The New Jersey Devils had a split-squad session tonight. A very strong-on-paper Devils roster went up to Prince Edward Island to play the Ottawa Senators. A more Binghamton-like squad went over to Brooklyn to play the New York Islanders. One game was only televised on the NHL Network, which was blacked out as there was a local broadcast for the Islanders. and did not have official stats recorded. Like many Devils fans, I wished I got to see the game at PEI because the Devils dropped a bucketload of goals on the Sens. They smashed them 8-1. A little later in Brooklyn, a strong-on-paper Islanders squad went up early on the mostly-B-Devs and never looked back. Those Devils lost 0-3. The split-squad session had a divergent split in results.
It is a shame that there was not even a scoresheet for the Devils-Sens game. What I did see at the site and on Twitter sounded like a fever dream. The Devils scored five goals in the first period and something like three out of their first four shots in the game. At midway through the game, Amanda Stein tweeted that the Devils were up 31-8 in shots. 31-8! Then there were the scorers. John Quenneville made a big statement with two goals. Drew Stafford dazzled with two goals. Pavel Zacha scored two goals to make his mark. Marcus Johansson and Nico Hischier each picked up a goal. Even the power play showed up in a big way as four of those eight scores came on a man advantage. From my blogging perspective, this result is easy to write about. The Devils won 8-1. You didn’t need to see it to know it went really well. All the same, I wanted to know the details for everyone instead of just assuming every Devil was just fantastic. Which could very well be the case because they beat the Senators 8-1.
There were official stats in Brooklyn and they were only fantastic if you’re an Islanders fan. The Isles iced a strong line up and they made their mark early and often. Overall, they out-shot the Devils 45-25. Their second shot of the game was Brock Nelson putting home a rebound off their first shot of the game, a wrister from the left wing by Josh Ho-Sang. Not long after the Devils took their second of three minor penalties in the first period, Mathew Barzal skated up ice from his blueline, all around the bodies, and lit up the lamp with a high shot past Keith Kinkaid for a PPG. It looked ugly and with the Isles out-shooting the Devils 17-6 after the first period, it felt like there would be another blowout. Credit the Devils - namely Kinkaid - for keeping it a 0-2 game until Johnny Boychuk sealed the win with his eleventh (!!) shot sent into an empty net. On paper, one would have expected a more talented and closer-to-a-NHL squad to easily dispatch the Devils’ roster. The score seemed to agree, but those Devils were not routed like Ottawa was routed. There’s a small victory in that.
The next big news out of New Jersey will be cuts. Among those who did play and finish their games, some will have to wait for the call. Unfortunately, there may be one more you can bet on than the guys who did not play at all tonight. Shortly after Blandisi was whistled for a slashing penalty in the first - which led to Barzal’s video-game like goal - Michael McLeod had to be helped off the ice. He did not put any weight on his leg and he did not return to the game. As of this writing, there is no further detail about the injury. The hope is that whatever injury he sustained is not major and that he’ll be back to playing somewhere soon. I did not think much of his chances before tonight’s game in Brooklyn, I definitely doubt McLeod makes New Jersey now. But that is not the important thing for him at this juncture. That would be his health.
The plan will probably remain the same: Wednesday’s preseason ender in D.C. should be close to a full NHL roster for New Jersey. With much of the vaunted firepower being a part of an eight-goal beatdown tonight, I’d like to see if they can carry that into a game against what should also be a strong Washington roster.
The Run of the Islanders Play: The Devils were bodied in the first and third periods. Attempts really showed how much they were bodied. In 5-on-5 situations only, the Devils were out-attempted 9-18 and 7-17 in the first and third periods respectively. The Devils conceded three power plays in the first period and two power plays with a 3-on-5 overlap the third. Those made it worse. But if there were any positives, then it was the second period. While the Isles had some surges at point, the Devils eventually battled back to make Thomas Griess work tonight. Nick Lappin had a breakaway among two other chances. Jimmy Hayes was absolutely robbed on a rebound try. The Devils started spending more time in the Isles’ end and the attempts started mounting. The second period ended with 26 attempts by New Jersey, 14 of which were on net. It was good to see the lesser squad actually take the play to the Islanders for stretches, particularly in the latter half of the second period. It was encouraging. It made me think, “Hey, maybe they’ll score a goal tonight.”
Until Joseph Blandisi took an unnecessary roughing penalty with 27 seconds left in it. Then the third period happened and there were no goals at all for New Jersey.
Notable Devils in Brooklyn: Keith Kinkaid may have regretted that short rebound that Nelson just put back in his face and into the net near the start of the game. That said, the man made 43 saves. He was not the problem tonight. He was shelled at evens and took ten power play shots. He had to scramble a bit and hold on strong for some pucks. Kinkaid was successful and was clearly the player that kept this from being a blowout loss.
Damon Severson was one of the few Devils skaters who looked good out there. I wished he received some more penalty killing time. Brian Strait and Ben Lovejoy played over six shorthanded minutes and I do not think they were particularly effective. While the Islanders were better in the run of play, Severson was solidly positive in attempt-differential. That included matchups against John Tavares, Josh Ho-Sang, Brock Nelson, and others. Alas, he could only do so much. As evidenced when he carried the puck in for a zone entry, found Bracken Kearns open in the middle, and Kearns mishandled the pass. You can only do so much yourself if you’re a skater in this sport.
At forward, I’m hesistant to say anyone was really good. Joseph Blandisi seemingly accomplished the most. He created some good shots for Jimmy Hayes. He took three shots himself. He moved well on the puck, although he missed the opportunity to take a shot here and there. Like Severson, he was positive in shot and attempt differential in a game where the Devils as a team were not. However, Blandisi’s discipline was an issue. He took a slashing call while on offense that led to Barzal’s PPG. Late in the second period, his frustration got the best of him and he took a roughing minor. That put the Isles on a power play to end the second and start the third. Those are the things that keep me from saying too many good things about #64. I think he’ll make the team, but it was a noticeable negative despite being one of the few providing some positives as a forward.
On the negative side of notable, Ben Lovejoy may have been picked on the Barzal goal. But Barzal was moving so fast and Lovejoy’s angle was such that there was no way he was going to catch him. A faster skater, maybe has a chance. But Lovejoy was once again all about the ‘D,’ created little offense, and the Isles often went around him. The other defensemen outside of maybe Brian Strait were just pinned back quite a bit. Up front, Jimmy Hayes had two good shots that Greiss denied him on - and that was pretty much it. Miles Wood took a stupid slashing penalty to end a bad shift by him. Kevin Rooney doubled down by taking a similarly stupid slashing penalty during the penalty kill for Wood’s slash. Nick Lappin was able to have two, three scoring chances - and as expected, scored on none of them. Stefan Noesen was a non-factor for the first time in this preseason. There just were a lot of players seemingly outmatched and when the opportunity rose, they could not deliver. Just a blah game in general where many players did not really help many of their causes to make the New Jersey roster.
The Penalty Emphasis in Brooklyn: There were no faceoff violations tonight from either team. The Devils took four slashing calls and replays on TV clearly showed that they were legitimate slashing calls. Overall, the Islanders took one minor penalty and the Devils took six. When you’re bossing the game, you don’t really have to foul someone. That was apparent tonight.
Enough of that - Clips from PEI: Thanks to Twitter, there are a few clips of the Devils’ goals in their 8-1 win. First, from Todd Cordell:
This is just beautiful hockey. pic.twitter.com/7u2b4p3OKd— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) September 25, 2017
He followed up that Tweet by highlighting Jesper Bratt’s pass. As he should, it was crucial to this play happening at all. This was a 5-on-3 situation and Bratt made the Senators pay for a big mistake. Two Sensators went right for him. Just as they approached, he got the puck to one wide open Adam Henrique. That wide open Henrique passed it across to another wide open John Quenneville, who used the third Senator as a bit of a screen as he sniped a lovely shot. This was a legitimate secondary assist if I ever saw one.
From the Devils’ official account, here’s a clip of goal #8 or Stafford’s second of the night.
What I love here is Nico Hischier. He saw Marcus Johansson was going to be hit and he just swooped in to take the puck up and go. Kyle Turris is no slowpoke but he is not catching Hischier either. At the end, Hischier slid a beauty of a pass to Stafford for the goal. Speaking of passes involving Hischier and Stafford, a similar one was made in the first period. From the Devils Insiders’ account:
This one was not off the rush like the other but the principle was there. A pass to the goalie’s flank and finding the teammate in the right spot. Stafford to Hischier and no chance at all for Mike Condon.
I will not make the whole recap clips of every goal - but I will add one more. From the NHL’s official Twitter account:
Marvel first at Kyle Palmieri’s hands to get by 89 and not be too deterred his swinging stick. Then marvel as Pavel Zacha followed him up beautifully to make it a goal. Then wonder what Mark Borowiecki (#74) on Ottawa was doing at all.
They are a joy to see again and again. Especially after watching that Devils-Islanders game.
Suspended Desjardins: While this was more relevant from Saturday’s game, this is a good place as any to state that Andrew Desjardins was suspended by the NHL for two preseason games (link goes to the explanation video from the NHL Department of Player Safety). The suspension was for hitting Wood in the head on Saturday night. This was announced this evening. This may not seem like a harsh punishment, but Desjardins is not a signed player. He was with Our Hated Rivals on a PTO. I don’t think the NHL could suspend him from regular season games without a contract. Even if they could, being shut out of those last few games for evaluation purposes and such could guarantee that he is not playing any NHL games this year.
I Wish MSG+ Had the Devils-Senators Game Instead: Yep, that pretty much sums up my feelings on these games.
Your Take: The split-squad session is in the books. Who were you impressed by? Who do you think had a poor night? Who do you think does or does not get cut based on these games? For example, did John Quenneville make a case to stick around with two goals tonight? What of Jesper Bratt, did he continue to justify some NHL games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the big 8-1 win and the not-so-big 0-3 loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented on both games and followed along with @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter. Thank you for reading.