EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — The New Jersey Devils can no longer sneak up on teams.
The once-ridiculous Also-Rans have gone from being a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs nine times in the last 10 years to the hottest team in the NHL right now.
Coach Lindy Ruff’s young, essentially nameless crew save for top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes set a franchise record Monday night, beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 for their 13th straight win. The mark could fall at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
“I don’t even want to talk about that because I don’t want to jinx it,” Ruff said. “But I know we find a lot of different ways to win, a lot of different people and I think the important part is that it was really about the team. At all times someone has stood out for us, scoring big goals, making big saves and special teams have played a big part in that.”
The Devils’ other 13-game winning streak came in 2001, a year in which New Jersey lost the cup finals to Colorado in seven games. The 13-game run is the fifth-longest in NHL history, four short of the record set by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993.
The last time the Devils lost was a 6-3 setback against Washington on Oct. 24.
Since then, they have outscored opponents 56-24, averaging 4.31 goals and 35 shots. They’ve won two trips across Canada, beating Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa twice and Montreal and Toronto once. They also have a win over reigning champion Avalanche.
New Jersey’s 16-3 record is the second-best in the league behind the Boston Bruins’ 17-2.
“I don’t know if we really have anything to prove,” said Hughes, the 2019 No. 1 overall. “I think it’s more that we’ve done really well in the overall standings so far. We’ve got 20 games and we’re doing well. I think teams are starting to realize that we’re not a pushover and that we’re a pretty good team. And now they come to New Jersey and they have to work to win.”
In the previous four seasons, the Devils won 31, 28, 19, and 27 games and finished in either seventh or eighth place in the Metropolitan Division. Her longest winning streak in each of the last two seasons was three games.
“For me, it’s definitely one of the most fun stretches I’ve ever been on and I don’t want it to end,” said Hischier, the Devils’ captain, who was the No. 1 draft pick in 2017. “It’s fun, it’s fun. Just keep riding the wave. We play good hockey and we hope that the wins will continue.”
This team is very different from the one former general manager Lou Lamoriello who was put together in the 1990s and early 2000s and won three cups. That was a team of stars. Goalkeeper Martin Brodeur was a Hall of Famer. Defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer were consistent All-Stars and forwards like Patrik Elias were great two-way players.
General Manager Tom Fitzgerald’s group is more of a team. There’s no doubt that 21-year-old Hughes is becoming a star and Hischier is starting to deliver along with forward Jesper Bratt, who is perhaps one of the NHL’s most underrated players.
Dougie Hamilton, a big free agent signed a year ago, runs a solid defense that doesn’t allow for many shots. Those who come through will be stopped by free-agent signee Vitek Vanecek, who is 9-1.
That was the Devils’ major weakness last season, they had seven goalies in an injury-plagued season that also saw Hughes and Hamilton miss significant time.
Of the 20 players who dressed up for New Jersey Monday night, a dozen were 25 years old or younger.
Bratt, who leads the Devils with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists), said the Devils benefit from their depth, speed and defensive commitment.
“We’ve got four lines and three D-pairs are a big influence and our goalie advantage was probably the biggest influence,” Bratt said. “So our overall team performance is what’s driving us to win games at the moment.”
If there was one phrase the Oilers repeated after the game when asked about the Devils, it was, “They’re fast!”
“They change the puck well and hold the puck well in the O-Zone,” said Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie. “They have a lot of ability and don’t give you too much space offensively. They’re playing a good team game. They get good goalkeeping and things are going for them.”
Notably, the season didn’t start that way. New Jersey lost its first two games and was trailing Anaheim early in the next game at home when fans started chanting “Fire Lindy.” Earlier this month, when the Devils won, the chant changed to “Sorry Lindy.”
That’s how things are going at the moment with the Devils. Everyone is happy.
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