Coming into Las Vegas, the New Jersey Devils hoped to carry over some momentum from their previous game out in Arizona. Unfortunately while they did so in the first period, they failed to build off of it in the final 40 minutes, and as a result the Vegas Golden Knights took this afternoon’s game by a score of 3-2.
Nico Hischier would collect his third point in as many games by striking with the first goal of the game for the second straight contest; he attempted a pass to Damon Severson, which was blocked and came right back to him, which he then put on net and past Malcolm Subban. The Knights would be victims of a bit of bad luck as a rebound was put into the net, but only after the referee had blown play dead. In all honesty, the goal probably would not have counted anyway as Ryan Reeves skated into Keith Kinkaid unprovoked.
The Hockey Gods would smile upon a normally offense devoid player on this day. Normally I hate to see Ben Lovejoy pinching deep in the offensive zone, but man if I wasn’t thrilled with the move he made around 9:30 in to the game. He cut to the front, could have put a backhander on Subban, but instead turned onto his forehand and wristed his first of the year in to double the Devils lead at 9:37. However, less than three minutes later Pavel Zacha made a bad turnover for a second straight game and Ryan Reeves squeaked it through Kinkaid’s pads to cut it to 2-1 New Jersey 12:30 into the first.
Miles Wood would take the first penalty of the game for goaltender interference; not only was it a poor penalty to take, (though questionable) but it came at an inopportune time, as the Devils were trying to push momentum back in their favor after the Vegas goal. The penalty kill would make certain the lead would stand, as their kill streak hit 36 out of the last 38 penalties killed.
While Vegas would muster up a couple more good chances, they would not be able to tie the game; the Devils would not be able to restore their two goal lead either, and the 2-1 score would stand after one.
Sami Vatanen would start the second by helping to prevent a two on one; the pass came cleanly to the man he was covering, but the shot would be smothered by Vats before it got close to the net. Vegas would continue the pressure and Brett Seney would take a slashing minor to give Vegas the second PP of the game. Again however the Devils PK would come through and keep their team ahead.
The Knights thought they had the tying goal again with 8:43 to go in the period, but it was ruled on the ice that Ryan Carpenter interfered with Kinkaid. Vegas challenged the call, and as there was not much contact, the goal counted off of a shot by Brayden McNabb. Honestly, who know what constitutes interference anymore, as the play wasn’t much different from the Justin Williams one from the last Devils/Canes game.
The Knights would continue the heavy pressure and with a delayed penalty on the way, a shot by Shea Theodore tipped by Max Pacioretty would get past Kinkaid to give Vegas their first lead following three unanswered goals. A poor period from the Devils would end with a nice scrum between the two teams with who else but Ben Lovejoy at the center of it.
The third would see the Devils come out strong and attempt to press for a tying goal, but Malcolm Subban continued to have answers for what the Devils threw at him. Jersey’s Team finally got a power play with 3:22 to go in the game (though an argument could have been made for a couple of calls against Vegas earlier) with the score still static from the second.
The PP would be unsuccessful but with Kinkaid pulled for a sixth attacker, Ryan Reeves picked up another penalty clearing the puck from his own end out of play above the Devils’ net. With a 6 on 4 situation present again (the final 14 seconds of the previous PP was the same), the Devils still could not find a regulation equalizer, and the Knights walked away with a 3-2 victory.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Knights on Ice for their take on this afternoon’s tilt.
The Game Highlights: NHL.com will have their recap video posted sometime this evening, but head on over for some additional coverage.
The Advanced Stats for Tonight: The second line of Travis Zajac (20-11; 65%CF), Miles Wood (19-7; 73%CF), and Blake Coleman (16-11; 59%CF) led the way with a strong game again, although tonight they were not rewarded for it; ditto that for Kyle Palmieri (28-16; 64%CF) who continued to push play forward while not finding twine. His linemates Nico Hischier (26-21; 55%CF) and Jesper Bratt (25-20; 56%CF) also played well and each picked up a point.
The defense was mostly good minus the pair of Andy Greene (15-33; 31%CF) and Damon Severson (18-28; 39%); while they did see a lot of Vegas’ best players, it proves that an aging Greene needs to be pushed down in the lineup in order to find success. The bottom six were all below 50%CF minus Brian Boyle (13-12; 52%CF) who benefited from PP time and shots on goal there. Perhaps John Hynes should rotate a player or two between those lines in hopes of finding more chemistry to push play forward.
Costly Errors: Pavel Zacha and Keith Kinkaid would probably both like to forget about tonight’s first goal. Zacha made a costly turnover for the second game in a row as mentioned and Ryan Reeves was the beneficiary. He was able to walk in practically alone and wristed a weak shot past Kinkaid.
Reeves is not known as a goal scorer and again the shot wasn’t exactly hard or perfectly placed. Yes, Zacha is to blame for his error, but the goalie is supposed to bail out his team in situations like that, especially when the shooter is not a particularly dangerous one. Goals like that one are what’s costing New Jersey points this year, and one could argue that the Devils would have had at least one if this softy doesn’t go in.
The Consistency Corner: While pretty much everyone on the broadcast was using this word in the post-game to describe the Devils’ play this season, I’m here to look at consistency in a completely different light. I’m not going to sit here and blame the officiating for tonight’s result, but the fact that no one in the league including league officials themselves seem to know what constitutes incidental contact on goalies to waive off goals.
On top of that, the penalty consistency has been awful as well; while the calls evened up by the end of the game tonight, it seems things that are being called some nights aren’t a penalty on others depending upon who’s officiating the games. This lack of consistency is hurting the game overall because it does not allow players to play up to their potential if they have to worry about not knowing if they’ll be called for something or not. The NHL can easily rectify this by having a discussion with their refs, and while there will always be some human error, just some guidelines as to what constitutes each penalty would be helpful.
A Final Thought: The New Jersey Devils are now mathematically unable to get the six points on this road trip that they desired, so they need to push even harder to get both points in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
Your Take: The Devils started out well, building a 2-0 lead on the heels of Friday’s shootout win, but ultimately the two points that happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas tonight. While the effort was there, the result was not; I know it’s not always right to blame goaltending, but a timely save or two could have produced a different result on this night. Please leave any thought that you have about the game, consistency, or the road trip in the comments.
Thank you to Mike for providing coverage on the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and everyone who commented in the gamethread. Thank you all as always for reading!