The Coleman - Gusev - Zajac line starts out hot, winning the face-off and blasting right into the Islanders zone. Thomas Greiss is forced to face a wrap around try just 15 seconds into the game. The Islanders get the puck out of the zone and threaten towards the net for a moment but the Devils regain control and the top line comes on and powers back into the offensive zone. Hischier walks around the zone and slips a pass to Palmieri for a one-timer that rings the post. The Islanders pick up the puck and clear the zone but the Devils deftly intercept and head back the other way immediately. A loose puck drifts into the Islanders zone and we see a race between Miles Wood and Thomas Greiss, which somehow does not end up with a murder but instead a quick clear by Greiss.
Despite the quick and strong start by the Devils, the Islanders strike first. Back the other way and Casey Cizikas finds a rebound in the front of the net that elludes Sami Vatanen and shovels it into the back of the net past Blackwood. 1-0 Islanders.
The pass, the shot, the rebound... ✨ ✨ pic.twitter.com/Iy2zLhkzgl— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 8, 2020
With the lead in hand early in the game, the Islanders start to surge a bit more, threatening more into the Devils zone than the Devils are in theirs. There’s no shortage of effort coming from the Devils players, a change from earlier this season. Unfortunately they’re playing hard and sloppy, which is also not helpful.
Who better to settle the Devils offense down and fix the sloppy play with smooth puck work and control in the zone?
MILES WOOD APPARENTLY.
Wood picks up the puck in the zone, looks for a pass but cannot find it so he chips it up the boards to himself and takes it down and around behind the Islanders net. Up the other side he finds a ready and waiting PK Subban, who winds up and receives a soft buddy pass from Wood that he blasts past Thomas Greiss. Tie game, 1-1, just halfway through the first period.
(I know its retro night but that caption makes me glad I missed most of the 90s.)
The Devils defensive zone, however, continues to be a cesspool of sloppy play and poor decisions. The Devils struggle to regain control of the puck in their zone, then when they finally do, Damon Severson takes pressure and passes the puck into the middle of the slot directly onto Jordan Eberle’s stick, who happily takes advantage of the freebie and rips the puck past what has to be an exasperated Blackwood. 2-1 Islanders.
(Apologies for this caption too—-don’t send Nelson to the All-Star game, VOTE NICO!)
Both teams decide to start trading chances in the waning minutes of the first period. Rushing into the offensive zone, Wayne Simmonds drives down the boards with the puck then saucers it towards Nico Hischier driving the middle of the ice. He put a bit too much sauce on it as its still mid-air when it reaches Hischier, but Hischier doesn’t mind and bats it out of the air and on net into Greiss. The Islanders retrieve the rebound and turn back the other way, ringing a shot off the post behind Blackwood.
Down but not out of this period, the Devils are making the Islanders work for their lead going into the first intermission. A blast from Mirco Mueller at the point, a one-timer from Palmieri off a Hischier pass directly in the slot, even a big chance from Bing Devils captain Ben Street but the tying goal wouldn’t come.
Quick first period recap-
Things we’ve done well so far in the first period: shooting the puck, generating offensive chances, Miles Wood playing with control like some kind of player who’s not usually crashing into things. We out-attempted the Isles 21 shot attempts to 16 although they just edged us out in actual shots on net with 10 to our 9.
Things we’ve not done well so far in the first period: we may have set the league record in turnovers. The Islanders had 6 takeaways, plus an additional 3 Devils giveaways, which adds up to way too many sloppy plays. Yes, we’re playing dynamic, fast, high-skill hockey, but only in the offensive zone. Fancy offense cannot come at the expense of such incredibly sloppy defense— that’s something that needs to be straightened out if they’re going to win this game, or any game in the future. That sloppy play is the reason the Islanders had nearly double the xGF% and 8 high danger chances to the Devils’ 5. Not a great look to start.
The second period starts with Blake “I’ll do it myself” Coleman attempting to even out the scoreboard with a one-handed individual effort down the ice and directly towards the net, but right into the breadbasket of Thomas Greiss. Back out for another shift and Gusev finds a streaking Coleman just before the Islanders blueline. Coleman skates to the outside of Boychuk and gets the shot off but slightly wide and again its stopped by Greiss.
Beyond Coleman we have... almost no one successfully playing offense this period. Devils enter the zone, get maybe as far as the circles, get stripped or make a terrible pass, and back out to play defense again. Lather, rinse, repeat for 20 minutes. Defense has been slightly cleaner in that the Islanders haven’t been stacking on high danger chances but they have been padding their shot totals and the overall better team by far at the halfway point of this game. Fortunately Blackwood is holding strong so nothing much is happening for either team— the game went nearly 9 minutes straight without a whistle. Almost nothing happened.
We do have a change in the lines to attempt to help stem the turnover bleeding back on defense. The second and third pairings have been swapped from Severson-Vatanen and Bucher-Mueller to Butcher-Vatanen and Severson-Mueller.
Hischier attempts to change the monotony of the second period by jumping off the bench, picking up the puck from Coleman, danging behind the net and attempting a reverse wrap-around but Greiss just manages to seal the post to keep the Islanders lead.
But Not. For. Long.
Nico Hischier will not be denied. Again on the puck, Hischier skates up the boards, across the blueline, down the other side, spins backwards to avoid a defenseman, then backhands the puck straight over Greiss’s shoulder into the top shelf to tie the game. 2-2, Hischier is pure talent, put him in the All-Star game and put that play in the Lourve.
As the second period winds down, all the drama missing from the first 18 minutes of the period pours out. First the Nico goal, then Mackenzie Blackwood stops a slap shot with his mask, which slams back into his face and sends Blackwood to the ice. He remains in the crease for the 27 seconds left in the period, but he’s clearly going to need some dental work after that shot.
The Islanders try to kick Blackwood while he’s down in the remaining seconds, with a big rush and a nearly lethal wraparound try that Blackwood somehow manages to get across and stop. We’ll go into the third period tied at 2, which may also be the number of teeth Blackwood still has in his mouth.
Squeamish stomachs, skip this clip.
Islanders led well ahead of the Devils in all the offensive categories during that second period: shot attempts 32 to 17, shots 18 to 12, scoring chances 19 to 9, high danger scoring changes 10 to 7. xGF 1.47 to .69. Somehow we made it out of that period with the only goal and a tie ball game. Thank you, Mackenzie Blackwood.
Blackwood returns to the crease for the third period, likely a few teeth lighter but seemingly no more worse for the wear. Miles Wood tries to pull a Coleman and open the period with a rush attempt but he’s sealed off by the Islanders defense so he tries a drop pass, but none of his teammates are within passing distance to pick up the loose puck.
The third period somehow continues the absolute monotony of the second... Very few whistles, few plays... pretty much nothing is happening. Straight up ping pong hockey.
Nico Hischier comes out to break the monotony once again, this time with an attempt at a power move into the net. He gets tripped up a bit and slams into the net but appears okay. No call is made. Not surprising, considering here hasn’t been a single call all game. The Devils start to pick up some heat a bit, with strong offensive pressure and some shots on net. Gusev with a huge one-timer, Coleman with a near breakaway and a power move attempt of his own but Greiss snuffs out both chances.
Gusev with the puck again off the face-off, he dangles around the Islanders’ Toews but is tripped by Greiss on his way behind the net so the Devils go to the power play and we finally have something exciting to talk about.
Gusev is on fire at the moment. Right off the face-off at the start of the power play he pulls the puck, walks in, gets a shot off. The rebound comes right to Severson who shoots but Greiss catches the rebound. Back at the face-off, Hischier wins it yet again. Severson picks it up at the boards and gives it back to Hischier down below the goal line. Hischier side steps around the back of the net and taps a pass to Kyle Palmieri. P-All-Star-mieri roofs a gorgeous bullet over the shoulder of Greiss. Power play goal, Devils lead, 3-2 game, with under ten minutes remaining in the third period.
This is why Kyle Palmieri is headed to the All-Star Game pic.twitter.com/LjIs1NtYgK— NJ Devils on MSG (@DevilsMSGN) January 8, 2020
The Islanders come out hot looking to tie the game back up. With their top line out on the ice, they set up quickly in the Devils zone and start blasting shots mostly from the points, but Blackwood settles the puck and the Islanders’ rush. The Islanders try again. The Devils seal them off quickly. Zajac picks up the loose puck behind the net and attempts a lazy pass up the boards to Coleman. The Islanders intercept the slow rolling puck and turn it around on the Devils, again forcing them to pay for a bad defensive zone mistake. A high shot from the point deflects off Severson’s leg and past Blackwood and we’re back to a 3-3 game.
Jesper Boqvist turns on the individual effort wheels on the forecheck, stripping an Islanders defender and making a beeline for the net. He’s shut down by Greiss but the effort was still impressive.
The final minutes of the third period start to tick down and the ‘we need to score’ lines come out for both teams. For some reason Mirco Mueller is included on ours. The 3 on 2s start to roll in both directions, first the Devils and then the Islanders.
Gusev comes out and picks up a breakout pass. He’s closed off but leaves a drop pass for Coleman who rips a huge backhand that just misses the net. Greene can’t hold the zone after that and the Devils juggle the puck in the neutral zone for the remaining few seconds of regulation.
To overtime we go!
First out for 3 on 3 comes Hischier, Vatanen, and Palmieri. Hischier rushes in first but is turned away in the Islanders zone. The Devils regroup, Hischier switches out for Zacha who walks in singlehandedly and flips a shot that nearly skims past Greiss but doesn’t go. The Devils swap again, this time Gusev comes out for Palmieri. That line holds the zone but can’t get a chance off. Boqvist comes out and finds himself all alone in the middle of the ice with the puck. He rushes in to the net but loses the handle at the last second. He’s able to try again a moment later with a huge shot but Greiss gets enough of it.
The Islanders turn around and threaten in the Devils zone. Blackwood makes the pad save and all Hell breaks loose. An Islander loses a stick and so does Pavel Zacha. The Devils nearly have a breakaway but Zacha, the player open for the the breakout pass, still didn’t have a stick. Vatanen walks in anyway and pulls Greiss way out of position but can’t get it in behind him at the side of the net. Back the other way come the Islanders with a breakaway but Blackwood handles the angle perfectly and the shot misses the net completely. The Devils regain control and move towards the neutral zone seeking a change. The Islanders change faster and are able to catch the Devils changing. They come down 3 on 2 and Anders Lee rips a wrist shot upstairs and past Blackwood to win the game for the Islanders.
And so the curse of the Heritage jerseys continues.
The Game Highlights:
After the first half of this game, I would have been happy if we made it out without a severely embarrassing loss. I’d have taken anything 5-2 or better. By the end of this game, I found myself thinking we deserved to win. In reality, this could have been anyone’s game through most of it were it not for the two dozen turnovers leading to nearly all of the Islanders best scoring chances, but the Devils absolutely owned overtime. Unfortunately they made one mistake and as usual that one mistake cost them the second point for the win tonight.
Best of the Game:
Gusev-Zajac-Coleman, as usual. The Devils #2 line led the offense in CF%, xGF, and just about every other category possible. Gusev was incredibly sharp especially in the third period, working hard on the puck in every zone, making solid plays and generating a team leading 8 shot attempts. Coleman led the team with 5 shots on net, 5 high danger scoring chances, and he and Gusev were tied for the lead with 5 individual scoring chances each. He also led the team with 4 hits. Zajac was his usual solid self in the face-off circle with a ridiculous 72.33 win percentage.
Nico Hischier is a given, but still worth mentioning because he’s just so good. The individual effort to tie the game, a goal and an assist on the night, 3 high danger scoring chances and a FO% of 60. He dominated 3v3 overtime as well.
Mackenzie Blackwood needs a lot of recognition for not only how good he played but the fact that he played 20 minutes and 27 seconds with at least 4 less teeth than he started with tonight. He finished the night with a .923 sv% — it’s a shame you can’t actually win games with grit, because we would’ve won the second Blackwood had a tooth pulled out in the crease, smiled and put his mask back on.
Jesper Boqvist had a quietly impressive night. He played under 12 minutes but still managed to put up 3 shots on net, 4 attempts, a high danger scoring chance and a whopping 3 takeaways. Only Casey Cizikas had that many for either team.
Unfortunately, the 3 takeaways is rivaled by the 4 giveaways from Damon Severson tonight. Simmonds had 2, while 9! other Devils also recorded one. Between Devils giveaways and Islanders takeaways, the Devils turned the puck over 28 times. Only 3 Devils besides Boqvist recorded a single takeaway.
The End Result (I can’t bring myself to call it the takeaway this time)—The effort was there. The Devils were working hard, using their speed, using their talent, generating offense. But all of those good things came at the expense of clean plays and strong defense, which is a trade-off that you just cannot make. That sloppiness absolutely needs to be cleaned up before they play their next game against the Rangers on Thursday. Hopefully the roster will be rejuvenated by a healed Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes before then as well.
Your Thoughts: Is this a flukey growing pains -type game as we continue to adjust our style, or should we be concerned about the mistakes from tonight? Who were your best and worst picks of the night? Leave all your comments below and thanks for reading!