Looking Back on Devils’ Fantastic 2022-23 Season

The New Jersey Devils had a fantastic 2022-23 season. Not only did they finish with 112 points and challenge the Carolina Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan Division, but they also set a franchise record for wins with 52. They topped it off by defeating the New York Rangers, a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, in Round 1 of the playoffs in a thrilling seven-game series. 

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There’ll be plenty of time to analyze what comes next for the Devils as the offseason begins to heat up over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, let’s look back on their 2022-23 campaign and what led to it being such a success. 

Devils’ 13-game Win Streak Showed They Were for Real

Despite only finishing with 27 wins and 63 points during the 2021-22 season, there was some light at the end of the tunnel for the Devils. Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier all had breakout seasons, producing at 70-plus point paces. Hughes was even better, pacing for 40-plus goals and 90-plus points, and he would’ve hit those marks if it weren’t for injuries. 

That was a reason why the Devils had the potential to take a significant jump forward this season. It got off to a somewhat shaky start, but their 13-game win streak early in the season proved they were for real. During that stretch, they outscored opponents 56-24 and dominated at five-on-five, posting an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 58.82 percent, ranked first in the NHL. 

Hughes, Hischier and Bratt were big-time factors during the 13-game winning streak. Bratt had 15 points in 13 games, Hughes had 18, and Hischier had 16. They showed their 2021-22 seasons weren’t flukes, which is no surprise, given they’re all 25 years old and younger. By the time season ended, all three players totaled 70-plus points again. 

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils’ schedule may not have been the most difficult during their 13-game winning streak, but there were some notable performances. A 1-0 shutout against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche was a message to the league that they could compete with the best. They also beat Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers twice during the streak, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs once. 

Akira Schmid had a coming-out party during a 4-3 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators when he entered the game in relief for an injured Vitek Vanecek in the third period. Schmid made a few incredible saves to keep the game tied, especially in overtime, before the Devils won it in overtime to keep the streak alive. Hindsight is 20/20, but that game is where Schmid began to make a name for himself; he finished with a .921 save percentage in 27 games between the playoffs and the regular season. 

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The Devils probably would have made the playoffs without the 13-game winning streak, but it was a sign their 2022-23 season would be different than the previous few. They were for real, and the playoffs were the goal. 

From “Fire Lindy!” to “Sorry Lindy!”

There was definitely quite a bit of controversy among fans on social media when the Devils opted to bring back Lindy Ruff as head coach for a third season. The team went 46-76-16 in his first two years as head coach. Not many people expected the Devils to be good during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 campaign, but that wasn’t the case in 2021-22. 

General manager Tom Fitzgerald made more than a few notable moves during the 2021 offseason, signing Tomáš Tatar, Jonathan Bernier, and Dougie Hamilton in free agency and acquiring Ryan Graves in a trade with the Avalanche. The expectation was for the Devils to challenge for a playoff spot a year ago, but they instead ended up drafting Šimon Nemec with the second overall pick at the 2022 draft. 

It looked like it could be another rocky campaign for Ruff as head coach. Devils fans started “Fire Lindy” chants in the middle of their 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in what was only their second game of the season to start the year 0-2-0. You could sense the tension in their following tilt against the Anaheim Ducks when the team trailed 2-0 before rallying for a 4-2 win.

Lindy Ruff Andrew Brunette New Jersey Devils
Lindy Ruff and Andrew Brunette behind the New Jersey Devils’ bench (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

From there, the Devils took off, with their 13-game winning streak getting underway on Oct. 25. In a matter of weeks, fans went from chanting “Fire Lindy!” to “Sorry Lindy!” in a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 12, which the Devils won 4-2. 

Ruff struggled to get positive results in 2021-22 due to injuries to his netminders — Bernier and Mackenzie Blackwood. Fitzgerald realized that, which is why he retained Ruff and acquired Vanecek from the Washington Capitals at the 2022 draft. But Vanecek having a more than solid regular season isn’t the only reason the team had success. They improved as a whole too. 

The most notable difference in the Devils in 2022-23 was their defensive game at five-on-five. They went from being a middle-of-the-pack defensive unit a year ago to having a top-five defense in expected goals against per 60 (4th) and high-danger chances against per 60 (1st). Adding someone like John Marino helps, but Ruff deserves credit for helping the team turn it around defensively. 

Related: Devils News & Rumors: Bratt, Hamilton, Ruff & More

This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because they’re two different sports, but there are similarities between Ruff and Zac Taylor, the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL. Taylor’s first two seasons with the Bengals were awful, as he compiled a 6-25-1 record. But to the Bengals’ credit, they stuck with Taylor, and in Year 3 of his tenure, they were playing for the Super Bowl against the L.A. Rams. 

Granted, Taylor was a first-time head coach with the Bengals. Ruff has been an NHL head coach since the late 1990s, but there’s something to be said for sticking with a guy you like at the helm. The Devils stuck with Ruff as the Bengals did with Taylor, and Ruff led the team to the most wins in a single season for the franchise and their first playoff series win since 2012 against their biggest rival. He’s now a Jack Adams finalist, and the plan is to renew his contract, as Elliotte Friedman reported on the May 15 episode of 32 Thoughts. 

Devils Took Care of Business in the Division

For a team to be successful, they have to fare well against their conference foes but, more importantly, against teams in their division. The Devils did just that this past season, finishing with an 18-6-3 record against the Metropolitan Division. The only team they had a losing record against was the New York Islanders (1-2). 

The Devils took care of business against teams they were supposed to, going 3-0-0 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers, and 3-1 against the Washington Capitals. Taking the season series against the Capitals is particularly noteworthy, as they had dominated the Devils over the previous few seasons. 

Not only did the Devils beat the teams they were supposed to in the Metro, but they also fared well against the top half of the division. They went 3-0-1 against the Rangers, with the Devils largely outplaying them in their four matchups, totaling a 59.6 xG% at five-on-five. It’s no surprise they were able to find a way to advance over them in Round 1 of the playoffs. 

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils and Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils had given the Pittsburgh Penguins trouble in recent years, but it came to a head this season in a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils went 4-0-0 against the Penguins and controlled 52.9 percent of the expected goals against them, culminating in a 5-1 win in their final head-to-head matchup. Even against the Hurricanes, the Devils went 2-1-1. It didn’t matter in the playoffs, as the Hurricanes’ experience made a difference, but they showed they could compete against the best team in the Metro. 

The Devils may not finish 18-6-3 against the division in 2023-24, but they will be one of the top teams again and should be better than the clubs that finished below them this past season, depending on what the summer brings. 

Devils’ Offseason Should Be Busy

The Devils’ 2022-23 season went about as well as it could’ve. They had one of the best regular seasons in franchise history and lost to a team in the playoffs that finished second overall in the NHL in the Hurricanes. What comes next remains to be seen, but Fitzgerald and co. will likely be busy in the coming weeks looking to improve the team for 2023-24 through free agency and trades. 

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