It has been a great start to the 2017-18 season for the New Jersey Devils. They won their first two games handily and look like an inspired team. Their offense has been incredible, their defense has held its own and their goaltending has been superb. I know two games is not a large sample size and the two opponents they played failed to make the playoffs last year but the Devils did what good teams do — win convincingly against bottom-ranked teams.
With the Devils being in that “bottom-ranked” category for the last few years they were not able to do what they have already accomplished this season. Now, fans will have to wait and see if their team can play just as well against playoff-bound teams.
They won’t have to wait long, as the Devils will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals and New York Rangers over a four-day span starting Wednesday. So let’s see why the Devils have been so good and if they can keep it up.
Young Offense Leading the Way
Back in August, The Hockey Writers Andrew Forbes made the bold prediction that the Devils would finish the 2017-18 season in the top ten teams in terms of goal scoring. Two games into this season, he has got to feel pretty good about that hunch. The Devils have scored ten goals in their first two games and that number could have been higher if not for a handful of posts hit in each game. The offense has looked fast, skilled and relentless.
It has been new faces who have led the way thus far. Rookie winger Jesper Bratt has been the best player for New Jersey, collecting five points in his first two NHL games. He is the first player in Devils’ history to do that. Marcus Johansson is right behind him with three points and has been a great addition to the top-six.
Taylor Hall has been impressive as well, while Nico Hischier has looked like a real difference-maker, even though the stat sheet does not show it at the moment. I expect that to change quickly.
Another interesting fact about this group is that they are doing this without Travis Zajac, Brian Boyle, and have played only one game with Kyle Palmieri and Drew Stafford. The young guns for the Devils are stepping up and will need to continue to do so if they hope to beat good teams. With the skill and speed they possess, I believe that they can score against anyone.
New Additions Revitalize Defense
While the offense has been a surprise so far, the defense is not far behind. They have not been perfect but they already look much better than last year. The biggest reason for this is the injection of youth on the blue line, namely, Will Butcher.
Butcher was the first player in Devils’ history to record three points in their NHL debut. He has been quarterbacking the power-play and has not looked out of place in the slightest. His poise and decision-making skills have been as advertised, much to the benefit of the Devils’ blue line.
It has not been a one-man show though. Mirco Mueller and Steven Santini have been good as well. Both are mobile, physical and reliable with the puck. Damon Severson has been his usual impressive self while John Moore showcased his mobility and offensive skills against the Colorado Avalanche.
Finally, Andy Greene has been solid with Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout waiting to earn their starting spots back at any moment. This group is more well-rounded than in years past and it has shown in the first two games.
Schneider’s Bounce Back off to Good Start
As many know, Devils’ goaltender Cory Schneider did not have the best numbers last season. He posted his lowest full-season save percentage while recording his highest goals-against average since his second year in the league.
However, many pegged him to have a bounce-back year this season and so far he has not disappointed. Schneider has stopped 63 of 66 shots for a .954 save percentage thus far. 41 of those shots came from the Avalanche, who scored eight goals in the other two games they have played, but were only able to get one past the Devils’ netminder.
This showing from Schneider bodes really well for the Devils. When he is on his game he can keep them in most games, usually with a chance to win. In the past, the offense would not be able to support that effort and New Jersey would lose in a low-scoring affair. Now, the offense looks like it could keep pace with opposing teams and surprise a lot of people.
The Devils appear to finally be coming out of their lengthy rebuild phase. The team is younger, faster and much more skilled than it has been in years. If Schneider can return to his usual elite form than New Jersey will make a bigger push for the playoffs than most expect.