Another home start, another shutout. The Mackenzie Blackwood hype train is officially moving at high-speed now after becoming the first Devils goalie since Martin Brodeur (in 2010!) to post back-to-back shutouts.
Honestly I didn’t know what to expect in today’s game, with the Devils going up against a Canucks team that’s been better than expected (which is to say they were expected to be bad and are mediocre), thanks to the breakout of Calder favorite Elias Pettersson. While the two teams aren’t rivals, they do have a Prudential Center connection, thanks to the Canucks and Devils’ draft-day trade of Cory Schneider for the #9 overall pick in 2013. Showing how hindsight is everything in some cases, at the time it was hailed as a steal for the Devils and a massive underpay for Vancouver. Of course, as things worked out the Canucks picked Bo Horvat with that pick, and he’s fast become a legit top-line center while Cory’s own game has fallen off dramatically in the last couple years.
Another case of heavyweight hindsight nonsense is now the people who are pining over the fact we didn’t somehow get Pettersson instead of Nico Hischier in last year’s draft. While certainly Pettersson has burst onto the scene dramatically this year and has none other than Wayne Gretzky making self-comparisons, drafting is an inexact science. You don’t always get the best player at #1, such is life. You can only make the best pick you can with the information you know and at least 99% of pundits had Nico and Nolan Patrick going in the top two spots. God help Devil fans if Nico and Nolan’s current production had been reversed. Nico’s been nothing but a solid top six center so far and still has more than enough time to grow into even more. Sometimes you just gotta be happy with what you got.
If this were early in the season, no doubt Pettersson would have embarassed us to the tune of multiple goals and points to further rub it in (and Cory would have been lit up) but the Devils gave one of their most confident performances of the season in this shutout win, only allowing the Canucks twenty-five shots on net. New Jersey jumped out to an early lead with goals from Brian Boyle and Miles Wood in the first period and never looked back, though Blackwood had to hold the fort in a nervous second period. Still, it was a rare game without any third-period drama as one-timer goals from Sami Vatanen and a suddenly hot Pavel Zacha put the game safely on ice early in the third period. For good measure, Wood and Vatanen’s goals were both on the power play. Is the Earth rotating off its axis on New Year’s Eve? TWO power play goals?!
Finally the Devils have a three-game winning streak for the first time since the beginning of the season, but as the team begins a four-game road trip through Dallas, Arizona, Vegas and Buffalo the question remains whether this team’s improvement is coming too late to salvage anything tangible out of the 2018 season. Especially with Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson missing another game today and their status for the road trip is still uncertain. I don’t want to play the game of ‘well they’re a playoff contender if you pro-rate their record in games not played by Cory’ since it’s not likely they would have won many of Cory’s games with another goalie anyway but it is a breath of fresh air finally having a goalie that can stop pucks. As things stand now they’re still eight points out of the last playoff spot with a bunch of teams to jump over.
Before I can discuss the playoffs seriously the Devils have to do two things…get back over NHL .500 overall (currently 15-16-7), and improve the road record which is still awful with just four road wins in nineteen games. This team, or at least the nucleus of this team has it in them to play well on the road, they did so last year. If they’re really going to be a factor going forward in the second half they have to make a statement on this upcoming trip and do no worse than 2-1-1.