In the first game since the Taylor Hall trade, I had serious questions whether the team would come to play. But with the decent amount of time since the Devils last played, I hoped that Nasreddine might have a few changes in store to the way the team played.
First Period: The Devils started off the game decently enough, controlling play and getting a few shots before Anaheim started fighting back. A couple minutes into the game, Jack Hughes had an opportunity to score but was stopped by Ryan Miller, who then stuffed Pavel Zacha on the rebound.
As the Devils were attempting to breakout, Blake Coleman was picked off by Cam Fowler, who found Ondrej Kase in open space, giving the Ducks a two-on-none. Former Devil Adam Henrique scored on a one-timer as he cut across the slot, as Blackwood couldn’t get across for the shot from in close.
As the period went on, the Ducks started to dominate more of play. The advantage the Devils had in possession the first few minutes of the game was wiped out by the end of the period, and it was looking like the Devils might start to fall behind the opposition despite looking like they had their legs to start the game.
At the end of the first period, there was a two-on-one with Will Butcher back. Butcher played the pass well while giving a little bit of pressure to the shooter, giving MacKenzie Blackwood the opportunity to make the big save to keep the game within reach for the Devils.
The shots in the period ended eight to nine, Ducks, as they lead 1-0. Despite the score, the Devils were leading in total high danger chances four to one. However, it’s the conversion that matters, and Henrique’s high percentage shot hasn’t changed since leaving the Devils.
Second Period: Andy Greene wrapped the puck around the boards hard, and Michael Del Zotto was too slow playing the puck. Jesper Bratt came around to get the puck free to feed Nico Hischier between the circles, who buried it past Miller. Tie game, 1-1.
Jack Hughes fed Wayne Simmonds, who one-touched to Pavel Zacha, who played the puck into the zone. Wayne Simmonds drew an interference minor out of the play, but the power play was extremely weak, with only one shot.
Almost halfway through the period, Jesper Bratt drew a penalty from Michael Del Zotto. He sat for two - also interference. That power play went much better. Will Butcher found Gusev in the neutral zone on a breakout, who pushed it ahead to Kyle Palmieri, who dipped in around the defenseman’s stick before sniping high above Miller’s stick. 2-1
However, Blake Coleman also took a high stick just over a minute before the period ended. For a Devils team that is known for blowing leads in the second and third periods - especially late in the second - this was not a great time for Coleman to not stay in control over his stick. To the Ducks’ chagrin, Nico Hischier drew a hooking call early in the penalty kill, negating most of the two minutes.
Near the end of the second period, while the Devils were controlling play much better but not getting a whole lot of high danger chances. Jack Hughes had a one-timer chance from the high slot that he could have scored on, but Ryan Miller made a good save on it and the period ended. Thus, the Devils went to the second intermission up a goal, while leading in shots in the second eight to seven and tied throughout two full periods at 16 apiece.
Third Period: In the first minute of the third, the Devils had power play time from Fowler’s hooking penalty on Hischier. Jack Hughes took-away and had the puck in the corner, before getting the puck to Sami Vatanen at the blueline, who feigned pass, turned, and slapped the puck on net as the penalty clock was expiring. It went stick side on Miller, and the Devils had their third goal of the game. 3-1.
For some reason, Damon Severson got really angry just a couple minutes into the period and dropped the gloves with Maxime Comtois. From what I saw on the MSG feed, Severson seemed to get the better of the young Comtois, who I didn’t take for much of a fighter and was surprised to learn that he’s been in his fair share.
Nearly halfway through the period, the Devils fans seemed pretty energized. With a two-goal lead, the Devils were able to play a tighter checking game without the worry of not scoring enough to win. They were certainly not getting many chances themselves, but by halfway through the period the Ducks still only had four shots in the period.
With eight minutes left to play, the McLeod line was on and taking a lot of time to cycle the puck. After a Will Butcher shot went wide after about twenty seconds of possession, play was turned the other way, and the Ducks nearly scored off a defensive zone turnover by the Devils. Shortly after, they iced the puck.
With under seven minutes to play, Ryan Getzlaf sent a no-look pass from behind the net to a cutting Max Jones, who received the pass on his forehand and stuffed it right into the pad of MacKenzie Blackwood.
Mirco Mueller saved a goal by blocking a pass by going to the ice with about five minutes to play. It was a welcome sight to see Mirco Mueller doing well for once.
Nico Hischier took a bad penalty with four minutes remaining when he tripped Jakob Silverberg, who was making a spin move along the boards and drew the penalty, as Nico foot tripped him up. Anaheim decided to pull the goaltender for the power play.
MacKenzie Blackwood made the first save he was tasked with, and Andy Greene played it to Travis Zajac, who got it out of the zone. On the second entry, Blake Coleman interrupted the Ducks and got the puck just out of the zone. On the third entry, the Ducks played catch along the perimeter before getting it to Ryan Getzlaf at the top of the circle on his strong side. Blackwood made a glove save and froze play. Following play, Alain Nasreddine used his timeout.
Blake Coleman won the draw, and Damon Severson got the puck behind the net and went for the empty net down the ice. It was broken up at center ice. Following the Ducks’ re-entry, Hampus Lindholm’s one-timer deflected off of Adam Henrique and out of play. The Ducks won the next draw, and Lindholm’s one-timer was blocked twice in a row.
Getzlaf got the puck to Silverberg on the wall for a one-timer, but Blackwood had time to get over and made a pad stop. Nico Hsichier came out of the box and the game returned to even strength.
After a block by Coleman, the puck was pushed out of the zone to Nico Hischier, who drew a holding from Hampus Lindholm. For some reason, it was not an automatic goal. Ryan Getzlaf had some beef with Nico Hischier, and P.K. Subban got between them to prevent anything from happening.
On the power play, the Devils were content to move pretty slow. With the puck in the zone, a redirection attempt from Severson’s shot went just wide, and his next attempt missed the net, and the puck was sent down the ice. The Devils collected and held for the remaining seconds, happy with their 3-1 win to make it a two-game winning streak.
The shots ended 27-20, Ducks - certainly aided by their six-on-four power play, while scoring chances were 20-16 in the Devils’ favor.
The Opposition Opinion: Anaheim Calling will have the Ducks-centric recap.
Not Quitting: In the on-ice post-game interview of Nico Hischier, Nico said that the team is not quitting. While this was no rout of the Anaheim Ducks, I think the team has shown that pretty well the last two games. Nico’s first line didn’t exactly do amazing tonight at even strength in the run of play - as they had a CF% of 16.67 in 8:52 together - with two CF and 10 CA. However, with nearly the full line on the ice - Hischier and Bratt were with Wayne Simmonds when Del Zotto gave the puck away to Bratt, who sent it to Hischier for the goal. And as I said earlier in the recap, it is the conversion that matters - and Hischier was on the ice for all three Devils goals.
Nasreddine’s Nature: Watching the game, it felt like I was watching an out-skilled Pete DeBoer team just stay in it long enough to get some high percentage shots that they managed to convert on to pull out a win. And I think that is by design - as Alain Nasreddine was not known for his offensive prowess. After debuting in 1998, Alain Nasreddine didn’t score a point until he was 32 years old in 2006 with Pittsburgh. He was a tough penalty killing defenseman, and for that reason I think we as Devils fans can expect a few more games to finish as this one did, who was first employed by John Hynes for his understanding in that area of the game.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. However, I would hope that the Devils are still able to get as much of a proportion of the total high danger chances in games under Alain Nasreddine as they were able to under John Hynes (when the system was working, at least).
Better Tidings for Mirco Mueller: I don’t think there’s a better coach to extract whatever value there may be from Mirco Mueller’s game. Tonight, playing with mostly Damon Severson, he posted a 40.74 CF%, and was on the ice for the goal against (which was Blake Coleman’s fault). If not for that turnover, he would have been on the ice for no high danger chances against. He had three blocked shots, and two hits - also blocking a pass that would have went across Blackwood late in the third period for a one-time shot. I hope to see more of what I got to see from Mirco Mueller.
Monkey off the Butcher’s Back: Prior to today, the Devils only had one defenseman with a power play point - Sami Vatanen, who happened to score right after a power play expired today. However, on the goal by Kyle Palmieri, Will Butcher finally got his first point on the man advantage this season, after having 23 his rookie season and 14 last season. He now has 10 points in 31 games, and I think tonight was a good sign for him moving forward. He had a 47.37 CF%, and his 69.78 xGF% was the highest mark of any Devils defenseman tonight. On a defensive note for Butcher - he had two takeaways tonight. That wouldn’t be noteworthy to me if he didn’t only have seven in his previous 30 games, and it marks a good step for the young defenseman, who the Devils need to perform if they want to have a decent defensive corps.
Your Thoughts: What did you think about tonight’s game? Did you think the strategy incorporated by Nasreddine tonight will be viable moving forward? Or do you think the Devils’ skilled players wouldn’t fit into his system in the long-term? Are you (finally?) feeling confident about MacKenzie Blackwood’s ability to lead the team as the starting goaltender moving forward? Do you think the team can stay competitive? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Devils have a tough back-to-back ahead of them, with the high-scoring Capitals in Newark on Friday followed by a short plane trip to Columbus for Saturday night. Until then, the Devils are sitting on a two-game winning streak. And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.