Thanksgiving was this past Thursday, and there hadn’t been much to be thankful for New Jersey Devils fans. Fortunately, the tides are beginning to turn, especially with the return of captain Nico Hischier. Since last week’s edition of stock up/stock down, the Devils completed a three-game homestand. The bad vibes rolled on in a 2-1 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. However, in Hischier’s return to the lineup, the Devils trounced the Buffalo Sabres 7-2, and most recently erased a two-goal third-period deficit to win in the final seconds of regulation against the New York Islanders 5-4. With the captain’s return and back-to-back wins, there’s hope the Devils are turning their season around.
New Jersey Devils Stock Up/Stock Down
It couldn’t be anyone else. Jack Hughes’s return from injury gave the Devils their superstar back, but Hischier’s return signifies the team getting its heart and soul back. Hischier is easily the Devil’s most reliable player in all three zones, scores goals, takes face-offs, kills penalties, and matches up with the opposing teams’ top players. His start to the season was slow, but his return from the lineup was anything but. Against Buffalo, he registered a goal and an assist, as well as winning 64% of his face-offs. He followed it up with the game-tying goal third-period power-play goal against the Islanders, while again also winning 64% of his face-offs. Hischier looks as though he hasn’t missed a beat, and it’s clear that his return has galvanized the team over this two-game stretch.
Jack. Cap. We’re back. pic.twitter.com/zj2kCiMBXJ
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 29, 2023
The Penalty Kill
While the powerplay continues to produce, it’s the penalty kill that continues to get the Devils into trouble. They’ve given up three powerplay goals over the last three games and are currently ranked 23rd in the NHL. In recent games, Lindy Ruff has decided to use Brendan Smith as a fourth-line winger, but deploy him as a defenseman on the penalty kill, and it hasn’t been working like he’d have hoped. Fortunately, none of the goals given up cost them in the end, but for a unit that was one of the best in the league last year, the amount of goals against on the PK is alarming.
Nobody, and we mean nobody, had been under a microscope more than Alexander Holtz this season. While early on it was touch-and-go, he has come on in a big way as of late. He’s fourth on the team in goals and has two goals and an assist over the last three games. Holtz has been a standout play recently for a few reasons. First, during the team’s recent slump, he was one of the few who was playing hard and fast. He’s getting in faster on the forecheck than earlier in the season and isn’t afraid to finish his check. Second, Holtz would not have sniffed a second of ice time in late-game situations, but with under a minute left against the Islanders, it was his line that was sent out to finish the game and they rewarded Lindy Ruff with the game-winning goal.
Ondrej Palat with the hustle, and Alexander Holtz rips it home to tie the game! 😈 pic.twitter.com/fXCDo26hgS
— NHL (@NHL) November 24, 2023
Things are still bad in “goalie world” for the Devils. Akira Schmid is beginning to find his game a little more, but Vanecek continues to be a problem. He was given the start against the Sabres and Islanders and let in a combined six goals on 30 shots across both games. Despite getting the win against the Sabres, he let in two goals on just 12 shots, good enough for a .833 SV%. Versus the Islanders, he let in four goals on 18 shots, a .778 SV %, and was pulled from the game. Vanecek only has five games with a SV% above .900, after having a .911 SV% last year. It’s safe to assume the clock is starting to tick on Vanecek before the front office decides to pull the trigger on another goalie.
Main photo by: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports