The Devils went into their short holiday break with quite a performance against the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night. The 7-1 victory meant the team could head into the break in good spirits, enjoy their time with family and friends and get ready for the next stretch of the NHL season which begins on the 27th against Toronto.
The last week has been filled with firsts, end of scoring droughts and a heartwarming visit to hospitals around New Jersey to spread the holiday spirit.
Here are 10 Takeaways from this past week, presented by Ticketmaster:
It took just one single game, the final one before the short holiday break for five members of the team to get back on track and end scoring droughts. It was in a massive 7-1 victory against Chicago, that two defensemen and three forwards ended droughts.
Damon Severson ended an 11-game goalless streak and he did it in style with a move in which he even surprised himself.
"I just kind of rolled with Gusev there," he said postgame. "He made a good play dropping the puck to me and I saw a lane to the net so I went to the net and it kind of looked like I was gonna go upstairs and I think that the goalie thought that as well. So, I kind of just slid it five-hole and was like 'I don't get those opportunities very often!' so I was just more confused about what had happened!"
The goal was only just the start for Severson, who added two third period assists for a three-point night and finished plus-4, which set a new career-high in plus/minus.
Pavel Zacha scored the Devils seventh and final goal against Chicago, finding the back of the net for the first time in 24 games.
P.K. Subban scored the game winner against the Blackhawks, when his shot from the blueline beat Corey Crawford. The goal was his fourth of the season, which ended a 23 game goalless drought. It also marked a second point in three games for the 30-year-old.
John Hayden picked a timely moment to score his first goal as a New Jersey Devil. He waited until he faced his former team, from which he was traded this past summer. Hayden, dating back to his time with the Blackhawks, had gone 28 games without a goal (16 of which include last season with Chicago).
Look at the expression on Jack Hughes' face after he scored against Chicago. Off a feed from linemate Wayne Simmonds, Hughes used a combination of his speed, stick handling abilities and pin-point shot that lifted the puck far-side and over Crawford's blocker to tie the game at one in the first period.
His goal marked his first in 18-games, which is the longest drought of his entire hockey career, despite this being his first NHL season.
Don't look now, but Nikita Gusev has all of a sudden shot up to the Devils second-leading scorer after 36 games this season. While Gusev spent the beginning of the season adapting to the NHL game, playing on the smaller ice surface and adjusting to life in North America, it seems the 27-year-old rookie has found his stride. Gusev plays on one of the Devils most consistent lines. He plays on Travis Zajac's left wing, while Blake Coleman is on the right. Gusev had just five points in his first 13 NHL games, he spent time in and out of the Devils lineup, there were always these incredible flashes of what Gusev could accomplish, flashes of why he had been the KHL MVP before making his way to New Jersey.
Now it's all coming to fruition in the NHL game. In his last 13 games he has 12 points and leads the Devils with 15 assists, which includes six assists in his past four games. He also trails Kyle Palmieri by just three points for the team lead.
On December 26, over in the Ostrava and Třinec regions in the Czech Republic, five New Jersey Devils prospects will begin their quest for World Junior gold. The annual tournament will begin with a marquee matchup for two Devils prospects. Canadian defensemen Ty Smith and Kevin Bahl will compete against the United States in their first game of the tournament.
Along with Smith and Bahl, the Devils also have goaltender Akira Schmid at the tournament with Switzerland, winger Nikola Pasic for Sweden and defenseman Daniil Misyul on the ice for Russia.
For Smith and Bahl, they entered pre-tournament play as NHL prospects for differing clubs, but after a trade last week with Arizona, the two Canadians are now in the same NHL system.
"It's pretty exciting," Bahl told TSN. "I've known [Ty Smith] for five years now, so we're pretty good friends."
"He's asked me a few times kind of what its like and how the guys are there," Smith added. "About how those AHL guys, the young guys are and he's been pretty good about the whole thing."
Also, don't forget you can catch Patrik Elias behind the Czech bench where he works as an assistant coach.
It should come as no surprise based on everything we know about Ty Smith, but he was named an alternate captain for Team Canada at the World Juniors.
Goaltender Gilles Senn became the fifth goaltender to dress for New Jersey this season and the fourth to appear in a game. The 23-year-old Swiss native received his first NHL call-up on December 17th to join the team as Mackenzie Blackwood's backup after Louis Domingue was injured in a road game against the Avalanche. Senn told me he thought it was a joke when Binghamton head coach Mark Dennehy called him to tell him he was called up to the NHL. Senn says Dennehy is known for making jokes and said when he called him he even tried speaking to him in French, furthering Gilles thinking it was all a joke. Gilles, from Switzerland, speaks French.
Of course, it was not a joke, and only hours later he was on the ice with his NHL teammates.
Weird coincidence… Senn made his NHL starting debut exactly one year and a day after Mackenzie Blackwood made his. Both made their starting debut's in Columbus and both made their starting debut after entering the previous game in relief for the starting goaltender. In Blackwood's case it was in relief of Keith Kinkaid on December 18th, 2018, while Senn entered the game on in relief of Blackwood against the Capitals on December 20.
Did you know Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford wasn't technically pulled by head coach Jeremy Colliton? In fact, the goaltender pulled himself out of the game after the Hayden goal. Crawford waved to his bench, motioned he wanted out and was subsequently replaced by Robin Lehner.
"I just thought maybe it's time to change a little momentum," he said to reporters post-game.
Crawford conceded four goals to New Jersey on 20 shots before he exited the game after 30:40 of play.
Last Tuesday the Devils made their annual holiday hospital visits and I spent the afternoon with Kevin Rooney, Pavel Zacha and Mackenzie Blackwood at Children's Specialized Hospital. I wanted to share a really sweet moment we experienced when we were visiting one of the rec rooms. One young boy named Cameron approached Rooney and you could just tell he was so excited to meet hockey players. In a really sweet moment, after Rooney bent down and said hello, Cameron innocently looked up at him and asked if he had Instagram. Kevin responded yes, and the sweet little boy simply asked if they could follow each other on the social media platform. I don't know why, but this particular moment really stuck with me. Such a simple act of Rooney following Cameron on social media put such a smile on his face. It truly is the simplest things in life…
Something that really impresses me? The way hockey players, or any professional athlete for that matter, is able to recall minute details of specific moments in their career. Ask them about a goal that happened years ago, and most will break it down like it had just happened. It's very impressive to me.
On Monday, before the Devils played Chicago, interim head coach Alain Nasreddine was asked about his first NHL game, which was with the Blackhawks against New Jersey. With a smile, all the details came flooding back as he recalled his first NHL game which included his first NHL fight.
"I finished on top," Nasreddine said with a smile. "I don't know if I won, though! The guy slipped, but yeah, it was the first fight of the game. I remember the first period we were actually playing Jersey and we got out-shot 18 to nothing. That was my first period as an NHL player. So between the first and second the coach wasn't too happy, so my first shift in the second I decided to do something about it."
"I remember fighting Sacha Lakovic… I remember it vividly."