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New Stars Make Their Devils Debut for a Win at Home, Away Squad Falls to Montreal— Preseason Split-Squad Game Recap

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The star-studded Devils home team turns heads and takes names as they defeat the Bruins in overtime at the Rock. In Montreal, the Devils second team of the split-squad game night falls in the waning minutes of regulation.

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NJ Devils split the deck today to open up the preseason with games in both New Jersey against Boston and away in Montreal. The loaded half of the Devils rosters takes the win against Boston in dramatic overtime fashion, which makes up for the B-team roster’s loss against Montreal a few minutes later.

The Rosters:

Boston:

Gusev - Hughes - Wood
Boqvist - Zajac - Bratt
Studenic - Sharangovich - Anderson
Schmeltzer - Maltsev - Clarke
Vatanen - Subban
Greene - Jacobs
Smith - Carrick
Schneider
Senn

Simmonds, originally expected to play on the top line with Hughes and Gusev, was scratched with a lower body injury and listed as day-to-day.
The crew at the Rock was coached by Rick Kowalsky

Montreal:

Coleman - Hischier - Palmieri
Seney - Rooney - Hayden
Gignac - McLeod - Bastian
Baddock - Streets - Speers
Butcher - Severson
White - Tenneyson
Mermis - Mueller
Blackwood
Cormier

The crew in Montreal was coached by Alain Nasreddine

Missing from either lineup is Taylor Hall, who is making his return to game play slowly (and doesn’t need to play in pre-season exhibition games anyway) and Pavel Zacha, who is reportedly sorting out issues with his visa.

The Devils-Bruins game was available on the Devil’s website as a live stream but the Montreal game was unavailable to those in the Devils television market, so the only full play-by-play recap here will be of the Boston game.

The Short and Sweet Montreal Recap:

The Montreal Devils consisted of the far less exciting roster than the home team half, so it was unsurprising when the game gets off to a rough start. Arturri Lehkonen gets things going for the Canadiens just two and a half minutes into the game with a goal on a heavily screened Mackenzie Blackwood. A few minutes later Nate Thompson picks up a heavy rebound off Blackwood’s pads to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead. Montreal would take a penalty to Max Domi for roughing, but successfully killed that penalty. PP1 for the Montreal squad consisted of Hischier, Coleman, Bastian, Severson, and Palmieri. Towards the end of the first period the Devils power play would get a second opportunity on a tripping call to Nick Suzuki. This time the second unit, consisting of Seney Streets, Tennyson, Butcher, and McLeod would make their opportunity count. With just over a minute and a half remaining in the period, Will Butcher would snipe home a high wrist shot from a good cross-ice pass from McLeod.

The second period was apparently all penalties and little action. Colton White would find himself on the wrong end of a breakaway and was forced to take a slashing penalty in his efforts to keep the Canadiens’ Jonathon Drouin from regaining their two goal lead. The Devils started the penalty kill with a lineup of Rooney, Mueller, Mermis, and Tennyson. The second penalty kill unit apparently including Will Butcher blocking an awful lot of shots but that’s all the information I have on that line. The Devils would go on to nearly tie the game up twice in the second period, first on a great pass from Nico Hischier to Blake Coleman who couldn’t get it past Price and then again on an actual goal by Brendan Gignac that would be waived off due to alleged goaltender interference from Nathan Bastian.

Hungry for a tying goal after just missing it several times in the second, the Devils would come out bright and early in the third period and find the back of the net via some form of divine intervention. The Canadiens second goalie Primeau would attempt to play the puck down behind the net, but instead it would find the boards and take an extremely weird bounce directly back towards the crease. A chasing Michael McLeod would find himself a puck on his stick and a wide open net, and the Devils tie the game at 2. The Devils would collect three more power plays in the third period but the go-ahead goal just wouldn’t come. Instead the Canadiens’ Jake Evans would force a turnover from Damon Severson and take a shorthanded breakaway, scoring on Devils backup Evan Cormier and giving the Canadiens a 3-2 lead with just over two and a half to go in regulation. Nasreddine would pull the goalie but instead Nick Cousins would take advantage of the empty net and extend Montreal’s lead to 4-2 in the final minute, sealing the loss for the Devils second squad.

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 Game Highlights:

Back to New Jersey and the Star Studded Devils Debuts:

Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes, PK Subban, and Jesper Boqvist would make their Devils debut tonight, and all four would leave a strong first impression here at the Rock. The first period would open up with a Jack Hughes faceoff win and a PK Subban hit within the first minute of play. Welcome to the new era of NJ Devils hockey, ladies and gentlemen.

The Devils would control the play for the first few minutes then get their first crack at a power play in less than five minutes thanks to a slashing penalty on the Bruins’ Zboril. The first PP unit consisted of Gusecv, Boqvist, Anderson, Subban, and Bratt. Gusev, minding the half-wall position on the PP, made several good passes and generally impressed in his first special teams outing at Prudential. PP2 would consist of Wood, Zajac, Hughes, Smith, and Vatanen, who also had some good looks but couldn’t find the back of the net. A few Devils would make their mark on the physical side of the game as the first period dragged on, including PK Subban laying out a Bruin moving at full speed with seemingly minimal effort, Yegor Sharangovic engaging in a shoving match behind the Bruins net, and Miles Wood tossing a few well-placed hits to separate puck from player.

More slick than strength, Jesper Bratt would come into tonight’s game looking confident on the puck and in his roll on an NHL team. Bratt would nearly score on a slick wraparound backhand try but was denied by the Bruin’s Keyser. Maltsev, another smooth-moving forward who stood out during the prospect tournament in Buffalo last weekend, would get a chance after carrying the puck into the zone himself but just missed a wrist shot wide of the net.

Late in the first period, Jesper Boqvist would get tied up with a Bruin and find himself somehow called for holding, and the Devils would go to their first penalty kill of the season. The kill would start with Maltsev, Anderson, Jacobs, and Schmeltzer, followed up by Bratt, Wood, Subban, and Vatanen. Playing on a line with Blake Coleman last season must have left an impression on Miles Wood, who would pick up the puck and have himself a shorthanded rush but couldn’t get the puck past Keyser, who got his pads closed in time to take away the 5-hole attempt from Wood. Back to full strength, Zajac would cause a turnover and send a high pass to the slot to Jesper Boqvist for an attempted tip that would just miss wide. With only seconds left in the first period, the Bruins would be called for too many men, giving the Devils a minute and 41 seconds of power play time to start the second period.

The second period would not start overly well despite the Devils coming in on the power play. Boqvist would let a pass around the boards from Wood slip directly past him and to the stick of the Bruins defender behind him, who would turn his mistake into a 2 on 1 rush attempt for Boston. Schneider would continue to remain solid in net and stifle the Bruin’s opportunity. PP2 had some good looks in the remaining time, with an opportunity for Wood in the slot and another from Bratt behind the net to Vatanen on the face-off dot who would blast a one-timer so hard he falls over, but Keyser would continue to hold his own in the net as well.

Back at full strength, Ty Smith would find himself on the wrong end of a rare lapse in defensive prowess and end up earning himself a holding penalty. The Devils PK, picking up where they left off last season, would open up with Maltsev taking the puck off the faceoff and racing all the way down the ice for a short-handed shot. Neither team would score but the Devils would create some good offensive opportunities despite being shorthanded. Once out of the box, Smith would link up with Gusev for a great cross-slot pass and shot, but would result in a turnover to the Bruins and a 1 on 1 for Steen versus Carrick. Carrick starts to step in to move Steen to the outside but Steen rips a quick shot that beats Schneider on the far side, and the Bruins would take the first goal of the game and go up 1-0.

The Devils would maintain their composure despite giving up a goal and respond with some good offensive pressure. The defense would tighten up their play after the costly mistake and turn out some slick no-look passes between Carrick and Smith and Jacobs out-muscling a Bruin attempting to play the puck and taking away what could have been a breakaway for Boston. Subban would turn it on and take Lindholm for a walk in the offensive zone, and manages to draw a penalty from him too. The first powerplay unit would see a couple good looks, both from Joey Anderson as he’d come close to scoring on a pass from Gusev in the crease and again on a breakaway. He wouldn’t score, but the good looks would give the Devils some momentum that the second powerplay unit would take advantage of. Sami Vatanen, playing on the left side tonight as he’s paired with Subban, would move in and find Hughes across the slot for a quick snipe, and the rookie would tie the game with his first NHL(ish) goal.

The Bruins opted to change their goalies at the halfway mark of the game, swapping Keyser for Dan Vlader just two minutes before Hughes’ goal. In the waning minutes of the second period, Bratt would take a pass, dance directly through four Bruins players and get a shot off, but moments later find himself collared for an unfortunate trip attempting to play the puck along the boards. The PK units remained solid, and Bratt would make up for his penalty by participating in an absolutely beautiful Hughes —> Gusev —> Bratt play on a 3 on 2, though the shot would be robbed by the long-reached Keyser.

As planned, Corey Schneider would remain on the bench for the third period and Gilles Senn would take the net instead. The top forward chemistry would continue into the third period, with the first face-off starting with a win from Hughes who controls, swings back, drops a pass to Subban who handles it and makes the breakout pass. A quick line change later and Travis Zajac would find the puck on his stick and send it towards the net, where a speeding Bratt finds it and tips it home for the Devils go-ahead goal just under 30 seconds into the third period.

The Bruins would not take kindly to the Devils moving ahead on the scoresheet and pick up the pace a bit early in the third. A forced turnover and some sloppy play in the defensive end by the Devils would lead to a puck finding Wagner just outside the crease, who’d put it past Senn to tie the game back up at 2. Lack of discipline seemed to haunt this Devils roster throughout the beginnings of the third period, and less than a minute after the tying goal Yegor Sharangovich takes a penalty for cross-checking the Bruins’ Brett Ritchie in response to a hard, but clean, hit. The usually effective penalty kill continued the trend of sloppiness here in the third, perfectly illustrated by a trio of Devils slapping at a loose puck in their own crease without any productive contact. Despite the breakdown, the penalty is killed without a goal, and the Devils top line steps back out with the hopes of calming things down and turning the tide back in Jersey’s favor.

Jack Hughes brings out the magic with a mystifying backhand pass from behind the goal line to Gusev at the crease, who can’t quite put it home but that still doesn’t diminish the beauty of the pass itself. Just look at this magical, eyes in the back of his head pass. Unreal.

The referees would appear to swallow their whistles a bit at this point as calls against Zajac, Vatanen and Subban go unnoticed (the Devils may have gotten away with a trip here as well). Finally with 7 minutes to go in regulation they call an interference penalty on Boston for checking a puck-less Miles Wood. Wood is also sent to the box under the guise of an embellishment penalty, which is a load of pucks and shouldn’t be allowed to be called as a coincidental minor but, Bettman isn’t currently taking my calls so the game moves to some 4 on 4 hockey. On the positive side, the poor call wouldn’t hurt the Devils as Connor Carrick would blast a puck to the back of the net off a fake shot and pass from Jesper Bratt, giving the Devils the 3-2 lead.

Hughes would come on for the remainder of the 4 on 4 and enjoy the extra room on the ice, dancing through the zone but found no help and couldn’t make the magic happen again just yet. PK Subban would take his spin on the dance floor and take the puck in circles around the Bruins zone but finds himself stripped at the blueline and gives up a breakaway that would be saved by Senn. The Bruins would keep battling in the Devils zone and pull the goalie, allowing them the 6 on 5 advantage they would use to get traffic in front and a shot past Senn, tying the game with under a minute left to play.

It’s been such a long off-season without Devils hockey, why not a little extra hockey for the first day back? While we’re at it, lets load the overtime roster with the heart attack-inducing line of Hughes, Gusev, and Subban for the best Welcome Back to Hockey present a fan could ask for. The Bruins would control the puck off the drop and circle the ice a bit, but Jack Hughes would move in and strip the puck off the tired Bruins’ stick and carry it into the Bruins zone. Hughes would drop a backhand pass to Gusev and kick on the afterburners to move past the Bruins defender. Gusev would feed the puck back to the now-open Hughes cutting to the front of the net, and Hughes puts it home just 40 seconds into OT for the 4-3 win.

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 Game Highlights (are for some reason missing from NHL.com and their YouTube channel for this game so here’s a clip of Hughes scoring again):

The Split-Squad Standouts

Jack Hughes finished his first game as an NHL Devil with two goals including the game winner in overtime and some beautiful plays throughout the game. While he does have some areas of his game to polish up as he adjusts to the NHL level, including a few turnovers he could have made better plays on and some lackluster defensive pressure in a couple moments, there’s absolutely no doubting our first overall pick is more than ready to be an NHL player and already one of the best on the ice.

Jesper Bratt picked up a goal and an assist and played a strong game that showed his confidence and understanding in his role in an NHL game. Bratt has been more and more impressive each season we’ve seen him in a Devils sweater, and if this game is any indication it looks like we’ve got even more to come from the third year Swede this year.

Nikita Gusev made his Devils debut tonight, which unlike most of our roster additions was the first time most fans have seen him in action, and he did not disappoint. Gusev’s speed and skilled puck control complimented everyone he played with, and the smaller North American ice did not seem to bother the Russian winger at all. First impressions aren’t everything, especially in a game like this, but Gusev more than delivered a good one for his new team tonight.

Ty Smith came into tonight with big expectations and an even bigger challenge in front of him as he seeks to make the Devil’s roster despite the already 7 NHL defensemen on the club. He put up two assists and made some solid plays in all three zones, showing he’s capable of handling the NHL blueline if given the opportunity. Smith and Carrick both playing well, especially together, gives Hynes and Shero a good problem to have as they make roster cuts this preseason.

Sami Vatanen played on his off side next to PK Subban today, a match it seems might stick around as we move toward the regular season. The transition to the left side didn’t seem to bother Vatanen too much as he picked up 2 assists.

Over in Montreal, the unexpected star of the night seems to have been Michael McLeod, who led the team with 2 points — a goal and an assist — and impressed those viewing the away game with smart plays. McLeod, as well as Mikhail Maltsev, seem to be the top dark horses in this preseason’s roster race at this point.

Your take

Who did you think had the biggest game? Who impressed, and who didn’t? If you’re coaching, who are you cutting tomorrow? Who surprised you the most? Anyone you think we’ll be seeing on opening day? Leave your thoughts and comments, and thanks for reading!