Photo Credit: Mark Fischgrund

Devils Preparing for a Deep Run

Luck didn't appear to be in the stars for the Devils. After outplaying Dallas the first ten minutes of the game, they were victimized for an own goal when Ty Dellandrea's below the goal line desperation "shot" caromed off a falling Erik Haula and past Vitek Vanecek to open the scoring. This was compounded when the Devils lost their discipline and were whistled for three consecutive penalties ultimately resulting in a 5v3 disadvantage and a power play goal by Roope Hintz.

Down 2-0 to Dallas at the end of the first period and staring at a week long All-Star break, the Devils faced the possibility of undoing much of the optimism that had carried them throughout the first 48 games of the season.

Staring at a potential second road loss in row, on back-to-back nights after defensive lapses cost them against Nashville, it would have been easy for a weary team to go through the motions and head off to vacation to refresh and regroup. Instead, in what is a microcosm of their season thus far, the Devils furiously charged out of the locker room and tied the game within the first four minutes of the second period, sparked by a dynamic breakaway goal from star center Jack Hughes.

The tying goal came less than three minutes later.

Much criticism has been leveled at head coach Lindy Ruff and his continued deployment of Miles Wood despite a  30-plus game goal drought.  The return of fellow fourth line winger Nathan Bastian against the Sharks brought hope that the reunification of the BMW line would unlock Wood's offense and return his play to the high levels he reached in November. It took several games but Friday night Ruff's patience and Wood's persistence finally paid dividends in a big way.

In a rush reminiscent of the BMW line's impact during the 13-game win streak, Wood streaked to the high slot, took a pass from Bastian and fooled a sliding Jake Oettinger with a low wrist shot to knot the game at 2 unleashing all the Toy Story Woody puns one could handle.

After the game Ruff detailed his faith in Wood, "I know he's struggled but I've tried to remain a believer that he's the type of guy that can muscle his way through." He justified continuing to play the BMW line, "every time they were on the ice they were controlling play."

From that moment onward the game was end to end, exciting hockey with a playoff atmosphere. It is not difficult to see why the star-studded Dallas Stars sit atop the points standings in the Western Conference and are among the front runners to make a deep playoff run.

The Devils demonstrated a focus on playing simple and not again committing the defensive errors that led to a 5-3 loss the previous night despite stellar play of goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who singlehandedly kept them afloat for much of the game.

Despite the defensive efforts the Devils still gave up grade A chances to the Stars. Fortunately for the Devils, GM Tom Fitzgerald's steal of the offseason, Vitek Vanecek, was there at every turn to close the door on the Stars from the first period forward. Vanecek made sprawling save after sprawling save. His saving of 1.01 goals over expected was responsible for the Devils having a position to leave Dallas with even one point let alone the two they earned.

Despite their appearance, no those are not the same play, just indicative of the confidence and skill Vanecek is playing with now. "The Vitek" as he now refers to himself, is on a nine-game heater and is as responsible for the Devils' successes as the man who broke the overtime deadlock, Jack Hughes.

Not wasting any time, the Devils controlled the face off and retreated to their end.  Tuesday's hero, Dougie Hamilton launched a  stretch pass from behind his own net to winger Jesper Bratt who held up the puck, delayed then brought it out of the offensive zone and found a streaking Hughes with a diagonal pass that walked him into the offensive zone.  Instead of dekeing, Hughes deployed his lethal snap shot which ricocheted off the defender's stick and into the back of the net sending the Devils to the break as the best road team in the league and firmly ensconced in second place in the Metro division.

For Hughes it was his 33rd goal, further extending his career high, and his league leading 27th goal at even-strength. For Hamilton, the assist capped a spectacular eight point week (3g 5A) in four games, including three overtime points, (2G, 1A)  Leaving Hamilton off the All Star Game roster clearly demonstrates the issues with the game in general and the roster construction.  For the most competitive division in hockey to only have one defenseman representative does nothing but diminish the sport.


Over the course of the last six games the Devils have played in overtime in five and won four of those. In three of the contests they were able to tie the game in the final minutes while playing 6v5 without a goalie. Unlike years in the recent past, this team has cultivated a belief that they will find a way to win and have shown patience and confidence in the ability to win late and close.

Longest tenured Devils Defenseman Damon Severson says it all starts with trusting each other, "It just goes back to confidence in each player and trusting your teammate. In previous years where you would worry about going out and making a mistake rather than actually going out and trying to help tie the game or win the game and be a difference maker."

He also cited playing for your teammates as a reason for the success, "We got a bunch of go getters and we want to do good for the team and help the guy next to you." He also indicated that while the team, "hasn't played our best hockey of late" that he expects their form to return.


The Devils will enter the second half with an opportunity to pick up points in February against some of the weaker opponents in the league including Columbus, Vancouver, St. Louis, and Philadelphia before entering the gauntlet of March where they will be tested throughout the month.

March begins with road games in Colorado and Vegas, followed by games against Toronto, Carolina, Florida, the New York teams and three games the reigning three-time Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning in a six day span. Most publications currently put the Devils at over a 90% chance to make the playoffs.  How far they get and who they match up against will largely be decided in the month of March.


With all due respect to Free Agency and the Draft, the other silly season has officially kicked off with the Islanders surprising acquisition of Bo Horvat from the Canucks for a 1st round pick, Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty.  The Devils do not need to make a move to remain in the playoff hunt which is why Fitzgerald can remain patient and only deal from strength.

It appears he has zeroed in on San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier as his main target. Meier, a Swiss national and friend of Captain Nico Hischier, checks many of the boxes in the Devils list of needs.

He is a prototypical power-forward which the Devils lack, he brings size, speed, and most of all is a pure goal scorer.  Meier could play on either wing on either top six line and instantly improve the Devils offense. Meier, 26, fits within the age range Fitzgerald believes fits with his core and it's contention window.  He is currently on pace for approximately 45 goals, which would be a career high and building on his past success.

Word out of San Jose is that the Sharks will be looking for an analogous package to what the Canucks got for Horvat. This would be a 1st round pick (protected) and a combination of two or three of the following: Grade A prospect, Grade B prospects, young current NHL player, picks.  The Devils have the assets to make the deal (Holtz, Mukhamadullin, Boqvist, Foote, Thompson, Walsh, Bahl, Stillman, etc.) and not impact their window by including key assets like Dawson Mercer, and they should go get Meier.

The thought of Meier paired with Hughes is tantalizing and could form one of the top two or three duos in the NHL. Currently Meier and Hughes rank second and fourth respectively in shots on goal and the synergy could emerge into a fearsome line for the next five to eight years.

While the Devils may not need Meier, the chance of him ending up in MSG or Carolina, should spur Fitzgerald to act. He is exactly the type of player that they need and would be a bear for them to have to compete against four times a year and is not easily replaceable.  Teams can improve via trade or free agency every year, but players with Meier's size, speed, and scoring prowess are rare in general and even more rarely available.

Should the Devils not successfully acquire Meier, other players to watch include Vladmir Tarasenko, a Blues sniper who is on an expiring contract and was rumored to have been a fit for the Devils over the summer; Brock Boeser from Vancouver, a 20-25 goal scorer with a reasonable contract and term.

James van Riemsdyk, an older power forward who would provide grit and a scoring touch on the power play; or perhaps Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Anthony Duclair of the Florida Panthers who will soon have to make a move to clear cap space.  The Devils may also look for depth players with experience like James Reimer as a back up netminder or veteran winger Gustav Nyquist of the Blue Jackets.