By John Schweibacher
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The New Jersey Devils will return from the NHL’s holiday break on Wednesday night in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 21-9-5 record and riding a season-high four-game winning streak.
The last time the Devils were leading their division at Christmas was back in 2009-10 when they were 26-9-1 with 53 points, tied with Pittsburgh atop what was then the Atlantic Division.
Will Butcher picked up his 20th and 21st assists of the season in the Devils’ 4–1 win over the Blackhawks on Saturday night at Prudential Center.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Butcher is the first NHL rookie defenseman to reach the 20-assist mark in one season before Christmas since 1991–92, when the Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom had 26.
Elias also notes that Butcher is the second rookie in Devils franchise history (regardless of position) to have at least 20 assists by Christmas, joining Scott Gomez, who had 26 before the break during the 1999-00 season.
Here are the Devils’ all-time leaders for most assists by a rookie defenseman (full season):
— Eric Weinrich, 34, 1990-91
— Scott Niedermayer, 29, 1992-93
— Brian Rafalski, 27, 1999-00
— Uli Heimer, 24, 1984-85
— Bruce Driver, 24, 1984-85
— Eric Gelinas, 22, 2013-14
— Will Butcher, 21, 2017-18
Cory Schneider made 39 saves in the win over Chicago, his fifth consecutive victory on home ice. Schneider’s longest winning streak at “The Rock” is eight games, spanning the last game of 2015-16 through his first seven of the following season.
Schneider’s 39 saves matched Keith Kinkaid’s total in New Jersey’s 7-5 win at Chicago back on Nov. 12. The only other time in club history the Devils had a pair of games in the same season with at least that many saves against the Blackhawks was back in 1986-87 when Alain Chevrier had a combined 91 stops in two outings against Chicago.
The Devils beat the Rangers, 4-3, in a shootout last Thursday night at Prudential Center.
Brian Boyle scored the winner in the skills competition after scoring the game-tying goal in the third period. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Boyle is the fourth player in Devils history to score the winning goal in a shootout after scoring the final goal of the game in the third period:
— 12/3/05; Viktor Kozlov vs. Minnesota
— 1/20/07; Brian Gionta vs. Philadelphia
— 10/22/15; Lee Stempniak at Ottawa
— 12/21/17, Brian Boyle vs. NY Rangers
The Devils are now 6-6 all-time against the Rangers in games decided in the shootout.
Here are the opponents New Jersey has faced the most times in shootouts and its records against them in those games:
— 12: NY Rangers (6-6)
— 12: Buffalo (5-7)
— 12: Toronto (3-9)
— 10: NY Islanders (3-7)
— 9: Ottawa (6-3)
The Devils return to action Wednesday against visiting Detroit in the first of three games remaining in the calendar year of 2017.
The 2017 portion of last season’s schedule was not kind to the Devils, as they posted the third-worst record in the NHL from Jan. 1 through the end of the season:
— Colorado, 10-33-3, 23 points
— Vancouver, 13-25-6, 29
— New Jersey, 14-24-7, 35
But the Devils have started the 2017-18 season tied for the fifth-best mark in the NHL with one week to go before the New Year:
— Tampa Bay, 26-7-2, 54 points
— St. Louis, 23-13-2, 48
— Vegas, 23-9-2, 48
— Los Angeles, 22-11-4, 48
— Nashville, 21-9-5, 47
— New Jersey, 21-9-5, 47
Here are the best and worst records in the NHL for the calendar year of 2017 with one week left to play in December (excluding the expansion Vegas Golden Knights):
— Washington, 56-23-5, 117 points
— Tampa Bay, 49-22-8, 106
— St. Louis, 50-29-4, 104
— Nashville, 46-24-11, 103
— Colorado, 27-48-6, 60 points
— Arizona, 27-46-10, 64
— Vancouver, 28-42-11, 67
— Buffalo, 29-42-11, 69
New Jersey’s record of 35-33-12 (82 points) during the 2017 calendar year is tied with Philadelphia for 23rd in the NHL.
Plus: Red hot. Brian Boyle has 10 points, including six goals, over his last eight games.
Minus: Ice cold. Drew Stafford scored five goals in his first 12 games this season, but has none in his last 18, and was a healthy scratch against Chicago.