September 08, 2023

Bryce Salvador

Ondrej Palat plays his former team for the first time!
Talk about a statement game from the Devils in their 3-zip win over the Hurricanes to move into a tie with them for 1st in the Metro Division. It was the exact type of game I wanted to see from the team, especially the three players I highlighted in the pregame show starting with Vitek Vanecek. His previous five games were not his best, considering his Sv% and GAA were .821 and 4.26, respectively. 

I'm not saying he was struggling; instead, he just hadn't been sharp as of late, and we needed to see the VV we saw back in January reemerge! Well, after facing 32 shots and 25 scoring chances, there was definitely a sighting from him, and VV=W in shutout style! Hopefully, that performance will be the game we all reference as the catalyst to a terrific stretch of hockey from him as he finishes off the season!

Jack Hughes and Jesper Brattexcitingly used this game to emerge out of their funks as well. These two players, whom Erika Wachter and I talked about in the pregame show (somewhat called out!), needed to show up big in, arguably, the most highly anticipated game since the 2017/18 playoffs, and man, did they both deliver on cue.
 Jack Hughes had a goal and assisted on both Jesper Bratt's two goals. Jack was excellent the whole night; Jesper followed Jack's lead, and seeing these two guys rise to the occasion was awesome. It was a statement game from those two. 

Most impressive to me were some of their advanced stats. When these two were both on the ice, the Devils outshot (11-7), out-chanced (16-7), surrendered only 1 HD chance (8-1), and outscored (3-0) Carolina. Vitek Vanecek being able to lock down the cage, and getting a shutout, was the icing on the cake. Bottle this game up, as it was a tremendous all-around effort!
With 16 games left in the regular season, the Devils were given the gift of having this mini-playoff round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Playing a back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning team, three times within six days, who has been in the SC finals four times in their last eight years is an excellent and invaluable opportunity to have a "dry run" for the playoffs.  

The Devils have key players who will gain experience with what a playoff environment will feel like, the extra details they need to have in their preparation, and the overall thought process required for playing the same team multiple times. The Devils' young core has only six, that's right, six playoff games combined under their belts: Nico Hischier (5), Jesper Bratt (1), Jack Hughes (0), and Dawson Mercer (0). Expanding out the Devils' roster's playoff experience, the Devils’ players have 479 total playoff games (Ondrej Palat has 138) and will go head-to-head with an experienced Tampa Bay roster with 1717 playoff games; yikes! In closing, I don't care how bad or off their game is lately; the Devils should expect that Tampa sees this mini-playoff as a potential turning point for their final stretch of hockey too! I can't say it enough; this mini-playoff series will be invaluable.




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