In a week that saw the New Jersey Devils play four playoff quality teams, in the Panthers, Islanders, Bruins, and Rangers, they managed to take five of eight points. The two games against the Panthers and Islanders were the first time since 2009 the Devils have won back-to-back games by four or more goals. As for the back end of the four-game set, the Devils held up well against an elite Bruins team but couldn’t manage to get that elusive game-tying goal. While against their rivals, the Rangers, they battled back to steal a point, something a Devils team of the past would have never been able to do. As Thanksgiving approaches, the Devils are sitting as the second wild card team, and it’s obvious this isn’t your same bad Devils team. This team is learning how to battle back from deficits, not blow leads, and has guys producing.
From unprotected to point leader
Let’s just say Andreas Johnsson didn’t have the best season in his first year as a Devil. He arguably was the worse guy on the ice game in game out, but the analytical side of things will tell you he was creating chances. Johnsson, who was left unprotected by the Devils in the expansion draft, is now tied for first in points on the Devils with 11. This is a guy who the Devils Twitter was roasting on a nightly basis. He currently is one of the most productive players on the team and is a part of the Devils’ most dynamic line. Johnsson is one-third of the Devils’ best line as he’s paired with rookie sensation Dawson Mercer and Jesper Bratt. Of course, it helps that Johnsson has those two as linemates, but it’s not like he’s getting empty-calorie points like Tyson Barrie. Johnsson is making a difference on this line, and over the past four games, his line has combined for 16 points, four of which belong to him. As the Devils continue to try and survive without Jack Hughes, Johnsson and this line have kept them floating and then some.
Winning in Style
In the very few games the Devils won last year, most of them were nail bitters. Multiple games where they held leads late, they failed to close them out and lost later on. This year’s Devils team has been anything but. Not only are the Devils two wins shy of tying their home victory total from last year, but they’re putting teams away. In Tuesday’s game against a talented Panthers team, the Devils could have played prevent all game. Instead, they put up a three-spot in the third and won easily. In Thursday’s game against the Islanders, they went into the third with a two-goal lead. Instead of playing on their heels for the rest of their game, they added two more in a shutout victory. Those are two games against good opponents that a Devils team of the last few years would have blown leads to even if they were lucky enough to be up. Not to mention, the Devils have scored two empty netters this season, which was as rare as a four leaf clover last year.
What is dead may never die
Losing teams find ways to lose. Winning teams find ways to win by being resilient and never quitting. Already this season, the Devils have managed to steal points in three games this year. Thanks to late third-period goals against the Kings, Sharks, and Rangers, the Devils have four more points than they would have if this was a team of the past. This Devils team has shown they don’t quit; even in their game against the Bruins, they battled back twice to keep it close and get within one point but couldn’t manage to tie. Unlike the Devils teams of the past, where you’d turn the tv off cause they’re down by two goals, this 2021 doesn’t quit. Even in their game against Pittsburgh, they took the lead with under five minutes remaining. This team has a buzz around them that Devils fans haven’t seen in a long time.
Although the Devils still stink on the special teams, they can’t win shootouts, and their defensemen cannot resist committing a costly turnover. Still, I can tell you they don’t stink as a hockey team. I know it’s still early, but this is the best team since the Devils Stanley Cup reaching team in 2012. Not that they’re their caliber, but because the Devils haven’t had a good team outside of the Taylor Hall year in that long. This team is fast, they create turnovers, get good goaltending, their defensive unit is one of the better ones in the league, and they don’t have their second-best player. Barring injury, I would be shocked if this team isn’t battling for a playoff spot come April.
A look ahead to next week
This week will be another test for the Devils as two of the three teams they face made the playoffs last season. They battle a COVID rattled Senators at the rock on Tuesday. Followed by a trip down to the sunshine state, where they take on the Panthers and Lightning.
“Photo: NJDevils Twitter”