By the end of regulation, it looked like it was going to be a familiar tale for the New Jersey Devils fans. The Devils were up 3-2 going into the third period against the Ottawa Senators. Unlike many games this season, the Devils played well in the third period. They did not get bodied. They did get bossed around. They took more initiative to try to extend their lead. But it happened once again: the lead was lost. The Devils had to go to overtime, a period where they are 2-6 for the season - another sore spot in a 2019-20 campaign filled with them. Then something brilliant happened: Jack Hughes became the hero of the night.
The overtime period looked to be frustrating early on as Kyle Palmieri mis-received the puck on two passes to him, which gave Ottawa possession. Sami Vatanen took a puck away by Thomas Chabot - the man who scored tonight’s third period dagger against the Devils. Colin White broke his stick. Palmieri would collect this puck, box out White, and saw Hughes with no Senator in front of him. Palmieri led him with a great pass and everything was left up to Hughes. He skated in, stayed ahead of Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s not-so-strong backcheck, went to his backhand, and sent the puck to the top corner of the net past Craig Anderson. It was a beautiful breakaway goal by The Big Deal.
It will be on the highlight reel for the Devils. It should be on the highlight reel for the NHL. It gave the Devils a win in their final road game in 2019. It gave the Devils a win in their final road game of the decade. It is glorious.
What makes me happy about the goal, other than that Hughes scored a gorgeous first-ever overtime winning goal, was that it gave the Devils the win. They played a very good game in Ottawa. They really did. While they were out-scored in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted Ottawa 52-40. That is not common from the Devils. They out-shot them 22-19 and were only out-shot by one in the second period alone. Had the Devils been more accurate and fortunate on their attempts, they would have put even more than the 34 total shots they did put on Anderson and possibly score more than the four this evening. The Devils were able to get the Senators on their heels for several shifts at a time and really keep them from buzzing around a lot in New Jersey’s end. Even in the third period and down a goal, the Devils were largely in control. After a game against Toronto where the Devils seemingly forgot the fundamentals of defense, the forwards backchecked hard, the defensemen largely kept it simple, and they gave Blackwood plenty of help and breathing room with offensive shifts.
What also gave the Devils a lift that they have not had enough from this season were the special teams. Yes, the Devils’ penalty kill has some great on-ice rates. But they kept Ottawa to very little on their power plays. Only a fraction of their four shots over six minutes of power play time really threatened Mackenzie Blackwood and he robbed Artem Anisimov on the one he did. In contrast, the Devils had two shorthanded shots and skied a rebound try. The PK came close to matching the Ottawa PP shot-for-shot. While the Devils’ penalty kill doing well is not usually news, the power play doing well absolutely is. The Devils put up nine shots on Anderson and scored two power play goals. The first was a deflection in front by Nico Hischier on a long shot from Sami Vatanen. The second was a 5-on-3 goal by Nikita Gusev from a tight angle to Anderson’s right. In general, the power play did well to not only make Anderson work but also keep pucks in the zone to make it possible to have as many attempts and shots that they did have. Based on how the scoring worked out, the Devils’ power play succeeding twice was an important part of tonight’s result. As a whole, the Devils won the special teams battle.
So why did this game need to go to overtime? You could say the Devils remained unfortunate. Those three goals against came from two mistakes and a bad bounce against. Blackwood only got a piece of a weak shot by Nick Paul on a 2-on-1 and the puck popped up and back into the net. Blackwood made some great saves tonight but that one was definitely a goal he would have wanted back. Later in the second, Andreas Englund gets a shot from distance on Blackwood and Anisimov batted the puck towards the net in mid-air after the save. The puck went to the right post and then went off the back of Blackwood’s skate and into the net. That was the bad bounce. The third goal came late-ish in the third period. Damon Severson, who otherwise had a good game, backhanded a puck away on a clearing attempt. He did not get enough on it and no Devil was near by to help it along. Pageau collected it, sent it across to Chabot at the blueline, and Chabot took a long one-timer that found its way through traffic and in. After a game where the Devils’ defense was abysmal and did not get blown out from them, a somewhat soft clearing attempt ended up wiping away the third period lead. Even then, it required a lot of fortune for Chabot’s shot to get through to the net nevermind get in it. It was not a big error but it was an error by Severson. That is how the Devils returned to the familiar territory of losing a lead in the third period.
Fortunately for Severson and Blackwood (again, they both otherwise played very well) and Devils fans all over the world, the overtime period was not a nightmare. Vatanen, who had a good night of his own, came up big. Palmieri made up for the missed passes by making a great one to Hughes. The Big Deal went top cheese in Ottawa to take it. It was a heroic moment in a season with few of them and in a game where the Devils really did enough to take the game. I cannot speak for all of the People Who Matter, but it makes this Devils fan smile a lot about tonight’s victory.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Silver Seven later for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Another Reason How the Devils were Superior at Special Teams Tonight: Per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils out-attempted Ottawa 52-40 in 5-on-5 play. When you look at all situations - which includes power plays, penalty kills, and overtime - the Devils out-attempted Ottawa 74-48. Seriously. The Devils’ special teams combined for 18 attempts. Ottawa just had eight. No, I do not know how the scorer in Ottawa counted two for New Jersey in overtime. But that really shows who was trying to make more things happen on the rink tonight.
A Great Example of Accuracy Needing Some Work: A lot of the Devils’ shooting attempts were blocked, deflected wide, or just plain missed. The best representation of this is to look at the players’ 5-on-5 numbers for the Devils at Natural Stat Trick. When Blake Coleman was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted Ottawa 15-9. That is dominant. The shots were only 4-3 in favor of New Jersey. That is not. Tonight could have went a lot worse for Anderson and the Senators had the Devils send more pucks past bodies and sticks to put them on target. While you can credit Ottawa for getting in the way, there were plenty of shifts where they were stuck in their own end because the Devils were able to recover the blocked, deflected, and missed attempts. Similar to how the Devils have defended for most of this season. I’ll take this because the effort by Coleman (and Bratt and Simmonds and Gusev and Zajac and others) helped tilt the ice and make the game easier for Blackwood and New Jersey than it has been on most nights.
The Loft: The Devils were able to get a couple of opportunities by lofting the puck into the Senators zone or into the neutral zone with the intent of a Devil trying to get ahead of the Senators defense. This worked out twice. Gusev was able to do it for a one-on-one - he was stopped with a good save by Anderson. Wayne Simmonds did one in the second period for Miles Wood. Wood went through Cody Goloubof and just powered the puck past Wood for a rare breakaway goal by Wood. It was also crucial at the time as it put the Devils up 3-2. The loft was able to get a couple of clearances that allowed the Devils to recover and then make a better stop either in the neutral zone, at their blueline, or when forced to play back. I do not know if I would want to see it often but it worked particularly well tonight, with the peak being a the goal scored by Wood.
Ice Up, Young Man: Jesper Boqvist had a rough first period in that he was hammered twice. First, Englund lowered the boom on him after a puck went past the two. This was going to be an interference penalty and the Devils’ first power play. But John Hayden threw down with Englund. As Englund received his minor and a fighting major, Hayden took an instigation minor on top of a fighting major and a ten-minute misconduct penalty. Boqvist would end up OK. Second, later in the first period, Scott Sabourin cross checked him down in front of Blackwood. It was a hard one and the referee immediately called it. The Devils’ fourth line was not particularly effective this evening. But I feel bad for Boqvist’s body because he could be feeling both hits.
The Returns of Zacha and Carrick: Pavel Zacha was held out of the Toronto game as a game-time decision. He returned to the lineup tonight, centering the fourth line with Boqvist and Hayden. That line did not do well and Zacha was anonymous. On the penalty kill, Zacha was great. He was fine on the power play too. Hopefully, Tuesday’s game will be a better one for him in 5-on-5 - even though it is against Boston.
Connor Carrick returned to the lineup as well. Will Butcher was limited in last Friday’s game due to an apparent injury. He did not make the trip to Ottawa so Carrick drew in. He did not do or play much. In his 10:03 of ice time, he had a couple of decent backchecks and he took a delay of game penalty in the second period that he did not really need to take. He only played in 2:17 of the third period and more and more shifts featured Mueller reuniting with Severson down the stretch of regulation. While I did not like the penalty, I thought he had a decent game on his own. The run of play was better with Carrick than it was with his common partner of Mueller. Alas, the coaching staff does not appear to trust him in close games on the road. Maybe that will change in the future. Of course, when Butcher returns, then he may go back to being in a suit instead of a Devils uniform.
Strong Man Hischier: Nico Hischier was looking strong all night long against Ottawa. Puck battles? He went in and won many of them. Setting up in the slot or at the crease? He never showed fear there before but he seemed tougher to move tonight. Defenders in his way? If he could not go around them, he would fight through them and find a way to succeed. They were not as productive as they were against Toronto, but Hischier pushed his line forward this evening and played a very good game overall.
The only way Hischier could be taken down this evening was illegally. Near the end of regulation, it looked like Hischier had an angle to the net as he came in from the left side. Mark Borowiecki slid toward him and took out his legs, causing Hischier to crash into the net. It was a scary sight. I cannot believe even now that a penalty was not given to Borowiecki. Hischier would end up being OK - he got up and skated on his own - and did play a shift in overtime. The man is too strong to keep down for long.
Oops: The Devils took their second too many men ice penalty in as many games. At least this one happened after a power play ended instead of during it. As Subban was coming off, a Devil jumped on the ice early, saw a loose puck, and knocked it away. Subban was not fully off, so it meant six were on the ice. Maybe they would have got away with it if the Devil did not touch the puck, much less fling it away from New Jersey’s blueline. Alas, they were caught. I am now not sure which Devil it was exactly that touched it, but it was one of the few careless errors the Devils had tonight. Fortunately, the PK came up big.
Quietly Great: The pairing of Andy Greene and P.K. Subban quietly had one of their best games in a while. When they were the ice, the Devils were often on the attack. Subban and Greene were very good at defending against the Senators, handling and moving pucks in their own zone, and helped the Devils win the 5-on-5 matchups against some of Ottawa’s best (and flat out dominated the Erik Brannstrom and Mark Borowiecki pairing). They took no penalties. Greene hammered the post on a shot from the right point in the third period. Subban was very good at distributing the puck in 5-on-5 and power play situations. Tonight, they had the performance that more than justified their pairing and how they are used. They made no mistakes that cost the team; they were on the ice for two goals against but neither was either of their fault. Tonight was a great game for both players.
One Last Thought: The MSG Broadcast announced the Devils will have their food drive on January 7 and 12. You now need to bring four items to receive a voucher for two tickets to an upcoming game. The organization has clearly picked up on how the fans participated to rack up free tickets over past years. Keep that in mind as you prepare for those dates.
Your Take: The Devils won their last road game of 2019 and the decade with a wonderful and highlight-reel worthy goal by The Big Deal. I am pleased by it and their on-ice performance overall. I thought it was well-deserved. What is your take on tonight’s win? What (or who) did you like the most and least about the win? What should the Devils learn from this one ahead of their year-ending home game against Boston on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight’s game in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.