The Devils are on their way to making the final roster cuts of the preseason, which means our big guns took a seat tonight while the remaining prospects battled it out for the few open spots on the 23-man roster. Taylor Hall, P.K. Subban, and Sami Vatanen had the night off as did Kyle Palmieri, who just yesterday returned to the ice from his lower body injury, and Pavel Zacha, who’s visa situation is finally resolved and just got his first practice with the team this morning in Boston. The Bruins, on the other hand, are expected to make its second round of cuts tomorrow, which means the majority of their lineup tonight consisted of rookies and prospects.
Boqvist – Hischier – Bratt
Gusev – Hughes – Simmonds
Coleman – McLeod – Bastian
Wood – Rooney – Hayden
Greene – Severson
Smith – Tennyson
Mueller – Carrick
Bjork – Lindholm – Backes
Heinen – Frederic – Kuhlman
Carey – Studnicka – Steen
Fitzgerald – Shen – Senyshyn
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Lauzon – Kampfer
The Devils fourth line starts out the first period, with Kevin Rooney taking the face-off. The Bruins win it, but Rooney makes up by stripping the puck carrying Studnicka. The Bruins take it back and regroup in their own zone but Rooney is there again, this time hitting Studnicka behind the net to free the puck. John Hayden picks it up at the boards but is tripped up by Backes, and the Devils get their first powerplay not 30 seconds in.
PP1 consists of Gusev, Hughes, Simmonds, Severson, and Bratt to start. Bruins win the faceoff, but Severson collects it. Devils can’t break out and are forced to regroup again. Hughes collects this time and takes it to the blue line but they’re forced out again. The third time is the charm for PP1 to manage the zone entry and they get a little puck movement up high and their first shot, which is saved by Halak. PP2 comes out, staffed by Coleman, Hischier, Boqvist, Tennyson, and Smith. They hold the zone well, managing a full minute of zone time but somehow also managing to not get a single shot in that time.
Back to even strength, the Bruins hand out some pressure in the neutral zone then move it to the Devils end. The Bruins passes look crisp, and the Devils defensive positioning looks like wilted lettuce. The Bruins retaliate for the Devils solid minute of zone time with a full minute of their own before the Devils are able to clear. The Bruins regroup and return to puck to the zone with a clear down the boards. Smith collects on the boards then makes a no look backhand pass to Tennyson and two Bruins behind the net, which leads to some more defensive zone struggles for the Devils. If Blackwood wasn’t back in shape before this game, he will be after this game.
Severson comes on and handles the puck a bit to help out, including a slick move behind the Devils net to avoid a check. Greene fails to tie up his man in front of the net and almost gives up a very bad opportunity to the Bruins but Blackwood stays solid. The Devils play in their own end looks last-season sloppy as they give up bad clears and passes to the wrong team. The few Devils that do make it out of the zone aren’t getting past the neutral zone. McLeod makes it out for the first break in recent memory and makes a quick behind the back pass from the corner to Bastian breaking down the middle but its just a hair too far behind him, and back the other way we go again. Wayne Simmonds breaks up this rush with a shot block that breaks his stick, so Carrick returns the favor by carrying the puck up the ice and leaving it in the corner of the Bruins zone.
Gusev and Hughes put on a slick back and forth in the corner of the Bruins zone for a few passes but it doesn’t get them a shot on goal. Studnicka skates it out of the zone for the Bruins and takes a shot that rings off the post. Another shot sends the puck off Greene’s skate, then off the chin of Studnicka and into the net past Blackwood. Another few minutes of sloppy play is finally broken up by the first real chance the Devils have had in the Bruins zone for a while— a 2 on 1 opportunity for Severson and Bratt— which is immediately interrupted by a slashing David Backes. The Devils go on their second power play of the night which unfortunately looks a heck of a lot like their first. PP1 starts off with a good play—a pass from Bratt behind the net up to Severson who feeds Gusev for a one-timer. PP1 finishes with multiple clears by the Bruins. PP2 comes out in relief and creates another good chance, this time a pass from Coleman to Hischier across the slot for a great backdoor opportunity, but Hischier can’t get the puck out of his skates in time to get it past Halak. Period one ends with a last-second crunching of Rooney into the boards behind the Bruins net, and a large group hug ensues that looks about as ugly as the Devils’ first period play and takes a while to break up.
The second period starts off with much the same pattern as the first: Bruins rush, Devils break it up, try to break out, fail, and the Bruins rush again. Ty Smith, standing two feet from the puck carrier, opts to back up and let them into the zone instead of stepping up at the blue line. Hischier and Bratt step on and provide a momentary breath of fresh air as they move play into the Bruins and get themselves a few shots that just can’t seem to get on net, including a rip from Greene. Another line change and the Devils go back to struggling in the defensive zone again, as Mueller gets stripped with absolute ease trying to carry the puck up through the neutral zone, and the next line with Smith and Tennyson can’t seem to get their zone under control again. John Hayden finally collects the puck at the boards and chips it up to Wood, who kicks on the speed and works through a Bruins defenseman to get a shot off but doesn’t quite get it over Halak’s shoulder.
Blake Coleman’s line comes out and starts to get a bit of pressure going and even a shot or two, but then is quickly interrupted by Bastian dropping the gloves with Lauzon in the slot which stops play. The 6’4” Bastian proceeds to get his skates handed to him by the 6’1” Lauzon, and we go back to the game. Hughes’ line starts off after the fight and Hughes puts on a little flair off the face-off and teleports to the crease with the puck but a crowd of Bruins backed by Halak keep the puck out of the net. The Devils keep the pressure on and get a shot off as Wood drops the puck to Carrick for a one-timer to Halak’s chest. The Bruins head for the Devils’ zone off the faceoff but Severson and Greene keep them tied up and manage to get a break out. Hischier on the breakout feeds Gusev for a quick shot that misses the net. Jesper Bratt gets a hold of the puck and gets a shot off but again misses the net. Hughes comes on for Hischier to join his line, but the trio seems to be lacking a bit of muscle in their midst and can’t control the zone clearly.
The Devils 4th line comes back on and returns to the Bruins zone. They opt to use their points and drop a couple passes back to Carrick and Mueller at the blue line, who fire but can’t get one in the net. Hischier’s line comes back out and wins the faceoff back. Severson holds the zone and drops back behind the net to Simmonds. Simmonds gets tied up by McAvoy and the Devils get a whistle as the refs call McAvoy for holding. PP1 comes on for attempt number three, and the game plan starts with feed Hughes to carry the puck into the Bruins zone. Hughes gets held up twice, then Bratt takes over and carries the puck in and the Devils set up in the zone. PP1’s puck movement is excellent but their feet movement is nonexistent. Halak collects and freezes a shot from Simmonds easily. PP2 comes on, wins the faceoff and sets up again. This time we have some good movement throughout the zone but the passes aren’t as clean, and the Bruins are able to clear it. The Bruins gain the zone as the penalty expires and get a few shots off before Hayden finally gains control of the puck. Hayden passes to Carrick as most of the players head for changes, but Backes stays on and steals the puck. Carrick takes it back and tries to get a pass that gets intercepted by a set of fresh Boston attackers. Blackwood makes a save on the first shot, gives up a rebound that collected and fired again, this time from the goal line off Blackwood’s back. The puck drops behind Blackwood but Wood catches it just at the line and stuffs it under his goaltender before it can enter the goal.
Both teams play some ping pong hockey towards the end of the second period, for a lot of skating end to end, losing the puck, rinse and repeat. The last minute of the second period raises some eyebrows as the Bruins gain the zone, beat the Devils’ defense and get shot opportunity that sails way over the net. The final seconds of the second period tick down and the Bruins get another shot off, this time off Blackwood’s back but the buzzer sounds about half a second before it finds the net, so the Devils get a lucky break and go into the second intermission with the score still 1-0.
The Devils start the third period on the wrong foot again, stuck back in their zone. The Bruins don’t get many shot opportunities but the Devils defense just looks sloppy. Wood finally clears the zone and carries the puck down into the Bruins end as the rest of the team changes, but Wood loses the battle against the boards to two Bruins and play returns the other way. The Bruins take a shot and Blackwood stretches for the save. Bratt picks up the rebound and gets rid of it quickly but the Devils can’t clear the zone. The puck finds its way to Backes in the slot, who lifts an impressive backhand shot past a somewhat screened Blackwood to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
Both teams get a couple soft chances after the goal without much luck. The Devils get their best look from a clear that turns into a Miles Wood race. Wood speeds down against a backchecking Bruin for the loose puck and meets Halak attempting to play the puck almost at the blue line. Wood steers the puck around Halak, collects it down in the corner with pressure still on and and sends it to the slot in front of the empty net, but can’t connect with any Devils among the swarm of Bruins chasing back to cover. A bit of ping pong hockey again in the third is broken up by some more questionable decisions by Ty Smith and the Devils somehow managing to get kicked out of at least three faceoffs in a row. The fourth line manages some offensive zone time and a couple chances including two quick shots off the faceoff from Miles Wood. Boston returns to the Devils zone and McAvoy sends a one-timer at Blackwood, who handles it with ease. Play turns back to the Bruins end again, this time with the Hischier line. Jesper Boqvist makes a quick pass from behind the net to Hischier at the doorstep but Halak manages to seal it off.
The puck returns to NJ’s end and Ty Smith makes two lazy clears up the boards directly to Boston players. For his third attempt he carries the puck up himself before making a pass. The pass is intercepted and returns back to the Devils end. Smith picks up again, this time making a pass across the ice to an unopen Coleman, giving the Bruins the puck and another chance on net. On his following shift, Smith collects a loose puck and cleanly handles it away from two forechecking Bruins. The Bruins peel off and head back for a change and Smith, now all alone in the back end of the Devils zone, throws the puck away without looking in a sloppy pass towards the blue line. Boston collects and rushes the zone, hitting the post on two chances before Severson comes in, blocks a high shot and pokes it out of the zone.
Hischier picks up the puck and tries to carry it down twice but the Bruins neutral zone trap is set and the Devils breakout is just not. McLeod comes on and dumps in for Bastian, who can’t collect but the Bruins ice it. McLeod again on the puck drops a pass up to Tennyson for a quick one-timer that Halak just catches a piece of. The next time the Devils gain the zone is the fourth line again. Wood walks the puck around the zone a few times, tries a few passes but there’s not much open behind the Bruins defense. The clock ticks past two minutes remaining and Blackwood heads to the bench for an extra skater. With the man advantage they control the zone a bit but Gusev loses the puck to Carlo on a flubbed backhand. Fortunately Carlo flips the puck directly out of play for some reason and the Devils find themselves with a 6 on 4 advantage for the final 1:09 of play. Halak saves a shot and tries for an empty net goal but its outskated by Severson who brings it back into play. The Devils have good puck movement with the 2 man advantage but aren’t able to do much with it. Severson manages a good keep in the waning seconds of the game but its not enough to get the Devils back in for another chance, and time runs out.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder for their take on tonight’s game
The Game Highlights:
Analysis and Sadness:
Yes, it’s preseason, so it’s important not to take team performance, line combinations or overall pants-soiling performances too seriously. That being said—
The Devils were sitting one offensive line and one defensive pairing’s worth of veteran players tonight. Boston was sitting more than half their team, including almost every single one of their star players. This was not a good game for us as a team. So let’s talk individual performances.
Ty Smith: Oh how I wanted to be able to come to this section and write about how Ty had a decent game, maybe didn’t have a huge impact but with some time up in the big leagues to shake off the nerves and the kinks I’m sure he’ll be fine.... But that’s just not what happened. Smith spent most of his game doing more chasing than defending, letting puck carriers walk into the zone and making extremely sloppy passes whenever he got the puck. Smith was playing scared and not only did it show, it affected the entire rest of the team as he gave up zone entries and turnovers left and right. That being said, I’m actually glad Smith looked like he was playing scared and not just bad. Nerves and shaky chemistry with his new team can be fixed a lot easier than lack of skill, and it sure seemed to be the former for Smith tonight. Hynes seemed encouraged by some of Smith’s play and his stats actually weren’t terrible this game. I don’t know if the Devils plan to send him back to Spokane or keep him with the club and continue to work with him, but I definitely don’t want to see him in regular season NHL games just yet, but I think with some work he’ll make it there soon enough.
MacKenzie Blackwood: Mac was a monster in net tonight. His lateral movement is as graceful as any veteran goalie and his puck handling behind the net looks comfortable and smart. However, his positioning tonight nearly gave up two goals. The Bruins put two shots off Blackwood’s back tonight, both from below the goal line, and both very easily would have been goals if not for the quick reactions of his teammate on the first one and the very lucky saved by the bell moment on the second. I expect Rollie will clean that up with some drills in practice pretty quickly and it should be an easy fix, but its something both Blackwood and also his defense will need to be aware of moving into the regular season.
Nikita Gusev: I thought I liked Gusev paired with Hischier, but I am loving Gusev paired with Hughes. The two have a very similar eye for the ice and skillsets that led to some solid chances tonight. I’d prefer them matched up with a winger like Simmonds with more NHL experience and some muscle to help balance out the smaller NHL newbies when they get in tight spots, but I’m also fairly certain you could put Corey Schneider on their wing and they’ll still manage to get goals together this season.
Jack Hughes: Hughes has few moments here and there where his status as an NHL rookie shows. Again, its only preseason, and even still Hughes seems to be eating up the learning curve through each game. He’s fast, he’s skilled, and his hockey sense even in situations he’s probably never been in before is still clearly off the charts. A few more games under his belt and some regular linemates, and Hughes looks like he’ll be writing his name in pucks in the back of the net.
To no one’s surprise, Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman were again easily the best players on the ice tonight. Hischier led all forwards in shots on goal, won 75% of his faceoffs, and made smart plays on both ends of the ice to create opportunities and cover up shortcomings. Coleman led the team by far with a ridiculous 71.43 CF% and lead a line of Bastian and McLeod to some of the best shifts of the game. McLeod himself had a pretty decent game and has overall had an encouraging showing this preseason compared to last year, but given the Devils’ depth at center it may very well not be enough to keep him around past the final forward cuts.
How are you looking at this performance— shrug it off because its preseason, or should we be concerned? Who impressed you the most in tonight’s game? Who didn’t meet your expectations? Who do you think stays on the roster come opening night? Leave your thoughts and comments, and thanks for reading!