The New Jersey Devils have been in a tough skid, losing seven out of nine games prior to their matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Throughout November, the Devils have dropped lower and lower in the standings, eventually landing just above the bottom team in the Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets. A painful 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Friday night felt like rock bottom.
Saturday was a whole different game, one the Devils can build off of. They turned on the firepower during their captain’s return to the lineup and steamrolled over the Sabres 7-2. The Devils held the Sabres to just 12 shots the entire night. The Sabres scored two goals, making Vitek Vanecek’s SV% for the night an .833. To be fair, both were power-play goals, but the win won’t do his SV% any favors.
This was the Devils’ most dominant victory of the season, one that the team and fans hope will right the ship and send them off on a tear. The Devils have an awful lot of ground to make up in the standings, but Saturday night’s win chipped away at the mountain. Here are three positives from the win over the Sabres that the Devils can build upon.
1. Nico Hischier brings balance to the lineup
Nico Hischier is the captain of the Devils for a reason. It was abundantly clear that his presence helped get his team back on track after a miserable stretch. He missed 11 games following an illegal check by Buffalo’s Connor Clifton that left Hischier with an upper-body injury. Ironically, it was Buffalo that New Jersey played again in Hischier’s return to play.
Hischier looked comfortable and locked in on both sides of the ice. He collected a goal and an assist in his first game back. Hischier won 64% of his faceoffs. He centered Ondrej Palat and Jesper Bratt, and their line produced six points collectively.
The Devils looked lost without Hischier and were a much stronger team with him back. Having Hischier center a line allowed not only his line but other lines to return to familiar pairings that worked. The team looked more energized, more aggressive, and more focused. “When we play four lines, bring the effort, that intensity, then we play Devils hockey,” Hischier said after the game. With Hischier back, the Devils can now focus on playing a more balanced game.