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Devils Battle but Can’t Hold the Lead, Fall 5-2 to the Blackhawks

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It wasn’t the prettiest game ever played, and the Devils again managed to give up a two goal lead to lose the game to the Blackhawks, BUT... compared to Monday night against the Blues, it was the hockey equivalent of the Mona Lisa.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Chicago Blackhawks Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

For the 7th time this season, the Devils would give up a two-goal lead to lose the game.

First Period Force The Devils started off strong, with Cory Schneider coming in hot on a few big saves at the beginning of the first period. The Devils strong penalty kill would be put to the test early in the first period as Nico Hischier the Innocent is called for just his fourth penalty of the season. Schneider and the PK unit made it through the Blackhawks red hot power play, ranked number one in the NHL since the start of 2019 with over 37% efficiency. The fourth line, a little different tonight with Drew Stafford rounding out the line on the right wing instead of Kurtis Gabriel, made its presence known on the ice minutes into the first period with Brett Seney feeding a smartly trailing Damon Severson for the first goal of the game. The all-rookie second line of Bratt, Hischier, and Anderson had some excellent chances right after but were turned away by the Blackhawks netminder Cam Ward. Bratt and the rest of Kids ‘R’ Us had some good looks through the rest of the first period and some excellent effort on the forecheck but were unable to find the back of the net. A cross-check by Brent Seabrook on Kyle Palmieri lead to the Devils first power play, which appeared to be the Mojo and Bratt show as they played some tape to tape back and forth at the side of the net before Marcus Johansson found an open Travis Zajac in the slot, who buried a one timer past Ward. The two goal lead wouldn’t survive to intermission unfortunately, as the always dangerous Patrick Kane would wander into the high slot with the puck on a delayed penalty call and bury a wrist shot past Schneider for the Blackhawks first goal of the game. The goal also extended Kane’s point streak to 16 games in a row, breaking a franchise record for Chicago.

Second Period Slump The Devils arguably out-played Chicago during the first period, but the second period was all Blackhawks and they outshot the Devils 15-10. Drake Cagguila picked off a poor breakout attempt by the Devils and scored just 20 seconds into the second period to tie the game at two. The Devils would kill another penalty after Zajac took a hooking call on the next Blackhawks rush attempt. Schneider managed to hold the Devils in the tie game despite more lapses from both the Devils defense and the officiating, who watched Schneider make an excellent save and then forced him to make another as he was assaulted by Blackhawks players without a whistle. Good play from Severson helped prevent a goal there, and he did have some good defensive plays throughout the game including forcing a streaking Patrick Kane to turn tail at the blue line with the puck, but even that couldn’t silence the “Wizard” of Chicago, as repeatedly dubbed by Ken Daneyko, from chipping the puck to Slader Koekkoek. Koekkoek would feed a wide open Jonathon Toews across the ice for a shot on a wide open net that no one could blame Cory Schneider for not getting. The Devils much rustier second period was capped off with an awkward hit to Brett Seney behind Schneider’s net that left him down on the ice. Down a forward in their zone and under siege, Kevin Rooney attempted to clear the puck and ended up finishing off the second with the penalty after he cleared the puck over the glass and earned a delay of game for his efforts.

Third Period Tragedy The Devils came out much stronger in the third period, with multiple good looks in the opening minutes by the Kids Bop line. A good effort at the side of the net by Jesper Bratt even warranted a second look from the referees, but the overhead look couldn’t find the puck and no goal was called. Ward’s mask came off twice in as many chances right after, a conveniently unfortunate series of events for the Devils despite a few more good looks and some excellent offensive pressure. The Devils power play had another chance early in the third after a hooking call from Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy on Marcus Johansson, but they weren’t able to capitalize on that one. The Devils proceeded to outshoot and outchance the Blackhawks in the first half of the third, but the Devils simply could not outrun their defensive demons and Anisimov picked off yet another incomplete breakout attempt and a juicy rebound to put a fourth goal past Schneider, opening the scoring to 4-2. A shorthanded goal from what has usually been the worst penalty killing team in the NHL by Brandon Saad would seal the deal on the Devils loss, eliminating the chance of a win yet again for Cory Schneider despite some solid play from the win-less goaltender.

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

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Second City Hockey for their take on tonight’s game.

The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:

The Kids are Alright Though their efforts weren’t reflected on the scoresheets, the Bratt-Hischier-Anderson line had some excellent looks and played well most of the night, with Bratt especially showing he is finding himself as a player despite the Devils struggles this season. Hischier continued to demonstrate his on-ice smarts, making good strong plays, winning 49% of his faceoffs and putting up an impressive 7 shots on net, second only to Bratt’s career-high 8 shots. Despite playing on the same line and having a couple good plays of his own, Joey Anderson only managed 2 shots on net, though I’d argue asking the recently rehabbed AHL call-up to compete at the level of Bratt and Hischier is more than a stretch. The Devils first line of Johansson, Zajac, and Palmieri put up a combined 10 shots on net as well including a power play goal, but they simply weren’t anywhere near as effective as the second line of Mites on Ice.

Pavel Zacha didn’t make the score sheet tonight, but he put up a solid effort on both the power play and penalty kill teams. The Agostino-Zacha-Lappin line as a whole, however, was lackluster at best and a plain liability at times, with the three of them earning -2s for the night and leading to a handful of turnovers in their own zone.

The fourth line of Seney, Rooney, and Stafford wasn’t bad —they had some good chances on net, created the first goal of the game, and they were the only positive line of the night. Rooney had a few forechecks that almost created turnovers in Chicago’s zone. On a team half built from AHL players matched up against guys with the resumes of Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews, things went far better for the fourth line than they could have.

The Defense is Definitely Not Alright The Devils breakout continues to be the single worst part of the team’s game, leading to dozens of turnovers and a couple of the Blackhawks goals. A few brief moments emerged over the course of the game where it seemed the Devils remembered what a good breakout does look like. One scoring chance in the second period developed after Mirco Mueller carried the puck out of the defensive zone then made a strong pass to Brett Seney just before he crossed into the Blackhawks zone, which was both the best example of a breakout from this team and the longest I’ve seen Mueller carry the puck all season. Hynes changed up his defense pairings in this game, including sitting Eric Gryba and bringing Steve Santini back into the lineup to play with Will Butcher. Lovejoy moved up to the second pairing with Mueller.

Severson led the team in ice time, which provided 23:43 of confusing decisions for fans to argue over. The defenseman is consistently on the Devils first pairing with Greene and racks up power play and penalty kill time every night as of late. He tends to play strong offensive defense and leads Devils blueliners with 26 points this season. When the puck crosses into the Devils own zone however, Severson’s play dissolves into poor decisions and giveaways. His play on the Blackhawks fifth goal is a perfect example— in a two on one he chose to play the body of the second forward instead of covering the pass and leave Zajac to try to reach Saad and the puck from way behind the play, which obviously didn’t work. Zajac was so far behind him, Saad was able to score on his own rebound.

The Goaltending is Actually Alright Schneider wasn’t able to steal the game for the Devils, he let in five goals on 36 shots including two nasty rebounds for a total save percentage of .861. Considering the chances he faced and the saves he did make, however, I’d say this game is going more towards the ‘Cory’s back’ category in my book.

The Bounces Didn’t Bounce Our Way... but they didn’t bounce Chicago’s way like they did in St. Louis. No one scored on our own goalie with their pants, skate, or any other clothing or appendages. A save off Ward disappeared from view and turned up halfway down the ice as the Blackhawks made a break for it, which Monday would have turned into three goals and two power plays for the Blues but somehow didn’t even end up in the back of the net for Chicago. If nothing else, from that I will assume whatever salt the Devils spilled or mirror they broke over the weekend was only good for seven or eight goals and we’ll now return to losing in ways that at least make sense.

The Takeaway: The Devils young guns continued to shine in their development—Bratt had a career high number of shots, Seney picked up his 12th point of the season, Zacha continued to play to his skills, and Nico Hischier was exactly what we expect from Nico Hischer. Will Butcher and Steve Santini played well together, which bodes well for a future Devils team without Ben Lovejoy on the roster. Schneider played more like old Cory than 2018 Cory, though definitely not perfect. If you’re following the standings, Ottawa lost to the Red Wings so they still sit three points below the Devils in the standings for last place.

Your take: How did you feel about Schneider’s performance tonight? Do you think he’s coming back? Can he make a full comeback at all? At this point in the season, do the individual successes mean anything, or is the loss just another loss? Do you think the changes to the defense signal more trades coming down the pipelines? If so, who’s on the chopping block? Is there anyone on defense you don’t want to see traded? Are any of the recent call-ups really impressing you, or really not doing much?

Thanks to Devin for previewing the game this morning and thanks everyone for reading!