The Arizona Coyotes will continue their 14-game road trip Saturday in Newark, N.J., when they face the Metropolitan Division-leading New Jersey Devils in a matchup of two of the most surprising teams of the first month of the NHL season.
Arizona finished with the fewest points in the Western Conference (57) last season and was expected to be a frontrunner for the first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. Instead, it is tied for fourth in the Central Division with 13 points. The Coyotes have won four in a row on the road, including the first three games of its monster 32-day trip that ends on Dec. 7 at Edmonton.
They opened the trip with a 3-2 win at Washington on Saturday, followed by a 4-1 victory at Buffalo on Tuesday and then 2-0 at the New York Islanders Thursday, as Karel Vejmelka made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season.
The Coyotes are playing 20 of their first 24 games on the road while a locker room annex is completed at their temporary new home, Mullett Arena on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, Ariz.
Travis Boyd and Jack McBain scored in the third period to help propel Arizona past the Islanders, who had won seven of their previous eight games.
“No matter what the outside perception of our team is or (what) everyone says outside, inside our room we believe in us,” Boyd said. “We believe in our group. We play with a lot of pride and we play with a lot of heart every night, and when we play the right way, we get results. That’s where it is.”
The Devils can relate.
New Jersey finished seventh in the Metro last season just two points ahead of last-place Philadelphia. But the Devils bring an eight-game winning streak into Saturday’s contest, the team’s longest since 2011.
New Jersey earned an emotional 4-3 overtime victory over Ottawa on Thursday. Nico Hischier scored two goals, including the winner with 33 seconds left in OT when Dougie Hamilton’s point shot deflected off him and into the net.
“It’s just fun,” Hischier said of the team’s win streak. “It’s just fun playing here and it’s fun winning. I keep saying, ‘Let’s keep it rolling.'”
New Jersey won despite starting goalie Vitek Vanecek leaving midway through the third period after he took a knee to the head during a second-period collision with Thomas Chabot. He stayed in the game before giving way to Akira Schmid at 10:37 mark of the third period for what were called precautionary reasons.
Devils coach Lindy Ruff said he didn’t “have any concern with Vitek” afterward and Vanecek took part in the team’s practice on Friday.
Schmid, called up from AHL Utica after Mackenzie Blackwood sprained a knee, made seven saves to pick up his first NHL win (1-4-0) in seven career games.
“That’s huge,” Hischier said. “I think everybody knows that’s it not easy coming into a tie game being cold but he did a great job. He’s definitely a part of that victory tonight.”
“If I get another opportunity, great,” Schmid said. “I’ll be ready. Just soaking the win first.”
New Jersey forward Erik Haula, who was a member of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights team that made a surprise run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, was asked if he saw similarities to this Devils squad.
“I think the hunger is there,” Haula said. “I think the guys want it. I think they’re sick and tired of losing here. A lot of young guys. A lot of energy. A lot of excitement.
“I’ve always said the talent was there but just (needed) the mindset of a winning culture and how to win games, how to become a team, and the consistency in our game. And I think we’ve kind of found that.”
–Field Level Media