NEWARK, NJ — As the popular aphorism goes, bad habits are hard to break. But the New Jersey Devils brain trust wants to make sure the habit that 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier starts developing for the foreseeable future to improve his game, as well as his team’s, is…selfishness.
Midway through the third period, Hischier did just that when he shot – and scored – on a 2-on-1 break as part of the New Jersey Devils’ 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the team’s second consecutive victory. Along with the goal, Hischier had two assists, including on the game-winning goal by Kyle Palmieri early in the third period.
While the assists are always impressive, Hischier’s first season as a professional has also been marked by numerous moments of selflessness, trying to make passes to teammates when shooting the puck would have been the better option – especially for a player of his caliber and skill set. His 10 goals going into tonight’s game could be considered a slightly disappointing goal total at this point in the season.
Against the Hurricanes, however, Hischier was given the opportunity to shoot on a 2-on-1 opportunity, just like in the second period of New Jersey’s previous game, a 5-4 win over Philadelphia in overtime on Tuesday. Also, like on Tuesday, he fired a forehand shot on goal.
And, like on Tuesday, Hischier scored tonight, giving New Jersey a 4-2 lead at the 8:06 mark of the third.
“I think when you’re shooting, it’s never, ever a wrong decision,” Hischier said when asked if shooting more was being stressed by his coaching staff. “Taking a shot is always a good decision, but I still have to learn that. The last two games, I took the shot and they went in. It’s an emphasis for sure.”
But even with the gilt-edged chance presented to him, Hischier’s initial instincts, as Palmieri was to his left waiting for a potential pass, was to once again be a playmaker for someone else.
Once again, those pesky habits are hard to break, right?
“I was first thinking pass,” Hischier said somewhat sheepishly. “But I saw that I had a shooting lane, so I just took it and luckily it went in.”
The relief of Hischier lighting the lamp not only was etched on his face, but on the whole team as well.
“We came in [to the locker room] after the game and the coaches said the same thing: Finally he shot the puck and scored,” Devils head coach John Hynes said. “It’s nice, but that’s him. He’s a young guy. He learns. I think he understands he was overpassing a little bit, but some of that comes from confidence and him having confidence.
“Sometimes, it’s OK to be a little bit selfish sometimes and shoot the puck as opposed as to try to make the play,” Hynes added.
Inching up Hischier’s aggressiveness in putting the puck on goal could be one of the key factors in whether the Devils, now three points ahead of the Hurricanes as the two currently occupy the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, end up in the postseason for the first time since 2012. The matchup tonight was the first of three meetings between the teams in a 16-day span, including a matchup this Sunday in Raleigh after the Devils play a game in Tampa against the Lightning on Saturday.
“You have to look at [playing the Hurricanes] like a mini playoff series,” said Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who made 27 saves in the victory. “We got to keep them below us in the standings. We’re trying to chase teams and then keep the teams below us from catching up. I think it’s a good start, and we have to focus on Tampa Bay and then Carolina again.”
Along with Hischier, two other Devils had multiple-point games tonight; Stefan Noesen scored two goals while defenseman Damon Severson added a goal and an assist. Taylor Hall, the leading scorer for the Devils on the season, had an assist on Hischier’s goal, extending his point streak to 16 games.
Jeff Skinner and Brett Pesce had the goals for Carolina, who saw its three-game winning streak snapped. Scott Darling made 17 saves on the night for the Hurricanes.