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Speed, youth and tenacity the keys for new-look New Jersey Devils


After five miserable seasons without playoff hockey, the New Jersey Devils recognized they needed to change.

The plodding, defensive style that had more or less defined the franchise for the better part of the last 25 years — and won the Devils three Stanley Cups in the process — was no longer the route to success in the youth- and speed-driven NHL of today.

The pivot ushered in by head coach John Hynes and general manager Ray Shero has provided some impressive early results.

Heading into Wednesday night's action, New Jersey sits seventh in the overall standings and tied for sixth in goals per game, a far cry from past Devils teams that would often slow things down to the point where it looked like opponents were skating through quicksand.

"I don't know if we're trying to change perception around the league. I know we're trying to play a certain way," Hynes said recently. "We want to be an aggressive team, we want to be a team that can play with lots of pace.

"We have guys that are quick, they're fast, they're tenacious on the puck, they're very competitive."

The Devils finished 27th overall and 28th in scoring in 2016-17, their team goals against per game wasn't much better at 24th, and they wound up 27th in even strength shot differential.

That came on the heels of Hynes and Shero's first year in charge where New Jersey was dead-last in the league in offence and 29th in shot differential in missing the playoffs by 12 points. The puck possession number still aren't great — they rank 27th so far this season — but the power play is up to eighth after finishing 22nd a year ago.

"They are not the Devils of old," Canucks head coach Travis Green said prior to Vancouver's 2-0 home loss to New Jersey last week. "They are a very good hockey team that is hard to play against.

"If you're not ready to play that way it's going to be a long night."

The Devils got off to the best start in franchise history at 9-2-0 before a recent 0-2-1 slide that included a 6-3 loss in Edmonton and a 5-4 shootout defeat in Calgary before Tuesday's 3-1 setback at home to league-leading St. Louis.

One area where New Jersey hasn't been as strong as in years past is defensively, with the club averaging 3.14 goals against per game to rank 22nd, but those frailties sometimes come with the territory on a young team with seven players under the age of 23.

"We don't seem to break too often or too easily," said Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who is 6-3-0 with a .919 save percentage. "There might be some moments where we get running around or we are on our heels a bit.

"But I think mentally we have had that resolve this year where we don't get down, we don't get discouraged, we don't look lost and just wait for something bad to happen."

The roster that's tied for seventh youngest in the league at 26.5 years of age includes a trio of impressive rookies in centre and No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, defenceman and reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher, who signed as a free agent over the summer, and winger Jesper Bratt — a sixth-round selection in 2016.

New Jersey winger Taylor Hall, meanwhile, leads the team in scoring with five goals and 12 assists after a difficult first year following the trade from Edmonton.

"Get some respect back for ourselves and for our team and organization, and re-energize our fans," Hynes said of the Devils' focus in training camp. "Lots of times — young, old — it's about how you play. We're just proud of the fact that some of the younger guys in our team have come in and they've been very consistent.

"They've been able to play to the identity we want to play with. Good results have followed that process."

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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