Devils’ 2023-24 In-Season Awards: Poor Performances Pile Up

Through 15 games, the New Jersey Devils had an 8-6-1 record. Although this was not expected, it is not surprising when the team is dealing with key injuries in Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Timo Meier. In the next five games of the in-season awards, the Devils had a record of 2-3-0.

Despite underperforming, some were able to step up in the absence of key players and provide glimmers of hope. Unfortunately, defensive breakdowns and poor goaltending did not help the offense and were the main factors in a tough stretch of games.

Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

New Jersey’s unfortunate luck continued when Meier got injured in the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 14. The Swiss forward suffered a lower-body injury, finished the game, and was a game-time decision against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not play, but head coach Lindy Ruff mentioned that Meier is expected to be out “short-term.” Nevertheless, the Devils were able to win the first game following his injury.

Devils Competition: Nov. 5 – Nov. 16

The Devils played four of the five games on the road. A 4-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 5, a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 7, a 6-3 loss to the Jets on Nov. 14, and a 5-2 win over the Penguins on Nov. 16. Their lone home game was against the Washington Capitals, where they suffered a 4-2 loss on Nov. 10. They beat the Blackhawks and Penguins and lost by at least two goals in every other competition. The excuse of not having key players can only be used so often. The team simply did not play well enough to earn two points.

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The team has not been able to get any momentum from the few wins that they have had in the past few weeks. However, a few key pieces will be returning to the lineup.

Most Valuable Player: Timo Meier

Before Meier’s injury, he scored a goal in three straight games, against the Avalanche, Capitals, and Jets. Unfortunately, the goals came in losing efforts when the Devils’ offense did not produce enough to win. After a slow start to the season, Meier has stepped up his play and contributed more consistently.

Timo Meier New Jersey Devils
Timo Meier, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Through 14 games, he has five goals and six assists. He has also registered an average of 5.2 shots on goal per game.

When the lineup welcomes back their top two centers and Meier, New Jersey will have to focus on rebuilding chemistry on every line now that they’ve been put through a blender and struggled to find consistency. It will be a welcome sight to see him lined up next to Hughes or Hischier in the near future.

Other contenders: Dawson Mercer and Tyler Toffoli

Most Underrated Player: Curtis Lazar

Through five games, the Devils had to rely on their depth and bottom lines. Curtis Lazar provided energy, timely goals, and grinding play. Since he was traded to New Jersey, Lazar has had injury struggles and has been a healthy scratch from time to time. However, when he’s been in the lineup, he puts 110 percent effort in every shift.

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Depth players are crucial when a team needs a spark from an unlikely source. The Devils are receiving that spark from Lazar and can count on him to provide energetic and fast-paced play in the bottom-six.

Curtis Lazar New Jersey Devils
Curtis Lazar, New Jersey Devils (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Through five games, Lazar has two goals and two assists, and he leads the team with a plus-5 rating. In the Penguins game, he scored a shorthanded goal to switch the momentum in the Devils’ favor. While providing an aggressive playing style that the team needs, he has also scored important goals.

Other contenders: John Marino and Dawson Mercer

Needs Improvement: Vitek Vanecek

Last season, Vitek Vanecek was phenomenal in the regular season. The Czech goalie had the ability to make game-saving saves and give the team a chance to win whenever he was in net. However, he had a tough time in the playoffs. Akira Schmid got the start and helped the Devils make it to the second round.

After an off-season and decent preseason showing, fans were hoping that Vanecek could repeat his 2022-23 regular season play. Unfortunately, he has struggled immensely.

Vitek Vanecek New Jersey Devils
Vitek Vanecek, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite his seven wins this season, his numbers are not pretty. His goals-against average is 3.38, and he has a .889 save percentage. In his wins, the offense had to score three or more goals. Though the Devils’ defense has been poor as well, Vanecek has a negative expected save percentage in every game except three and ranks 62 out of 75 goalies in terms of goals saved above expected. For the Devils to have success, they need Vanecek to be at least average in net.

Other contenders: Akira Schmid and Nathan Bastian

With the chance that key players might return, there is hope that the next five games will be better than the previous. The season is still young, and trends tend to settle after Thanksgiving. However, the Devils should feel rushed to live up to the expectations that were set for them before the season began.