It has been six-straight games for the Devils with at least a single power-play goal. A streak, that started with a Kyle Palmieri power-play goal against the Rangers at the 2:18 mark of the second period on October 17. Since that game, the power play has scored at least one goal heading into Tuesday night's matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. The Devils PP is firing at a 25% clip, with seven goals on 28 opportunities.
"They're playing with a lot detail, their work ethic's very strong," Devils coach John Hynes said. "They're working as a five-man unit and their decisions are good, which is a big part of it."
New Jersey went 0-for-18 in the first six games of the season.
"The power play is night and day from where it was at the beginning of the year," Hynes said late last week. "It's been effective. You can't control the puck going into the net all night, but we did score on the power play and have scored on the power play in the last few games. But we were in there, we had great chances."
Sami Vatanen had scored goals in three consecutive games for the first time in his career. He had goals against the Coyotes, Lightning, and Flyers to bring his season tally to four goals, matching the mark he set in 50 games last season for New Jersey.
The last time Vatanen had more than four goals in a season dates back to the 2015-16 NHL season with Anaheim when he had nine goals. His best goal-scoring year was 2014-15 with 12.
It seems likely, with 70 games left this season, he'll at least surpass that four-goal mark.
Part of that boost to the power play has come from the confidence and chemistry that Jack Hughes has found on the first unit. Hughes, along with Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Wayne Simmonds, and Sami Vatanen have consistently been thrown out by the coaching staff as the first man-advantage unit. First for a reason: the unit is responsible for all seven power-play goals in the last six games. Hughes has three, Palmieri two and both Simmonds and Vatanen with one each.
All three of Jack Hughes' career goals have come with the man-advantage.
Jesper Bratt was the latest guest on the Devils Official Podcast this week. These have been so much fun to do. Normally, when I'm interviewing a player, it's with a camera in their face and that can really shut people down. Not in a bad way, but you just become so self-aware when the camera is on you. So, in the podcast setting, Bratt really let loose and her personality really came through.
He spoke fondly of the friendships that he's developed with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha. The three so happen to have clicked as line recently, put together the last two games. It might be no coincidence that all three also sit next to each other in the Devils locker room. It's always refreshing to hear about the bonds that these players have off the ice as well. The three of them certainly have one.
Listen to the podcast to really get an idea of the fun they have!
Bratt joined Matt Loughlin and I fresh off of his return to the lineup and a two-goal performance against the Flyers. Bratt had sat out the game before as a healthy scratch. Something no player wants. But it was fascinating to listen to the 20-year-old describe what mental process he goes through accepting the things that are out of his control and how he has worked for years on his mind.
After a tough season in Sweden after he had been drafted, Bratt started to work with Andy Sward, a renowned mental skills coach.
"I wanted to get to know myself a little better. Get to know how to prepare myself a little better for games. I felt like I had a big year coming up, moving to another country and signing my contract, going into a big camp and hopefully making the team. I had a lot of things going on. I wanted to make sure I had the best possible preparation.
"He told me, after spending just one day with him that summer, 'if you really get dialed into this and what we work with and you really want to be good at this, I promise you, you will play in the NHL this year.' The NHL for me felt pretty far at that point, because I didn't have a great year, I got cut from the World Junior team. That felt far away from me, so I was like 'oh no, this guy is… No, I don't believe in this. This mental training, I don't know if it's actually going to help me.' But I really wanted to give it a chance."
Coming off that summer, Bratt made it to the NHL.
He's been here ever since.
Travis Zajac has always gone about his business quietly. In fact, he shies away from any personal attention, always bringing it back to the team. I remember sitting down with him this summer, I wanted to write an article about him and the potential records and rankings he could break in the Devils history books this season. I caught him outside the Devils locker room, and this is exactly how I presented the topic:
"Travis, I'd love to talk to you about something for an article I'm writing, but you're going to hate it because it's all about you."
Because Zajac is who he is, he laughed and acknowledged how correct I was, but he also sat down with me for 15 minutes as we went through the potential milestones ahead.
On Saturday night in Carolina, Zajac ticked off one of those milestones. He moved into a tie with John MacLean for fifth all-time in franchise games played with 934 games.
It's a coincidence, but on Tuesday night Zajac will take sole possession of fifth all-time. And it will happen in his home province of Manitoba, when he plays his 935th NHL game in a Devils jersey. The Devils play the Jets on Tuesday night, and Zajac is from Winnipeg and always has many family and friends in the crowd.
Speaking of one-on-one conversations, I had a very brief interaction with Andy Greene on Saturday night. The Carolina visitor's locker room is probably one of the smallest ones in the league. It is incredibly crowded. I had to step over Greene's giant hockey bag to try and get through the room. Instead, I managed to kick him in the shin (lightly, don't worry!) to which of course I said how sorry I was.
"Don't worry, I didn't just spend an entire game doing that!"
Poor guy blocks so many shots, he doesn't need to be thinking about blocking my kicks to the shins in the locker room too!
Depending on the press box in any given arena, sometimes my press box seat will be alongside the Devils players that aren't playing that night.
That was the case in Carolina. I sat two seats away from John Hayden, Nikita Gusev and Mirco Mueller. When Nico Hischier scored 34 seconds into the second period, we were all quite stunned and looked at each-other. There was a feel of "what did we just see?" and 'are my eyes deceiving me?' to that shared moment.
Video: NJD@CAR: Hischier flashes skill with toe-drag goal
I'm not sure any of us could believe the move that we had just seen Nico pull off, particularly against a defender like Carolina's Jaccob Slavin.
"It was kind of a broken play," Hischier said. "The puck came back to me. I saw [Slavin] turning back a little, so I tried to go outside and shoot far side."
Buckle up for the month of November. Let's be honest, October was a little slow, with just 10 games the entire month. But November is crammed with games. Starting tonight in Winnipeg, the Devils will go on a run of 13 games in 26 days. And no better way to head into that stretch than off a win in Carolina to help build the momentum.