The New Jersey Devils are off to a flying start. They have won five of their first six games for the first time since 2008-09 and are tied with the Colombus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Divison. A lot of those wins have come against some impressive competition. Excluding the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, the Devils have won against teams that are currently 15-5-1. Two of those teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, are first and third in the NHL respectively.
The Devils have benefitted from a roster makeover over the offseason and it is paying dividends so far. New additions such as Drew Stafford, Nico Hischier, Brian Gibbons and Will Butcher have made big impacts. Other newcomers to the club like Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson have also made their presence known. All of these new players allow the Devils to utilize a new way to play. Head coach John Hynes finally has pieces to work with and he is using them perfectly so far.
Fast, Attacking, Supportive
After Ray Shero took over the general manager position he made one thing crystal clear. Under his regime, the Devils would become fast, attacking, and supportive. Two seasons later, Shero has kept his word. The Devils have personified all three of those terms so far in 2017-18, with “fast” being the most obvious aspect of this team.
As the old sports saying goes, speed kills. The Devils have speed in spades and utilize it all over the ice. Every offensive line and defensive pairing has someone fleet of foot and it has made a huge difference in the first six games. No one emphasizes this point more than Miles Wood.
Wood has been a stud for the Devils so far. The bottom-six winger is one of the fastest players in the NHL and it is apparent every shift. He is flanked by Gibbons and Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons, both of whom have surprised many with their speed. Those three have combined for six goals and 10 points – not bad from your fourth line.
As of Tuesday night, the first line boasts the speed and skill of Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall. Hischier has looked great and Hall is benefitting from having a highly-skilled offensive center to play with. The duo created several Grade-A chances against the Lightning and will try and continue to do so. Other lines include the speed of Johansson, Bratt, and Palmieri. It may have been over two years ago but Shero has delivered on his promise to Devils’ fans.
Run and Gun Style Working Well
The Devils have always been known for their defensive style of play. Their stingy defensive system caused opposing teams fits for well over a decade but has been lacking the past five seasons. It is no mystery as to why this happened. The Devils lost key personnel on the blue line and were unable to execute their structured defensive style. Some of the names lost include Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer, etc.
This led to the Devils becoming a low scoring, low-event team which was hard to watch most of the time. That was the reason why Jersey’s team has had only two nationally televised games the last two seasons. However, I don’t expect that trend to continue. The Devils-Lightning game was incredible, with back and forth action going for the full 65 minutes and then into the shootout. That game was the latest example of how far the Devils have come this season.
New Jersey is currently third in the league in goals per game, at a 4.17 clip. However, they are fifth in the league in shots allowed per game, as they have surrendered 35.3 on average. This uptempo style employed by Hynes allows a lot of scoring chances to flow both ways. As of right now, it has worked due to the elite play of the Devils’ goaltenders. Both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have played incredibly well, and there is no reason to believe that will stop anytime soon.
This team reminds me a lot of the Maple Leafs last season. Both teams are made up of young players, create a lot of chances, give up a lot of chances, and had the first overall pick of the previous draft. That Leafs team was able to make the playoffs and gave the Washington Capitals a run for their money in the first round. Toronto may have a bit more skill on their roster but the Devils have Cory Schneider.
The veteran goaltender proved to be the difference in the matchup against the Leafs earlier this season. His bounce-back year is off to a great start and may vault New Jersey into the playoff discussion.
These new-look Devils are exciting to watch and always seem ready to score. This has been in stark contrast to what was expected of them this season. The rebuild crafted by Shero has yielded results much quicker than anyone had anticipated. If the Devils are able to keep this up, a return to the playoffs is not out of the question.