With Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier both injured and likely to miss the remainder of the NHL season, the New Jersey Devils needed someone to step up as their No. 1 goaltender.
Enter Nico Daws.
The 21-year-old rookie won three of four games on the Devils’ just-completed homestand, including a 2-1 shootout win against Anaheim on Saturday in Newark, N.J., in which he made 33 saves and stopped two shootout attempts.
Daws has started the past seven contests for the Devils, who open a three-game Western Canada trip on Tuesday against the Canucks in Vancouver.
“I guess he knows he’s going to play,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said of Daws. “I think that’s a good feeling for a goaltender. I think a goaltender always worries if he has a bad game and if he is going to go back in. We’ve allowed him to kind of take the ball and run with it.”
Ruff passed Al Arbour for fifth place in league history by coaching in his 1,608th game.
Daws allowed only eight goals over the past four games to improve to 6-4 this season.
“He’s been a huge part of our team right now,” said teammate Tomas Tatar, who scored in regulation and the shootout Saturday. “He’s making some key saves. He’s standing very tall for us.”
The shootout was the first Daws has faced at the NHL level.
“Shootouts are a lot of fun for me, and I enjoy them,” he said. “I don’t really think about it too much. I just go and try to make saves, and that’s really all there is to it.”
Daws made 36 saves as the Devils defeated visiting Vancouver 7-2 on Feb. 28 behind a balanced attack. Yegor Sharangovich, Dawson Mercer, Jesper Bratt, Jesper Boqvist, Jack Hughes and Ryan Graves each had a goal and an assist and Nico Hischier, who is currently listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury, added two assists. Dougie Hamilton also scored for the Devils.
The Canucks lost Sunday at home to two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay 2-1 without forward Elias Pettersson, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. J.T. Miller scored to extend his points streak to 12 games (eight goals, 16 assists) and Thatcher Demko made 29 saves.
The Canucks continued a trend of slow starts, falling behind the Lightning 2-0 and being outshot 12-1 during the opening seven minutes.
“We understand the character we have in our room and we never feel like we’re out of it, but we … just have to have better starts. It’s killing us right now,” Canucks forward Conor Garland said. “If we just have a better start and play like we did in the second and the third we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
Vancouver is 10-18-5 when allowing the first goal this season. Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau was asked what it would take for his team to get off to better starts.
“I have no idea,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Get some psychologists in here and we’ll work with them.”
–Field Level Media