play for the first five minutes or so of the third period. That’s probably not a surprise since they entered the final frame trailing by a goal, but Gillies made some big saves to keep the Devils ahead 5-4. They end up rewarding him soon afterward when Jack Hughes scored a power-play goal, and Zacha capped it off with the exclamation point. With Mackenzie Blackwood struggling mightily this season, expect Gillies to get more work, especially with the schedule about to get a bit busier.
Devils Defensemen Step Up
It was a big night for the Devils’ blue line and their top-four. You’re probably not going to notice Jonas Siegenthaler on most nights. He doesn’t play a flashy game and certainly doesn’t have much to add offensively. But make no mistake about it: he’s having a significant impact on the game. And his partner Damon Severson is playing a big role in that too.
Siegenthaler and Severson went toe to toe against Sebastian Aho and shut his line down. The Devils outscored the Aho line 1-0 with Siegenthaler and Severson on the ice and posted an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 63.69 percent at five-on-five. Siegenthaler’s game score of 2.71 was third among all skaters and was his second-best of the season.
Severson had himself quite the game as well. He finished with an assist, a game score of 2.13 and a team-high 26:34 in ice time. As they’ve shown lately, he and Siegenthaler are not afraid to go against opponents’ top lines. They consistently get good results, and it will give head coach Lindy Ruff flexibility with his defensive units once Dougie Hamilton returns from a broken jaw.
Not only did those two step up, but Ryan Graves had arguably his best game as a Devil. He finished with three assists and had a season-best game score of 3.65. He wasn’t known as an offensive threat before the Devils acquired him this summer, but his 16 points in 34 games would put him on pace for 38 points in 82 games. That’d be a career-high, so it’s good to see him adding some offensive punch to go along with his already solid defensive game.
Jack Hughes Being Jack Hughes
The Devils did give up three goals when Jack Hughes was on the ice. But he also potted a crucial insurance goal on the power play to give the Devils a 6-4 lead in the third period. And though the Devils got outscored 3-1 with Hughes on the ice at five-on-five, he was still an absolute wrecking ball with his linemates Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich:
Not only did Hughes, Bratt and Sharangovich dominate in Corsi, but all three players had xG percentages above 80 percent. They out-chanced the Hurricanes 11-3 when on the ice and had five high-danger chances as opposed to the Hurricanes’ one. When they went up against the Hurricanes’ top defense pair of Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin, they out-attempted them 11-1 and had an xG% of 100 percent (that’s not a typo).
If Hughes’ line continues to put up similar performances, they’ll outscore opponents 3-1 more often than getting outscored 3-1. They’ve had good chemistry since Ruff assembled them as a line coming out of the Christmas break, so I’d expect some more flashy performances from them moving forward.
The Devils close out a back-to-back tonight against the Kings and hope to keep the good vibes from yesterday rolling. Blackwood is expected to start and is looking to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season against the Coyotes. The puck drops at 7 PM on MSG+.
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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