Two impressive wins quiet the critics in Newark for the moment

First let’s start with the disclaimers…yes the schedule hasn’t exactly been the toughest so far with every game in the tri-state area against teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year. Obviously nobody’s going to throw a parade now that the Devils are 2-2, especially after they did get off to good starts in the first ten games of each of the last two years. And their advanced stats and shot totals still don’t generally measure up to actual goals scored.

Okay enough of that…the last two games were certainly a welcome improvement all-around. Some will say the first two games where we outshot the Flyers and Red Wings are proof that this kind of breakout was coming, but even if you want to make that case they certainly haven’t portended the most important development of all the last two games – a long-awaited step up by Mackenzie Blackwood. True, a combined thirty-four saves in two games isn’t exactly topping the shot charts but sometimes it’s not about quantity of saves as much as it is just not giving up the killer goal. He certainly didn’t give up a killer goal against the Ducks after the first period when they fell behind 2-0 and were getting booed off the ice again before turning on the turbo switch and dominating the final two periods, and though he really didn’t have much action tonight as the Devils got the first fourteen shots on net at least we avoided the inevitable killer goal against that usually results during one of those stretches where we pound the net but can’t score.

At least the offense managed to pick it up in the final two periods of both games after frustrating first periods. Just as encouraging is who got the goals – pretty much everyone you would want to score over the last two games has led by Ondrej Palat with three goals. His first goal off a rebound the other night helped finally turned the momentum against the Ducks, and continued a nice first impression with goals #2 and #3 tonight against the Isles. Also standing out in the two games was captain Nico Hischier, who had a goal and an assist against the Ducks and a three-point night at the UBS Arena. Guess he’s over the hammy now, eh? After a dry finish to last season, it was nice to see Dawson Mercer also get on the board against the Ducks…you could say the same for Dougie Hamilton except that it seems obvious through four games his poor second half last year was injury-related. Jack Hughes got his long-awaited first goal of the season tonight, to open the scoring finally at the UBS arena after Ilya Sorokin kept the Devils off the board through a dominant first period.

You might have noticed a name missing from that paragraph in Jesper Bratt…and true he doesn’t have a goal in the first four games, but you’ll take seven primary assists in four games anyday. Bratt, Palat and Hischier were cooking as a line tonight. Also cooking is our entire d-core, which killed off all three power plays in the last two games, as well as holding both the Ducks and Isles to twenty shots or fewer. There isn’t really anything to find fault with on D…even Kevin Bahl finally got in the lineup and played just over ten minutes as the #7 defenseman, but it will be hard for him to get consistent icetime with the top six playing as well as it has.

Offensively as good as the last two games have been you’d still like to see Alexander Holtz get a bit more run, after he got shafted in the second game of the season and benched against the Ducks as Lindy Ruff shortened the bench in a dire situation, he was scratched tonight in favor of the 11-7 lineup deployment. I’d also like to see Fabian Zetterlund get more run, maybe over Nathan Bastian who doesn’t do much besides hit. Zetterlund can do that and score as well but at least the icetimes of the forwards who were in the lineup got more balanced out tonight with Bastian getting nearly eleven minutes and still having the least icetime among the forwards. Ironically after the kerfuffle about Bratt’s icetime following the opener, he led all forwards with just over twenty minutes tonight.

I wish I had more to write about the last two games but honestly it was hard to pay attention Tuesday since I was compelled to stay home after feeling ill with a cold that turned out to be the only mild COVID symptom I’ve had so far. Hopefully I’ll be off the IL in time for Saturday afternoon’s game or soon after, but we’ll see. Vaccines and boosters definitely help if this is as bad as COVID gets for me. In any case, tonight I just wasn’t in front of the TV until the middle of the second period, but with the game on ESPN plus I was able to watch it from the start and skip the commercials while viewing. I wasn’t as into actually watching it since I already had spoilers though, plus after all it was the ESPN broadcast though I don’t exactly hate Bucci or Kevin Weekes. It’s ironic that after our first four games I don’t think one has been on MSG plus yet, which I’m normally accustomed to seeing the Devils on…we’ve had two on ESPN plus and iirc the other two were on the original MSG.

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