Q&A with Puck and Pitchforks’ Nick Villano
New Jersey is off to one of the league’s more surprising starts (despite some struggles up until last night’s win). What have been some of the keys to their success?
NV: The New Jersey Devils have been winning games with a rejuvenated offense and stellar goaltending. Taylor Hall has looked like one of the best players in the world, and Nico Hischier Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher are all Calder Trophy candidates.
The Devils had 70 points all of last season and have 22 already this year. Can they sustain what they’re doing now?
NV: Cory Schneider was bad last year. His save percentage ranked worse than 30-plus goalies in the league. His lack of success was key in being in the basement of the Eastern Conference. This year is different. He’s stood on his head on multiple occasions, including last night against Florida, and backup Keith Kinkaid has been very good despite major defensive lapses.
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Nico Hischier, reigning first overall pick, has to be talked about here. How has he performed? Has he met/exceeded expectations?
NV: He’s been just as good as I hoped. His two-way game has been great despite still being small by NHL standards. He only has two goals, but that’s just been bad puck luck and a few miraculous saves by opposing goalies.
And then there’s Will Butcher, the big offseason discussion point. How’s he faring in his first NHL action?
NV: He’s been great. I believe butcher still leads all rookies in assists. He’s also showed he has the speed to make up on streaking skaters, something that killed the Devils last season.
Any sore areas for this Devils team that need to be worked out if it’s going to continue this strong start?
NV: The defense has left its goalies out to dry on numerous occasions. John Hynes keeps rotating players in the blue line, but he needs to stick with Andy Greene and Steve Santini on the top line. Also Kyle Palmieri, Marcus Johansson and more have missed major time with injuries.
Moving on to Blackhawks-Devils, what will it take for New Jersey to come out on top?
NV: Keep up the scoring. If they can get 5-on-5 pressure on Corey Crawford, the speed could frustrate and surprise the Blackhawks.
Were you surprised the team went with Cory Schneider in net against Florida last night and will apparently turn to Keith Kinkaid tonight in Chicago?
NV: Not surprised. The team needed to end a four-game losing streak before this four-game road trip.
Thanks to Pucks and Pitchforks’ Nick Villano for taking some time to talk about tonight’s Blackhawks-Devils game. Puck drop is slated for 6 p.m., and you can tune in on NBC Sports Chicago or WGN Radio 720-AM — or follow along as we live tweet from @blackhawk_up.