There is never a bad time for a blowout win. Whether or not the New Jersey Devils have something to play for is immaterial. It is always welcomed. It is always a sight to be hold. It feels especially when in that rout, five players end some really goalless streaks and just plain cruise to victory without any fear of a comeback. It has not happened a lot this season, if at all. Tonight was the night. The New Jersey Devils dropped a hammer on the Chicago Blackhawks with a 7-1 victory.
The game was really only close in the first period. Literally. The period ended at 1-1. The first was similar to how many games have gone for the 2019-20 Devils. The defensive effort was lax with plenty of passengers and not enough initiative. If the goalie was not on his game, then they would be doomed. If he was, then, maybe they would not. The lax effort showed itself on a costly shift when David Kampf looked like Denis Savard for a shift and Zach Smith finished a wraparound that made Will Butcher look stupid. There were other times where the Devils just seemingly lacked focus. On top of that, the Devils had to kill four penalties. Giving extra time and space for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat is generally ill-advised. The only bright spots came when the Devils tried to get through a sloppy Chicago defense. Jack Hughes excelled when he took the puck to the net from the left, drew out Corey Crawford’s stick, and roofed it past the goalie to make it 1-1. Like many periods in this season, the score close but the performance left plenty to be desired.
Unlike many games in this season, the Devils would turn it way, way, way, way up in the second period.
I do not know off the top of my head if the second period in Chicago was truly the best second period or the best period performance by the Devils this season. It has to be up there. Everything just started to click. The passes. The puck movements. The forechecking. The puck battles. The backchecking. Chicago became less and less threatening just because the Devils just kept pushing them back into their zone over and over. Nico Hischier was bodying guys. Miles Wood was forcing Corey Crawford to play like his younger, far better self with his shots. And it was not a matter of possession.
The Devils finished these shifts. It did not take long either. P.K. Subban finally scored from the point for the first time this season a minute into the period. 2-1. After several minutes of the Devils knocking on the door, Damon Severson made a power move from the right side. He cut right to the crease and slammed in a shot through Crawford’s legs in his face. 3-1. A couple minutes after that, Will Butcher gets a pass across into the Chicago zone right to John Hayden. Yes, John Hayden. That John Hayden. He had time, space, and he used both to rip a low-to-medium height shot gloveside to the far post past Crawford. Even Hayden scored a goal and it was a beaut. It also sent Crawford to the bench as Robin Lehner replaced him. Did the onslaught stop? No. Even though Sami Vatanen took a holding call from spinning John Quenneville around on defense, the Devils struck for a fifth time. Blake Coleman led a 2-on-1, he fired a shot, Lehner could not grab the rebound, and a crashing Travis Zajac put it home. 5-1.
The Devils scored their second shorty of the season for the first time since somewhere in November. This happened in a period where Subban and Severson scored their first goals since November. This happened in a period where Hayden scored his first goal as a Devil, in his hometown, and for the first time since February 2019. This happened in a period where the Devils took 23 shots total and allowed only 8. This happened in a period where the Devils out-attempted the Blackhawks 30-17 in 5-on-5 play. This happened in a period where 5-on-5 chances were a ridiculous 20-7 in favor of the Devils. This happened in a period where 5-on-5 shots were a commanding 13-5 in favor of the Devils. This happened in ap eriod where the 5-on-5 high danger chances were a mind-boggling 11-0 in favor fo the Devils. Mackenzie Blackwood went from having plenty of work to do in the first period to having a rather easy second period. The Devils cut down on their penalties and managed to make it a net positive anyway. It was a marvelous second period.
Up 5-1, all I was hoping for was the Devils to keep it simple, keep it easy, and do not do anything dumb. They went out there and ensured the win. It only took Blake Coleman 18 seconds to make the United Center give the home team a chorus of disapproval. He went around Duncan Keith and he beat Lehner on a shot while falling down to make it 6-1. There would be no sniff of a comeback. Chicago out-penalized the Devils and, for a change, it did not matter if the power play would work. Zach Smith tried to get a breakaway only for Vatanen to catch him and deny him a chance to even shoot. Despite Mirco Mueller taking a second bad penalty for a bad hit, the Devils just kept the Blackhawks from doing anything on the power play - as they have been all night long. The Devils never held back or sat back; they still out-shot Chicago with the ongoing rout. Pavel Zacha ended his own epic goalless drought when Nikita Gusev found him trailing a 3-on-2 rush up ice and Zacha slammed home a wrister past Lehner. It was not as great of a period as the second, but that was only because the second was just so, so, so good. It was an A period to the second period’s A+.
I know this game may not mean much in the bigger picture. The Devils still entrenched in 30th place out of 31 teams in the NHL. It was still so much fun to watch the Devils score as many goals in Chicago tonight as they did in their three games combined last week. It was a relief to see Hughes, Subban, Severson, Hayden, and Zacha all finally find the back of the net. It was such a good game, even the guys who ended up pointless were standouts. Even Mueller with his two bad penalties did his job well on defense. I am taking this game and this performance as a gift. I happily accept this gift of a goal explosion. This goal explosion that happened in the Windy City was a gift for all of you - the People Who Matter. The blowout victory tonight is a wonderful gift amid a season full of coal in various stockings. If only I could send it a Thank You card.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Second City Hockey, Matt Lucas has this recap that says it all in the headline: “Blackhawks get dominated by Devils in 7-1 loss.” I love it.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, this is a great highlight video. Marvel at the dazzling array of goals by the New Jersey Devils. Pick your favorite and let me know in the comments. There are seven of them to choose from!
OK, Let’s Get the Criticisms Out of the Way: The only big negatives from this one was the attention to detail on defense in the first period and the fact that the Devils had to kill seven shorthanded situations. If you have watched pretty much any other Devils game this season, then you know all too well what I mean by that first criticism. The skaters were not helping each other enough whether it was when Kampf looked like a star for a shift and Smith scored, or when Kane and Toews were slicing and dicing. The good news is that unlike most games this season, the Devils cleaned it up in large part to their offensive effectiveness.
The second criticism is obvious. Too many penalties. Ten total with seven to kill. Against a team, like, say, Toronto, having to kill seven penalties would be a bad thing. I understand that Daneyko gushed about how physical and nasty the Devils played in the game. I think they cross the proverbial line too much and deserved plenty of those calls. Again, Mueller’s penalties were bad ones to take. Pavel Zacha throwing an elbow as he won a puck on offense was not a good one to take. Even the first one was bad; a high sticking penalty right off an offensive zone faceoff by Jesper Boqvist on his brother, Adam Boqvist. I’m fine with intensity, I’m not fine with being shorthanded from it. Tonight, the Devils’ penalty kill was utterly fantastic (and Alex DeBrincat had hands of stone tonight) so it was not costly (one post hit by Toews aside).
Now that is out of the way, let’s get to some praise!
Five on Five Forces: Only five players yielded the Devils being out-shot when they were on the ice in five-on-five play tonight. They were: Wayne Simmonds, Jack Hughes, John Hayden, Will Butcher, and Sami Vatanen. Even all of that was mitigated by what they contributed. Hughes drew two penalties and scored a sweet equalizer. Plus, when Simmonds and Hughes were on the ice, the Devils put up 11 shots - the negative differential was just -3. Hayden scored a goal, which is fantastic in of itself. Plus, the Devils were only out-shot 3-4 when he was out there. Butcher and Vatanen both picked up assists and while they may have been New Jersey’s weakest pairing tonight, they did come through with some interventions to ensure Chicago would not have much of a chance. Those are downsides of the 5-on-5 performances, and I can credibly say they all played well.
The dominant line in 5-on-5 tonight was Coleman-Zajac-Gusev. They crushed their matchup. Zajac put in a shorty and had an assist, Coleman tacked on a highlight-reel worthy sixth goal plus an assist, and Gusev had three assists. The trio combined for eight of the team’s 44 shots on net and posted CF%s and SF%s well above 50%. Coleman in particular was a nightmare for Chicago as when he was on the ice, the Devils took over 80% of the attempts and shots%.
The dominant pairing is a toss-up between Andy Greene with Subban and Severson with Mueller. Seriously, the Devils crushed it in 5-on-5 with either defenseman. Greene and Severson were fantastic on the penalty kill with over 7 minutes served on it. Subban was back to blasting the puck away with five shots out of eight attempts; he improved greatly after that first period. Mueller took the two bad penalties but he also took care of business in general. I’ve been critical of him recently; he legitimately played a very good defensive game tonight. If only Miles Wood finished a couple of shots, he could have been on the scoresheet too. It is rare that the Devils have one great defense pairing in 5-on-5 in a game this season. They had two tonight.
The Big Shooters: Subban was not the only one putting up a five-spot or more in shots. The Big Deal, Jack Hughes, asserted his skillset and put up five good shots on net tonight. Kyle Palmieri was almost an afterthought amid all of the scoring but he put up five shots and came close to scoring too. Miles Wood led the way with six and he was robbed a couple of times. His last shot - the last shot of the game - trickled through Lehner and the puck just stayed in the crease for a second. I wished for a Devil to poke it home because Wood deserved at least a point for his game tonight. No penalties, no stupid shots from terrible angles, and a lot of positive energy. Alas, it is what it is. Still, these four players represented 21 of the team’s 44 shots and it is always a good thing to see multiple guys fire away at a defense that has been giving up a ton this season.
Penalty Kill Dominance: Again, I cannot stress enough how well the penalty kill was tonight. Chicago could have buried the Devils early with four power plays in the first period. Chicago could have found a way back into the game amid the second period goal explosion. Toews did hit a post. But no. The Devils just kept Chicago to a relative minimum. Even with a short 5-on-3 with possession for 17 seconds, the Devils kept the Blackhawks to just eight shots out of seven situations. The Devils drew a penalty to end one kill early and Zajac scored a shorthanded goal so it was a +1. Again, Greene and Severson played a ton in these shorthanded situations and it went well. The rotating crew of Coleman, Zajac, Hischier, and Zacha were very effective at forward. Coleman and Zajac played over six minutes each while Hischier and Zacha had over four. When the situation called for Vatanen or Subban to play a couple minutes, they did and they handled it. Again, I do not want to see the Devils kill seven shorthanded situations in a game anytime soon. But they were imppecable tonight.
Great Goaltending: Blackwood was great in the first period. Even when a couple plays broke down and DeBrincat would get a good shot off or Toews or Kane would try and do something or Eric Gustaffson had a wide open space down the middle during a power play, Blackwood held true. He reflexes and reactions were on point. His rebounds were not problematic and the Devils skaters would do a lot of clean up work off blocks, bad Chicago passes, and those rebounds. He made himself big when he had to be and he was. Chicago did manage to put up 33 shots themselves. While most of them were not so dangerous as the game went on, Blackwood still made the saves. Smith’s wraparound was not his fault and that would be the only time he conceded a score. He performed very well and that should not be ignored in a game like this one.
Bad News: There was another downside in this game. Both Jesper Boqvist and Adam Boqvist were in the lineups for their respective teams. It was the first time the two brothers faced off in the NHL. It did not last long. Adam was hurt early in the game and at about the same time, Jesper also left the game and did not return. Since Adam is a defenseman and Chicago’s blueline has been ripped apart regularly this season, his absence had a larger impact. Jesper was put on a top line to see if he could hang with Hischier and Palmieri with their matchups. That would have to wait for another time. Players getting hurt is always a bad thing and I hope both are not going to be out for a long time.
By the Way: John Quenneville played tonight. I figure I should mention that. He drew that one penalty. So there was that.
One Last Thought: This game in a word: WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Your Take: The Devils blew out Chicago in their own building. They set off a goal explosion in the second period and added to it for a very fine looking final score of 7-1. I had a ball watching this one. I enjoyed writing about a big win for a change. What was your take on this game? Did you love it as well? Do you accept it as a holiday gift from the team? Which of the seven goals was your favorite? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
Thank you all for reading. On the behalf of everyone at All About the Jersey, I wish you all happy holidays. Do keep checking in with us. We will have posts through NHL’s three-day break.