A preview of the Devils’ most challenging week yet.
Two weeks and four games into the 2021-22 season, the New Jersey Devils look good. The sample size is small, but this team is doing a lot of things right and have just one loss on the season. It’s impressive that they’re doing so well while injured, too.
The Devils didn’t have two of their most important defensemen, Damon Severson and Ty Smith, for most of these games. Miles Wood, one of the team’s best players last season, has yet to make his season debut.
Star center Jack Hughes dislocated his shoulder last week and has yet to return.
The team is also without their goaltending tandem, which is supposed to be one of the best in the league: MacKenzie Blackwood is still recovering from an injury and Jonathan Bernier got hurt last week.
The good news is that many of the team’s players have been playing well and several are stepping up. Frédérik Gauthier and Jimmy Vesey, who were expected to be depth pieces, have emerged as important bottom-six forwards.
Rookie C Dawson Mercer, who wasn’t expected to make the team, has been impressive.
Even rookie G Nico Daws, who also wasn’t expected to be with the big club, looked good in net and might be capable of holding things down in the crease until the other goaltenders return.
The real test, however, begins on Tuesday. The Devils have had a fairly easy schedule to begin their season, but this will be their toughest week yet.
They take on the red-hot Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the seemingly unbeatable Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, and the impressive Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at these three matchups.
Tuesday, 10/26, vs. Flames:
The Flames might be one of the best teams so far in this young season.
They’re an impressive 3-1-1, are on a three-game winning streak, and are coming off a dominant 5-1 win at the New York Rangers, who were also scorching hot heading into that game.
The Flames have done incredibly well defensively and their high-octane offense is firing on all cylinders. For a team that was underwhelming a few months ago, they score a lot of goals and keep the puck out of their net successfully.
The Devils are absolutely going to have their hands full with this group. Something that could come in handy for the Devils is that this game is the Flames’ second in two-straight days- they took on the Rangers on Monday night.
It wasn’t exactly a tough game for the Flames, but the hope is that they’ll at least be slightly fatigued on Tuesday.
The Devils will also be welcoming back Blake Coleman after bidding him farewell over 600 days ago.
Based on Monday’s practice, it looks like this is how the Devils are going to line up on Tuesday night:
The fact that Marián Studenič isn’t in the lineup is a little strange, especially since Mason Geertsen hasn’t really been better.
It’s interesting to see that head coach Lindy Ruff decided to change things up among the top-four defensemen. Seeing how the young Smith plays alongside superstar Dougie Hamilton and the new Ryan Graves with Severson should be intriguing.
How will these changes impact their offensive production? Will they affect the players’ performances in their own zone?
After impressing in his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres, Daws will get his second-straight start in net. Daws looked very sharp in his first-ever NHL game, but will have much more on his plate against Calgary’s dangerous offense.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Calgary:
Jesper Bratt: 2 GP, 1 A
Bratt has yet to get a point in this young season, but he is playing well. He’s just been unlucky. He’s been fine defensively and quite good in the offensive zone, creating chances and facilitating play well.
He’s played a mere two games against the Flames, but does have a point against them. Perhaps playing with new linemates will allow the points to come for Bratt, who’s a vital member of this promising team.
Ryan Graves: 4 GP, 1 G, 3 PTS
The sample size for Graves against the Flames isn’t great, either, but the fact that he has three points in four games against them is encouraging.
Graves has an impressive three points (all assists) in four games with his new team, but after a very strong week one, hasn’t looked as great, especially defensively.
In fact, Graves was the team’s worst player in their two most recent games. Trying him out with a different linemate could end up being a fruitful move with potential to benefit the team.
Dougie Hamilton: 6 GP, 3 G (1 PP), 7 PTS
The Devils’ newest star has an impressive career resume against the Flames, averaging over a point per game. Hamilton has a goal and an assist in four games this season and has looked good offensively, but not as strong in his own zone.
This could be the game that really gets him going: it’ll be against a team he’s been successful against in the past and he’ll be trying things out alongside a new linemate.
Nico Hischier: 4 GP, 2 A
The sample size for the Devils captain is also small, but encouraging. Hischier has a power play goal and an assist so far this season and has looked pretty great across the board.
However he, too, will be playing with new linemates, so he’ll be a player to watch in this one.
P.K. Subban: 17 GP, 3 G (1 PP), 11 PTS
Subban hasn’t been great to kick off the season, offensively or defensively. Taking on a team he’s played so well against throughout his career could be what gets him going.
However, it will also be a test for him. How well will his offense be against Calgary’s great defense and goaltending? And will be able to hold his own against their hot offense?
Pavel Zacha: 5 GP, 2 PPG, 3 PTS
With two goals and three points in four games this season, Zacha has looked very good and should be ready to take on a team that he’s played well against so far in his career.
He’ll look to maintain his great play on a new line and should be dangerous in this game, especially on the power play.
Saturday, 10/30, at Penguins:
The good news? The Devils will have two days off between their first two games of the week. The bad news? The second team they’ll be facing is the Penguins.
No one really expected the Penguins to have zero regulation losses through over two weeks of the season, especially since their big-name players are all out.
However, everyone is picking up the slack and the Penguins look amazing offensively, defensively, and in net. A game against a hot Flames team followed by an away game at a team that doesn’t lose won’t be fun or easy.
The Devils won’t be the favorites in this one, but that doesn’t mean anything. After all they, too, have been playing some impressive hockey to begin the season.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Pittsburgh:
Jesper Bratt: 16 GP, 2 G, 9 PTS
This could be a big week for the Devils’ winger. Bratt has also had some success against the Penguins and could be an offensive threat on Saturday.
Damon Severson: 31 GP, 2 G, 15 PTS
RHD Severson likes to play the Penguins. He’s had some of his best games against them and will look to maintain his great form that he’s begun the season in against this dangerous team on Saturday.
Severson could be one of the team’s x-factors in this game.
Yegor Sharangovich: 8 GP, 1 SH G, 4 PTS
No one’s forgotten the young Sharangovich’s awesome short-handed goal against the Penguins in his rookie season. He followed it up with pretty solid play against Pittsburgh throughout the campaign. The hope is that he can play as well this weekend.
Sunday, 10/31, vs. Blue Jackets:
This will likely be the Devils’ easiest game of the week, but they’ll host the Blue Jackets just 24 hours after visiting the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Like the Devils, the Blue Jackets were one of the worst teams in the league in 2021. They didn’t have the offseason that the Devils had, but have been almost as impressive, offensively and defensively.
The fact that they’re playing well against both good and bad teams says something about this team.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Columbus:
Frédérik Gauthier: 7 GP, 1 G, 3 PTS
Bet you didn’t expect to see Gauthier’s name here. Gauthier has arguably been more successful against the Blue Jackets in his career than any other team. Gauthier hasn’t recorded a point yet, but has looked good for the Devils in this young season.
His impressive play could translate into points on Sunday night.
Ryan Graves: 2 GP, 1 A
This is another game Graves might do well in. A defenseman capable of scoring, it’s games like this that Graves has the potential to do well in.
P.K. Subban: 20 GP, 3 G (1 PP), 16 PTS
The struggling Subban has also succeeded against the Blue Jackets throughout his career. He really needs to get going and this might be the week when everything begins to click for him.