Devils Continue to Show Fight, Character & Resolve

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko recaps a whirlwind week for the Devils and looks at how the team’s veteran leadership has stepped up. We’ll start off with last night’s win over the Rangers. It went to do a shootout, but the Devils could have won the game handily in regulation were it not for Henrik Lundqvist. Was that one of the more complete games the Devils have played this season?

Ken Daneyko: I really think it was. The Devils didn’t have a great performance against the Rangers the last time they played in New York and it was good to see them rev up their energy level to a level they needed to raise it to.

For the Devils, they continue to progress and take steps in the right direction. They stick with it, they don’t get frustrated and that’s what happens when you feel like you’re playing well.

I thought Cory Schneider came up big when the Devils trailed in the game. He made a couple of huge saved when the Devils were down and that’s what you want from your goaltender. You might let one in, but the key is refocusing and making a big save at the right time. If the Rangers go up 3-1, the game is probably over.

They continue to show that they’re a resilient group and they have the resolve to continue with their gameplan, even if things don’t go their way early on. They’re starting to get some traction here in their own building with four straight home wins. Sometimes you have to find ways to manufacture wins like they did last night against tough opponents like the Rangers, and it’s something they’re going to have to continue to do. They didn’t fold and that shows me they’re tougher mentally. It seems like every time we do these Q&A’s, we have to mention Brian Boyle. This week, it’s for good reason. He has seven points in his last three games, including the game-tying goal in regulation and the game-winning shootout goal last night. He’s quickly integrated himself as part of the core veterans on the Devils. Have you been surprised at how quickly he’s taken up a leadership role on the team?

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Ken Daneyko: Well, I think that’s what general manager Ray Shero and coach John Hynes envisioned when they decided to sign Brian. Leadership was one of the main reasons why they brought him on board, to be a mentor alongside the other core veterans like Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

He’s checked all the boxes in terms of leadership and he’s brought more offense than you could have anticipated. He’s scored big goals and made big plays. He’s been real dominant on the power play and you couldn’t ask for any more from Brian Boyle. Knowing him from the teams he’s played on, you just knew he was going to be a good signing. To be doing what he’s doing with all the stuff that’s going on, it says something about his character. He’s been nothing short of terrific for the team. You mentioned Taylor Hall, who also had a strong game against the Rangers. He also played a more physical game than we’re used to seeing. His huge hit on Mats Zuccarello helped set up the Devils’ first goal. Is that something you’re enjoying seeing out of him, a more physical element to his game?

Ken Daneyko: We know all about Taylor Hall’s speed and skill set. We know that he has to provide offense for this team and he’s certainly done that. I thought Hall’s line, along with Palmieri and Nico Hischier had a dominant game last night.

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But that hit showed me that he’s starting to have a take-charge attitude and it shows that he’s feeling good about where the team is right now. All these little things add up to becoming a better club. You don’t think of Taylor Hall in that regard in terms of being a physical player. But when you’re playing well, you do things you don’t do on a regular basis in big games. I’m not saying he doesn’t take his man all the time, but you certainly wouldn’t consider that the main emphasis of his game. With that said, if you get in Taylor Hall’s way, he’s a big, strong guy that can skate and he can have quite the impact.

It’s all a part of being a leader, playing physical and doing all the little things that help create goals. Looking back at the week, it’s been very emotional. Not only did you have the win against the Rangers, you also had the return of Adam Henrique on Monday and yet another comeback win against the Ducks. We had a little bit of time since the big trade, what are your thoughts so far on the Henrique-Sami Vatanen deal?

Ken Daneyko: Looking back at the win against Anaheim, that was another big one. The Devils came back from two-goal deficits twice and Adam Henrique scores a goal-of-the-year candidate.

You thought it was going to be fate with Adam returning that the Devils were going to drop points in that. For the Devils to bounce back, that was another character-type win.

I thought the Devils’ salute to Adam was just remarkable and done so well. With the fans chanting his name, I thought it was fantastic. They all respected Adam and what he meant to the organization.

It was more emotional than what I thought it was going to be. It just showed me how popular he was and how well he was liked. We wish Adam the best and he’s gotten off to a great start with his new team.

Having said all that, Sami Vatanen is a guy that competes so hard and you can see the skillset that he has. He only has one point, but you can see him getting more comfortable. It sometimes takes players time to gel with their new team and get used to playing in a new system. In the long run, you just can’t have enough puck-moving defensemen. They’re so hard to find.

I think Sami is going to be a huge factor for this team down the stretch and I feel like he’s getting better and better. I thought he had another strong game last night. The points will come and we know that he’s got that offensive ability. It’s not just about statistics, it’s about an element that the Devils needed. He adds more depth back there on defense and it’s not always easy to obtain a defenseman like him.

It hasn’t been the smoothest transition, he’d be the first to tell you that. But I’m liking what I’m seeing. You can see he’s going to be a big contributing factor for this team.

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