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The Devils Hang On For a 2-1 Win to Sweep the Season Series in Vancouver

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The Devils win their last game of a 5 game road trip thanks to another stellar performance from Mackenzie Blackwood.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start this off by saying—

I made an argument the other day to leave Nico Hischier with Taylor Hall to help spark Hall’s production. He’s paired with Jack Hughes today, and they came out and proved me wrong in the first 60 seconds of the game. Extremely happy to be wrong!

Hall-Hughes-Palmieri came out and immediately took the puck into the Canucks’ zone and forced the Canucks netminder to make a pretty spectacular save right on the doorstep.

Wood-Rooney-Simmonds comes on for their first shit against the Petterson line on the Canucks. They win the faceoff, make a rush and get a shot off, backcheck Vancouver down towards Blackwood for the takeaway and immediately make another rush.

The water bottle buddy line— Zacha-Hischier-Bratt— returns today. They have amazing chemistry and are one of my favorite lines, but spent their first shift today a bit penned in their own zone and nearly allowed a goal with a quick shot from Sutter in the high slot. They get it out and down into the offensive zone for a change to allow Taylor Hall’s line to come on, which is quickly called for offside. The Canucks take the puck off the face-off and send it in, but the Coleman-Zajac-Gusev line gets it back out, battle back and forth a bit, but the puck gets sent out.

The fourth line comes back on, survives a shot attempt from Jordie Benn, and return to the Canucks’ zone. Miles Wood carries in and gets a shot off from up high but Mueller can’t handle the zone and the Canucks take it down the other way. Back down in the Devils end, Matt Tennyson spends a good portion of the Canucks’ possession chasing the puck carrier in circles around the back of the net before Blackwood is able to cover it on a wide angle shot.

The Hischier line comes on and Nico strips Quinn Hughes at the blue line. Not much else comes on that shift but that was fun to watch.

The Hughes line comes back on in the face of the Canucks top line and find themselves penned in the defensive zone for a good amount of time. Two clearing attempts fail but Vancouver caught themselves a hair offside on the catch so the Devils get a stoppage and can change to Coleman and Zajac mixed with a bonus Taylor Hall. Gusev is evidently being extremely sheltered, which I am fine with. Vancouver gives them a hard time breaking out even with the extra Hall power. They finally manage it and come away with a 4 on 2 opportunity and force Tanev to take a penalty to prevent the scoring opportunity, and the Devils go to their first power play. Hughes makes a good move to get the Devils into the zone but can’t get through Sutter. The Devils finally get to set up and Hall manages an absolutely beautiful scoring opportunity that I have no idea did not go in the net just before the power play expires. Fortunately for the Devils, they get another chance right back on the power play as Wood draws a crosschecking penalty from Jordie Benn.

The Devils top power play line (0 for the last 10) today consists of Hughes, Palmieri, Hall, Butcher, and Simmonds. Hughes carries the puck into the zone, walks himself right into the high slot and rips a shot on net. He then wins the ensuing face-off and the team sets up a shooting gallery on Markstrom. Hall gets a shot off from the top of the circle and Simmonds cleans up the rebound at the same moment Palmieri gets absolutely launched into Markstrom, but the goal is good! Just like that the Devils power play drought is over and we’re up 1-0.

But what’s better than one goal? Two goals! The water bottle buddies line comes out, jumps into the zone, and Damon Severson blasts a shot from the point for a slight tip off Jesper Bratt that beats Markstrom. 2-0 Devils!

The Devils are of course not content to let us settle into the content of being up 2-0 safely, so PK Subban takes a tripping penalty against Elias Pettersson, professional penalty-drawer extraordinaire. The Devils penalty kill struggled in the zone a bit, largely due to Damon Severson and Blake Coleman trying to get a bit too cute— Severson tries to set Coleman up with a breakout pass instead of clearing it. Coleman can’t get to the pass (due to an interference in my opinion but Toronto did not answer when I called about it) and the Canucks maintain the zone but Zajac gets it out a moment later. The next wave of the kill was even more dangerous with Blackwood forced to make two huge saves but he handles them perfectly and the Devils survive the Canucks first power play.

Finally back to even strength, the Devils escape the zone and bring it down to force Markstrom to make a save. The top line comes out and Taylor Hall makes an excellent shot followed by an equally excellent move from Hughes on the rebound but he loses the handle on it at the last second. Next out comes Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Miles Wood instead of Pavel Zacha. Bratt carries the puck up the outside wall and makes a pass to Wood streaking down the middle. Wood tips it on net and just catches the crossbar but the puck goes over. Zajac Coleman and Gusev come on and maintain the zone for a good amount of time but don’t manage too many shots despite the amount of zone time. The next line to come out is Rooney, Simmonds, and Zacha in what was Wood’s spot, but they spend most of their shift bouncing back and forth through the neutral zone. Finishing up the first period are Hall, Hughes and Palmieri, who seems to be fine despite being shaken up from his impact with the Canucks goaltender during the Simmonds goal.

SECOND PERIOD

Wood-Hischier-Bratt comes back out to start the second period, so the line switch between Wood and Zacha is apparently intentional. The top line comes out next and sees the second major Hall collision in less than a minute of playing time— he went down at the very end of the first and again collides with Edler at the beginning of this period, but still seems fine. The Canucks make a rush the other way while Hall is getting back to his feet and play some tic tac toe across the ice before a Pettersson blast just misses the net and the Devils catch a lucky break there. They respond well with another offensive rush. The Canucks clear the zone by sending a shot straight to Blackwood who is forced to freeze the puck. Vancouver gets a bit of zone time off the faceoff but Wood-Hischier-Bratt manage to get it out and set up an excellent cycle in the offensive zone that nearly leads to a goal in the crease from both Bratt and Wood but no such luck. The Canucks try to turn things around with a blast from the point but Blackwood has been a stone wall against Vancouver in his career and has decided he’d like to do that again today.

Gusev picks off a pass to break out but the Devils don’t manage to gain the zone cleanly, so they reset back to Subban and do it again, this time with a dump-in. Still no entry so we reset again, this time to Andy Greene and the new fourth line. Some excellent quick one-touch passes through the neutral zone allow Zacha to carry in across the blue line, walk down the middle and rip a shot that Markstrom just gets the glove on. Zacha followed the quick shot with some colorful language that the broadcast cameras caught but I won’t repeat here— gotta love the energy though. Zacha takes the ensuing face-off as Rooney has been pulled off for some Bonus Hall again, but the puck comes out of the zone and goes out of play in the Devils zone, so Rooney comes right back on for the defensive-zone face-off.

Zajac’s line comes on and sets up some zone pressure. Gusev gets an opportunity in front that doesn’t go. Zajac attempts to check the 6’7” Tyler Myers for some unknown reason— this is largely unsuccessful. The Canucks get the puck out and everybody changes but the Devils change faster— Subban spies a wide open Hall and springs him with a beautiful breakout pass. Hall is all alone with Markstrom, goes for the backhand but Markstrom gets the leg pad over in time to seal off the shot. The Canucks go the other way and Blackwood flashes the leather on Leivo.

A couple quick changes get the lines a bit mixed up and Jack Hughes comes on for a shift with Miles Wood and Jesper Bratt. Hughes skates the puck in absolute circles around the zone and nearly gets a pass into the crease for Wood around his brother but the connection just misses. Vancouver gets it out and the Devils top line comes on but doesn’t get much action before Matt Tennyson takes a holding penalty in the defensive zone after a failed clearing attempt. Vancouver’s power play was dangerous the first time they came out and wouldn’t be denied this time—Brock Boeser marches in along the outside with the puck and gets the shot off despite the defending stick of Andy Greene to beat Mackenzie Blackwood. 2-1 now.

The top line comes back on and looks like they’re going to start a rush into the Vancouver zone but the whistle is blown at the blue line on what seems to be some kind of puck out of play call that Taylor Hall vehemently disagrees with. The face-off moves dots after some conferment with the referees, so Hall may have been correct. With their rush stunted by the bad whistle the Devils don’t manage to gain the zone and Vancouver turns the play the other way, forcing Blackwood to make another save. The Devils, reasonably irritated with the previous play, rough up a few Canucks in the slot but nothing exciting enough for a call.

Wood takes the puck off the ensuing face-off and turns on the afterburners, carrying it down the entire rink before one-handing a pass across the crease that would have been a beautiful scoring chance if anyone had been there to catch it. Unfortunately even the speedsters Hischer and Bratt couldn’t quite catch up to their new linemate on the play. Taylor Hall’s line comes on next and Hall manages yet another shot on net and is stopped yet again by Markstrom’s glove. The next shift comes on and Nikita Gusev handles and gets a great shot off. Markstrom lets up a huge rebound on it but its just too far behind Travis Zajac to get a second shot off on the wide-open net.

The Canucks and Devils play keep-away clears for the last 3 minutes before the Canucks manage to gain the zone. A scramble in the front forces Blackwood to make a few excellent saves, which he does and finally gets a stoppage with less than 2 seconds left in the period. Hischier wins the face-off and the period dies with the puck in the corner, but we’ll end it with a scrum in front of the net somehow anyway.

THIRD PERIOD

The third period starts with a Devils lead, which has obviously not been our friend this season so far. Both teams struggled to get their footing in either zone during the first few minutes of this period. Wayne Simmonds finally decided he was bored with the ping pong hockey and walks through four Canucks, splits the defense and delivers the puck to Markstrom’s doorstep. Wood-Nico-Bratt come out for the ensuing face-off but the Canucks manage to get the clear and sprint up ice for a 2 on 1. Blackwood kicks out the first shot to Pearson, who somehow sends it behind Blackwood and straight across the crease. The Devils collect and answer back with their own rush— Hughes picks up the puck and carries in, drops to Bratt who gets a shot off and the Devils set up for some zone time. The Canucks turn around and hold the zone this time but Blackwood shuts them all down. Gusev does well to help get the puck out of the zone despite taking a hit in the neutral zone and the Devils survive the pressure— they somehow also survive what probably should have been a tripping penalty but the referees apparently missed it.

Wood-Nico-Bratt break out of the zone off the face-off but aren’t able to set up and the Canucks return to the Devils zone, but are offside. The top line comes on and Hall gets rocked yet again, this time by Elias Pettersson from behind, but Hall gets called for embellishment somehow and the Canucks get a power play again. After watching the replay for the 15th time I might agree it wasn’t that hard of a hit, but I have never agree with embellishment calls and don’t think it was warranted here.

The Canucks have a few good looks early in the penalty that force Blackwood to be fancy again but the Devils do an excellent job of forcing them outside and only get one more shot off the rest of the man-advantage. The Devils penalty kill unit finds Taylor Hall coming out of the box and connects a pass that sends Hall off on a breakaway. Markstrom makes the save but the backchecking defenseman loses his footing and takes out both the net and Markstrom. The puck crosses the goal line during the collision from Edler, and the Devils celebrated insisting the goal should count. The play immediately goes to review and is called a no-goal. It wouldn’t be a Devils game without a goal being called off, would it?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks seem to take the no-goal as a rally cry and get zone entry after zone entry despite the Devils’ successful clears. There’s no breakout option with the lines changing after every clear, which puts the Devils in a dangerous cycle of Vancouver pressure for a good couple minutes. An icing call finally lets the Devils make a good change and get a few shots off on Markstrom, one of which may have gone off of Taylor Hall. With possession in the Devils zone, the Canucks pull the goalie. Severson aims for the empty net on a clear that misses but pressure from Coleman negates the icing. The Devils play some excellent defense with pressure and shot-blocks but could not seem to get a clear—Coleman and Simmonds even stripped each other of the clear at one point. Zajac finally manages a soft bank that really should not have been icing but it was anyway, and the puck comes back to the Devils end with 18 seconds left. They pin the Canucks behind the net, wear down the clock then Coleman comes away with the puck and lobs a shot towards the empty net that actually goes in, but time expires before it does and the Devils will have to settle for a 2-1 win.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

Lets go with the negatives first—

The Penalty Kill is really missing Sami Vatanen— Greene played the entire first kill while Severson played just under a minute then switched for Mueller. Mueller spent the majority of the kill standing in the slot swatting at loose pucks and not connecting with any of them. Blackwood made some absolutely stunning saves on that kill that nearly turned into goals due to the PK’s inability to clear the rebounds away from the slot and that’s something that absolutely has to be corrected moving forward. If you’re going to ask your goalie to bail you out on a shaky PK, you have to be able to back them up and clear the slot.

The Defense is also missing Vatanen, and Connor Carrick. The third pairing of Mueller and Tennyson was really, really rough— no this isn’t surprising, yes there’s a benefit to putting your two worst defensemen together so you can shelter them as much as possible, but its still worth pointing out. Tennyson was benched for a good portion of the second and Mueller danced around with Will Butcher and Andy Greene. Case in point: Mueller came out with Butcher with two minutes left in the second period. 30 seconds later, Butcher went off and Tennyson came on. Another 30 seconds later, Tennyson went back off and Butcher came back on. He and Mueller stayed on for the next minute until the stoppage just at the end of the period—the Devils were hemmed in their own zone almost that entire time. At the end of the second period which was the Devils best, only 7 Devils were below 50.0 CF% and every single Devil’s on-ice CF% was over 40%—except Mirco Mueller, who was sitting at a 29%. The Canucks took over the possession numbers in the third and all the Devils CF%s dropped but Mueller still remained at the bottom of the pile, somehow improving to 32%. Not great. Tennyson finished with a miraculous 50% but he had minimal ice time and highly sheltered shifts.

On to the positives!

Taylor. Flipping. Hall. The man cannot buy a goal but he might have had more chances in tonight’s game than the Devils entire team in some earlier games. Hall led the team with an insane 8 shots— Hughes and Palmieri had the next most at three each. He also racked up five high danger scoring chances partly thanks to multiple breakaways. His finish just hasn’t been there so it’s tough to see his contributions on the scoreboard lately, but he’s been trending towards stronger and stronger play every game and he really jumped on his horse today. I don’t know what Voodoo is going on that’s keeping him out of the net but tonight he looked strong, confident, and ready to play through the whole game. I’d expect to see pucks start finding the netting for him soon, especially if he continues to play like he did tonight.

Big Mac has Vancouver’s Number. He’s looked solid in most of his games so far this season but he’s played unbelievably well against Vancouver in his career, and tonight was no exception. Brock Boeser’s shot did manage to spoil yet another shutout for Blackwood but he stopped the other 30 shots he faced for a .968 sv%. Today puts him up over the .900 mark to .907 sv% on the season.

The Lines: As I mentioned, Jack Hughes and Taylor Hall were excellent together. The Gusev-Zajac-Coleman line stayed together the whole night and recorded the best CF% and xGF% of the team, a huge success for any line with Nikita Gusev on it. Gusev himself actually had the second highest CF% on the team with 54.55% at 5v5. Goose did play some sheltered minutes, logging the least at 5v5 with 8:55 and the second least in total ice time just above Matt Tennyson, so its worth taking his numbers with a grain of salt, but that’s still worth celebrating in my opinion.

The swap of Zacha and Wood at the end of the first was surprising— Wood-Rooney-Simmonds has been excellent together and the Zacha-Hischier-Bratt line was on the ice for the second goal. That being said, Bratt’s goal wasn’t really the result of excellent line performance so much as a good tip from a defenseman’s shot, so it would be fair to exclude that from considering how they played. Wood-Rooney-Simmonds was the Devils worst line of the night for the short time they played together, while Zacha-Hischier-Bratt just broke even. Both these lines were on the ice during the first half of the third period, where the Devils led with the majority of the zone time and momentum was on their side. After the change, the Zacha-Rooney-Simmonds line broke even and the Wood-Hischier-Bratt line finished with 37.5CF%. Considering Vancouver owned the Devils in terms of possession during the majority of the third period, the second set of lines looks better. Wood-Hischier-Bratt also combined for 4 scoring chances, tied with the top line for most. All in all, whether or not you agree with switching lines during a winning effort, the new lines seem to have worked out for the Devils today.

Your Take: Who had the best game today? Do you agree with the line changes? What IS embellishment and when, if ever, do you think it should be called? Leave your thoughts in the comments below (especially on embellishment, I’m really curious what you guys think about that) and thanks for reading!