NEWARK, NJ — There really is no place like home during the holidays, especially for the New Jersey Devils, whose run of form at the Prudential Center is setting things up for players and fans alike to have a very happy start to the new year.
Nico Hischier scored two first-period goals while New Jersey’s defense killed off all five of its shorthanded situations – three created after penalties taken by Hischier – as the Devils defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 on Wednesday night, the first game for both teams coming out of the Christmas break. New Jersey is now a perfect 5-for-5 on its current six-game home stand at the place affectionately known as “The Rock,” and can make it a perfect home stretch with a win on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.
As of a couple of weeks ago, New Jersey’s run toward the top of the Metropolitan Division had mostly been powered by its play away from the Garden State, as the Devils are currently just one of three teams in the Eastern Conference (Tampa Bay, Toronto) to record a double-digit win total in away games so far this season. Since a modest 6-5-2 start to their home slate, the Devils have reeled off six consecutive wins at the Prudential Center, scoring at least three goals in each of those contests and averaging 4.2 goals per game during that stretch.
“When you can play at home and perform the way the guys have performed and the fans can enjoy it and come to the games, that’s how you really start to build a home-ice advantage,” said Devils head coach John Hynes after the game. “When your team plays well at home and they’re very competitive and the fans appreciate what they do, then you fill the building. That’s what going on the last couple of weeks here and it’s been fun. The players have responded really well to it.”
The run has been going so well for New Jersey that even Hischier was able to score a goal, something he had not done in his previous 10 outings at The Rock. Late in the first period, Devils winger Taylor Hall sent a cross-ice pass to defenseman Steven Santini, who then put a shot on goal from the left point. Hischier was parked out in front of Red Wings goalkeeper Jimmy Howard and deflected Santini’s shot past Howard at the 15:16 mark to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.
Just over three minutes elapsed when the Devils were able to find the net again, as Hall setup Hischier with a one-time opportunity from near the top of the right circle. Hischier, after a big wind-up, fired past Howard to double New Jersey’s lead at the 18:22 mark of the first period. The Devils went into intermission with that 2-0 lead, barely losing any of the momentum it built right before going on their break after last Saturday’s win against Chicago.
“We want to make this a hard place to play, and I think a lot of guys are starting to feel comfortable in this building,” said Hall, whose two assists tonight bring him to a team-leading 24 helpers on the season. “That’s a huge thing, especially down the stretch when points are up for grabs and home games are going to be much more important. It’s great to come back. Our fans are providing a great atmosphere for us and I think that’s a huge boost.”
Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader scored the only goal of the second period to cut New Jersey’s lead to 2-1, and the Red Wings piled on the pressure against the Devils over the final 40 minutes, putting 25 of their 32 shots on Devils goalkeeper Cory Schneider in the final two periods.
Schneider ended with 31 saves on the night, and Sami Vatanen’s length-of-the-ice empty-net goal with 23 seconds remaining sealed another home win for New Jersey, who will play Buffalo on Friday night before embarking on a four-game road trip that will not see the team play another home game until Jan. 13.
Friday night is also one last chance in 2017 for the fans to continue to build on the atmosphere they have created at the Prudential Center in hopes of making it one of the more intimidating places to play in the National Hockey League this season.
“It’s feels like as the season continues to go on, and the players perform the way they perform, it’s becoming a better and better atmosphere,” said Hynes about the energy created in the arena by the fans. “The stands are getting filled a little bit more, the crowd is into the game and it does bring energy to our players.”