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(Photo by Mark Fischgrund - JSN)

5 takeaways from the Devils week without Jack Hughes

When Lindy Ruff broke the news that superstar center Jack Hughes would be lost from the team “week to week” with an upper body injury panic set in amongst New Jersey Devils fans. The players were determined to not use the absence of their best player as an excuse and found away to get points in three of the four games he was out. With Hughes’s return likely Saturday against Pittsburgh, the Devils have weathered his absence and maintained their hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division despite the play of the third place Rangers.

While it has not always been perfect the Devils found different ways to be successful in this stretch. They started with a 3-1 victory at home over Seattle powered by two power play goals from Dougie Hamilton and an empty netter from John Marino, and 33 saves from Mackenzie Blackwood 

The team then hit the road. First stop was  Minnesota to face a Wild team in a fierce battle for a wild card spot and desperate for a win. The Devils took a 2-1 lead into the third period on a pair of goals by Tomas Tatar but allowed the Wild to net the equalizer. Neither team broke through in overtime and earned a point. The Wild took the extra point in the shootout and the Devils, point in hand, headed to Ohio  

Heading into the matchup against Columbus all appeared slanted towards the Devils. They had beaten the Blue Jackets 7-1 in their previous meeting and the Blue Jackets sat in last place in the league. Unfortunately for the Devils, Nationwide Arena has been a house of horrors, with the Devils not having won in Columbus in over five years. For much of the game it seemed the trend would continue as the Devils were twice unable to hold one goal leads.  The Devils failure to close out periods showed up and cost them a goal to Jersey villain Johnny Gaudreau in the dying seconds of the first period. 

The Devils would immediately answer as Jesper Bratt struck seven seconds into the second period on a set play, stretch pass from John Marino.

The Devils would again give up the lead four minutes later and the game would stay tied until deep into the third.  With under six seconds left in the game Michael McLeod jumped over the boards onto the ice, received a pass from Ondrej Palat at the top of the circle, weaved his way around a defender and slotted a pass through traffic in the crease to the waiting stick of defenseman Ryan Graves who deposited the puck into the net with just under two seconds left on the clock. 

The win gave the Devils their 20th road win in 27 games, a NHL record, and Vitek Vanecek his 12th consecutive game earning a point while in net.

The Devils closed out their four game run without Hughes on Thursday night in St. Louis. While it may appear that this was the game where not having Jack caught up to the team, the true culprit for the loss was the inability to win puck battles along the walls and too many errors in the defensive zone. “I thought we had a terrible night in our own end,” lamented Ruff after the game.  Opportunities existed for the Devils, who flashed speed throughout the game but were unable to consistently get to the front of the net for grade A chances. The lone bright spot in the game was the Sharangovich, Haula, Zetterlund line, especially the dogged forecheck work of Zetterlund that resulted in a goal by Haula.  

YEZ line has chemistry

With the absence of Hughes, Ruff had to shift around his line combinations and has seemed to land on a productive line of Sharangovich, Haula, and Zetterlund. The line performed well, especially against St. Louis, controlling the puck and resulting in a xGF% of almost 70 in their time on ice.  They are one of the best forechecking combinations and have proven that they can generate offense consistently off the cycle which has been lacking in other combinations.  

At Friday’s practice, with Hughes’s return imminent, Ruff again mixed up his lines, this time slotting Sharangovich alongside Hughes and placing Palat with Haula and Zetterlund which should also lead to improved work in the corners and along the walls and continue to provide high-danger chances for the group. In the past, Ruff has talked about thinking of lines in pairs not trios and he may have found something in Haula and Zetterlund with the flexibility to add whichever left winger suits the play.  Another option may be adding Boqvist if he needs to ratchet up the speed at any point. 

BMW line has not found itself collectively

Early in the season the BMW line of Bastian, McLeod, and Wood, were a force. Their consistent play allowed the Devils to roll four lines, evenly spread out ice time and win the matchup game. The hope was that once Bastian returned from his lengthy injury that the reconstitution of the line would allow the Devils to return to the way they played in November, however that has not happened. Both Wood and McLeod played better with other partners and Bastian has struggled to find his game since the return. Unless this line can turn it around immediately it may be time for Ruff to park the BMW in the garage and find a more productive fourth line. 

Need to settle the D corps

John Marino’s return following the All Star break has paid immediate dividends for the defense. Now that the Marino/Graves pairing has been restored they have resumed being one of the best shut down pairs in the game, something the Devils lacked in his absence. Marino’s offense, and especially his passing ability makes the right side of the Devils defense corps the deepest and most talented in the entire NHL.  The other side benefit of his return is that pushing Damon Severson down to the third pair, when he is arguably a top pair defenseman on some teams provides incredible depth and has allowed Severson more freedom to participate offensively against the other teams’s weaker lines. Severson already has three points in the five games since Marino’s return. The only weakness has been having to fill in for the injury to Brendan Smith. Kevin Bahl has stepped in and largely played well but defensive lapses the last two games have cost the Devils and may indicate that the Devils will be looking to add defensive depth for the stretch run.

Time for Timo

The trade deadline expires in approximately two weeks. The Devils are thought to be deep in negotiations with the San Jose Sharks for star winger/power forward Timo Meier.  Meier is the missing piece the Devils covet, possessing a unique blend of size, and scoring absent in the Devils top six. Reportedly, the Devils have significant competition for Meier in division foe Carolina. General Manager Tom Fitzgerald has spent the last few years stockpiling assets to be in the position to open the window for contention. Now is the time to act and use that stockpile to procure the asset he needs.  Yes, Meier has a prohibitive qualifying offer this Summer, and yes there are no guarantees you can sign him long-term to less than what Hughes makes, but anything less than Timo Meier in a Devils jersey before March 3, will be considered a failure by the fanbase and signal to the team that Fitzgerald doubts its ability to win now. A dangerous message to a team beginning a run.


The Devils are back in action on Saturday, February 18, 2023, at 5:30 from Pittsburgh as the take on the Penguins in the front half of a back to back which they will finish Sunday night at home against the Jets.

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