New Jersey Devils Prove They Are More Than Jack Hughes

Ondrej Palat #18 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Ondrej Palat #18 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

No Jack Hughes, no problem?

The New Jersey Devils headed into 2023 with one of the starkest differences between their home and away records. Since then, things have changed. They’re now winners of five straight at home, and none of them were pretty.

Four consecutive overtime wins against the Rangers, Penguins, Golden Knights, and Canucks followed them into the 3-1 slugfest win against the Kraken, putting them at a respectable 15-10-2 at The Rock. Around this time last year, the season was already over for the young Devils, but this time, things feel different, even in the absence of our superstar. What happened?

Maturation goes a long way when it comes to closing out close hockey games, and we’ve heard Ken Daneyko talk many times about the young guys making smart choices, such as flipping the puck out for a clearance or line change. Last night, guys like Erik Haula, Ondrej Palat, and Dougie Hamilton made all the difference.

During the unsuccessful 2021-22 season, only Hamilton was on the roster, and he missed half of the year with a jaw and toe injury before storming 2022-23 with a career-high in points (51) before March. He’s on pace to break the record for points by a Devils defenseman.

Palat missed a ton of time early this season but has returned strong. 10 of Palat’s 12 points this season have come in wins. Erik Haula’s line was arguably the best against Seattle, and his deft touch pass to John Marino allowed the defender to sink the Kraken once and for all with his empty netter.

The credit doesn’t go all to the vets, though. Nico Hischier once again proved to his doubters that he’s capable of being a number-one center. The Captain led the team in faceoff wins and takeaways. He was incredibly unlucky to have not scored on a slick move that saw his shot leave a dent on the crossbar in the third period.

Mackenzie Blackwood continued his strong-ish season, making 33 saves on 34 shots for a 0.971 save percentage, though Adam Larsson’s second-period goal that opened the scoring is probably one Blackwood would like to have back (Miles Wood tip notwithstanding). Alex Holtz didn’t play much but drew a penalty late in the third, and Dawson Mercer had an okay night back at center, winning 55 percent of his draws.

Last but certainly not least, the Devils proved that they’re finally a team, and not just one or two guys. The Kraken dominated the Devils the last time they played back on Jan. 19, but this latest win comes from a group that made a concerted effort to set things straight this time.

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As long as Jack Hughes doesn’t miss significant time, there’s no reason to panic about the Devils. Not anymore.