Devils End Historic Regular Season


The Devils finished strong with an overtime win against the Washington Capitals- Credits Geoff Burke USA TODAY Sports

If you told any Devils fan last season that they clinched a spot in the playoffs, they would not have believed you. With 112 points granting them second place in the Metropolitan Division, the team’s record of 52-22-8 is one that has broken club records. How did a team go from a final record of 27-46-9 to attaining a greater number of wins in their next season in half as many games? The answer isn’t linear at all, but it can be explained by moves from the Devils management to include veteran presence, solid goaltending, and fixing problems that the young team has been facing for several hopeless seasons.

Overall, the status of this team is multi-layered, filled with years of trades, coaches, and moves from the team that ended in some successes, and some failures. An overall reason for their early-season success directly ties to the goaltending situation. During the 21-22 season, the Devils broke a league record by having 7 goalies dressed for the regular season. Injuries were not uncommon amongst the Devils roster, with goalie after goalie being injured and unable to play, leaving the team with less than sufficient goaltending that fluctuated during the season. However, the prayers of many Devils fans were answered in early July of the offseason, with a major trade for Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals being traded to the Devils for a second and third-round pick. Vanecek’s final record was 33-11-4, giving the team solid goaltending to play off of. Earlier on in the season during a game against the Oilers, previous starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood fell harshly on his leg, injuring his knee. Even though during the first week of December he was seen practicing with the team, it has brought up the question of if Blackwood is worth it to keep on the team when he constantly gets injured, jeopardizing the goaltending situation. With Blackwood’s constant rough patches being the main reason for the hunt to find a new goalie in the offseason, many have grown tired of Blackwood. Being a question with shared replies, many can agree that Vanecek has surpassed the expectations of fans after constant goalie disappointment. 

Taking the place of Blackwood in multiple games, Akira Schmid had also stepped up and provided steady play on the ice. From previously playing in the AHL, him stepping up and filling large shoes on the ice was impressive. Many were sold on Schmid’s performances and tired of Blackwood’s injuries, wanting Vanecek and Schmid to be the two main goalies on the roster. Even though the goaltending situation isn’t “perfect” it is far better than last year, and all the team can hope is that no more injuries arise, even though that is never definite. 

For years, the Devils defense has been nothing but a loose and terrifying thing to watch fall apart on the ice. Playing through the whole idea of how the Devils always blow a lead in the 3rd period, the management has made beneficial moves, even though met with initial skepticism. Despite this, these moves have played out far greater than imagined, combined with the new goaltending to prevent the puck from always sliding right past. A major trade that took place was defensemen Ty Smith being traded to Pittsburgh for defenseman John Marino and a draft pick. The opinions regarding Smith’s play were mixed, some wanting him out as soon as possible, and some thinking the team gave up too fast on the young 23-year-old player. However, Smith was immediately sent down to Pittsburgh’s AHL team in Scranton, with John Marino providing solid defense alongside Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Ryan Graves. Left with the remaining pieces of the defense after many trades and veteran P.K. Subban retiring, the Devils management has created a structured, stronger defense that works alongside the goaltenders. 

Another large addition to the Devils roster was made when Jack Hughes’ younger brother, defenseman Luke Hughes, immediately joined the team upon Michigan’s loss in the Frozen Four college hockey tournament. In an exciting comeback victory, Luke Hughes scored the overtime-winning goal for the Devils against Washington, ending the regular season on a high note. When watching games this season compared to last season, the entire game no longer feels like a ticking time bomb of when the other team will easily blow past the defense and score, and rather feels like a fight between both teams to gain momentum and win. With the defense situation improving vastly from the previous season with additions such as Marino and now Hughes, the Devils have a fighting chance to not let every single puck brush past them. 

Even in the previous season, it is no secret that the Devils forwards have had fewer problems regarding skill, and rather have struggled with injuries and other factors. During the Devils losing spell, veteran left-winger Ondrej Palat was out with a groin injury, only returning against St. Louis in December after being out since the beginning of the season. Early on in previous seasons, players such as Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier faced large injuries, leaving them out for weeks at a time.

Much of the Devils core can be seen in Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt, who have a combined point total of 248 points. Many fans now consider All-Star player Jack Hughes to be the MVP of the Devils so far this season, breaking out with 97 points, the highest in the entire roster and setting the record for the most points in a single season in Devils history. Being drafted in 2019- amidst the cheers of New York Rangers fans in the joy that they wouldn’t be drafting him and rather the more ‘promising’ Kappo Kakko (who has only had 40 points this season)- Hughes has become a common face seen in goal scoring. 

A few months later during the trade deadline debacle, the Devils were regarded by some to be the winners of the day, acquiring Timo Meier from San Jose. Despite this massive acquisition, many Devils fans were sad to depart with forward Fabian Zetterlund, but quickly forgot as Meier scored in his first game as a Devil, and later scored the winning shootout goal against Washington. 

With the Devils finally returning to the playoffs after many disappointing seasons, many Devils fans are eager to see just how far this team can go in the playoffs. Despite this looming question, most Devils fans could agree that no matter what round they get to, most are content with their current status. Considering the Hudson River Rivalry going into full swing with a first-round against the New York Rangers, fans are eager to see how this team can play in the playoffs.  After seeing such growth from the previous season and now knowing what the team has the capability of, many fans can only hope that this is only the beginning and that the Stanley Cup will one year return home.