Devils Entering Critical Stretch

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko looks at Taylor Hall‘s incredible points streak, the upcoming schedule and the additions the team made at the NHL Trade Deadline. After three straight losses, the Devils got back into the win column with a scoring barrage. Give us your thoughts on Tuesday’s victory over the Canadiens.

Ken Daneyko: It was a game the Devils knew they had to have. You have a depleted Montreal Canadiens lineup hit hard by injuries and they came out and blitzed them in the first period.

The rest of the game was so-so, but in the end, that doesn’t matter. It’s all about getting the points. The Devils are going to have to be better with a daunting schedule coming up, but it was a great effort. I think this win will boost the confidence of every player on the team.

I know Taylor Hall has been lights out and the go-to guy, but all year long the Devils have gotten contributions from everyone. That’s what they’re going to continue to need down the stretch. It was great to see Pat Maroon get his first goal and although [Michael] Grabner didn’t score, he’s getting closer. Hopefully, the puck will start going in for him as well. Other guys, like Stefan Noesen, Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle also contributed [Tuesday night] and these are the guys the Devils will need to continue to chip in. You mentioned the upcoming schedule, which is no easy test ahead. They have Winnipeg on Thursday, followed by Nashville and Vegas on the road. Would you say the team is facing a make or break portion of their schedule?

Ken Daneyko: It’s not just the next three games coming up that are tough, it’s really the next eight or nine games that are going to be a test. The back end of the road trip is going to be Tampa and Pittsburgh. They’re all teams either in the playoffs or fighting to get into the playoffs. But this Devils team has beaten a lot of good teams along the way.

[Watch Devils-Jets Thursday on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]

The Devils are going to need to play their game and are going to have to get great goaltending, but any team can say that when they’re pushing for the playoffs. Everything will have to fall into place, including puck luck. That happened [Tuesday] night, which seemingly they didn’t have for a month. I’m not a believer in that every time you get puck luck it’s because of how hard you play or your work ethic. Sometimes, you’re just unlucky and the Devils have been unlucky in a lot of these games recently.

The good news is that this team is just as good on the road as they are at home this season. They’re going to scratch, claw and manufacture some points. Is it a make or break part of the season? Well, of course! They’re not that many games left and they just have to find ways to get some wins here. It won’t be an easy task, but it’s not supposed to be. Certainly, the team will be calling upon Taylor Hall in their upcoming slate of games. He picked up two assists against Montreal and continued his incredible 26-game points streak. At this point, you’re almost running out of words to praise him with. In your opinion, is he the front-runner for the Hart Trophy?

Ken Daneyko: He’s certainly in the conversation. If the Devils make it into the playoffs — and it remains to be seen because they have a lot of work ahead of them — then he has to be right there for consideration. It’s been that good of a year for him and he’s been so consistent. He’s elevated his game to a whole new level after having some pretty good years in Edmonton.

You can see that he’s on a mission. He’s focused and he wants to lead this team. Taylor has put the Devils on his back and it doesn’t add to wins every time, but he’s doing everything he can to get those wins. He’s been able to become that all-around complete player. From making the right decisions with the puck to being responsible defensively, it seems like everything he touches turns to gold.

[Fischler: Taylor Hall; Fame in New Jersey]

All those things are wonderful and the Devils have a real star player. You can’t say enough about him. He’s gone to another level that I don’t think some people thought he had. Most importantly, it’s all about winning for him. The points are fine and dandy, but he’ll be the first to tell you that it’s all about making the playoffs. I really think he understands that and that’s one of the things I’ve really been impressed with, watching his maturity not only on the ice, but taking on a leadership role in driving this team forward. All good teams have that. At the trade deadline, GM Ray Shero tried to take off some of the scoring burdens on Hall by adding Maroon and Grabner. What have they added to the lineup and were you surprised Shero made those moves?

Ken Daneyko: I’m not going to say I was surprised. What it does show is that Ray — who’s done an excellent job building this team — knows that it’s still a process. He knew it wasn’t always going to be smooth sailing. The team was rolling and had a comfortable lead on a playoff spot. Now all of a sudden, you lose some tough games and your lead slips ever so slightly.

Ray wanted to give these guys every opportunity to make the playoffs. You hope that these deals at the deadline work out — and not every time they do — but it’s all for the right reasons. It’s fantastic what Ray did and it’s showing guys in the dressing room that he believes in them. They’ve worked hard and gotten this far, so they’ve decided to add some new elements that can help them get over the top and be a playoff team.

Both guys are depth forwards. You look at Grabner, who’s had a ton of chances, but they haven’t gone in yet. Still, that speed element is so dangerous and he can score some big goals. He’ll be a key piece going forward.

New Devils winger Michael Grabner talks about coming over to New Jersey, playing against the Islanders and his emotions playing for a new team.

Patrick Maroon has come right in and done a great job with four points in four games. He’s a different element, he’s a big body and he’s got good hands around the net. I’ve been impressed with his intelligence and you can tell that he’s a smart hockey player. He doesn’t have the speed that Grabner has, but it always seems like he’s in the right position. The puck seems to find him. That’s a good quality to have. I know the game nowadays is all about speed, but it’s also about thinking the game and Maroon has that element. He also brings a physicality with him as well, something we saw in his first game, where he showed he isn’t afraid to get involved if need be.

He played in Edmonton with Connor McDavid for awhile and you don’t spend time on an all-world player’s line if you’re not doing your job. Coaches don’t leave you on a line with a top guy for no reason! It shows the type of player that he is and the thinker that he is. The Maroon and Grabner trades add two more veterans to the dressing room. How important will the veterans’ experience be for guys like Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher who haven’t been in this position before?

Ken Daneyko: You always want a nice mixture of youth and veterans. They have a lot of veterans guys that have been including guys like Brian Boyle and Sami Vatanen, who have playoff experience and are playing extremely well right now in these more impactful games. It’s great to add those types of players alongside Zajac and Andy Greene. You have to have that leadership in pressure-packed times where they can be a calming influence in the room before the game.

But the young guys that they have are pretty poised and smart players. They learn pretty quickly and they understand what’s at stake.

[Watch Devils-Jets Thursday on MSG+ & MSG GO. Download Free]