New Jersey Devils fans have experienced the best and worst of what their team had had to offer in the month of December. From abject misery to utter ecstasy, we fans have been trapped in a glass case of emotion.
Let’s review the last month in New Jersey Devils hockey.
Taking the L(s)
The return of Jack Hughes – and the announcement of his subsequent contract extension – on November 30 should have kickstarted a team which lost five of seven. After Hughes’ return, the New Jersey Devils lost 10 of 11 games leading up to the Christmas break. One reason for a rough month was their abysmal power play. Leading up to the final two games of the season, the New Jersey Devils went 5-for-27 (18.5%). In their final two games of the season, the Devils went 2-for-4 (50%). Their season percentage is 14.6%, 31st in the league. The poor play with the extra man attacker has fans calling for the firing of assistant coach Mark Recchi. Personally, we fans should pump the brakes to see what a full squad can do on the power play. But if the production doesn’t pick up, it might be time to move on from Recchi.
The New Jersey Devils have seen their share of playing time lost due to injury, but none more prominent than between the pipes. Six different goaltenders have filled the net this season. Veterans Jonathan Bernier and Scott Wedgewood started the season for the Devils as Mackenzie Blackwood recovered from foot surgery. Bernier suffered a hip injury in mid-October, so the Devils recalled Nico Daws from Utica. After Blackwood and Bernier were healthy enough to return, Wedgewood was released and Daws was sent back to Utica. Bernier reaggravated his hip injury in December, so the Devils recalled Akira Schmid from Utica. Blackwood sat a handful of games with a sore neck in December, so the Devils brought in Jon Gillies in a trade from St. Louis. The Devils currently have three goaltenders on the roster: Blackwood, Gillies, and Schmid.
December Ends on a High Note
After losing 10 of 11 games in December, the NHL went on pause as did the rest of the league due to increased COVID cases. The league postponed three games of the New Jersey Devils, the first being the second of a back-to-back against Pittsburgh. Their game against Montreal was postponed due to border travel restrictions set by the NHL. Finally, their game at St. Louis was postponed due to the league’s pause.
Ten days after the pause, the Devils returned to play in Buffalo on Wednesday, beating the Sabres 4-3. The Devils took control early with a 2-0 lead with goals by Dougie Hamilton and Jesper Bratt. The Sabres fought back with a pair of goals of their own to tie the game after two periods. Hughes scored the game-winning goal at the 4:28 mark of the third period and Yegor Sharangovich scored his fifth of the season 2:22 later. Ethan Prow’s first NHL goal with 5:22 remaining in the game to bring the Sabres within one. Blackwood needed to make only two saves in the final minutes as the Devils contained the Sabres the rest of the way to secure the win.
On New Year’s Eve, the Devils hosted Edmonton and defeated the Oilers in a wild affair, 6-5. Five goals were scored between the teams in the first period as the Devils took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission. Connor McDavid scored his second of the game at the 7:57 mark of the second to tie the game. Janne Kuokkanen scored on a one-timer to give the Devils the lead 5:14 into the third period. The Oilers responded nearly two minutes later with Devin Shore’s second goal of the season. Edmonton took their first lead of the game after Kailer Yamamoto scored a controversial goal just 1:12 later to take the lead. Sharangovich tied the game with the extra attacker with 32 seconds remaining. For the second time this season, Hughes was the hero as his shot snuck past Mike Smith to give the Devils the win.
To the Minors
Like the big club, the affiliates of the New Jersey Devils have also had their share of games postponed due to COVID outbreaks. The Utica Comets currently lead the American Hockey League’s North Division with an 18-1-3 record. One reason for their record is their excellent penalty kill; the Comets are fourth in the AHL with an 86.5% PK. Forward Chase DeLeo leads the team in overall scoring with 18 points (5 G, 13 A). He’s tied in assists with defenseman Reilly Walsh. Forward Fabian Zetterlund leads all players with eight goals, two on the power play. Their strength has been their goaltending; before being called up, Schmid was 8-0-2 with a 1.60 GAA and a .944 save percentage. Daws has also been excellent with eight wins of his own, 2.15 GAA, and .926 save percentage.
The Adirondack Thunder – the Devils’ ECHL affiliate – paused their season after December 10 following a COVID outbreak. The Thunder postponed and rescheduled five games, including a three game home series against Newfounland. The Thunder currently sit in third place in the ECHL’s North Division with a 12-9-1 record. Prior to the pause in their season, the Thunder had won six games in a row and are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games. A big reason has been goals; forward Tyler Irvine leads the team in goals (11) and overall points (22). Joe Masonius leads all defensemen with 16 points (3 G, 13 A). Numerous members of the team have been spending time in the AHL during their pause, including veterans Peter MacArthur and Blake Thompson. The Thunder will play three games in three days this weekend, the first being a 3-2 overtime win against Newfoundland on New Year’s Eve.
Goal of the Week
Jack Hughes ended the year 2021 for the New Jersey Devils with a stellar overtime goal against Edmonton on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t a pretty goal, but Hughes’ shot in overtime on Mike Smith was just enough to get through and win the game.
THIS >>>>>>> pic.twitter.com/5gjuKSwnQj— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 31, 2021
The Week Upcoming
Barring any postponements, the New Jersey Devils will have four games this week. They’ll start the week on Sunday by traveling to Washington to face the Capitals. On Tuesday, the Devils go to Boston to meet the Bruins for the first time this season. Then, they wrap up the week with a home-and-home against Columbus on Thursday and Saturday.