In the first minute of the game we have one delayed offside, one actual offside, and two icings. Now that the referees are awake, lets play some hockey!
It took 3 minutes before the first shot on goal for either team, this one from Blake Coleman. Okay, now that Semyon Varlamov is awake lets play some hockey!
The Islanders suddenly decide they actually want to play hockey and start running the offensive zone and peppering Blackwood with shots. The lines are slightly mixed up on this shift, but it was a mix of our top 6 players so no excuses for the complete lack of pressure in our defensive zone. Fortunately Blackwood is able to fend a shot off into the netting and get a stoppage for the Devils to reset their lines and hopefully their play.
The Islanders find themselves on a quick scoring rush as Anders Lee picks up a pass from the boards and streaks past Sami Vatanen to the net but is easily stopped by Blackwood. The Devils are able to turn things back the other way for some offensive zone pressure but that’s held up by an offensive zone high sticking penalty from, you guessed it, Miles Wood.
Coleman and Zajac come out for the penalty kill and immediately turn it into a shorthanded rush the other way. They’re stopped just past the blue line and the Islanders try to turn it into a rush themselves but the Devils cover well and Blackwood snuffs out the wide angle shot. The second penalty kill duo of Kevin Rooney and Pavel Zacha make their way out and finish off the second half of a strong penalty kill against a somewhat disorganized Islanders power play. The top line of Bratt, Hischier and Palmieri return to the ice after the penalty kill but find themselves hemmed back in the Devils zone yet again. They’re finally able to escape and set up in the Islanders end. Nico Hischier picks up the puck in the slot but with three Islanders on top of him, is unable to get the shot off. The Islanders try to take the play back the other way but are called offside.
The third line hops back onto the ice and though they struggle to enter the zone, they do manage to draw an interference penalty on the attempt so we’ll go to the power play this time. The Devils finally set up and Gusev sends a massive drive that just misses the top corner. The puck comes back up to the point where it is nearly intercepted by the Islanders but Gusev does well to keep the puck in play and gets it back over to Will Butcher at the half wall who blasts a shot that is again caught by Varlamov. In the waning seconds of the power play Severson picks up Palmieri at the back door who tries a slick between the legs tip but he just tips it outside of the net.
The Islanders turn play into the Devils end as the penalty expires and find themselves in the crease with the puck but Blackwood looks absolutely solid and turns them away cleanly. Vatanen flips the puck up and out of the zone where it is chased down by Gusev, who chases and nearly steals it from Jordan Eberle in the neutral zone, forcing the Isles to fall back and regroup and giving the Devils time to change up.
Back in the offensive zone after an Isles icing, Rooney wins the puck back to Butcher who rips another slap shot at Varlamov. The Islanders clear the zone and blast a shot from the point of their own but Blackwood makes the save as well. The Islanders regroup and somehow find Anders Lee on the breakaway. Damon Severson takes a slashing penalty hoping to disrupt the shot, which he does a bit but we go back to the penalty kill after a brief 6 on 5 delayed call.
Back on the PK, the Devils pick up where they left off stifling the Islanders power play with relative ease. The Islanders set up in the zone as the penalty drags on but even with nearly a full minute of zone time the puck still fails to find Blackwood even once. The Islanders refused to give up and, with our defensively-struggling top line on the ice, manages to spend the remainder of the period in the Devils zone but can’t find Blackwood and Blackwood refuses to let them find the back of the net. We’ll head into the second period tied at nothing.
The second period does NOT start with the same lull as the first. Casey Czikas chases the puck into the zone and absolutely destroys Severson picking up the puck along the boards. Blackwood makes an excellent save but the Islanders turn around and make another rush that finds Komarov in the crease who puts it between Blackwood’s legs. Blackwood made the initial stop but Komarov backs his leg directly into Blackwood’s 5-hole before backhanding the puck in. The goal is waved off due to the obvious goaltender interference.
Nico Hischier turns into a man possessed after the interference goal and makes two solid rushes into the zone on one shift but can’t find the net on them. The third line pops out and Zacha and Simmonds take turns making Varlamov work for his saves. Severson picks up Jesper Boqvist with a huge long range pass but Boqvist can’t get around Devon Toews. I don’t usually recommend abandoning your goalie and nearly giving up an illegal goal but it sure seems to have lit a fire under the Devils. After a dominant start to the second period by the Isles, the Devils have driven into the offensive zone line after line. They’ve yet to crack Varlamov but they sure are making him work for it.
Sami Vatanen walks into the zone and gets a whack up on the hands for his trouble, but proceeds to do a hilariously bad job of selling the slash and so we’ll go to 4 on 4 hockey. Islanders come in immediately off the rush and Brock Nelson sends a wrist shot through Greene’s legs and past Blackwood for the first actual goal of the game. 1-0 Islanders.
The Devils respond well, right back to constant drives and scoring chances but Varlamov is a brick wall so far tonight. The Islanders finally get an opportunity of their own with what looks like it should be an easy goal but Blackwood gets across and makes an unbelievable save (puck may have hit the post on second view but Mac was in position to make the save if needed so I’m gonna give him the credit anyway). Devils take things back the other way again, Wayne Simmonds gets blatantly tripped by Semyon Varlamov’s stick in the crease but apparently the referee’s were checking their fantasy scores at that moment.
The Devils return to the Islanders zone for another dozen scoring chances. Varlamov has been snuffing out every chance from in tight so the Devils opt for a higher attempt this time. Gusev collects the puck off a face-off win, settles and taps it up to PK Subban. Subban winds up and sends an absolute rocket past Varlamov to tie the game at one with just over a minute left in the period.
We’ll go into yet another period tied, this time at 1-1.
The Devils pick right up where they left off at the end of the second period, driving the net as often as possible. Coleman picks up the puck, blows past Mayfield and drives to the net but outdekes himself and loses the puck at the side of the net before he can get his shot off. Not to worry though, never fear— Nico Hishier is here. Hischier picks up the puck directly off the next face-off, walks around Brock Nelson, hangs onto the puck until he’s past Varlamov and stuffs it past him into the back of the net. Hischier has been a man on a mission so far tonight and he has accomplished his mission. 2-1 Devils take the lead.
#VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico #VoteNico https://t.co/itx4xKAjIV pic.twitter.com/Cq2tcbePS5— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 3, 2020
Oh and by the way... Vote Nico.
The excitement dries up a bit here after the Devils second goal. Some back and forth and the occasional shot but little to show for it for either team. With 12 minutes remaining in the game things pick up a bit for both teams. The Islanders heat up first, forcing Blackwood to make an excellent save that gets cleared back up by his defense. Bratt picks up the puck and carries it out of the zone, into the Islanders zone past Mayfield, and the rest of the first line follows him in. A quick couple of shots but Varlamov keeps the door shut and the Islanders carry back the other way. Blackwood makes the initial save then flattens to grab the loose puck with his blocker hand.
The Islanders take control again off the face-off but Coleman blocks a shot up high that bounces back and is found by a streaking Nikita Gusev. Goose gets the breakaway and dangles to one side but Varlamov gets the 5-hole closed. Gusev leave the puck in the crease for a follow-up try by Coleman that doesn’t go. Back around the other way and the Devils draw a penalty as Matt Martin takes a tripping call.
Devils’ power plays have been decent lately, but this one is something else. The Devils control the entire time, rip shots from every direction and every player, hit the posts on several shots and genuinely showed no mercy, but only one shot made its way to Varlamov and the penalty somehow expires without a goal.
Back to 5 on 5 but the Devils are refusing to relinquish control of the game. Back into the Islanders end, PK Subban is still ripping shots wherever possible. Jesper Bratt dangles around half the Islanders on the ice trying to find an open spot for a shot, which he does but just misses wide.
The Isles find themselves pressuring in the Devils end and pull Varlamov with over 3 minutes left in the game. They immediately find a huge scoring opportunity but Blackwood makes the save and Severson ties up the crease to prevent the Islanders from finding the rebound. The Islanders set up in the zone again but the Devils manage some big blocks and three clears to save Blackwood from the zone pressure and save the lead to take the 2-1 win.
Nikita Gusev is quietly becoming one of the best forwards on the team. He’s making smart plays in the offensive zone, he’s found his rhythm defensively, he’s fast, his hands are smoother than 90% of his opponents and he’s found some real chemistry with Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac. His assist on PK Subban’s goal tonight brings him to a 5 game point streak with 9 points in the past 7 games.
Nico Hischier is playing like Nico Hischier. He pulled a dozen scoring opportunities out of his bag before he danced around a veteran NHLer for the go ahead goal. He went 13 for 23 in the face-off circle. He made a huge block and clear in the final 15 seconds of the game. He’s doing everything right in the big moments and the small ones, and it’s awesome.
Mackenzie Blackwood kept the Devils in this game despite a few too many golden opportunities given up by the defense for the Islanders to have tied it or even taken the lead. He finished the game with 29 saves on 30 shots including some absolutely fantastic ones. Maybe some day soon the rest of the NHL will stop being surprised that ‘Blackwood has been playing decent lately’.
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The Entire Defense
Tonight could have been much worse — Blackwood played out of his mind and the offense was relentless. Way too many mistakes were made in the defensive zone that nearly cost the game every time. Severson not paying attention to oncoming forecheckers, Mueller with multiple turnovers, the back end was sloppy compared to the rest of the team and that can’t happen if you want to win close games like these.
Your Take: Who impressed, who depressed, anything important happen that we missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading!