EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Devils can’t sneak up on teams anymore.
The once-laughable also-rans have gone from a team that has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs nine of the past 10 years to currently the NHL’s hottest team.
Coach Lindy Ruff’s young, basically no-name crew beyond top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes tied a franchise record Monday night, beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 for their 13th straight win. The mark could fall Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home.
“It’s something I don’t even want to talk about because I don’t want to jinx it,” Ruff said. “But I know we’re finding a lot of different ways to win, a lot of different personnel and I think the important part is it really has been about the team. In any given time, somebody has come up big for us, scored big goals, big saves and special teams has played a big part of that.”
The Devils’ other 13-game winning streak came in 2001, a year New Jersey lost the Cup Final in seven games to Colorado. The 13-game run is tied for the fifth longest in NHL history, four shy of the record set by Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993.
The previous time the Devils lost was a 6-3 setback to Washington on Oct. 24.
Since then, they have outscored opponents 56-24, averaging 4.31 goals and 35 shots. They have swept two roads trips through Canada, beating Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa twice in the run and Montreal and Toronto once. They also have a win over the reigning champion Avalanche.
New Jersey’s 16-3 record is second best in the league to the Boston Bruins’ 17-2 mark.
“I don’t know if it’s us needing to prove anything, really,” said Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019. “I think it’s more like we set ourselves up really well in the standings so far. We’re getting to 20 games and we set ourselves up nicely. I think teams are starting to realize we’re not a pushover game and we’re a pretty good team. And they’re coming to New Jersey now and they are going to have to work for a win.”
In the previous four seasons, the Devils won 31, 28, 19 and 27 games, respeciviely, finishing either seventh or eighth in the Metropolitan Division. Their longest winning streak in each of the past two seasons was three games.
“Definitely for me it’s one of the most fun stretches I’ve ever been a part of and I don’t want it to end,” said Hischier, the Devils captain who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017. “It’s fun, enjoyable. Just keep riding the wave. We’re playing some good hockey and hopefully the wins keep coming.”
This team is very different from the one former general manager Lou Lamoriello assembled in the 1990s and the early 2000 that won three Cups. That was a team of stars. Goaltender Martin Brodeur was a Hall of Famer. Defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer were perennial All-Stars and the forwards, such as Patrik Elias were great two-way players.
General manager Tom Fitzgerald’s group is more of a team. There’s no doubt the 21-year-old Hughes is becoming a star and Hischier is starting to deliver along with forward Jesper Bratt, who might be one of the NHL’s most underrated players.
Dougie Hamilton, a big free agent signing a year ago, leads a solid defense that isn’t allowing a lot of shots. The ones that are getting through are being stopped by free-agent signee Vitek Vanecek, who is 9-1.
That was the Devils big weakness last season, they went through seven goaltenders in an injury-marred season that saw Hughes and Hamilton also miss substantial time.
Of the 20 players who dressed for New Jersey on 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 are capitalizing on their depth, speed and commitment to the defensive zone.
“We have four lines and three D pair makes a big impact and our goaltending advantage has probably been the biggest impact,” Bratt said. “So our team effort overall is what is making us win games right now.”
If there was one phrase that was repeated by the Oilers after the game when they were asked about the Devils it was: “they’re fast!”
“They transition the puck well, and they hold on to the puck well in the O-zone,” Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie said. “They’ve got a lot of skill and they don’t give you too much room offensively. They’re playing a good team game right now. They’re getting good goaltending and things are going for them.”
Remarkably, the season didn’t start that way. New Jersey lost its first two games and was trailing early at home to Anaheim in the next game when fans started chanting “Fire Lindy.” Earlier this month with the Devils winning, the chant changed to “Sorry Lindy.”
That’s the way things are going for the Devils these days. Everybody is happy.
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