The New Jersey Devils entered their “bye week” after losing to the San Jose Sharks 3-0 last Friday. They will not play again until they suit up on Friday against the Ottawa Senators. The Devils enter their week of rest with an outstanding record of 6-2-0, for a total of 12 points. Along with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, they are the biggest early surprise of the 2017-18 season.
The Metropolitan Division leaders have had their ups and downs, but have been fun to watch and are getting results. There have been several early trends set by this team in the first two weeks of the season, let’s take a look at a few.
Electric Offense Leading the Charge
The biggest surprise of the NHL season so far has to be the Devils’ offense. New Jersey ranked in the bottom-four of the NHL in goals scored for the past five seasons. Last year, they were third to last in the league with a measly total of 180 goals. They are currently tied for fourth in the league in scoring going into Saturday with 30 goals in eight games.
The rewards of a long, arduous rebuild are starting to appear. Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Will Butcher have all been studs so far and represent the future of the team.
Other additions over the offseason such as Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford have proved to be excellent additions over the first eight games. Veterans such as Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri have started off the season leading by example. The fourth line of Blake Coleman, Brian Gibbons and Miles Wood has put up points and surprised many with their speed and relentless drive. All in all, the Devils offense has been clicking on all cylinders so far and will attempt to put the Sharks game behind them.
Devils Taking Too Many Penalties
Special teams are always an important aspect in the NHL. Good teams are generally efficient on both the power-play and penalty kill. Unfortunately for the Devils, they have only exceeded expectations on the man advantage. New Jersey currently has a 22.9% conversion rate on the power-play, which is not bad.
However, they are killing only 78.6% of the penalties they commit. That is not great, especially when the Devils have 40 minor penalties in their first eight games, good for second-most in the NHL entering Saturday. Head coach John Hynes is clearly not satisfied with his team’s penchant for committing so many infractions. This was evident when Hynes benched Palmieri and Wood for taking unnecessary penalties.
I have no problems with what Hynes did. His team was making careless mistakes and he responded accordingly. Fortunately, those penalties have not deterred the Devils too much, as they are 6-2-0 to start the season. Nevertheless, you can not go up against good teams and commit roughly five penalties a game. This point was proven against the Washington Capitals, who scored three power-play goals against the Devils, and the Ottawa Senators, who notched two.
This is not to say the penalty kill is the problem. Jesper Bratt, Adam Henrique, and Brian Gibbons have all looked great down a man. Gibbons even scored the Devils first regular season 3-on-5 goal in history. However, good teams will always take advantage of mistakes which means New Jersey has to cut down on the trips to the penalty box.
Defense Needs to Be Cleaned up
I recently wrote an article about how the Devils new way of playing would allow for numerous chances to flow both ways. While there is some truth to that, it also must be said that the Devils are allowing too many easy chances to opposing teams. Sloppy play and avoidable turnovers in the defensive end have hurt New Jersey all season. Fortunately, the play of Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid has bailed out their team thus far.
Relying on great goaltending is not the worst strategy, but hanging your goalie out to dry every game is not the right move. The Devils are allowing an average of 34.8 shots per game, eighth worst in the NHL. A lot of those shots are coming from danger areas due to unnecessary turnovers and lack of execution in the defensive zone. If the Devils want to make a playoff push this season they will have to clean up their defensive play and limit high-danger chances.
It is still early going for the Devils, but these have been noticeable trends thus far. There have been some negatives but a lot of positives as well. The defense and overall discipline need to be tightened up but the offense and goaltending have masked most of the team’s issues. Coach Hynes certainly seems to know what he is doing and is not afraid to ruffle some feathers. Look for the Devils to come out of the bye week a better, more disciplined team.