The New Jersey Devils haven’t lost a game since December 19. Maybe it helps that the NHL paused their season for ten days. Still, since the return, the New Jersey Devils are 3-0, and finally, beat the Washington Capitals for the first time in almost two years. A team that had looked like they’d given up have now defeated two playoff teams in the Oilers and Capitals. Was it just a matter of this team remembering how to play hockey, or has the absence of coach Ruff the last two games due to testing positive for covid play a factor as well? I think it’s a bit of both.

Good players actually playing well

On paper, the Devils are nowhere near as bad as the team we saw for most of December. Jack Hughes coming back was supposed to boost the Devils into a playoff spot; instead, the team looked as if they were skating through the motions. For a team that thrives off their speed, their lack of hustle was a large factor in all of those losses. It didn’t help that their three best forwards in Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt combined for just five goals in that stretch. However, since Christmas, the trio has combined for 17 points and seven goals in just three games. Also, in all three of those games, Jack Hughes has put up two or more points. All this production has come as a result of a line change. Coach Ruff decided to pair Hughes with Bratt and the slumping Sharangovich, and it has worked wonders. Sharangovich had four goals up until Christmas; since the change, he has a goal in three straight. For a team that ranks middle of the pack in goals per game, having role players like Yegor and Kuokkanen put pucks in the net is massive if this team wants to succeed, especially with how bad the goaltending and defense has been.

New voice in the locker-room, kind of

Prior to the Devils game on New Year’s Eve, it was announced Coach Ruff was to be placed on the covid list, and with it, Alain Nasreddine would step in as the interim head coach. This isn’t Coach Nas’s first rodeo, having taken the reigns of the team following the firing of coach Hynes back in 2019. In that season, the team went 19-16 with him behind the bench, and for a team that had anything and everything go wrong for them, an above .500-win percentage is impressive. For the last few weeks, I’ve stressed the importance of getting a new voice in the locker room, considering the team looked to have quit on Coach Ruff, and although Nasreddine isn’t a new voice, it seems to be working. The game on New Year’s Eve against McDavid and the Oilers was the first time in months we had seen the Devils show fight, battle back, and come out victorious. As for Sunday’s game against the Capitals, although they blew a 3rd period lead while having Mackenzie Blackwood try his hardest to give the game away, they managed to beat the Capitals for the first time in their last nine tries. Could the week-long stoppage have given the Devils enough time to rediscover their game, or has Coach Nasreddine given this team life?

Look ahead to next week

There is no team better at making you hate them, giving you a reason to believe, and making you hate them more than the New Jersey Devils. I have no clue what the tone of next week’s article will be, and considering how this season has gone, good luck predicting what Devils team we get this week. This Tuesday, they head to Boston to take on the Bruins, and after that, they have a back-to-back matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

 

“Photo: NJDevils Instagram”

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