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The Devils Can’t Hold the Lead and Fall 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators

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Despite the stellar play of Mackenzie Blackwood, the Devils failed to hold a third period lead.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

FIRST PERIOD

Ottawa wins the face-off but cannot control the puck enough to make an entrance. The Devils can, however, and after a quick regrouping back in their zone Andy Greene carries the puck up, and without a challenge from the Ottawa defense, carries it all the way to the zone and nearly stuffs it through Craig Anderson. The Devils manage some pressure but are forced back out of the zone without another shot. Ottawa does a decent job of preventing them from regaining the zone but cannot regain possession. Nikita Gusev picks up a pass in the neutral zone and is tripped, sending the Devils to the power play bright and early in the game.

Ottawa’s penalty kill is dangerous and they tie up the puck in the Devils zone for a bit but Butcher is able to move it up and out into the proper end of the ice. A quick shot from Taylor Hall after the power play sets up sends the puck out of play. The Devils are forced out of the zone on the face-off and are forced to change and regroup. Ottawa attempts to prevent the zone entry with a high stick and play stops again. Nico Hischier lines up for the face-off but is kicked out and Zacha loses the draw. Ottawa clears and the Devils are forced to chase again. The constant regroups seem to suit the Devils power play well lately. They come back into the zone on a rush and Gusev nearly gets a tip in. A couple more shot attempts from the point but the power play expires without a goal. The Senators attempt to bring the game back into the Devils zone now that they’re back to even strength but Nico Hischier says no with a solid shot block. The puck comes up to Wayne Simmonds who takes it up on the breakaway, out-dekes Craig Anderson and puts it by the Ottawa netminders pad for the first goal of the game. Devils up 1-0.

The Devils look to repeat Saturday’s game in Vancouver with an immediate second goal, and nearly succeed. They immediately return to the Ottawa zone and Nikita Gusev rips a quick shot from the circle that beats Anderson but can’t beat the post. The lines change and regroup, rinse and repeat, as the teams battle for zone time. Nico Hischier’s line comes back on and Hischier finds the puck, flies up the neutral zone and into the outstretched stick of . Nico goes a different kind of flying and the Devils hop right back onto the power play. Ottawa picked up the penalty kill a bit and the Devils get little to nothing going on the man advantage. The Senators kill the penalty and take the puck the other way at even strength, working up a scoring chance for their first shot of the evening, just under halfway through the first period.

The Devils ice the puck despite a good effort from Coleman. Ottawa gets their first zone pressure off the face-off and start to buzz a little bit on neutral zone takeaways and breakovers. Andy Greene somehow gets a tripping penalty for falling near a Senators player and the Devils go to the penalty kill with their best and most important penalty killer sitting in the box. Mueller and Severson step up and are able to do a good job of pinning the Senators back for a bit. They finally gain the zone almost halfway through the penalty to Andy Greene but the Devils quickly get another clear. They regroup and finally set up but immediately put themselves offside. Non game related update— the stoppage was a bit extended here due to random confetti falling from the ceiling of the Rock. Not sure what they plan on celebrating. Possibly an excellent penalty kill, finished off by Pavel Zacha picking off a pass and carrying it end to end to maintain possession and kill the waning seconds of the penalty.

The Senators continue the pressure back in the Devils zone, forcing Blackwood and PK Subban to both make some excellent stoppages. Miles Wood finally gets the clear and proceeds to chase the loose puck through two Ottawa Senators down the ice. Ottawa returns again for some more zone time. Mueller keeps the puck carrier down to the outside but allows a shot. Pageau picks up the rebound and somehow manages to squeak it past Mackenzie Blackwood between his pads and the post. [Netfront defenseman: Matt Tennyson]. Tie game at 1.

Devils struggle to get possession and into the Senators zone now. Taylor Hall nearly gets a rush but was absolutely abandoned by the rest of the line. He pauses but is forced to give away the puck at the blue line- when the camera pans back the other way, all 4 other Devils come into view still behind the Devils blue line. The Devils force their way back into the zone a few shifts later and get enough pressure on to force a stoppage. Zajac wins the face-off back, Coleman drops it to Gusev who rips a shot that’s blocked away. Will Butcher picks up the loose puck, walks in down the left circle and paints the crossbar with a beautiful wrist shot. Bar-down, it counts, 2-1 Devils regain the lead.

SECOND PERIOD

Both teams battle for control of the zone off the face-off. The Devils pick up the first shot with an entry and a quick wrap-around attempt from Palmieri that’s stopped by Anderson. That seems to spark the Devils and they start buzzing, managing to hold the zone and get a few shots, mostly bombs from the point. With a clear from Ottawa they change and out comes the surprisingly dynamic duo of Gusev and Coleman, who combine for another scoring chance off the bench and keep play in the Senators end their whole shift.

The Senators come down and take a shot on Blackwood, but that’s been the extent of the scoring chances allowed by New Jersey so far this period— a few shots from high and wide, with no rebounds. The water bottle buddies, who’ve been surprisingly quiet tonight, come on and lay a few pucks on the pads of Anderson before drawing an icing from the Sens. Ottawa lays some pressure on after a bit but the Devils are able to do an excellent job of keeping play to the outside and not allowing too many scoring chances of any significant nature. Both teams play some less than exciting ping pong hockey for a bit. Moments of note in that involve Pavel Zacha muscling past a defenseman to save an icing, Pavel Zacha blocking a shot and carrying the puck out of the Devils zone, and Pavel Zacha being Pavel Zacha.

Time to change the lines, as we do, and Hischier comes out on the top line just over halfway through the second period. Both teams are finding it hard to get any traction this period in either zone, and the Devils are doing an excellent job of making that happen in their favor. They’re forechecking particularly hard, which is interesting to note considering Ottawa’s last game was an 8-2 loss against the team with the best forecheck in the league—Carolina.

Ottawa attempts to get a chance off by ducking behind the net with the puck and trying a wrap-around but add in an extra whack at Blackwood’s glove and draw the ire of the entire Devils line. Hall carries the puck up the ice and gets tangled up and tripped on his entry across the blue line but no call is made. Ottawa takes the puck the other way and forces Mackenzie Blackwood to make a save, which he does with an excellent leg pad flair and a bit of a dramatic rebound that’s fortunately collected by his own team.

Something... something... ultra low-event hockey... something...

Alright we have some buzz developing in the Devils end, the Senators send in a shot from the point, the Devils chase behind the net, thats... oh, Mueller. Read: Mueller and Tennyson get pinned in the Devils zone and allow some shots.

The top line comes on for New Jersey and things get a whole lot spicier. Will Butcher makes a pass to PK Subban to send the puck out of the zone. Subban immediately one-touches it up to Jack Hughes who splits the D and gets a shot off on Anderson before sliding into the Senators netminder.

Ottawa picks up a chance in the Devils zone with a beautiful cross-ice pass that should have been trouble but Blackwood gets across cleanly and gets the pad on it. We often talk about timely saves— Case In Point here at just about 30 seconds left in the second period with the Devils hanging onto a one goal lead.

The third period is coming.

And the Devils have a lead.

In the words of our fearless leader:

Spoiler alert: no.

THE THIRD PERIOD

The third period starts in the Devils zone. With Brady Tkachuk in control of the puck. At the side of Blackwood’s net. But in a pleasant twist of events, the puck does not go in the net, and the Devils are able to clear the zone. Zajac’s line comes out and Gusev gets off yet another shot attempt, this one blocked wide of the goal. A misplaced pass to Severson leaves a loose puck in the neutral zone, which Nikita Gusev chased but did not make the physical play on needed to maintain possession. Fortunately we got it anyway, and Travis Zajac gets hauled down in the attempt to bring it into the zone. Back to the power play we go again!

The Devils power play sets up far, far stronger than they did either of their first two attempts. The fact that the penalty was taken by the Sens best penalty killer certainly helps (hey, Greene took one too, no excuses Ottawa). The Devils get some excellent opportunities including a blast from Hall and a slick fake pass to Palmieri from Simmonds but aren’t able to get one through to Anderson. The power play expires and the puck is lifted down to the Devils zone, where Tennyson misplays a puck off the boards and nearly allows the tying goal.

The Senators get another chance in the Devils zone but its broken up by a few good plays— a low block by Subban in the slot, an excellent save in tight from Blackwood. and Jesper Bratt carrying it out of the zone around the Ottawa defensemen, dropping a pass for Nico and nearly picking up an extra goal on the play. The Devils regroup and PK picks up Hall wide open at the Senators blue line off the change. He springs Hall for the breakaway but Anderson reads him the entire way.

The Devils pick up an absolutely amazing buzz after that chance, blasting chances left and right on Anderson. Bratt puts a move on the Sens defense that’s so potent I think the defender actually breakdanced (brokedance?). Somehow none of the dozen chances the Devils racked up on the sequence managed to find the back of the net—par for the course for us this season. Now the Senators set up in the Devils zone and attempt to return the favor, with Thomas Chabot quarterbacking nearly every chance for the Senators. Zajac manages to get the zone cleared but the Senators return quickly. With the screen working in front of the net, the shot from the point is able to beat Blackwood and the Senators tie the game at 2 with a little over 6 minutes left in the third.

The tying goal gives the Senators some life and they hem the Devils in their zone with authority. Chabot makes a pass to Paul across the crease that Blackwood had to have sprouted a jet pack in order to get across to save, and yet he does. Its a thing of beauty, folks.

Feel free to ignore the outcome of this game and also the rest of this article and just watch this on repeat. I understand.

Blackwood is of course forced to make yet another one before we get a good chance of our own. Kyle Palmieri picks up the puck in the neutral zone and makes a filthy deke to try to get it around the defenseman but Anderson catches the backhand shot. Ottawa comes back the other way and land in the Devils zone. The Devils pressure that was doing them a lot of good earlier in the game seems a bit lacking here, and that cannot be how you play a game in your own zone. Ottawa makes them pay with a shot off the post and Pageau cleaning up Paul’s rebound for the go ahead goal. 3-2 Ottawa. The Devils pull Mackenzie Blackwood with under two minutes left and set up in the zone but aren’t able to get much by way of shots off. A Hall shot is blocked by Pageau and he launches it across the entire ice and directly into the empty net for an extremely painful hat trick.

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

What Went Wrong?

The Devils seem to struggle at putting that full 60 minute effort together. Earlier in the game they were chasing the puck in all ends of the ice, fighting along the boards, forechecking wherever possible, and moving their feet when set up in the Senators zone. As the third period wore on, that forecheck seemed to ease up, the battles weren’t being won or even fought, and they played hot potato standing still in the zone even during the 6 on 5. I genuinely don’t have an answer or even a suggestion as to why a team of professionals is capable of doing all the right things for 30, 40, even 50 minutes at a time and then suddenly stop doing it.

Natural Stat Trick

This can’t happen. We can’t sink our ship ten feet from shore after all that distance traveled.

Sure, we have excuses. We’re missing two defensemen, and the two playing in their place are far from up to the task. Its putting a far greater burden on the rest of the defense and also the forwards that are forced to chase in their zone while hemmed in due to the third pairing’s struggles. We’re missing Hall’s finish— his shooting percentage is down to 3.23, less than a third of his career average, and he’s missing multiple breakaways every game. Hall is one of the ‘unluckiest’ players in the league right now— he’s at the absolute bottom of the league in terms of actual goals vs expected goals. He’s getting an unbelievable amount of chances, and we absolutely need him to start capitalizing on them. When Wayne Simmonds can score on a breakaway and Taylor Hall can’t on the same goalie, something is not right.

On the positive side, there were some good performances tonight. The power play looked good at times, and the penalty kill did it’s job even without Greene or Vatanen. Pavel Zacha continued to look like the new and improved Pavel Zacha, and he seems to have found a solid line with the other water bottle buddies. Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman seem to be the perfect pairing for Nikita Gusev, who has now gone two games in a row without being caved in and they even generated some really impressive chances at times in the offensive zone. I would like to see some more physical play from him as he continues to improve, but the baby steps are definitely going in the right direction.

Most importantly, Mackenzie Blackwood was damn near flawless. It wasn’t a shutout of course, but Blackwood was about as perfect as you can ask a goalie to be despite a loss. He made routine saves, big saves, huge saves, pk saves, and saves that should have been impossible. He’s coming into his own as a regular NHL goaltender— he just needs the team in front of him to round out their game as well.

Your Take: What is causing the team to collapse every game? What needs to change among the players for that to improve? What is going on with Taylor Hall? Has a goalie ever won he Vezina behind a terrible team? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading!