The New Jersey Devils earned a hard-fought victory against the upstart Colorado Avalanche. Newly-acquired Sami Vatanen looks like he’s exactly what this team needed.
What a game by the New Jersey Devils defense on Friday night. The Colorado Avalanche were overly aggressive for much of the matchup, and had the puck in the offensive zone for minutes at a time. Despite that, the Devils only allowed them to get 21 shots on goal.
This defense looked like the team’s Achilles heel on Monday night against the Florida Panthers. Cory Schneider was forced to make huge save after huge save, and eventually he wasn’t able to stop them all. In Friday’s matchup, there weren’t many chances Schneider couldn’t stop easily.
The one big difference? Sami Vatanen. The Devils traded fan-favorite Adam Henrique in order to acquire the Ducks defenseman. Many people were honest about the trade, but upset the team had to lose such a good guy in Henrique. However, if the Devils were going to prove something this season, they needed a guy like Vatanen to do it.
Vatanen played 23 minutes on Friday, the most on the team. He was paired with Andy Greene, and the two looked like a legitimate shutdown pair. Vatanen played in every single situation, despite never even practicing with his new team. He excelled on almost every single shift.
Vatanen was very good at clearing the puck out of the zone in high-danger chances. He was cycling the puck well on the powerplay. When the Avs tried to use their speed to get past the Devils defense, a move that worked well in the past, Vatanen would stop them by pushing them towards the boards.
This victory looked unlike any we’ve seen this season. Instead of using speed and pure skill to get goals, the Devils were forced to grind out every score. Brian Boyle scored one underneath on the powerplay, hitting it in on his third swat at the puck. Jesper Bratt took advantage of a bad pass for a takeaway in the offensive zone. He was able to throw it in a mostly empty net. This obviously wasn’t all on Vatanen, but the way he played clearly helped the Devils stay in this game.
If this is how the Devils defense looks with their new acquisition, watch out. Vatanen was great at times last night, and never made the big mistake that cost them. That’s exactly what this team needed to truly compete in the Metropolitan Division.