Photo Credit: Mark Fischgrund

Devils Ahead of Schedule at Half-way Point

Almost to a man, everyone who spoke to the press at last season's exit interviews in Newark agreed that going into this season anything less than playing meaningful games in March and fighting for a spot in the postseason would be failure.


At the halfway point of the season, the Devils are poised to supplant their base level expectations and set the bar at a playoff run. After 41 games, the Devils sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division with 55 points, on a pace for 110, which would be the second highest total in franchise history behind the 2000-01 Devils who had 111 points and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.


After dropping the season opener to the Flyers, doubt began to seep into the team and the fanbase, expressed best by veteran winger Miles Wood, “I’m just sick and tired of being on a bad team. That’s the thing that stinks the most."

Wood's comments echoed the feeling of many around the team and instead of dividing a locker room seemed to instead galvanize the team.  Days later, after beginning the season with back to back 5-2 losses, the Devils entered the first intermission faced with a 2-0 deficit at home to lowly Anaheim Ducks with the rafters of the Rock echoing with the chorus of "Fire Lindy, Fire Lindy."

This was the make or break point for the team. Unlike the previous few years this version of the Devils responded, led by key off-season acquisition Ondrej Palat, emerging superstar Jack Hughes, and Captain Nico Hischier, the Devils unleashed 20 shots on goal in second period, finding the back of the net twice to tie the game and outshot the Ducks ten to four in the third also scoring twice to win 4-2.

In many ways, this game served as a harbinger of what was to come as it was the first of what would be a league-high five comebacks from two goal deficits for the Devils in the first half.


The Anaheim game began a run of 19 wins in 21 games including the franchise's first sweep of a Western Canada road trip highlighted by another come from behind win scoring two goals in seven seconds to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 4-3. The 13 wins in November set a team record and had the Devils comfortably perched on top of the Metropolitan Division and, for many, in the top three teams in the NHL.

The team was led by Hughes, Hischier, Dougie Hamilton, and an 11 game point streak by burgeoning star Jesper Bratt but received significant contributions from secondary scorers especially from it's BMW line of Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod, and Miles Wood who seemed to tilt the ice and allow Coach Lindy Ruff to evenly deploy four lines. Ruff was also the beneficiary of a remorseful fanbase who now instead of seeking his dismissal, sought his forgiveness.


December would not be so kind as the injury bug and inconsistent play brought the Devils back down to Earth and out of first place. Joining Palat on the injured list, was Bastian, goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, and statistically the best defensive pair in the NHL in John Marino and Ryan Graves. While the Devils had bolstered their depth in the offseason, they still lost their way in December and inconsistent play and a lack of goal scoring led to a 4-7-2 record dropping them to second place in the Metro.

Signs of a return to form emerged in the final game of 2022, when buoyed by a heroic 30 min effort of defenseman Damon Severson and a short handed goal by Hischier, the Devils headed into the New Year with a 4-2 win over rival Pittsburgh.


The Pittsburgh win would catapult the team to the end of the first half on a streak earning points in five of six including dramatic, come from behind wins over the Rangers and Hurricanes, after trailing each by two goals in the second period. The win over the Rangers stands as one of the highlights of the first half.

The Devils snapped a nine game winless streak at home, in overtime, against their biggest rival, after trailing 3-1 heading into the third period. The Rangers game also provided a playoff atmosphere that many players credited with helping them raise their game.

Statistically speaking, there is no surprise why the Devils have taken such a leap in less than a year. They have essentially flipped their goals against and goals for numbers.

Unlike last season, the Devils have gotten consistent, above-average goaltending which has stood out as the largest reason for the year over year change for the Devils.  Newcomer Vitek Vanecek has emerged as the starter and endeared himself to the home crowd which often responds to timely saves with a chant of, "Vi tek, Vi tek."

Vanecek's consistency (16-5-2 2.37 GAA .916 SV%) combined with his knack for making big saves when needed despite usually facing less shots has given the team confidence to be aggressive, something that was lacking in last year's carousel of goalies. Blackwood has, at times, given the team strong play but due to his inconsistency and injuries, he was unable to contribute as much as had been expected but if healthy provides a strong tandem moving forward.


2019 First Overall Draft Pick Jack Hughes had a first half that lived up to the hype. Hughes leads the team with 49 points in 41 games including 26 goals.  Hughes leads the NHL in goals scored at 5v5 and has scored goals in 19 of the final 22 games of the first half. He is on pace to break the Devils' single season goals and points records at the age of 21.  Hughes was also selected for the second straight season to attend the All Star Game.

His analytics are equally off the charts, leading many to place him among the contenders for the Hart Trophy given to the league's Most Valuable Player.  Hughes closed out the first half with two goals against the Rangers almost singlehandedly willing the team back into the game. His growth as a dependable, clutch scorer, that the team can count on in the toughest moments is a key factor in the first half success.



The Devils are riding a two game winning streak, having taken points in five of their last six, as they wake up today in California preparing for a four game in six day stretch. The team is looking to augment its already stellar 15-2-1 road record to challenge Carolina for the top of the Metro. The Devils are also getting healthy at the right time as Bastian, and Marino are both traveling and skating with the team and appear to be nearing a return.

Getting a chance to see a full lineup play together for a few weeks will allow GM Tom Fitzgerald and Ruff to better determine what needs are worth pursuing before the early March trade deadline. Should the Devils want to improve via trade they will have to get creative as cap space is at a premium both for them and league wide.

Fitzgerald has consistently indicated that he isn't interested in trading assets for a rental but if he believes that the team is a player or so away from a legitimate run in playoffs he knows he owes it to the team to make the addition even if a rental.

The biggest issue facing the Devils as they head into the second half is finding a way to improve their home record. Unlike years past, attendance is not the issue, the Rock has been sold out several times and players have cited the raucous atmosphere as being an advantage.

Ruff seemed to indicate that the players have been trying too hard to put on a show for the home crowd rather than playing the simple style hockey they have on the road that has led to such a positive record there. Whatever the reason, the Devils need to correct it to maintain their position in the standings as it is difficult to believe that they can keep up the torrid pace on the road for another half of the season.