The New Jersey Devils were expected to improve dramatically this season. They already had Taylor Hall and picked up defenseman PK Subban and took Jack Hughes with the first overall draft pick. So far, however, they’ve been a profound disappointment. Part of the problem has been the absence of starting goaltender Corey Schneider who returned to action last night in Philadelphia after missing the first two games of the year. The defense hasn’t been playing particularly well either so not all of the blame can be placed on backup goaltender Mac Blackwood but the Devils are currently the worst scoring defense in the NHL allowing 5.50 goals per game (pending Wednesday’s outcome). The defense is allowing an average of 33 shots against (#21 in the league) and that’s a lot to ask of a 22 year old goaltender forced into the starting role. Blackwood’s goals against average is now a nasty 6.58 for the season.
It’s unclear which goalie will get the start–Blackwood could probably use a break after the shelling he’s faced early on but the plan was to play him in the second of back to back games. The hope is to not wear out Schneider but maybe after missing the first two games of the year he could use the work. At any rate, no matter which goalie starts for the Devils they’ll be playing the Edmonton Oilers who are undefeated on the year. The Oilers have been scoring goals in buckets–14 in three games giving them the #2 scoring offense at 4.67 goals for per game. The defense could stand to tighten up but has been decent. Special teams have been excellent thus far and the Oilers are top 5 in both power play and penalty kill.
Spoiler alert–Connor McDavid is a pretty good hockey player. That we knew but he’s shown no ill effects from off season knee surgery and with 8 points is currently tied for the league lead. The biggest surprise for Edmonton has been the rebirth of James Neal. Neal was good for 20+ goals per season throughout most of his career with Dallas, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Vegas. He had an awful season in Calgary last year scoring only 7 in 63 games for a pretty good Flames team. Edmonton was able to get rid of Milan Lucic and his terrible contract and expected that a change of scenery would help Neal. They didn’t expect him to average 2 goals a game, which is what he’s done so far. How big is 6 goals in two games? The Edmonton Oilers have had some decent hockey players come through over the years–Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier among others. Neal is the first to score 6 goals in the first three games of the year in Oilers’ franchise history.
There’s never been any doubt that Neal could score goals but he’s been revitalized on Edmonton’s power play. No doubt playing with Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl helps a bit. At this point, all Lucic has done in Calgary is rack up 26 penalty minutes. Unless Lucic shows some improved form this trade could end up being absolute thievery for the Oilers. Both teams have a big game on deck–Edmonton plays at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers on Saturday while New Jersey heads back to the road to face the Boston Bruins. Don’t see how the Devils can match goals with Edmonton and particularly in the second of back to back games.