Devils aren’t taking winning for granted amid league-best start to season

New Jersey Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton (7) congratulates goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) after the team’s 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Newark, N.J.
AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

NEWARK — The New Jersey Devils may be the best team in hockey at the moment, but they aren’t taking the winning for granted. The Devils have shocked just about everyone to start the year with a 21-4-1 record after a win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. 

The wins have come in all sorts of ways and against some of the better teams in the NHL, while also taking care of business against the clubs they know they have to beat. New Jersey had carried a 14-game winning streak up until last week when the Nashville Predators snapped that by beating the Devils in overtime. 

Even with just four losses to their name, the Devils know there is a higher level to their game. Following Thursday’s practice defenseman Damon Severson noted that they still weren’t playing their best hockey in their recent stretch. 

“We haven’t been playing above and beyond at all, we’ve just been playing average hockey,” Severson said. “We’ve just been fortunate to come out on top and keep ourselves in games and win the game. Hopefully, we don’t come back down to what people see as the mean and we just want to continue to win no matter how it has to be done. We might not have our A game every night, but if we can find a way to win that’s just the biggest thing and we’ll correct the things that we can fix in the next day.”

Perhaps that mentality of not becoming satisfied with the success is what has kept the Devils as the best team in hockey. They’ve gone 5-0-1 in the past six games and became just the sixth team in NHL history to win 21 of their first 26 games of the season. 

The Devils have gotten outstanding performances up and down the lineup, their expected goals for 5-on-5 are best in the league and their goals per game are top five in the NHL. Even with their issue of getting off to slow starts more recently, the Devils have quickly fought back to wear teams down and retake control of the game. 

While the old adage about Thanksgiving being an indicator of whether they make the playoffs or not may be changing, the Devils have put themselves in a very good spot for postseason contention. But when Severson was if he had expected this team to be as good as it has been he admitted it was a bit of a surprise. 

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“I don’t think we expected it, but I don’t think it surprised us,” he told amNewYork. “It’s kind of like a little bit in the middle. Like we knew we had good players and we had a good team. The thing is like there’s a lot of good players and good teams everywhere. It’s just a matter of winning the games. You might have anybody in any given night who might have a stacked roster and on paper, they should win that game no matter what, but someone’s going to beat you because they work hard or they may get a bounce here may get a bounce there. … That’s the thing with this league is you never know what can happen. We’ve just been fortunate enough to play really good hockey win some games and not play our best hockey and still be able to find a way to win.

“So it hasn’t been surprising. But also at the same time, we weren’t sure what to expect when you come into the season. You got to play the games to win them and that’s what we’re doing.”

The Devils will look to keep their hot hand going when the Islanders come to town on Friday as New Jersey goes for its sixth win in the last seven games.