Welcome to New Jersey Devils Weekly! The Devils resume their schedule since their last game on Feb. 15. New Jersey plays three games in four days to close out the month of February — at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 24, at the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 25, and home against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 28. New Jersey will seek to end the month on a positive note after going 2-4 during February.
The Devils have had an inconsistent offense this month. The team has two losses in which they only tallied one goal in each game, followed by two wins in which they scored seven goals in each, one loss in which they totaled two goals, and another loss in which they scored three goals. The players may need to shake off some rust against Pittsburgh and Chicago as they have not played a game in over a week.
Devils’ captain Nico Hischier emphasized the team’s goal of having a good finish to 2021-22, “We want to finish strong for sure. That’s our goal. I mean, we don’t try to look too much ahead. We just try to focus on the games coming up. We want to stick to our game plan. If you do that, you’re going to win games, and that’s what we’re looking for.”. Let’s take a look at some of the latest storylines for New Jersey.
Hamilton, Bratt, and Johnsson Set to Return for Devils
New Jersey will have some reinforcements for the game against the Penguins. Dougie Hamilton (broken jaw), Jesper Bratt (upper-body injury), and Andreas Johnsson (lower-body injury) will return for the Devils. Bratt and Johnsson missed the team’s previous two games with their respective ailments while Hamilton sustained his injury during a game on Jan. 2 against the Washington Capitals.
In response to his return, the Devils’ top defenseman said, “It’s always really hard to watch. You want to be out there through the good and the bad and going through everything with your teammates. So, it’s hard to be on the outside looking in. It’s gone by fast and slow. Just for me, I’m excited to get back and playing.”
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Head coach Lindy Ruff expressed his anticipation for the team’s top defenseman to return to the lineup, “We’ve been waiting for that period of time to come where, you know, he would say, ‘I’m ready to go.’ We know what he can bring and how he can help us offensively. But there’s two sides of the game, too, and you got to play well defensively when it comes to playing in both zones. So, we need his help.”
Hamilton has seven goals and 13 assists in 30 games played. His return will be a boost to the power play for New Jersey. Bratt leads the Devils with 14 goals and 29 assists in 45 games played. The 23-year-old forward is a restricted free agent after the year. The Devils have missed his presence also on the man advantage as he leads the organization with 11 power-play points. He will look to continue his successful season in the hopes of reaching an extension with the franchise this offseason to remain on the same team that has core players in Hischier, Hamilton, and Jack Hughes.
Despite his month and a half absence, Hamilton leads New Jersey’s defensemen in total points per 60 minutes of play with an average of 1.43 points in 5-on-5 play. Bratt leads all Devils skaters with a 2.8 average in total points per 60 minutes of play and with an 87.50 average in individual point percentage. The individual point percentage is defined as the percentage of goals a team has scored when that player is on the ice. The play of Hamilton and Bratt has arguably been as significant this season for New Jersey as the presence of core players Hischier and Hughes.
Johnsson has 11 goals and 15 assists in 46 games with New Jersey in 2021-22. He commented on testing his injury: “Turning around, cutbacks. I know I can test every angle of it, so now it’s good.” The forward commented on the upcoming condensed schedule after several days off, “We’ve got to take advantage of these days off. Everyone is recharged now. We’ve had some good practices and now it’s time to get back into it.”
Luke Hughes Succeeding for Michigan Wolverines Hockey Team
Luke Hughes, the Devils’ fourth-overall draft pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and the younger brother of Jack Hughes, has played with for the University of Michigan this year. The freshman defenseman has 16 goals and 16 assists in 32 games played for the Wolverines. Forward Philippe Lapointe complimented the play of Hughes in regards to the blueliner scoring his 16th goal of 2021-22. “He just has so much speed and control in his edges. He makes it look so easy. It was effortless. He undressed the goalie and it was a spectacular goal,” (from ‘With jaw-dropping goal, Hughes propels Michigan to win,’ The Michigan Daily, 2/20/22).
Mel Pearson, the head coach of the Wolverines’ ice hockey team, said about Hughes, “He’s a game changer. He’s grown so much. He has tremendous speed, creativity and the wherewithal to make a play like that. His confidence is through the roof.” Hughes commented about his latest goal, “I caught a pass and had speed coming in. I made a cut and the defenseman was flat footed… I made a nice fake and it went into the back net.” The Canton, Michigan, native has seven goals in the last five games for the Wolverines.
The Devils have an opportunity to improve their season with back-to-back games in Pittsburgh and Chicago followed by a home game against Vancouver. New Jersey will be getting two of their top players back from injury in Hamilton and Bratt. Ruff and the players are eagerly anticipating getting the top defenseman, the top point producer, and the veteran Johnsson back beginning in the game against the Penguins.