What’s With The New Jersey Devil’s Sizzling Start?

Story posted November 11, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Owen Gelber

The New Jersey Devils seemed to have sold their souls during the offseason as they have come out surging in this 2022-2023 NHL campaign.

New Jersey’s recent success has been a shock to many critics around the league, who expected the Devils to be another bottom of the barrel team as they’ve typically been for the past decade.

This past offseason, former NHL player and current TNT hockey insider, Paul Bissonnette said “I think the Devils should be sponsored by Nyquil. Their play is terrible, it puts you to sleep,” live over his “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast, adding “I’m tired of Devils fans and their ‘we are a few years away mentality,’” but seems to have changed his mind about the Devils with recent Twitter posts.

Back in July, Bissonnette tweeted, “If the Devils make it to the conference finals in the next two seasons I’ll get a tattoo of the mascot on my a**,” But has followed up said tweet with “This was said in jest,” as Bizz has now admitted to hopping on the bandwagon.

After dropping their first two games in embarrassing fashion, head coach Lindy Ruff was thrown on the hot seat in Newark. But after players and fans voiced their displeasure with being a part of a losing organization, Ruff and the rest of the team was able to redirect their course towards a winning culture.

Since the 0-2 start to the season, the Devils have grabbed their pitchforks and got to work in the ever-competitive Metropolitan Division. New Jersey has won nine of its last 10, including a clean sweep of western Canada amidst a three-game road trip, beating the Canucks, shutting down Connor McDavid and the Oilers and defeating a deep, physical Calgary Flames team in the matter of five days.

What is with New Jersey's success?

Vitek Vanecek has been great in net since coming over from Washington, but recently acquired Ondrej Palat has been injured for a majority of this season. Without Palat, they’re essentially the same team as last year who fell well short of the playoffs.

Why are they playing so well all of a sudden? Are the Devils finally playing to their potential and are they legit contenders this season?

It may be too early to tell, but this Devils team is playing some of the best hockey that the Garden State has seen in years. The team has scored the fourth-most goals in the league, averaging about 3.62 goals per game and it only allows an average of 2.54 goals per game, which is the sixth-best in the NHL.

John Marino, who was obtained in a trade with Pittsburgh over the offseason, has easily been the team’s best defender, allowing New Jersey to boast a +14 goal differential, the fourth-best in current standings.

These statistics and success haven’t happened out of luck. The team is finally using its speed to its advantage, outshooting most of their opponents. The Devils are also finally playing for each other under captain Nico Hischier. Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood told reporters, “The atmosphere in the locker room is unbelievable,” and also told the media it’s a different kind of vibe in the dressing room and the team has a winning mentality.

Former first overall pick, Jack Hughes, alongside Jesper Bratt and Dawson Mercer have found new life in their game and are giving opposing teams a hard time keeping up with them. New York Islanders center Matt Barzal told the media “I don’t think we’ve played a team with that kind of speed. That’s a fast hockey club over there,” following a 4-1 loss to the Devils in late October.

The “BMW” line of Michael McLeod centering Nate Bastian and Miles Wood has given the team a much needed identity, known for their gritty two-way game filled with physical forechecking, getting shots on net and providing the team with consistent point production.

New Jersey has only been outshot twice through 13 games, which plays a huge role in the Devils’ +14 goal differential, along with solid goaltending, which was a huge issue last year.

The Devils, which were forced to start eight different netminders due to injury, seem to have finally found their rhythm. Lindy Ruff rolls with a 1A/1B tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Mackenzie Blackwood between the pipes, who both have provided solid netminding which has been a huge sigh of relief for fans.

If the Devils plan to stay in the NHL’s top 10 and stay atop the Metropolitan division, the team needs to a). stay healthy and b). continue to produce top to bottom.

Aforementioned, New Jersey was forced to start eight different goaltenders last season and lost a chunk of their lineup to injury and illness. The constant question mark in net side by side with an injured core was a recipe for disaster in Prudential Center, so the team must stay healthy to keep up its current pace.

Currently, the Devils have 19 different point scorers and if they continue to get pucks on net and produce, the league could be seeing a perennial playoff team for years to come.

Owen Gelber is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email omg5144@psu.edu.