The New Jersey Devils were supposed to take another step forward in 2023-24, but they have fallen back, and their fortunes have yet to turn around at the All-Star Break. Fortunately for the Devils, they have until February 6th to regroup and try to pull off an upset over the Colorado Avalanche.
If the Devils plan on turning things around in the final two months of the season, they need their best players to lead them through these tough times. Star forward Jack Hughes is the first player in mind, and when he’s cleared to return from injury, he must quickly regain his form.
Hughes has been one of the league’s most exciting players so far in this long season, even if injuries have given him a few obstacles. Since Hughes can’t do the job alone, the following five players must bring their A-Game when the All-Star Break concludes.
Vitek Vanecek’s struggles must stop when play resumes
Vitek Vanecek enjoyed three solid seasons in the NHL, two with the Washington Capitals, and one with the Devils. Before 2023-24, Vanecek logged a 2.59 GAA in 131 career games, a decent 0.909 save percentage, nine shutouts, and an above-average 0.553 quality starts percentage, so it was easy to believe the 28-year-old would step in and continue to improve on those numbers.
Following his best outing last year, which saw a 0.911 save percentage, a 2.45 GAA, three shutouts, plus an eye-popping 0.667 quality starts percentage, Vanecek hasn’t been the same player since. While his 16-8-2 record looks good, he also ranks 41st in the league with an 0.886 save percentage among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, per QuantHockey, while his GAA is a pedestrian 3.24, which is 34th in the league.
Unless the Devils acquire a goaltender between now and the trade deadline, Vanecek will be the top guy going forward.