When we last left off last week, Alain Nasreddine had just been named interim head coach of the Devils. Later that evening, he coached his first game, only hours after assuming the role.
"It was a lot of emotions all day long," Nasreddine said after the 4-3 loss to Vegas. "The game was a lot of fun to be in, obviously. I liked the energy by the team. I really, really liked our first 40 minutes. The third period, it was almost like we ran out of gas a bit. It doesn't take much in this league for the other team to make you pay for it and that's what happened."
A day after his debut, the team had an off-day which allowed Nasreddine to get his ducks in a row and adjust to his new role with the team and meet with the other coaches and Devils management.
Nasreddine understands the unique role he now currently finds himself in, a new old voice.
"It's not like I'm a new voice coming in, I was the assistant coach," he said. "I'm the same guy in a different position. It goes back to what I said the first day, I see this more as a partnership where it's meeting that way (of playing) but doing this together with the players."
Upon the team's return on Thursday, Nasreddine began individual meetings with each player to outline expectations and adjustments he'd like to see in their game.
Part of those expectations is taking pride in the way they practice. In his first practice on Thursday, players were flying on the ice, the tempo upbeat.
"We asked the players to skate," Nasreddine said after practice. "This is the style play, we want to have is a skating team. And if we're going to be a skating team, it starts in practice. And that was a message this morning to make sure that we build those habits in practice and we can then bring to games. It's a tough way to play when you're gonna ask the players to skate so you've got to build the conditioning and get it to the games."
Jack Hughes had been out of the Devils lineup since he blocked a shot against the Canadiens on November 28. He missed three straight games before returning to the lineup against Chicago on Friday, December 6. In his return, Hughes recorded his fifth-highest ice-time this season, playing 18:03 of the 2-1 shootout loss. It didn't look like the Devils rookie had missed a single beat, and despite being held without a point, was one of the Devils best players on the ice.
"He was flying," Nasreddine said after the game. "He had energy. He wanted the puck on his stick all night. He tried to create. I thought he had a pretty good game. I think tonight playing with No. 9 also helped. [Hall] was probably the best player on the ice for me. Had a strong game. Numerous chances, shots, skating looked great. And I think him and Jack played pretty well together."
In came one player, out went another. As players hit the ice for warmups against Chicago, the team announced that Nico Hischier would be out due to illness. Hischier missed his first game of the season against the Blackhawks and would subsequently miss the game against the Predators just a night later and the game in Dallas last night. It is quite unusual not to see Nico in a Devils lineup. Through his first two-plus years in the league he has played 176 of a possible 194 games. In his rookie season he played all 82 games and in 2018-19 he missed 13 games.
Before Nico sat out against Chicago, he was on his best offensive run this season with three goals and five assists in his past nine games.
Hischier was placed on injured reserve by the team, retroactive to December 5.
In the absence of Nico, Pavel Zacha has been given his spot on the first wave of the Devils power play. Zacha has been on the ice with the man-advantage with Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev and Sami Vatanen. Against the Blackhawks, Zacha played a total of 4:40 on the power play and added another 2:41 against the Nashville Predators. He played 2:53 on the man advantage in Dallas.
The 6'3'', 210lbs forward used his net-front presence to take away Pekka Rinne's eyes in Nashville, parking himself in front of the net in a play that lead to Kyle Palmieri's power-play goal.
"All I ask is for the power play to be threatening," Nasreddine said when asked about what he'd like to see from his power-play units. "It needs to bring energy to the team. The power play has looked good for a couple of games now."
It's that time of year where teams with young talented players get asked the question: "Will you allow Player-X attend the World Junior Championship?"
Some teams will do it, like the Detroit Red Wings who have loaned Joe Veleno to Team Canada. Veleno, however, has played his first professional season all in the AHL. So, the question was asked of interim coach Nasreddine, would Jack Hughes be loaned to Team USA?
Before the question was even finished being asked, Nasreddine jumped in and said: "that was shut down right away."
"We have no intention on sending him there," the Devils interim head continued. "He's on the team, he's a big part of this team, so it's not something where we want to lose him for three weeks. Yeah, he's not going there."
What I really liked was the swagger Hughes carried when he was asked the same question just a couple minutes later.
"I mean I haven't thought about that," Hughes said. "I'm here for a reason, so I'm not planning on leaving."
I've mentioned it quite a few times, but the life of Mackenzie Blackwood has really gone through quite a transformation over the last two years. On New Year's Day 2018 and then playing in the AHL, Blackwood was told by his then-head coach Rick Kowalsky that he had been demoted to the ECHL's Adirondak Thunder. Fast forward, less than two years later, and here is Mackenzie taking hold of an NHL team as their number one goaltender.
On Friday against Chicago, Blackwood had an outstanding performance in the 2-1 shootout loss. Blackwood made 28 saves on 29 shots after 65 minutes of play, before the team came up just short in the shootout.
"He's got all the talent in the world," Taylor Hall said after that game. "He's a great athlete. He's a young goalie that wants to work hard, wants to get better. When you see him put in performances like this you hope that you can build off of that."
And while the Blackhawks don't have the record they'd probably like, they do still have all-world talent on their roster, who are capable of changing a game at any moment. But Blackwood was able to counter. He made two outstanding stops on Chicago's Brandon Saad, both breakaway attempts and a point-blank save on Alex DeBrincat as well that got the crowd cheering.
The 23-year-old goaltender has carried much of the load this season, still adjusting to the NHL game. Blackwood has played in 22 of the Devils' 30 games. He made 33 saves last night in Dallas.
Do the Devils have a secret weapon for their shootouts? It would appear if they don't have just one, they might have two. A couple of weeks ago, both Nikita Gusev and Jesper Boqvist scored beautiful shootout goals against the Winnipeg Jets and once again, they were both employed against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was only Jesper Boqvist's second shootout attempt in the NHL. And you guessed it, he did it again and is now 2-for-2 in his career. Boqvist is only one of six players in the NHL who have taken two or more shootout attempts and have a 100 percent success rate.
Boqvist sits in some pretty fine company. Vegas' Jonathan Marchessault is 3-for-3, as is Dallas' Tyler Seguin. Players, including Boqvist who have gone 2-for-2 are Dallas' Joe Pavelski, Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, and Arizona's Christian Dvorak.
Not a bad group to belong to.
Nikita Gusev isn't far behind in his attempts and success-rate. After a long list of players who have gone 1-for-1 for their 100 percent success, Gusev is next on the list with a 75 percent success rate scoring three goals on four attempts.
One Devils prospect who will most certainly compete for a spot on their national team is goaltender Akira Schimd. Schmid has played six games for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL this season. Schmid is one of three goaltenders at the U20 Swiss National team camp, where he'll compete for a spot with Stéphane Charlin (Genève Servette HC) and Luca Hollenstein (EV Zug).
Cuts are expected to be made by Swiss national team coach Thierry Paterlini after their two friendly matches on December 13th and 14th.
Swiss U20 national team will start tournament play against Kazakhstan on Thursday, 26 December.
Video: JERSEY LIFE | Evan's Call
Have you been dipping into the new Jersey Life series that we've had on NewJerseyDevils.com this year? Every week, there's a new look into the Devils community, it could be fan-related, a player event, we really run the scope. This week's episode was truly touching. Community reporter Catherine Bogart sat down with Evan Yasser, who is on the autism spectrum and has an incredible ability to call live sports play-by-play. Evan was invited by the team to help call a period alongside Matt Loughlin and Chico Resch and did an incredible job.
Take the time to watch Evan's story and have a listen to his remarkable play-by-play here: