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Five observations from New Jersey vs New York:
With each passing game Taylor Hall's case for the Hart Trophy gets stronger and stronger. Last night he torched the team's biggest rivals for two goals and four points en route to a much-needed 5-2 win.
He's now up to 39 goals and 93 points in 75 games on the year and is giving himself a legitimate shot at breaking Patrik Elias' single season record for most points (96).
It's not just the speed and flash that stands out with Hall. It's how smart and efficient he is playing. If he finds himself in a good situation, he'll attack the defense and try to make a play. If he realizes teams are keying on him and sending extra players, he'll hit a wide open teammate and make them pay for it that way.
Will Butcher's 2nd goal of the game was a perfect example of that.
I can't wait to watch this guy in the playoffs. With even one more win, or a little help elsewhere, we'll all have that luxury.
2. The defense was sound
That was one of the best defensive performances I've seen from the Devils in a while. They were almost always on top of the puck and gave carriers little time or space to make a play. When the Rangers did manage to get into the offensive zone with possession, the Devils did a good job of staying in position and keeping everything to the outside. New York had a very tough time getting to the net with any consistency, as evidenced by this heat map.
As you'll notice, the vast majority of the shot attempts came from above or outside of the faceoff dot.
With Keith Kinkaid playing as well as he is right now, those kinds of shots are unlikely to cause problems.
3. Shoot the puck
Last night's game was a perfect example of why I've been clamouring for Will Butcher to take more shots all season long.
First and foremost, he has a good wrist shot. It has decent power and, most importantly, it's accurate. He doesn't even have to shoot to score. Just getting it through traffic and on net can cause rebound opportunities for Devils to pounce on. There is a reason they park huge forwards like Patrick Maroon and Brian Boyle in front of the net on the power play.
Secondly, opposing teams won't be worried about doubling up on Hall if Butcher won't even shoot when he's left unmarked. If they don't feel threatened, they're not going to respect it.
It's kind of like defending LeBron. Teams will be hesitant to send help if Kyle Korver, or anyone else on the team, is hitting his shots when LeBron kicks it out.
4. Early lead led to balance
Beyond putting the team in a great position to win the game, an early three-goal cushion also allowed John Hynes to ease off some key players.
Every forward played at least 10 minutes and Travis Zajac was the only one to log more than 17:20.
On defense, all six played at least 18 minutes. Sami Vatanen played 21:06, which was his lowest total since February 8th vs Calgary.
It may not seem like much, but even a couple shifts off can help at this time of year.
5. The Devils kept good habits
Even with the game out of reach, the Devils played like it was hanging in the balance.
Vatanen, for example, hauled his ass back and made a great play poking the puck away from Pavel Buchnevich to erase a 2-on-1. The score was 5-1 at the time.
Those are the kind of plays that can be the difference in a playoff game, or series, so it's nice to see the Devils are committed to playing that way. A sequence like that also probably shows why John Hynes is comfortable playing Vatanen until his legs give out every single night. He really trusts him.
Hall's heroics lead Devils past Canadiens
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