After more than a week without regular season hockey, the best sport in the world has returned to action. We start the post-break season with a match-up of the 29th place team vs the 28th— and a ton of hockey action-related whiplash.
First things first: Nico Hischier is an All-Star. Most players in this game have had a good long vacation to rest and recharge before tonight. Nico Hischier did not- he played in the NHL All-Star game, so it would have been somewhat reasonable for him to come back a bit less fresh than everyone else. Did he do that? NOPE. Nico came back and looked even more solid than ever. Oh to be 21 again. Hischier spends he first few shifts of the game driving the net hard on every opportunity— he scored in the All-Star game, he wants another one here tonight and if he keeps this up, he’s going to get it. Somehow he manages to do all this without recording a single shot or even shot attempt, in the first period, but I’m telling y’all, he looked great.
Outside of Nico and company, the rest of the Devils look rested and ready for action, and start off the first period happily dominating the Senators. The second line of Nikita Gusev, Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman’s shifts have looked like a power play more than our usual power play does— the Sens are collapsing hard and the Flock of Goose are cycling comfortably. Jack Hughes is lined up with Pavel Zacha and Wayne Simmonds and having a good night for puck movement with both of them. Even our highly-controversial fourth line of Miles Wood, Kevin Rooney and John Hayden are managing good breakouts and a few shots on net.
Sami Vatanen uses his head somewhat literally a few minutes into the period and draws a double minor from a massive high stick to the face at the side of the net. The power play takes a few moments to set up but once they’re in the zone, wave one is deadly. They hold the zone for the entire rest of the first two minutes before a massive bomb from Damon Severson at the point rings off the post and is kicked in by the Senators goaltender. Unfortunately it took until just after the first minor expired before it went in so they do not get to keep the second penalty but I’ll take the goal— 1-0 Devils.
After a good power play showing providing the screen for the goal, Miles Wood looks to make it 2-0. PK Subban flips the puck into the neutral zone where Wood appears to be covered by two unsuspecting Senators. Wood gloves the puck down into the zone and turns on the speed, leaving both Sens completely flat footed back at the blue line. He drives the net, gets a quick backhand shot off, AND remains on his feet the whole time, but unfortunately did not get a goal out of it.
Back at the other end the Senators put some pressure in on Mackenzie Blackwood, and PK Subban is having absolutely none of Brady Tkachuk’s involvement in his crease. Subban and Tkachuk have words, and then shoves, and then fists, but an actual fight doesn’t break out and both are separated and sent off to their respective benches (surprisingly without penalties despite the general roughing from both).
Unfortunately we don’t get luck or escapes often, and we won’t be escaping a penalty here after all— almost immediately into the next shift Kyle Palmieri trips up Tyler Ennis and to the box we go anyway. Fortunately, Ottawa’s power play has been generally awful and doesn’t look much better here tonight. The Devils kill the penalty easily, with the help of a few good plays from Rooney that are worth at least mentioning.
Back to 5 on 5, and it looks like Nico Hischier felt bad for Kyle Palmieri having to miss out on the all-star experience so to make it up to him he sets him up with an absolutely beautiful cross-ice feed in the offensive zone. Palmieri just fails to get enough of a handle on it to turn it into a shot but it would’ve been a perfect goal if he could have.
Ottawa’s power play struggled so much the first time, and our penalty kill is so good, it only seems reasonable to just take another penalty immediately after the first one ends right? Mirco Mueller seems to think so, as he takes a slashing penalty. Coleman and Zajac do manage to turn a quick shorthanded opportunity that could’ve been a goal, but the Senators turn around and turn their own opportunity into an actual goal— Brady Tkachuk taps a pass across the crease for Tyler Ennis. Nothing Blackwood could’ve done for it, and we’re tied at one.
Another angle of the goal, and the tip by Tkachuk. Gorgeous. Ennis also matches his goal total from last season w/ the Leafs. pic.twitter.com/ZntFZyQBtW— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) January 28, 2020
The Devils come back with fire looking to take the lead back before the end of the first period but can’t find the back of the net again. They have apparently managed to find a giant reservoir of sass that’s just all been given to PK Subban, as he ends the period with some more jarring at a few Senators before leaving the ice.
The second period opens up with Hischier and Palmieri picking up where they left off— Hischier picks a loose puck up in the Devils zone and spring Palmieri. Palmieri feeds Bratt as he joins him for the 2 on 1 but Bratt’s shot finds the chest of the Ottawa netminder. The third line warms up a bit here. Wayne Simmonds picks a puck off the boards and drops it right back to Pavel Zacha who rips a shot. Hogberg wasn’t quite in position but is able to cross and make the save. The rebound comes right to Jack Hughes who is somehow robbed on the follow-up try.
The Senators turn things back around into the Devils zone but only briefly— back at it annoying PK Subban in the slot is Brady Tkachuk, who finally gets what he wants. The gloves come off, Tkachuk gets the drop, and eventually drops Subban. Both get 5 for fighting.
Typically, a fight gives the team of the winner a boost. Well. not tonight. The fourth line says we don’t care about your wrestling moves Brady Tkachuk. Kevin Rooney picks up the puck behind the Ottawa goal, wraps around and pinballs it off the iron and into the net. 2-1 Devils.
Ottawa comes back with some good pressure, forcing Greene and Blackwood to make some good plays to keep the lead as the Senators maintain the zone. Back out of the zone and the second line comes out and turns things around a bit more. Zajac and Coleman tag team pressure on a Senator back in their zone and Coleman strips the puck. He finds a breaking Gusev who absolutely rips a shot but Hogberg gets a piece of it.
The first line comes out and Nico Hischier continues to look unbelievably good- so much so that the Senators are forced to take a penalty to slow his progress. The Devils go on the power play and pick up right where they left off— strong puck movement, lots of passing, feet moving, good pressure in front of the net and shot attempts reaching the goalie. The puck doesn’t want to find the back of the net but they did an excellent job of trying to get it there.
Travis Zajac finds himself on a quasi-breakaway but can’t get a shot off before he’s sealed off and the attempted pass is blocked. He picks the puck back up and finds Coleman across the ice anyway, who finds himself the latest victim of Hogberg robbery.
Marcus Hogberg (Part II) pic.twitter.com/kNvZROMH68— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) January 28, 2020
Jack Hughes comes out, strips an Ottawa player, breaks down the ice and rips a slap shot but shanks the shot just slightly and misses wide.
With just under 20 seconds left in the period Andy Greene tries to give everyone else a heart attack with a sloppy pass to the front of the net that’s nearly picked off by a crowd of waiting Senators, but its cleared safely and the period ends with a 2-1 Devils lead and just some mild heart palpitations.
The Devils game plan for the third period seems to be ‘shoot from the point’. Not necessarily defensemen either. It worked for Severson earlier, so he tries it again but just misses wide. A few more plays and another shot comes ripped from the point from... Blake Coleman? Not sure why he’s up there but he rung it off at least one post.
Nico Hischier gets tripped up and takes a pretty fabulous spill so the Devils go on the power play. Hischier is absolutely determined to get Palmieri a goal tonight. He battles for the puck in the corner before flipping a pass out to Palmieri, who settles it and gets a big shot off that Hogberg just gets enough of to catch. Right off the face-off Subban tries the high shot method but is again stopped by Hogberg. Hughes takes a big shot from the circle following the next face-off but still not enough—Hogberg just has his number tonight.
Brady Tkachuk continues his personal goal to piss off everyone he ever plays against and hits Zacha with a high stick and goes to the penalty box.
And all hell breaks loose.
The Devils have a chance at the doorstep that both Hughes and Palmieri struggled but failed to put over the goal line. The Senators come back the other way and find themselves in a shorthanded 2 on 1— Namestnikov fakes pass and puts the shot past Blackwood. Tie game. But not for long— just a few seconds later the Senators get another shorthanded rush, another 2 on 1, and Blackwood is beaten again. 3-2 Senators, all on the penalty kill. (On a personal note, Tierney interfered with Simmonds on the attempted backcheck and that goal should not have been allowed, but no one in Toronto seems to agree or care).
The Devils try to get things back under control and stop the bleeding after that absolutely atrocious power play. Simmonds sends a pass up to Zacha who gets a rush into the zone and rips yet another shot off the post. The fourth line puts some good pressure on the Ottawa zone but somehow the Senators look like they’ve just figured out the concept of puck pressure and are suddenly playing aggressive man to man defense.
Giving up two shorthanded goals in less than a minute? Feels like the Devils of earlier this season. The difference between a month or two ago and now? This team isn’t going to take that lying down. Back out in the offensive zone, Kyle Palmieri picks up a rebound off of Jesper Bratt and rips it past a sprawling Hogberg to tie the game back up at 3.
The Devils first line sets up in the final half a minute of the game but cannot get through Hogberg before the third period ends. To overtime we go.
And boy does 3 on 3 start with excitement. Who of all players to start OT with a breakaway but Damon flipping Severson? He manages to strip the puck and outskate the defender but can’t deke around Hogberg. Back the other way and Palmieri makes a great play to save the potential breakaway the other way. He appears to take an injury on the play and heads down the tunnel.
Back down the other end, Tkachuk and All Star Anthony Duclair take turns picking short shots on Blackwood but each one is saved and partially cleared before the Devils are finally able to walk out of the zone.
Jesper Bratt finds the puck and finds some speed with it and is able to turn it into a beautiful breakaway but Hogberg gloves the shot.
Yes, that tweet says shot #50. The Devils finish this game with 53 shots on net, with a grand total of 82 chances for.
A quick change and Jack Hughes takes the puck back up into the zone, dekes around the Senators in his way and takes a shot that just misses wide.
Zacha Goose and Subban come out a try for a Goose goal but Hogberg isn’t fooled by Gusev’s quick release.
The Devils change for Butcher, Hischier, and Hughes, who try to surprise Hogberg by putting up a huge scoring opportunity for.. Will Butcher? Hischier finds a driving Butcher despite the Senators in the way. Interesting strategy, and it almost works, but Hogberg is still able to make the save, and free hockey continues on into everyone’s favorite non-all-star skills competition, the shootout.
Senators- Anthony Duclair denied by Blackwood
Devils- Nikita Gusev pulls out absolutely all the dangles to fake and freeze Hogberg and score
The Goose is loose in the SO.— NHL (@NHL) January 28, 2020
Not too shabby, Nikita Gusev, not too shabby at all. pic.twitter.com/HEmd1CwH98
Senators- Drake Batherson denied by Blackwood
Devils- Jack Hughes skates in slowly, handles and watches Hogberg for a weakness as he glides in, and finds one— just under the glove.
Hughes scores, shootout over, game clinched, Devils win 4-3.
In the always wise words of Ken Daneyko, “Whoa boy”.
Lot to unpack in that game.
The best news to come out of this game may just be that there was really no one on the ice I can say did not have a good game. Pretty much everyone contributed, all four offensive lines make good plays, all three defensive pairings were good if not excellent at times, Blackwood was his usual good self.
So what went wrong?
45 seconds of mistakes.
One shorthanded break on the power play? Okay, it happens. Vatanen played it the best he could and Namestnikov just beat Blackwood. Clean it up, don’t let it happen again, the games only tied now and you still have power play time left. But they didn’t do that. They jumped right back in and allowed the exact same mistake to happen. Two mistakes (and one missed call) and the Devils fall in a game they looked like the better team for 59 minutes of.
As I mentioned above, the difference here and when they would have done the same thing earlier this season is how they responded. They didn’t give up. They didn’t lose focus and scramble for ground. They shook it off, came back out, tied it back up and forced overtime. They had big chances in overtime, generated tons of chances, defended well, forced a shootout. Came out in the shootout, Blackwood stood strong, Goose is unbelievable, Hughes finally cracked Hogberg and looked like a confident first overall pick in the shootout rather than an 18yo rookie.
Obviously that 2SHG breakdown was a problem, but the overall game, the line chemistry, the response for the win? This was an excellent test for the post-Hynes era, and I’d say they passed for sure.
Your Take: How do you see tonight’s game? A lucky break for a still-bad team or a bad break for a better team? Did this give you more or less confidence in this team moving forward? Anyone you feel did not play up to par tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading!
Parting gift: Please enjoy this photo, for no reason other than the fact that its hilarious to me. It looks like a Renaissance painting. We could all use a laugh after this game.