They’ve proven to the rest of the NHL that they’re not the same Devils from the last decade, a team that went to the Stanley Cup Playoffs once since 2013. But most importantly, the hottest team in the NHL has proven to itself it knows what it takes to win.
“That’s the main thing, we’re just playing our game as a group,” center Nico Hischier said. “If we play our way, we at least give ourselves a chance to win every game.”
They’ve done that since Oct. 25, winning 13 straight, tying the team record for longest winning streak when they defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 at a sold-out Prudential Center on Monday.
The Devils can break the record with a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SNE, SNO, SNP, MSG, MSGSN2, ESPN+, SN NOW).
The Devils last won 13 in a row from Feb. 26-March 23, 2001. That team went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Colorado Avalanche. It’s too soon to say where this team will go, but in 19 games the Devils (16-3-0) have done enough to show the rest of the NHL they’re a threat, and a big one at that.
“Certainly, they’ve earned lots of respect around the league,” Oilers center Connor McDavid said before the game Monday. “You don’t win (13) in a row by accident.”
Former Devils goalie and current NHL Network and ESPN analyst Kevin Weekes said the NHL is taking notice of New Jersey’s success.
“They’ve proven to the league that this is a team that you have to take seriously now. You can’t be like, ‘No, really, the Devils? Seriously?’ You can’t do that. Everybody I have talked to is like, ‘These guys are so fast. We couldn’t breathe. They’re on top of us. They suffocated us. They skated down our throat. They play so quickly . They don’t get tired. And they’re defending way better and their goalies have been sweet too.’ That’s what I hear from opposing teams.”
The Devils attack and never sit back. They skate fast and move the puck faster.
“Too many players try to dust it off. Hold it, dust it, hold it, dust it,” Weekes said. “You allow me as a goalie to get set. You allow the defenders to get set. The Devils have figured that out this year and cracked that code. Very few players are willing to do that and understand that, and they do.”
They’re not escaping with wins.
Six of the 13 wins in the streak have come by three or more goals, and the Devils have outscored their opponents 56-24, scoring first in eight games. They have a plus-20 goal differential in the first two periods; plus-12 from the third period on, in overtime.
Eighteen Devils have at least one point in the streak, ranging from center Jack Hughes with 18 (six goals, 12 assists) to defenseman Brendan Smith (one assist).
They’ve led for 450:34, the equivalent of seven and a half games. They’ve trailed for 61:36, the equivalent of approximately one game.
“I see a young, fast team that is playing with a certain level of rhythm to their game,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “They have multiple ways they can hurt you. If you’re sloppy with your details, it’s to your peril. We lived that.”
The Devils have scored at least four goals in 10 of the 13 wins, including twice in wins against the Oilers. There has been an average of 6.4 goals per game this season in the NHL, so if you get four in a game there’s a great chance you’re going to win.
They’ve outshot their opponents in 10 of the 13 games and have a plus-108 differential in total shots on goal (455-347), an average of 35.0 shots for and 26.7 against.
“The one word for me with them is control,” Weekes said. “They’re controlling the game. They’re controlling the tempo. They’re controlling the pace. They’re controlling the puck. They’re doing a lot of dictating. Even when they defend, they don’t spend a lot of time in their ‘D’ zone.”
Their goaltending has been stellar as well; in the 13-game streak, Vitek Vanecek is 9-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average, and Akira Schmidt, no. 3 on the depth chart behind Vanecek and the injured MacKenzie Blackwood, is 3-0-0 with a .941 save percentage and 1.34 GAA.
There’s also a maturity to how they’re playing, proven in a game like Monday.
They didn’t like how they played in the first period, and with the 1-1 they regrouped and controlled the second, outscoring Edmonton 2-0 and outshooting it 12-7. The Oilers scored to make it 3-2 at 4:52 of the third period, but never gained momentum.
The Devils regained the two-goal lead 2:15 later on a spectacular goal by Tomas Tatar and put it away with 5:15 remaining, when forward Yegor Sharangovich scored to make it 5-2.
They have allowed consecutive goals in four of the 13 wins, including against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 1 when they already had a 4-0 lead. They have not given up more than two straight goals in any game.
“We got hurt a lot last year on this part,” Tatar said. “We’d shut it for some reason for a few minutes and the team gets on their horse and they score all of a sudden more than one goal. This year we’re a lot better. If they score, we just want to focus on our game and continue playing our way.”
All of the statistics, including the underlying numbers that they keep in house such as chances for and against and possession metrics, have the Devils believing that what they’re doing is not just a hot streak, rather sustainable.
They also feel they can lean on what they’ve done in these 13 games when they have to play after a loss, when adversity eventually hits.
“We know we’re kind of the hunted now,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “We know that we’re going to expect probably the best that every team could bring because we’re getting recognition. That part we have to deal with.
“But 19 games in you can’t say we sent a message to the whole league. We’ve just got to continue to play hard hockey. Keep playing our game and prove to the league we can continue to play the type of game we ‘re playing.’