For everyone who opted to sleep through last nights game: You’re going to want to watch the Encore on this one. Feel free to start at the third period though, because if you watch the second you might just go back to sleep.
The Devils have been on an emotional roller coaster of a road trip, and decided not to make this game any easier on the fans. The Devils controlled the start of the game, outchancing the Canucks 6-1 in the opening five minutes and holding the home team to zero shots until six minutes in. Likely Calder-runaway Elias Pettersson decided to lend a hand by taking a rare penalty — Pettersson takes less and draws more penalties than any other player on the Canucks by a wide margin, and this was just his fourth penalty of the season. The Canucks 14th ranked penalty kill was able to shut down the Devils power play without allowing a goal, but not without a casualty. Kyle Palmieri’s slap shot was blocked by Chris Tanev, who promptly limped off the ice and did not return to the game. Tanev played just 2 minutes of ice time before leaving his team to play with five defensemen the rest of the game. The Devils, not wanting to let the Canucks have all the fun in the timeout box, decided to take two more of their own, with Blake Pietila going off almost immediately after his time on the PP2 line for cross-checking, and Kurtis Gabriel following it up a few minutes later with a holding call. Kevin Rooney and Joey Anderson, rotating back and forth between PK1 and PK2 with Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman, took the second penalty as an opportunity (who needs three forwards anyway, that extra man just gets in the way right?) and combined for yet another Devils shorthanded scoring chance. The Devils penalty kill, ranked fourth in the league, actually outchanced and outshot Vancouver’s 28th ranked power play through the first period.
Second period consisted mostly of a lot of lead balloon ping pong—not a lot going on. The Canucks opened up with a rush attempt off a few bad bounces in the neutral zone but Mackenzie Blackwood and Andy Greene were both positionally sound and each made a save in the crease. Less than three minutes into the period, Drew Stafford gets called for tripping while playing the puck on the boards (soft calls tonight but I guess the referees felt Vancouver’s PP could use some practice) and this time, the penalty kill misses its mark. The Devils PKers seemed to get a little too comfortable in the face of Vancouver’s usually stagnant play on the man advantage which led to a turnover in the neutral zone. Elias Pettersson, one of the best shooters in the league with a 22.13% shooting percentage and 27 goals on the season snipes the top shelf over Blackwood’s left shoulder for the first goal of the game. The Devils responded with a few good chances immediately after, including a Kyle Palmieri behind-the-net strip to a pass for Kenny Agostino in the slot who couldn’t get the shot off, but failed to answer for the goal and put just four shots on Jacob Markstrom in the period. The Canucks tilted the ice a bit after the Devils ran most of the first half of the game, but the Devils hung on and finished the second period still down 1-0.
After an incredibly painful Tuesday night game against Calgary, the third period this time around would be huge for Mackenzie Blackwood, and man, did it not start off pretty. Blackwood put up a poster-boy performance for “Put Pucks on Net” by playing and ultimately deflecting what was going to be a wide shot by Tanner Pearson directly into his own net. The Devils, eager to respond and try not to sacrifice Blackwood to the hockey Gods again—this time for his own mistakes— come out a little too hard and Gabriel takes a boarding penalty against Brock Boeser. Given the Devils PK strengths this season and Vancouver’s generally useless power play, maybe Hynes just tells Gabriel to go take a penalty so we can gain some momentum back in the game. Whatever the reason, Gabriel goes to the box, and Blake Coleman puts on a penalty kill performance with yet another shorthanded chance—this time a breakaway, just shut down by Markstrom. Back the other way and this time Blackwood is the one forced to make a big save, which he does. Out of the box, Kurtis Gabriel, who apparently has better hands than I’ve given him credit for in the past, is able to pick up the puck in the neutral zone, carry it over the blue line with McCleod rushing with him, cut around the defenseman, move in for open ice, and take a shot on net. The momentum swings the other way and on the next play, Kenny Agostino moves in and takes a wrist shot from the point that finds Kevin Rooney right where he should be to clean up the rebound with a slick little backhand. Rooney breaks the ice by cutting the Canucks lead in half and the floodgates opened for the Devils. Vancouver had a few more good sequences and Blackwood was forced to make some saves, get body checked by Andy Greene and Tanner Pearson in one swoop, and generally keep the Devils in the game, but the Devils started to turn the game and eventually took over the flow of the period. Connor Carrick does his part several times, including toe-dragging around a defenseman to put a shot on net from the half wall. On the next shift, Carrick would carry the puck in and through half the Canucks and find Eric Tangradi driving wide, who decided to show the Canucks how a drop pass is actually supposed to look and dropped a quick no-look pass to Will Butcher. Butcher tries to bury it from the point where its stopped by Markstrom, but Tangradi got a hold of the rebound and passed it to Stefan Noesen for the tying goal. The official assists went to Tangradi and Butcher, but I’ll give an unofficial one to Carrick for being in the perfect position just off the side of the crease and tying up the defenseman to leave Noesen wide open. Noesen, who surpassed his season-high four shots with five in the first period alone, decided he wanted to try for more and minutes later stripped the puck from a Canuck on the boards in the neutral zone, carries in and makes a beauty of a backhand pass to a streaking Travis Zajac down the middle, but Markstrom made the save to deny him the game-winner.
Careful, smart hockey can get you through 5 on 5 and most of regulation in one piece, but its not how you play 3 on 3 overtime hockey. OT is not the ideal situation for the current Devils lineup, but to OT we went anyway. Zajac, Coleman, and Severson would start off—Zajac wipes out on the boards but manages to keep the puck somehow to continue the play. A clear by Vancouver and Blackwood nearly ended the game early in OT as he was nearly stripped by Bo Horvat behind the net, but managed to hold onto the puck. The next wave of Palmieri, Rooney, and Butcher come on and rush for the offensive zone, but find the same problem as Zajac as Palmieri wipes out with the puck. Rooney doesn’t want Palmieri to be embarrassed to he falls over too, which lets Pettersson take control of the puck. Butcher does well to keep him out of the zone and force a retreat, and Rooney would strip the puck from Edler on their second try. Pietila, Agostino, and Connor Carrick come on for wave number three and Agostino gets a great chance on a Mats Zuccarello-esque wraparound but Edler decided to bodycheck the net and play is stopped. Carrick and Pietila found some chemistry and fed each other for a couple solid chances right in front of Markstrom, but Markstrom says no. The Canucks would proceed to miss the chance to win it with poor puck movement on a 2 on 1 and then a 3 on 1, and the game goes to a shootout.
If OT isn’t where we want to be in the NHL with a minor-league lineup and your biggest starts missing, a shootout reeaally isn’t. One plus from the Devil’s last shootout is that the Devils had enough players back in the lineup this time around to actually guess at who might shoot—in Columbus, we were missing so many players that MSG wasn’t even able to pull three experienced shootout players to highlight.
Round 1: Elias Pettersson puts on an absolute shootout clinic with a gorgeous Forsberg-style one-handed reach past Blackwood’s pads to put the Canucks up on the shootout (WATCH IT)
Kyle Palmieri goes for the backhand, but Markstrom gets the pad over in time.
Round 2: Brock Boeser goes for the wrist shot, hits iron but not the net
Drew Stafford, the Devils resident shootout specialist, goes Serpentine Stafford and moves in on Markstrom then puts his own snap shot off the post and in to tie things up
Round 3: Tanner Pearson also goes for the wrist shot off the blocker side and again hits post for the Canucks fourth ding of the game, but we’re playing hockey not horseshoes so fortunately it doesn’t count.
Blake Coleman goes for the fancy footwork deke against Markstrom and it almost works—Markstrom goes down and Coleman has him beat but can’t get the puck off his stick and shanks it wide
Round 4: Alex Edler can’t get any room from Blackwood, goes for a shot but sends it wide
Kenny Agostino with a beautiful half-Kucherov fake—he lets the puck slide for a moment then dekes to his backhand and again Markstrom is beat but gets the out and Agostino taps the pipe
Round 5: Bo Horvat goes for the backhand but is snuffed out by Blackwood
Stefan Noesen tries to follow up his game-tying goal with a game winner, goes for the wrist shot glove side but is stopped by Markstrom
Round 6: Nikolay Goldobin goes for the deke but can’t hold onto the puck and barely manages to get a shot off before the goal line
Travis Zajac stickhandles down the center of the ice, beats Markstrom with a slight fake to the forehand and goes backhand but somehow Markstrom again gets the legs out and saves it
Round 7: Markus Granlund goes for the backhand but gets nowhere
Damon Severson tries some fancy footwork of his own and actually falls over but not before Markstrom bites and drops for it and Severson, mid-fall, roofs the winner
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Nucks Misconduct for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Joey Anderson: he hasn’t had the greatest season, but after a long absence due to injury I’m calling it William Nylander syndrome and hoping he’ll be better next year. He put flashes of what he can do up in the first period of this game, with an excellent sequence from zone entry to out-deking the defense, shooting, and picking up his own rebound for a second shot attempt. It may well have been the only shot his line had the entire game though, as his line with Stafford and Pietila was out-chanced 8-2 on the night.
Stefan Noesen: a goal, a shootout attempt, a season-high in shots and Noesen is back on the radar, reminding everyone why we picked him off waivers in the first place and how good the Devils favorite boy-band Travis and the Texans does when they’re on a line together.
Kevin Rooney: to quote Ken Daneyko on most of Rooney’s play in the last few games, “OH BOY”. Rooney’s shown his potential since he was brought up but has really turned it on in the last month. Rooney finished the night with a goal, 3 shots, 3 scoring chances, 2 HDCF, 2 hits, and a 7 for 14 night in the faceoff circle. Whether its offensive chances and holding the zone, neutral zone trap-style plays and stripping the likes of Edler or Jonny Gaudreau the other night, sound positioning and hard backchecking on defense, or grounding one of the best penalty kills in the league, Rooney’s been doing it all for the Devils. He’s now scored 6 goals for 10 points in 31 games. I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing how he’ll handle himself in a healthier line-up—his point production has increased certainly as his confidence grows, but also with changes to his linemates. We saw how much pulling Miles Wood from the fourth line with Brian Boyle and putting him with Coleman and Zajac did for his game. Can pulling Rooney away from the bottom six and giving him support from players like Palmieri or possibly Miles Wood when he returns do the same?
Chemistry on Ice:
Kenny Agostino and Kyle Palmieri: Agostino has shown some pretty good chemistry with just about every veteran player hes skated with since being claimed off waivers. His ability to read where the play is going to be and put himself there for the pass is a huge asset — Shero may have pulled another diamond from the rough with this move.
Connor Carrick and Will Butcher: Will Butcher is an excellent puck-moving defenseman. He’s got good ice vision and can make great plays when quarterbacking the rush or the power play. Ben Lovejoy was a good partner for him in a kind of opposites-attract way; Lovejoy could stay back and handle any rush attempts created by Butcher’s puck-handling ways. Connor Carrick, on the other hand, is looking like a whole different kind of complement to Butcher’s style—another highly capable puck-moving defenseman. Carrick and Butcher together are both solid in the defensive zone but really shine when the play moves to the offensive zone— while they make plays and sometimes carry the puck or jump in low, their timing is smart and has seemed to do a good job of enhancing the scoring chances rather than simply replacing a forward with a defenseman.
Comeback kid: The Devils asked a lot of Blackwood this week, letting him face the firing squad against Calgary for a 9 goal night on Tuesday. The most confident person in the world would be shaken by that third period, and a rookie goaltender is no exception. He did play well, making key saves and playing mostly his usual style in net, but I’d expect nothing less; confident or not, Mackenzie Blackwood is a good goalie. However, he definitely played with a bit more edge than usual— the usually calm and cool saves even under pressure involved more scrambling for the puck, plays outside the net were a bit sloppier as he scored on himself and nearly gave the puck away in overtime, a few saves were reaches he stepped far away from his usual positioning to make on poor angles anyway. When a goalie looks in the back of the net when scrambling for a save, the confidence isn’t there, and Blackwood did it way more than a few times. Hopefully the win and 6 straight shootout saves will push him back into his usual level of confidence in his play.
One final note... After that play I mentioned in the third period where Gabriel cut to the center and made a good play on net, he never stepped on the ice again. He was on the bench during the shootout, so I’m assuming he wasn’t injured. Benched? Benched for penalties or benched because Noesen was having such a good game it made sense to double shift him somewhere?
Your take: Was Mackenzie Blackwood playing scared? Has Rooney turned himself into an NHL player? How many more rounds into that shootout before Schneider went out as a shooter?
Thanks to Devin for previewing the game, and thanks for reading!