Nine games into this weird 2021 season, the New Jersey Devils are 4-3-2. There have been plenty of positives and negatives – or pluses and minuses – to go around for the team. Anywhere from individual performances to team effort to coaching is being scrutinized for 56 games and the Devils have 47 to go. What are some of the pluses and minuses that the New Jersey Devils have experienced through eight games?
Pluses – The Youth
The New Jersey Devils have had their share of pluses this season. First plus is the youth. Center Jack Hughes and defenseman Ty Smith have been at the forefront of the movement. Hughes leads the team in goals scored (3) and overall points (8). Smith leads the team in goals (2) and points (8) by a defenseman. Other rookies forwards are also starting to come along; Yegor Sharangovich scored his first career goal in overtime against Boston on January 16 (unfortunately, he hasn’t scored since). Michael McLeod finally scored his first NHL goal on January 26 against Philadelphia. Janne Kuokkanen scored his first NHL goal on Saturday against Buffalo, a game-tying goal that sent the game to overtime.
Pluses – The Fourth Line
Every team needs a line that gives the rest of the team a boost. When that line gets going, the rest of the team is energized. For the Devils, that line is McLeod, Kuokkanen, and Miles Wood. As mentioned in the last section, McLeod and Kuokkanen have scored their first goals of their career. But Wood has given the Devils the biggest lift of all. The forward – in his sixth season with the Devils – has six points (as of this writing) and 11 PIM. In Sunday’s game against Buffalo, Wood had his best game of the season, scoring two goals, added an assist on McLeod’s game-winner, and was a +4. The goal he scored was this buzzer beating beauty:
Minuses – Special Teams
There are plenty of minuses to go around for the New Jersey Devils. The first are special teams as both the penalty kill and the power play have been suboptimal. As of this writing, the Devils have only scored two goals in 20 chances on the power play. In fact, during Saturday’s game against Buffalo, the Devils had a 5-on-3 situation for two minutes and generated NO shots on net. The penalty kill has been just as brutal; the Devils are 29th with a 70.0% penalty kill percentage. One of the biggest reasons is because they have a difficult time getting the puck out of their own zone. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this in the young season.
Minuses – Lack of Finish
Palms stopped. Sabres win.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 30, 2021
Another minus is the lack of ability to finish. The third period has been especially rough for the Devils. Even after Sunday’s win in Buffalo, they have been outscored 13-7 in the final frame. The shootout has not been kind to the Devils, either. Historically, the Devils are fifth all-time in shootout wins, but they are third in shootout losses. In their two shootout losses, they have NOT scored a single shootout goal. If Sharangovich doesn’t score that OT winner against Boston on January 16, the Devils might be 0-3 in the shootout.
What’s to Come
The Devils will play three games in six games this week. They will be in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and Thursday and travel home for a Saturday matinee matchup with the rival New York Rangers.
Before Sunday’s game at Buffalo, the Devils announced that forward Kyle Palmieri was placed on the team’s COVID protocol list. He’s the second member of the team to be listed in the last two days as forward Travis Zajac was placed on the list on Friday. Zajac is currently sitting at 999 career games. Other players currently on the COVID protocol list are goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (since January 21) and defenseman Sami Vatanen (quarantined since returning from Finland). In non-COVID news, forward Nico Hischier is close to returning to practice according to head coach Lindy Ruff.
“His progress has been good and we’ll get him back as soon as he feels well enough to play, but he’s had no setbacks and is progressing,” said Ruff.Chris Wescott, NewJerseyDevils.com (January 29,2021)