New Jersey Devils: Lots of Ups and Downs at 20-Game Mark

New Jersey Devils right wing Alexander Holtz (10): Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
New Jersey Devils right wing Alexander Holtz (10): Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils spent the first 19 games (20 after they play the New York Islanders on Tuesday night) of the season riding a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and at the end of it, they find themselves with a 9-9-1 record. Not great. Not terrible. Just average. Despite the absence of key players at times, they are tenth in the NHL in goals scored (67). Unfortunately, they are also tenth in the NHL in goals against (70), which sort of explains their record.

Perhaps they were believing too much of the hype around the team heading into this season, or maybe the extended absences of their top players are a reason why their record is as average as it gets. After bottoming out in Detroit before Thanksgiving – their first time being shutout in 102 games – New Jersey came up short in a game against the lowly Blue Jackets two days later. The next night, the Devils routed the Buffalo Sabres to the tune of 7-2.

Not only did the offense look a-okay with the return of their captain Nico Hischier, but every player was committed to the defensive side of the puck and limited their opponents to a mere 12 shots on goal for the entire game!

Maybe they should have done that to Columbus, but those guys are pros, too. As Jack Hughes said after the loss to the Blue Jackets – they need to talk less and start producing wins.

“We didn’t generate anything tonight. We didn’t score,” Hughes said during his post-game media availability, which lasted a concise 1:11. “Who are we to talk? We’re probably talking too much. We have to go out there and play better. No adjustments (needed); it’s just our will, our compete (level), that’s about it.”

The defense, at times, has looked really good, and at other times, they have looked like they miss the experience of Damon Severson and Ryan Graves on the blue line. 19-year-old Luke Hughes is fifth on the team in scoring with 12 points (2g-10), but at times he looks like a 19-year-old on defense. This isn’t a bad thing; you have to learn on the job sometimes, and he’ll eventually make fewer errors on the ice.

The pairing of Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler have had some tough games, and too often when that has happened, the Devils haven’t gotten the saves they needed from their goalie. For all of Hamilton’s offensive prowess, he has to tighten things up a bit more on the defensive side. Neither of New Jersey’s goalies has to play at a Vezina Trophy level. They need to make the right saves at the right times. This team will score goals.

Nico Hischier #13 of New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Nico Hischier #13 of New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Up front, Hischier missed 11 games, Hughes missed five games, and Timo Meier has missed five games (and counting), but the rest of the forwards have mostly stepped up. They survived a bit with Hughes and Hischier out, but eventually, forcing players to log more minutes and different roles than they were accustomed to took its toll.

There are a lot of bright spots, though. Hughes and Jesper Bratt are averaging over a point a game, and offseason acquisition Tyler Toffoli has 18 points/11 goals in 19 games. Meier was up to 11 points in 14 games before he was injured, and young Alexander Holtz has played in every game so far and has chipped in six goals/nine points while looking more consistent than Dawson Mercer (four goals/six points) thus far. Who’d have thought that!?!?

When they play to their capabilities, they are a top-five team in the NHL. But it can’t be in drips and drabs. It has to be consistent. Now that they are getting healthy again, this team could be poised to start climbing back up the standings. Hughes is their on-ice star, and as he goes, so goes the team often nights. But Hischier is their heartbeat, their will, and their desire to win. When he is missing, they struggle and miss that lead-by-example leadership. A lot.

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This upcoming month will be a big test for them – two games vs Boston (home and away), Edmonton (home and away), and Columbus (home and away), road games in Vancouver and Seattle, and a five-game home stand that wraps around Christmas. Of the 14 games, they should win at least nine to feel comfortable with how they are playing heading into 2024.