The Devils Bounce Back from COVID-19

Mackenzie+Blackwood%27s+%28above%29+goaltending+played+a+crucial+role+in+the+Devils%27+return+to+action+against+the+Rangers.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

Mackenzie Blackwood’s (above) goaltending played a crucial role in the Devils’ return to action against the Rangers. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

After a 15-day layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the locker room, the New Jersey Devils returned to action with a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday. They jumped right back into form from their pre-layoff games, winning on the shoulders of Mackenzie Blackwood and timely scoring. 

The Devils came into this season with extremely low expectations after not making the 24-team playoffs last summer. They hired a new head coach Lindy Ruff to be a veteran presence in a young locker room. His 19 years of head coaching experience has clearly proven beneficial to the young squad, especially forwards Miles Wood and Jack Hughes, who lead the team with 8 points each. Ruff, however, was not the most popular hire when it was announced. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Rangers specifically in charge of a defense which struggled in recent memory. Will Ruff be the coach that gets the Devils to the next level? Maybe not. But he will help develop these young players better than John Hynes. 

Ruff’s competence was clearly shown in the first game back. Their win was great, but when compared to the comebacks of other teams around the league, it is even more impressive. Minnesota was shutout in their return and Buffalo scored one goal in back-to-back losses to the Islanders. While Colorado did emerge victorious against Vegas, they are one of the most talented teams in the league, so they get a pass. The Devils dominated the Rangers in the third period and showed that they came out rested and not rusty. 

With the Sabres’ incompetence across the board flashing its teeth recently, and the Devs’ great play, they have pretty comfortably moved into the seventh spot in the East, with the Rangers not too far in front of them. New York’s offense has stopped short the past few weeks, including against the Devils, and injuries are starting to pile up for the Blueshirts. Despite this, the Devils still sit very far on the outside of the playoff discussion in what has proven to be the most difficult division in hockey. Between Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh, Washington and the Islanders, all four playoff spots will be taken by a top-flight team, leaving one team out.

Despite the highly unlikely chances they make the playoffs, Devils fans should be pleased with the way their team has come out of the gates this season. As the 2021 season progresses, we can expect more development from Hughes and Co. up front, and hope to see more consistent play from Mackenzie Blackwood, which we have not in past years.