5 Important Developments of Devils Season

Once a month on Devils Gamenight, we count down the Top-10 Plays of the Month.

The most exciting goals, sparkling saves, even the milestone moments.

So, as the Devils wave bye-bye to their bye week, we thought we’d take a look back at the five most important developments of the season so far.

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1 Brian's Song

Raise your hand if you had Brian Gibbons as the team’s leading goal-scorer until Taylor Hall finally overtook him on January 2. As a matter of fact, raise your hand if you even had him penciled in on the opening day roster. Not many hands would be in the air.

But with the new slashing rules set to go in effect, the coaching staff wanted a proven penalty-killer in the lineup until the way the games are called could be sorted out. Sometimes referees go a little overboard instituting new rules or emphasizing old ones. And Gibbons, who turns 30 on February 26, was chosen by the coaching staff for his PK prowess.

His speed and crafty hands had him scoring big goal after big goal until the thought of him being sent to Binghamton was out of the question. But he has only one goal since December 12 after scoring 10 before Thanksgiving.

He’s gone from forcing his way into a top-6 role to a luxury in the bottom-6, but either way, he’s a plus player – literally, his plus/minus is highest on the team at +11 – and adds offense, PK play and can contribute with a shootout goal or two, when necessary.

2 MASTERTON SHOE-IN

Signing Brian Boyle as a free agent seemed like a nice move back in July: Fourth line depth, key face-offs won, leadership. But no one could’ve imagined, least of all Brian himself, that a stunning medical diagnosis in September would not only turn his life upside down but inspire a locker room full of (mostly) new teammates.

Boyle was joining a couple longtime Boston College friends and they were hit hard by his leukemia discovery. For the most part, his faith and the brave face he put on the situation inspired a group he was just getting to know. The inspiration also came from his emotional first game in Vancouver to his first goal as a Devil, when he told us he’d never cried after a goal on the ice before, to his game-tying tally and shootout winner versus the rival Rangers.

He’s been the poster boy for the brotherhood John Hynes had been waiting to develop. The bye week came at a good time for Brian, who spent it in Disney with his family. The Devils will need his strength down the stretch, both on and off the ice. One reason Ray Shero coveted Brian back in July was for his 106 career playoff games, including back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 & 2015.

They’ll need to make the postseason for his playoff experience to really matter. It will also come in to play in meaningful games in March and April when you need to win big face-offs, especially in the defensive zone, and to keep your cool late in games when protecting a lead, or when the other team pulls their goalie, etc. He’s been there and done that. That will matter.

3 Hall Star

On the first day of training camp, Ray Shero said of the now three-time All-Star, “The one-year grieving period is over.” Meaning, any hangover Taylor Hall played with last year after the mega trade from Edmonton needed to be long gone. And it was.

Taylor has played like a man possessed at times. Even though he’s only 26, he’s been in the league a remarkable eight years and has said playing with the “kids,” Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, has made him feel young again.

No one on this Devils team has taken the need to make the playoffs more personally. He’s playing like it.

4 DEFENDING SAMI

It’s been a month and a half since GM Ray Shero traded Adam Henrique for defenseman Sami Vatanen. It left the Devils with enough depth on the blue line that John Hynes was able to scratch a player like Damon Severson in order to demand better play.

It also left them with so much depth that there’s been no room for a player like Ben Lovejoy, who is very effective in making conservative if simple plays, but almost always the right play. The Devils are markedly better in their own zone with Lovejoy in, and Vatanen is in the midst of a slump on both sides of the puck.

A couple of glaring turnovers have ended up in the back of his net. He’s been in the penalty box for a couple of others and, although he may have the hardest shot on the team, consistent power play time and lots of minutes have netted him just six points (one goal, five assists) since the trade.

On the upside, four of those assists have come in the last five games. It has taken Vatanen some time to adjust to the Devils style of play. Admittedly, a faster pace than he’s used to. Vatanen said he’s had to make quicker decisions on the ice as the speedy Devils push the pace so much. With the Ducks currently out of a playoff spot in the West, the Devils will need to make it in the East for the trade to be a win.

5 Kid Rock

You could argue Cory Schneider’s excellent play, especially in December when he made nine straight starts, was as big a factor as any in the Devils position at the break. The rookies have also lifted this team into playoff contention with Jesper Bratt bursting onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere and Nico Hischier’s wonderful play-making ability and, at times, uncanny ability to win puck battles.

Blake Coleman has played an important role, especially on the penalty kill, and Will Butcher has been an assist machine on the power play. None of these kids have played an 82-game schedule at this high of a level before so they’re only halfway through.

Is the best yet to come? Might be child’s play to bet against them.

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