Today’s game had just about everything: Lightning saves, breakaways, more than a dozen penalties, and a Jack Hughes power play goal.
Let’s get to it!
The Devils would open up the first period with a Damon Severson shot and then a Damon Severson penalty seven seconds later on Bo Horvat. Immediately on the penalty kill just one minute into the game, the Canucks maintain the zone for a few seconds but Andy Greene, back after missing ten days and sorely missed on the penalty kill, gets a clear. With Severson in the box and Will Butcher out with an upper body injury sustained against New York two days ago, Mirco Mueller joins PK Subban on the second penalty kill line. Vancounver maintained the zone for the remainder of the power play but the penalty kill line of Subban, Mueller, Pavel Zacha, and Kevin Rooney are able to keep them to the outsides of the zone with just one decent shot on goal. Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman step back on to win the faceoff and get the clear to finish the kill. Severson nearly picks up the puck out of the box but decides to just apply some forward pressure before heading for a change.
Vancouver responds despite the failed penalty kill with an excellent effort in front of Mackenzie Blackwood, who scrambles for the puck despite the net-front efforts of former Washington Capital Jay Beagle. The referees blow the play dead despite the loose puck making its way into the net, which saves the Devils from what may have been a goal. Vancouver maintains some pressure off the face-off and get yet another shot off on Blackwood from JT Miller, but Blackwood seems to be in the zone after a successful game against the Rangers on Thursday and remains solid.
PK Subban picks up a puck on a clear and travels end to end with it through a few Canucks but is stopped just shy of the crease. Another Devils rush comes through with Taylor Hall motoring his way though the Canucks defenses and power-moving to the front of the net, but is snuffed out by the netminder Thatcher Demko.
Kyle Palmieri chases a loose puck down into the back of the Canucks zone to beat out an icing call and attempts to hit Pavel Zacha at the side of the slot but the Canucks intercept and move out of the zone. Quinn Hughes carries the puck up but is stopped at the Devils blue line. Vancouver brings the pressure here about halfway through the first period but aren’t allowed many opportunities for shots on net. The Devils break back out and Gusev picks up to carry it in, but his shot can’t find the net. Bratt battles with Jordie Benn and the puck finds its way back out to center. The Canucks try to rush out but are denied and the Devils return to their end with the top line on the ice. Hughes line versus Hughes line ensues as Jack’s line maintains good pressure in the Canucks’ end, but Quinn himself is the one to clear the zone for Vancouver. Coleman, Zajac, and Simmonds hop on and the play returns to the Canucks’ zone for further offensive pressure. Simmonds nearly finds it in the slot but it gets past him to Coleman, who’s attempt to find Subban at the blue line has a bit too much sauce on it and skips out of the zone. The lines change and the Devils again return to the Canucks’ zone, this time with the 4th line of Wood Rooney and Hayden leading the charge. Wood prompty draws a holding penalty from Vancouver defenseman Tyler Myers, and the Devils head to the power play for the first time this game.
With a successful face-off win from Jack Hughes, Vatanen tips a pass to Taylor Hall, who is stopped by Demko. Wayne Simmonds nearly bats in a goal out of the air but misses the net and is called for the high touch. Palmieri and Hall both rack up some glorious shots off as the Devils power play continues to look dangerous, and then—
The magic happens!!
Taylor Hall with the puck, dances around a defender for the pass to Jack Hughes. Hughes, in front of 70+ family members among another 15,000 fans at Prudential Center (and at least one All About the Jersey writer yelling at the TV) all probably screaming shoot, obliges and rips a shot that flies past Demko and gives the first overall pick his FIRST. EVER. NHL. GOAL!
Fired up by the power play goal and the success of their youngest teammate, the Devils immediately return to the Canucks zone off the next face-off and fire some more shots from the canons of Simmonds and Coleman, but Simmonds must have been watching the Yankees last night and bats yet another puck out of the air for a high stick and a stoppage of play. Line four returns to the ice to take the face-off and the play immediately returns to the back of the Canucks’ zone. Miles Wood engages in an extended battle with JT Miller for the puck. Rooney comes away with it and sends a centering pass hoping to find Hayden in the front of the net but its intercepted and iced by Vancouver. Quinn Hughes takes the puck off the ensuing face-off and helps it up ice, where Bo Horvat gets the first Canucks chance against Blackwood in quite a while. The Devils allow a few more shots in the next couple moments, mostly low danger — just to make sure their goaltender stays awake back in their net I’m sure — before the top line from Vancouver makes things interesting in the last minute. Quinn Hughes and Elias Petterson in particular make some moves before the Devils are able to get the puck out of the zone, but the extended zone pressure leaves our Jersey boys somewhat confused as they attempt to change, and they manage to pick up a too many men call with under 30 seconds remaining in the period. They’re able to manage it as the period ends and go into the second period with a 1-0 lead, but are left with 1:21 of penalty kill time to contend with off the start.
The Vancouver Canucks come out hungry to make something happen with their partial power play to start the second period, but the Devils penalty kill looks positively rejuvenated today in spite of its earlier struggles and the kill is completed without a hitch. The top line hops on to start the even strength play, and Hughes picks up the puck and motors into the Canucks end. Here, we’d see something different than we’ve seen from him in games past. His attempts to split 2 or 3 defensemen singlehandedly have been well documented by the Devils fanbase and general NHL community as both a highlight of his skillset and a cause for concern, as that’s a strategy that simply won’t work for a 170lb forward in this league. Jack Hughes has been adjusting his game to this league every game, and we see that adjustment marry perfectly with his propotion to the first line here: Hughes carries the puck down in the face off three Canucks, slips directly into the middle of them aiming towards the boards, and immediately drops the puck back to a trailing Taylor Hall, who now has the center ice wide open for a shot. Nothing comes of it, but the simple adjustment shows how quickly and how well our first overall pick is going to be able to adjust his high skill style of play to this league.
PK Subban draws a tripping penalty from Vancouver’s Schaller following this play, and the Devils go to the power play yet again. The scoresheet won’t show anything from this powerplay, but there was a lot to like about it. The Devils managed to enter and hold the zone, the simplest but most important thing they’d struggled with earlier this season in the darker times we should all agree to forget about after this week. They recorded three shots and a few more good chances, especially with Simmonds in the crease, and both lines spend the whole time with their feet moving, making smart and clear passes where necessary. Even more important still, they took shots and made shot attempts. Previously, the power play kept looking to do too much, playing hot potato with the puck and looking only for the perfect shot. This power play has been taking fate into their own hands and making their own shot lanes, which is making it far more successful.
With the power play good but not successful at scoring, the Devils apparently decide to try their luck with the other half of their special teams units. Travis Zajac’s stick falls victim to the quick feet of Vancouver’s Elias Petterson and earns himself a penalty for tripping. Vancouver’s power play unit, lead by Quinn Hughes, manages nearly a solid 90 seconds of zone time and a number of shots, but none get by the red hot Mackenzie Blackwood. Andy Greene reminds everyone why he’s one of the best penalty killers in the league with a key block that allows the Devils to clear and get a change. The second unit then comes on and finishes the kill. Out of the box Zajac finds the puck and gets a quick rush. Jack Hughes picks up the next rush but is stopped by the diving effort of a Vancouver defenseman.
Vancouver, once they regain control of the puck, plays on the momentum from the recently expired power play and maintain solid zone pressure and put more shots on Mackenzie Blackwood. Giving the rookie a rest for a second, we’ll see Pavel Zacha jump over the boards along with Hall and Palmieri. They bring the heat and get a quick change on Demko but can’t find the net. Hughes is immediately back with his linemates to take the next face-off, and the line quickly draw yet another penalty from the Canucks. This time Edler goes to the bench for interference against Hall and we’ll go to the power play yet again.
Hall, Palmieri, Simmonds, and Hughes backed by Subban have proved to be a viscous team to contend with tonight, and a loose puck in the front nearly sees Jack Hughes pick up his second goal but it just wouldn’t go. Edler picks up a breakaway out of the penalty box but Mackenzie Blackwood makes three absolutely stunning saves (and the crossbar makes one) to disappoint the Canucks. 5 on 5 play is overrated, so we immediately go back to the penalty kill again on a high sticking call from Kevin Rooney. Coleman and Zajac handle the penalty kill as they usually do and aim for the shorthanded pressure, but Coleman catches the wrong end of a desperate Canucks defense and gets clipped in the face with an elbow to the face from Edler. The Brotherhood theme in the John Hynes locker room takes over and the other Devils on the ice immediately dive into a scrum in the front of the Canucks net. Mirco Mueller drops the gloves with Sutter and, though I’m not sure either actually landed a hit, both will be sent off the ice for fighting. Mueller is considered the aggressor and takes an additional 2 minutes for roughing, which evens out with the penalty to Edler so we stay on the penalty kill.
Shorthanded ice time is Blake Coleman’s middle name (apparently its not actually Pickles) and he’ll respond with a scoring chance that doesn’t go. Back in the Devils end, the Canucks get a scramble going in front of the net and a few shots off Blackwood. One clips a strap on Blackwood’s mask and he’s forced to pull it off and play stops with 5 seconds left in the kill. As the penalty ends and Rooney jumps back out, Zacha and Hayden jump up together for an offensive chance that sees Hayden snap a Canucks’ stick with a shot attempt and a few more moments of pushing and shoving down in their zone. Somehow John Hayden ends up with a high sticking penalty out of the scrum, and we immediately go back to the penalty kill again. Whatever happened that settled the Devils special teams down after their spiraling failures the first 6 games, it sure worked. The Devils easily kill off yet another Vancouver power play, and return to even strength yet again for just under 90 seconds left in the second period. Vancouver controls the puck in the Devils end but the quick passing and lateral movement of the Canucks is still no match for the absolutely locked in Blackwood.
With 7 seconds left in the period, Kevin Rooney and Tyler Myers manage to draw coincidental minors with what is honestly one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen in an NHL game. Myers moves in with the intention to interfere with Rooney. Rooney tries to jump out of the way between Myers and his defensive partner Edler, but discovers it’s not terribly useful to attempt the jump evasion when the guy you’re trying to jump past is 6’8”. Instead Rooney catches Myers in a headlock and the pair hits the ice, both earning coincidental minors and sending the game to just under a full 2 minutes of 4 on 4 to start the third period.
If the Canucks strategy in this game was to tire out the Devils best players with constant special teams work, their execution is pretty flawless. The second period saw just 8:38 seconds of 5v5 time. Counting the layover penalty from the first period, there were 12 penalties in the second period alone. Unfortunately for the Devils, the majority of those were either on the Devils or cancelled out, so the penalty kill had to work a lot more than the thriving power play.
4 on 4 hockey starts out with both Hughes on the ice. Taylor Hall alongside Jack is able to move in alone and get a shot off but Demko shrugs it off. Pavel Zacha, another member of the ‘who needs 5 on 5 time’ club alongside Coleman, moves in against Alex Edler, dekes around him and power moves in to the net but Demko shuts the door yet again. 4 on 4 expires and even strength starts in the Devils zone but is quickly moved back to visit Demko some more by the fourth line.
Again in the third period, Pavel Zacha jumps in between Hall and Palmieri on the top line as well as centering his own line with Gusev and Bratt a few minutes later. Gusev and Bratt haven’t played much this game, as the overabundance of penalties prevents them from seeing too many shifts. Vancouver’s momentum from the second period starts to wane here in the third, and both teams start to trade possession with some ping pong hockey, so to spice things up we’ll take another penalty. PK Subban gets called for a hold, the softest call yet in my opinion, and the shorthanded specialists go to work yet again. After a good clear, Zacha forechecks and picks up the puck in Vancouvers end, works his way in around the Canucks offensive specialists and gets most of a shot off against Demko. Practice makes perfect, and the Devils penalty kill has had plenty of practice so far this game and is able to kill yet another one with ease.
The second line moves in after the kill ends. Simmonds, despite not having a stick, chases Quinn Hughes behind Vancouver’s net and around where he meets Blake Coleman. Coleman strips the puck from Hughes, who is forced to take a tripping call to stop him from converging on the net with the puck. Back to the power play we go!
Palmieri and Hughes both see good chances on this one, with Hughes getting what might be just a few more passes than he usually would as his teammates look to get him a second goal, but no shots get through to Demko. Vancouver turns the tables back towards Blackwood as Quinn Hughes comes out of the box. With under 5 minutes remaining, the Canucks offense grows desperate to find the back of the net and shots start flying from all angles. A line change gets the fourth line off and the second line back out, who seem to absolutely refuse to play anywhere but the Canucks zone. Fresh off another power play, the Devils top line jumps out with Zacha at center again, but Hall’s chance for a breakaway is foiled by an offside call. Hughes does not come back out for this face-off and instead Zacha will finish the shift with Hall and Palmieri. With two minutes remaining the Canucks pull Thatcher Demko. Two icing calls prevent the Devils from being able to change, and the Canucks line up their biggest guns against the Devils fourth line. After about a minute of that less than favorable matchup Blackwood is able to freeze a shot and the Devils can get their preferred line out to handle the remaining 40 seconds of 6 on 5. PK Subban, Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, Wayne Simmonds, and Travis Zajac take the ice. Ten seconds of battle and another icing call, and the Canucks call a timeout. Twenty second battle, another icing call. The final ten seconds tick away without a goal for Vancouver, and the Devils take home the win with a shutout for Mackenzie Blackwood.
The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
Wayne Simmonds just cannot buy a goal. If you have him on your fantasy team, I wouldn’t drop him just yet. His line with Coleman and Zajac lead the team in just about every offensive category, and he’s been a powerhouse in all areas of the ice. He’s forechecking and backchecking, batting pucks out of the air, and right in the middle of almost every netfront battle that goes on in the other team’s crease. He’s in all the right places and doing all the right things, so just like Jack Hughes today, it’ll come soon enough.
Too Many Penalties: Some penalties you just can’t avoid, some penalties are worth taking, but the Devils spent way, way too much time in the penalty box today. A couple of the calls were soft, a couple were just plays that happen, but you cannot keep stringing those together and give the other team 6 power plays.
Mackenzie Blackwood is giving loud mouthed analysts everywhere a healthy helping of crow after a tough loss in Buffalo. Blackwood has saved 54 of 56 shots since that game, showing the hockey world the difference between a good goalie playing behind a bad team and an “AHL-caliber” goaltender. Tonight was Blackwood’s third career shutout.
Special Teams have awoken from their cursed slumber of yesterweeks. The Devils killed 12 minutes of penalties flawlessly, the power play scored and looked solid each time they went out, and life is good for now in Devils Country. Interesting to note on the Devils power play: for the last two games, PP2 has included Miles Wood. Wood is not your typical power play forward, but his skillset brings quite a few positives to a struggling unit. He can handle the net-front position, and his speed allows them to retrieve cleared pucks faster and save valuable time. Most importantly, the power play spent most of the first two weeks struggling to gain the zone. Quality zone entrances with possession were a key adjustment the power play needed to make; Wood happens to be one of the best on the team at zone entries, second only to Taylor Hall. I don’t know if we’ll still see him on that unit once Hischier returns, but it seems to be working for now.
A few notes about ice times and usage:
No Ice Time for Bratt and Gusev: With 5v5 time at a premium today, Goose and Bratt spend a lot of time hanging out on the bench. With Zacha double-shifting on both the first and third lines, the two wings saw their 5v5 ice time reduced even more. The Goose-Zacha-Bratt line had just 5:33 of 5v5 TOI. Gusev and Bratt sat at the bottom of the roster in total TOI as well with Gusev at just 8 minutes and Bratt at 9:18. Its unfortunate that those two highly skilled players couldn’t play more and have been stuck in the same boat in the last couple games, but realistically it has to happen. 23 minutes of today’s game required special teams play. For the Devils, 12 of those minutes were penalty kills. Neither Bratt nor Gusev belongs out there on a penalty kill. Bratt and Gusev have been on the second power play unit and their 1:30 of 5v4 TOI is the same as the other PP2 skaters. With the close score and the momentum trending Vancouver’s way the majority of the game after Jack Hughes’ goal, the best defensive lines have to play the most and Bratt and Gusev aren’t that line. They’ll see plenty of ice time in higher scoring, lower-penalty games, especially as Gusev continues to adjust and improves some more.
Zacha on the Top Line: We saw Zacha jump in on the top line between Hall and Palmieri a few different times tonight. Zacha replaced Hischier on the top line as well in the game against Florida on Monday when he was forced to leave the game with some bruised ribs.. Zacha has been playing the best hockey of his young career even through some of the darker games earlier this season, and he’s earned his few sniffs of the top line. He centers the pair well in the few chances he gets to do it, which is great to see and gives the Devils another pairing option should it become necessary in the future.
JACK. HUGHES. HAS. SCORED. Hopefully now all the couch scouts who’ve been labeling Hughes a bust for a few games without a point or a goal or, my personal favorite, a minus-4 +/- (on a team with 18 goals against and a -5 goal differential at the time) will settle down and leave the 18 year old alone. For the Devils, today’s goal will hopefully snap Hughes’ snakebitten streak and the next time he hits two posts from six inches away from the net, the hockey Gods will actually let it go in. Regardless, Hughes played a strong game today in all the situations we asked him to.
I mentioned his skipped shifts with Zacha in his place: Prior to each of the shifts we saw Zacha up there, Hughes had spent a good amount of time on the ice either on the power play or on the 4 on 4, so the swap is just a way of getting Hall and Palms on the ice while giving Hughes a minute to breath. He didn’t see as much total ice time as most of the other top forwards, but its important to remember not only that he’s moving faster than most of them but also that, at only 18, he’s not going to have the stamina to go out-skate Vancouver’s top guys at 4 on 4 then hop back out for another shift and keep up with Taylor Hall. Its smart management of a high-speed, high-skill rookie.
The Takeaways: Hughes scored. Blackwood posted a shutout. Greene is back. Hischier is expected to be back next game, and possibly Mueller as well. We now know we have four different centers that could all handle centering our top line. Life is good!
Your Takes: What did you like from today’s game? Anything you didn’t like? Who’s next on the Devils to pick up their first goal of the season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading!