Devils Performance Gives Reason for Optimism

The New Jersey Devils season was getting as close to do-or-die as possible. But that may have changed this weekend with a pair of positive results. They collected an important comeback win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night. On Saturday, they managed to rally once again and salvaged a point in a shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. Were those results a sign that the tides are turning on the Devils’ season?

Devils Showed Some Resiliency

The Devils’ 5-4 win against the Golden Knights was their most impressive of the season. Cory Schneider got the start, but things unraveled before he could blink. He gave up three goals on seven shots and was pulled for Keith Kinkaid before the first period concluded. This left them down 3-0 but with plenty of time to mount a comeback.

Things got even more difficult in the second period when the Golden Knights took a 4-1 lead. But the Devils never quit, despite the two three-goal deficits. They dominated a majority of the game at 5-on-5, where they held a significant shot attempt and scoring chance advantage.

Another important development was the Devils picking up their first overtime win of the season. They came into the contest winless in six OT appearances this season. And they had not been particularly good in OT, either. They struggled to possess the puck and were outshot and out-chanced by a wide margin. Marcus Johansson and Nico Hischier helped to change that with this game-winning goal:

Even though the Devils did not beat the Predators, managing to get one point was significant. They tied the game in the final minute. And it was only the third time in 17 road games where they held their opponent to two goals or fewer in regulation. It was one of their better performances away from home and would’ve been disappointing had they not come away with anything.

Concern for Cory Schneider Continues to Grow

One of the biggest takeaways from this weekend was the play of Schneider. And not in a good way. The Devils bailed him out by getting the win in OT, but his numbers tumbled even further. His save percentage (SV%) fell to .852% on the season. His 5-on-5 goals saved above average (GSAA) now sits at minus-7.96, which is fifth worst in the NHL.

Schneider’s performance was disappointing given that he played well a few days earlier in Anaheim. It was also his first home start of the season, and the Devils have been a much better team at the Prudential Center. It seemed like a good setting for him, but things did not go according to plan. That can’t continue to happen because Kinkaid won’t be able to start every remaining game.

Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider’s struggles continue to worsen in 2018-19. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

I’m not sure what the Devils’ solution is for their Schneider dilemma. But Devils head coach John Hynes made it clear he will stay in the NHL, so he’ll have to figure it out. “We obviously have him here, so this is where we think he’s best,” Hynes said to Chris Ryan of NJ Advance Media. “Cory’s a big part of our team. He’s going through some things. Right now, we’ll all continue to work through it.”

No Taylor Hall, No Problem

The most impressive feat of the Devils weekend is that they got big plays from someone other than Taylor Hall, who missed both games with a lower-body injury. He’s not expected to miss significant time, but it’s encouraging to see the Devils get something without the league’s reigning MVP.

In Hall’s absence, Johansson moved up to his spot on the top line with Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. The move ended up paying off, as he had two assists in Friday’s comeback win. It may give Hynes something to think about if he’s looking for more balanced lines up front when Hall returns.

Related: Devils Fail to Capitalize on West Coast Trip

After Johansson’s big evening, it was Jesper Bratt who shined the following night. He used his skill and shiftiness to weave his way into the offensive zone on a controlled entry that helped set up Brian Boyle’s eventual game-tying goal against the Predators. The Devils need Bratt and Johansson to keep stepping up and providing offense. Otherwise, this weekend’s results will end up as a fluke.

Will This Change the Devils Season?

What the Devils did this weekend is something to build on. If they ended up with no points out of this two-game swing, their season would’ve been as good as finished. They have a tough schedule before heading into the Christmas break, so having positive results against two good teams should give them some confidence.

Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall may have missed both games, but the Devils found success without the reigning NHL MVP. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are reasons to be optimistic that confidence can continue into this week. They got solid goaltending from Kinkaid. And they had other players add offense aside from Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri. Most of all, they put together a consistent road performance, which hasn’t happened often this season. It may or may not lead to anything, but at least they’ve laid down the foundation to flip the script on their season.

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