With a pair of home games remaining in 2018, the New Jersey Devils looked to build off of Thursday’s win at The Rock against the Carolina Hurricanes. Coach John Hynes would look to rookie MacKenzie Blackwood once again to lead the Devils to victory. Not only would MackBlack pick up his second NHL victory, but he would also leave today with his first NHL shutout.
The action started slow for the first portion of period one, with both teams trading some chances, but neither team really generating anything dangerous.The Devils did generate a few more shots on net and looked like the more dangerous team. As such, they were rewarded after roughly seven and a half minutes of play with the game’s first power play; John Quenneville would put a light shot on Curtis McElhinney and burst through the defense to follow up his own shot where he would be hauled down by Calvin de Haan.
The first unit would continue to play hard and well on their first PP opportunit, as Kyle Palmieri and Brian Boyle both put some great shots on net that would have to be fought off by the journeyman called McBackup. The second unit would do nothing aside from take a penalty (Sami Vatanen for a hook) and given Warren Foegele a breakaway that Blackwood would prevent. The special teams would reverse situations just as Jersey’s PP expired.
Carolina’s PP wouldn’t do much, as they’ve had issues and the Devils PK has been great; the Canes wouldn’t even get a shot on goal. They would mount some decent zone time a couple of minutes later, but Blackwood would kick a shot on goal out of play to alleviate the pressure. The Devils would apply a good amount of pressure to the Canes leading to some good zone time and a missed trip where Brett Seney went down. Carolina would go the other way and Blackwood would have to make a stop on Andrei Svechnikov. Steven Santini and Jesper Bratt would put a couple of good shots on goal, but Carolina would get a second PP (Santini for interference) as time in the first expired; funny how the officials didn’t miss that one. Even though it seemed the Devils controlled more of the run of play, the Canes led 13-9 in shots.
The second would open with the continuation of the Santini penalty, and the only improvement to Carolina’s first PP was this time they managed a shot on net. Sebastian Aho would find Teuvo Teravainen at even strength on a broken play, but Blackwood made a great save.
Two huge saves would come (with one on each end) with thirteen and a half to go in the middle frame; Nico Hischier would almost bat in a rebound from a Brian Boyle shot, and the Canes would go the other way with Aho on a breakaway though Blackwood would make a huge stop to keep the game scoreless. A weird sequence followed at 11:44 when the Devils would posess the puck and the play stopped for a penalty. A penalty would follow but it would go against de Haan for hooking, though Justin Faulk earned one for cross checking Travis Zajac from behind.
Palmieri continued to fire away but McElhinney had the answer to start the PP. The first unit did well, the second only got out for a bit, with Damon Severson saving the puck from going the other way on an odd-man rush as the penalty expired, leading to him getting a great chance himself. Alas, the score remained exactly where it started at this point.
Will Butcher would gave the Canes their third PP of the afternoon, but again no shots were allowed by the Devils PK. Dougie Hamilton would get a decent chance after the expiration of the PP, but Blackwood would step up again. John Quenneville would give Carolina another PP with 2:34 to go, and while I have no problem with that call, I have a problem with the lack of consistency from the game’s officials.
However, it would be the Devils who capitalized on the Canes PP; Pavel Zacha would chip the puck past Faulk and while McElhinney would get the initial breakaway shot, Zacha would chip his own rebound in for a shorthanded score with half a minute left in the second. Blackwood would have to kick out a couple more shots to allow the Devils to keep their 1-0 lead after 40.
Quenneville would get a nice chance about a fourth of the way through the third period, and sadly he could not give the Devils an insurance goal on the first big chance of the period. The Canes would come back pressing hard, as Aho got another breakaway but missed the net, and the Blackwood would smother another chance. The Devils would be the beneficiaries of another PP as Clark Bishop clipped Vatanen with a high stick.
The Devils almost cashed in nine seconds in, but the refs ruled the puck did not cross and the whistle had blown. There would be some issues getting the PP going again, and it would yield no results nor an insurance goal. Santini would go AGAIN for interference with 7:36 to go, though the call was pretty weak to be honest. Aho would get another grade A chance, but SOMEHOW Mackenzie Blackwood got across to the shot.
After some roughhousing, Carolina would get an extra man on in a 4 on 4 situation, and Teravainen would seemingly capitalize, however the officials would waive it off for incidental contact. Carolina would challenge the ruling but the call on the ice would stand. The 5 on 4 would continue, with the coincidental minors expiring immediately following a face-off with 41 seconds and Andy Greene would launch the puck into the empty net for the needed insurance goal.
Time would expire and Mackenzie Blackwood would own his first NHL shutout after 37 saves.
The Opposition Opinion: Please check out Canes Country if you would like to see their take on today’s game.
The Game Highlights: Head on over to NHL.com to see some action from what was a real goaltending duel; one day they’ll get their highlights up before my game recap is done!
For the Benefit of Those With Advanced Statistics...: Man did Andy Greene (38.3% CF) and Ben Lovejoy (32.3% CF) have a rough run of things today; while part of this can be attributed to how much they had to play on the PK, they just were not getting the puck moving in the right direction. Blake Coleman (36.4% CF) similarly had a rough run, again possibly due to PK.
Sami Vatanen (62,9% CF) had the puck moving in the right direction and has looked much better the past couple of games and his partner Steven Santini (52% CF) didn’t do too shabby either. The Pavel Zacha (60.98% CF), Miles Wood (60.7% CF) and Stefan Noesen line (60% CF) gave the Canes a headache all game as well, showing that this trio did a good job generating puck possession, and judging by the number of shots Zacha and Wood had, some scoring chances as well. Perhaps when Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson are healthy, the Devils can find a way to keep this trio together.
Shout out to the fourth line as well for all being at 60% CF or better in limited action as well; Brian Boyle, Brett Seney and even Drew Stafford were good this afternoon, even though they did not put any points on the score sheet.
Big Mack with Extra Sauce: The puns will get old quick I’m sure, but I’m going to use them while Blackwood is still the shiny new toy of the Devils organization! Mack made a ton of great saves again tonight, and while there were certainly some hiccups along the path (nearly coughing up a puck while attempting to play it) he still gave the Devils enough quality play to pull out the win. He also had a number of beauties (such as the stretch kick to deny Aho on the PP in the third) which demonstrated he’s not just lucky, but also he’s bringing some legitimate skill.
Should Teravainen’s goal have counted? Who knows with the rules anymore. The fact remains that he still stopped 37 shots that came his way; he’s faced an awful lot of shots each time he’s been in net, but he’s not bleeding goals. It’s still early and there’s still not an awfully large sample size, but the early returns with MB29 in net are encouraging.
How to Survive Some Questionable Officiating: While a cursory look over the box score won’t reveal much of a penalty disparity (the Devils had 3 PPs, the Canes 5), watching the game showed some non-calls that left the Rock (along with myself and others at home) scratching their heads. Additionally there were some calls that do not always get called as penalties and it really makes some of the other issues stand out.
Santini taking down a player while fighting for the puck was deemed interference today; okay, fine, just call it consistent, if a Cane does it, it’s a penalty as well. Palmieri gets taken down away from the play with about four and a half to go in the third and there’s no call? I understand there’s a human aspect to the game, but calling ticky-tack fouls and missing something like that is the type of inconsistent poor officiating that can affect the outcome of a game. Fortunately today that was not the case.
Two in a Row: The broadcast pointed out the fact that have won consecutive games since November 13th and 15th, a span of 18 games in between. That’s an awfully long stretch to not be able to string together a few wins in a row. The team can go one step further, as they have a chance for three in a row on New Year’s Eve.
A Final Thought: While Zacha’s defining moment of the game was most definitely the goal, it’s worth noting that he finally picked up his first assist of the season on Greene’s ENG. Hey, an assist’s an assist!
Your Take: The opening line of A Long December by the Counting Crows seems appropriate after the past pair of games: “A long December, and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” Maybe it’s because of the teams they played; maybe it’s because the defense has finally been somewhat more coordinated. The fact is that there’s some hope surrounding this team, maybe not to salvage this season, but certainly for the future. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because of Mack. Please leave your thoughts below.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview, to CJ for covering the game over on the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and all of those who commented in the gamethread. Thank you all as always for reading.