5 Devils Takeaways From 6-2 Win Over the Red Wings

After getting run out of the Prudential Center by the Washington Capitals on Monday evening, the New Jersey Devils responded in a big way by defeating the Red Wings 6-2 at the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit last night. They got bounce-back performances from more than a few players and a much-needed quality start from Vitek Vanecek. Here are five takeaways as the Devils prepare to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche on Friday evening. 

Devils Find Their Scoring Touch

Much has been made about the Devils’ five-on-five play and the lack of scoring based on the quality chances they’ve created. They dominated the Red Wings at five-on-five, finishing with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 61.62 percent and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 63.44 percent. But unlike previous contests this season, the Devils found the back of the net with regularity. 

Four of the team’s six goals came at five-on-five, and the tallies came from quality chances. Dawson Mercer opened the scoring with a one-timer from the slot that beat Alex Nedeljkovic clean. Shortly afterward, Jack Hughes scored from in tight just outside of Nedeljkovic’s crease to make it 2-1. The Devils’ two later five-on-five goals came from quality chances thanks to Tomáš Tatar’s fantastic effort to set up Nico Hischier (video below) and a rush snipe from Jesper Bratt. 

Not only did the Devils score at five-on-five, but special teams got the job done too. Bratt’s first goal of the game came off a one-timer on the power play, thanks to an excellent royal road pass from Hughes, while Sharangovich sniped a shot past Nedeljkovic on the penalty kill. With all the chances the Devils were creating in their first six games, it was only a matter of time before some started finding the back of the net. Now the hope is that it continues to happen more consistently. 

Bratt Continues His Early-Season Scoring Tear

A Hart Trophy contender? It’s way too early for that, but Bratt has, without a doubt, been the Devils’ best player through seven games. Last night was no exception, as he totaled two goals and an assist to bring his season totals to three goals and 12 points in seven games — a 141-point pace over 82 games. 

That’s not a sustainable level of scoring, but there’s no doubt Bratt will have a significant impact for the Devils this season. On top of his counting totals, he finished last night with a 57.14 CF% and 67.36 xG% at five-on-five and drove play as he usually did. His playmaking has been at an elite level through seven games, and he’s begun to find the back of the net over the last couple of contests. I’d still bet on Hughes finishing the season as the team’s scoring leader, but Bratt will be right there with Hughes when all is said and done. 

Vanecek Provides the Devils With What They Need

Vanecek didn’t get off to the best of starts last night. He gave up an early first-period goal to Dylan Larkin on a redirect that he should’ve stopped since it hit him in the chest and went right through him. But he settled in nicely after then, giving up only more goal and making crucial stops when the Red Wings were attempting to get within striking distance when it was 4-1 and 4-2. 

Vitek Vanecek New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In all, Vanecek finished the night making 20 saves on 22 shots for a .909 save percentage while giving up two goals on 1.99 expected goals against. If the Devils score the way they did last night consistently, they aren’t going to need spectacular goaltending to win games. What Vanecek provided will suffice — making timely saves and performing up to expectations. If he or Mackenzie Blackwood answer the bell and do what they need to, this team should be competitive. After all, that’s why the Devils acquired Vanecek from the Capitals this summer, to give the team a 1A/1B tandem with league-average netminding. 

Hughes Bounces Back After Rough Game

After a season-worst performance on Monday against the Capitals, Hughes responded in a big way, totaling a goal and an assist. Not only did he find the scoresheet, but he looked much better by the eye test. He was more involved offensively and played well with his new linemates — Bratt and Erik Haula

At first glance, pairing Hughes with Haula may have raised an eyebrow, but it was a good decision by head coach Lindy Ruff. Part of the logic was to have Haula take faceoffs since he’s one of the league leaders in faceoff percentage, but that’s not the only reason. 

Related: Devils’ Offensive Numbers Show Plenty of Promise

One) even though he’s taking draws, Haula moves to the wing, where he has previously played in his career, while play is going on. Two) He’s been a high-volume shooter to start 2022-23 and is second on the team in five-on-five shots on goal to Hughes. While he hasn’t scored a goal yet, he will eventually because his resumé suggests that’s coming. Ruff is still trying to find someone who can finish chances on Hughes’ wing, and Haula has that potential. This trio played well in their first go-around, so it’s an experiment worth giving a look. 

Marino Is a Force 

Though we’re only seven games into the NHL season, the Devils’ acquisition of John Marino this summer has already paid massive dividends. Even in the 6-3 loss to the Capitals on Monday, he was fantastic at both ends of the ice. Last night was no different, as he tallied the primary assist on Mercer’s goal and was second on the team in xG% to Damon Severson at 75.33 percent. 

John Marino New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman John Marino (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marino also finished the last night with a game score of 3.87, which was third-best among all skaters leaguewide. Not on the Devils or Red Wings, but all skaters leaguewide. On Monday, his game score of 4.87 against the Capitals ranked first among all skaters leaguewide. He’s been phenomenal defensively, and he’s now starting to contribute on offense. As of now, he’s a home run addition to the team’s blue line that boasts one of the best right sides with Marino, Severson and Dougie Hamilton. 

Quick Hits

  • It was Fabian Zetterlund’s first appearance since the team’s home opener, coincidentally against the Red Wings, and he made his case for more playing time. Though he didn’t record a point, he fired seven shots on goal, all at five-on-five, and had four scoring chances to go along with three high-danger chances. The Devils had a 23-8 shot attempt advantage (74.19 CF%) in his minutes and were buzzing when the line of him, Hischier and Tatar were on the ice. He’s one of the Devils’ 12 best forwards and needs to remain in the lineup. 

Related: Devils’ Prospect Report: Mukhamadullin, Daws, Clarke & More

  • Speaking of Tatar, it was another excellent outing from the 31-year-old Slovak winger. His effort to win a puck battle and set up Hischier for the team’s fifth goal all but sealed the victory. He finished with a 75.76 CF% and 69.22 xG% and fired four shots on goal. He has a 75.99 xG% for the season and is starting to get rewarded on the scoresheet for his strong play. If he keeps it up, he’ll be a valuable player in the team’s middle-six. 
  • Alexander Holtz found his way back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous four games, but it was a mixed bag. He made a positive impact on Mercer’s goal, but he also had defensive lapses later in the game. I don’t think his speed is as much of an issue as some have said. He seems to be keeping pace, but there are other areas of the game he needs to fine-tune, mainly defensively. With Zetterlund ahead of him and needing to play, some time with the Utica Comets (AHL) may suit Holtz well to iron out his two-way game, though that might depend on if Ondrej Palát misses extended time with a lower-body injury

The Devils’ next game takes place on Friday when they host the Avalanche at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey — their toughest matchup to date. Make sure to stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for the latest coverage. 

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