First Period: Pavel Zacha sent Jesper Bratt into the offensive zone just past two minutes in as he skated towards the net with Nikita Gusev, drawing the defensemen back and allowing Bratt to get the first good shot of the game for the Devils. The Devils were not able to jump on a rebound, however, and their zone time was short.
Three and a half minutes into the period, the Zajac line successfully counterattacked after defending a Sharks zone entry, leading to two Dakota Mermis shots from the point. The first was a hard shot that was stopped by Jones, while the second was a wrist shot through a screen of Wayne Simmonds. Jones stopped the second as well.
Pavel Zacha spun around multiple defensemen around the Devils’ net about five minutes into the period before sending a pass to the far blue line where Nikita Gusev was waiting. A Sharks defenseman just deflected the pass, however, and the Devils did not get a scoring chance out of it.
The Sharks managed to score first seven minutes and 22 seconds into the period. Following a draw, a low point shot deflected off of a Devil and went high past Blackwood. Following the draw after the goal, John Hayden and Jacob Middleton dropped the gloves. Most of the throws didn’t land. The Devils got a power play out of it as Middleton took off his helmet in the middle of the fight. (Middleton then proceeded to jab Hayden’s visor into his face as the refs came in, but that’s neither here nor there.) Regardless, it was 1-0, Sharks. Tim Heed was awarded the goal with assists from Jacob Middleton and Alexander True.
Damon Severson got a point shot a minute into the power play as Nico Hischier cut across Jones. Jones saved it. Off the next draw, which was won by Zacha, P.K. Subban blasted a slap shot into Jones’ glove. Brent Burns later picked off a pass with 28 seconds in the power play and cleared it. The Devils didn’t get another clean set-up.
With eight and a half minutes left, Nasreddine sent out a new line of Bratt, Rooney, and Anderson. Joey Anderson got a one-on-none chance off a turnover, but Jones made a stop. Jones was outside of the crease and Anderson had very little room to maneuver. Bratt later returned to the Zacha line when they got hemmed in for a full shift with under seven minutes to play.
Connor Carrick landed a huge hit on Barclay Goodrow near the boards in the neutral zone with over five minutes to play, which got a rise out of the crowd. Goodrow, however was slow to get to the bench. Goodrow was waiting for a bouncing puck, and Carrick stepped into him without boarding him.
Pavel Zacha sent Jesper Bratt flying into the zone with under four minutes in the period - and Bratt just barely missed the net on a quick backhand that was high enough but just wide. P.K. Subban destroyed his stick on a shot moments later, however, and the Sharks were able to take advantage of his scramble to the bench as they tried to counter.
Wayne Simmonds turned over the puck to Stefan Noesen with a backhand pass in the neutral zone, who then drove to the net and got a shot on goal. In the scramble afterwards, he tripped Kevin Rooney as Barclay Goodrow went after Connor Carrick between MacKenzie Blackwood and the crossbar. The referees only penalized Noesen with 13.1 seconds remaining as Goodrow was sent off.
After one period, the shots were 12-7 Sharks. The Devils did not have any success with the first line of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri, who had a 0.00 CF% (8 CA) on five shots allowed. The Devils as a team were credited with zero high-danger chances, while allowing four. Personally, I think that Anderson definitely should have registered as one, but a depressing stat nonetheless.
Second Period: On the power play, the Devils did not possess the puck in the offensive zone for more than a few seconds until Wayne Simmonds took an interference minor with Sorensen with a minute and one second left in the penalty. Severson had the puck in space and was about to make a play, but Simmonds couldn’t just look where he was going with a skater on the ice fewer than usual.
The Devils had possession of the puck as Noesen came out of the box, and they didn’t allow the Sharks to take possession until there were 25 seconds remaining in it. Kevin Rooney very, very, very unnecessarily skated the puck into the defensive zone before turning it over, leading to multiple Sharks shots before the penalty expired. He could have just spun and cleared the puck, but why not give up some shots instead?
The Devils took another penalty just past the seven minute mark in the period. P.K. Subban went off for interference in the defensive zone as the Sharks were pressuring the Devils. After the puck left the corner in the Sharks’ offensive zone, Subban knocked Stefan Noesen down. The Devils were able to kill the penalty without much drama, though.
Just before the halfway point, the Sharks took an offensive zone penalty as Nico Hischier was checked by Dylan Gambrell about 10 feet away from the puck. The Devils nearly created a netfront goal as Pavel Zacha set Jesper Bratt up close to the net, but he was unable to get a shot. Miles Wood followed up with whacks at the puck and then got into a scrum after the puck was covered. No penalties were given.
The first minute of the power play was bad. However, after Wayne Simmonds rocked Radim Simek behind the Sharks net, Melker Karlsson cleared the puck over the glass. The Devils had a five-on-three for 47 seconds. Jack Hughes had his pass broken up by Vlasic, who got the puck to Brent Burns, who cleared the puck to Kyle Palmieri in the neutral zone. Jack Hughes lost the puck following re-entry as he cut into the low slot, and the puck went to Nikita Gusev. Gusev got a shot with Martin Jones down in the crease with ten seconds remaining in the power play, but it was sent away by Jones’ stick. The Sharks killed both penalties.
John Hayden could have cut into the slot with six minutes left as he had the puck and a single man to beat. He instead went towards the blue line and dumped the puck around. His inexplicable avoidance of creating a shot infuriated me a bit.
Pavel Zacha made a great stretch pass to Jesper Bratt at the far blueline with just under four minutes left. Bratt, in all alone, went for his shootout-slew of tricks, undressed Martin Jones, and tied the game at one. Gusev got the secondary assist. This was the first time in the game I smiled.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic tied Wayne Simmonds up as Simmonds tried to get a loose puck in the offensive zone. He was not called for interference, despite his prevention of Simmonds making a play. Right after, Mirco Mueller was called for interference for pushing Alexander True after a puck bounced over Mueller’s stick at the blueline.
On the penalty kill, Timo Meier nearly scored on a rebound, but the puck rolled just enough for Meier to be unable to convert as Blackwood scrambled across. The period ended 1-1. The shots were 17-26, in favor of the Sharks.
Third Period: With 32 seconds remaining on the penalty kill, the Sharks did not get a shot on goal. Just past the minute mark of the period, Nico Hischier got a chance with a shot from inside the faceoff dot that went high on Jones, but it hit his arm. After the save, the Sharks took another delay of game penalty with
On the power play, Kyle Palmieri gave up the puck to Goodrow as he didn’t make a pass and held onto the puck for far too long, which turned the first minute into a waste. The Devils’ second wave got Gusev a shot from the inner edge of the faceoff circle with 45 seconds remaining in the power play, but it went wide.
After the Devils set up again, P.K. Subban wristed a shot off a pass from Nikita Gusev that went top shelf in the left corner to put the Devils up 2-1. Miles Wood was in front of Jones on the play. Subban was awarded the goal.
Later, Kyle Palmieri rang a shot off the post with under six minutes played in the period as Jack Hughes split a pass through the Sharks across to him on the rush. Brent Burns also hit the post just under the seven and a half minute mark.
Kyle Palmieri made a beautiful pass to Jack Hughes nine minutes into the period, getting it from the boards in the neutral zone to the center of the blueline. Hughes had two defensemen on him, but still got a shot off. In a couple years, one would hope he’ll be strong enough to put more on his wrist shot there.
P.K. Subban blocked a shot from Brent Burns, and the puck was sent right to Simek to the left of the net, who tried to shoot the puck on Blackwood’s blocker side. Blackwood got over in time and made the stop.
Kyle Palmieri, Jack Hughes, and Nico Hischier all got opportunities to score with under four minutes to play, as Hughes set up Palmieri for a shot from the lower half of the faceoff circle. Palmieri followed up with a pass to Hughes, who kicked the puck to his forehand, and bounced a shot off Jones to Hischier; who raised his shot a bit but was stopped.
Alexander True was given a goaltender interference penalty with three minutes and four seconds remaining.
On the power play, the Devils failed to do much - but they were already up a goal with just a few minutes to play. It was more important to not make mistakes than score another goal. The Sharks were able to get multiple clears and killed the penalty.
Jones came off for the extra attacker with 50 seconds left. Joe Thornton quickly sent a pass to Patrick Marleau with 30 seconds, and Marleau was unable to score from the outer slot. Blackwood covered it with 28.5 seconds to play. Travis Zajac and Barclay Goodrow took the draw. Zajac won the draw back to Mirco Mueller, who failed to clear, got the puck back, and lost the puck again. The Sharks didn’t get a shot, though, as the Devils were able to make a couple of blocks. Thus, the Devils won 2-1.
The Opposition Opinion: Fear the Fin should have the recap from the San Jose point of view.
Jesper Bratt on the Attack: A game after being scratched for not having enough of an impact in his ice time, Jesper Brett was far and away the best skater on the ice for the New Jersey Devils. With five shots on goal, a 66.67 CF%, a 54.55 xGF% , nine total iCF, three total iSCF, and two total iHDCF, he led the Devils in all six categories. He also led the Devils in iXG at even strength and all situations and .27 and .45, respectively, according to Natural Stat Trick. He also undressed Martin Jones mid-game like it was a planned shootout move. If that's not bringing it every shift, I don't know what is.
Seriously, why was Bratt not one of the three stars?: The three stars tonight according to attending media were Nikita Gusev, P.K. Subban, and MacKenzie Blackwood. Neither Gusev nor Subban were better than Bratt, and Subban probably should have been left off (and he was second)
Gusev was good, to be clear, but his plays on his two assists were not ultra-consequential. He picked up a secondary assist on the play Pavel Zacha made to Jesper Bratt in the second period, and his assist to P.K. Subban in the third was a pass that I would be angry with any NHLer for being unable to complete.
P.K. Subban's goal was a great shot, but I wouldn't be able to justify saying he was more important to the win than Bratt. He led the game in on-ice shots against, had an abysmal 31.70 xGF% (0.52-1.13), and put the Devils in bad situations again tonight with his positional unreliability - tonight from his stick breaking being a notable moment.
Bratt's teammates get it, I guess:
Nasreddine...: More consequentially, Alain Nasreddine will walk away from this game being able to justify his bad decision last game against St. Louis, and I am here to say that you should not believe him. Jesper Bratt did not just have the highest xGF% - he had the only one that broke even. His five shots accounted for 18.5% of shots taken on goal by any Devil tonight, and they were on good opportunities to boot. He did all of that in 15:19 of ice time, placing him at 7th among forwards.
Jesper Bratt has played 175 games in the NHL, and had eight points in the 10 games leading up to St. Louis. He has seen a reduction in ice time this season, and it is overdue that he actually gets the opportunity to have top six ice time every night. Continuing to bench him for no good reason only disrupts the progress he makes.
Shoot the Puck: I want to circle back on the play where John Hayden had a clear path to a dangerous scoring area, and chose to turn the puck over instead. Because Alain Nasredine just earlier this week benched Bratt to play him. The fourth line has really been missing offensive creativity this year, and that play was this problem in a nutshell. Two years ago, the fourth line was a source of some of the Devils’ most consistent offense. Now that their depth has collapsed, we are left with John Hayden, who would rather skate from the slot to the blueline and dump in than take a shot. Compare that to Stefan Noesen, who has five goals in 29 games this season. Noesen has taken 51 shots in an average of 10:58 of ice time per game. John Hayden has 31 shots in an average of 9:33 per game. John Hayden, as of this game, has a -12.0 relative CF%. Stefan Noesen has a -3.9%. Hayden had a 28.57 CF% and a 14.63 xGF% tonight. Noesen had a 63.16 and a 78.58 xGF%. When Stefan Noesen jumped on a puck with a lane to MacKenzie Blackwood, he almost scored. He took a penalty right after, but that only puts him at 48.2% of the penalty minutes John Hayden has taken for the Devils this season in just five more games than Noesen.
Hughes, Bratt, and Wood: In all situations, only three Devils got high danger scoring chances. They all got two. I suppose it’s a good thing that the top three lines all had a player driving some semblance of an attack, but the Devils forwards seriously need to start getting the puck to the net, whether it be by sheer force of will or good passing. If only three players are sniffing the net, there’s a serious problem.
The Goose and Zacha: The Zacha line played quite well together as a group tonight. In 9:10 together, they had a 63.16 CF% and contributed the only even strength goal by the Devils. Nikita Gusev also led the team in takeaways with three, and Pavel Zacha was the only other player on the Devils with two. For a player who was a serious liability on defense early this season, Gusev has made an admirable adjustment, and I think that they could be a good combination moving forward.
MacKenzie Blackwood: Last but not least, the rookie netminder had another great game tonight. With an expected goals against of 2.97 according to Natural Stat Trick, Blackwood saved 36 of 37 shots - and the one was deflected. Blackwood saved 12 high danger shots, 9 medium danger shots, and 13 low danger shots. Three of those shots came on rushes and four on rebounds according to Natural Stat Trick. With this game, he has a five game winning streak, having given up 5 goals on 201 shots - a .975 save percentage. As a result, he is now tied with Martin Brodeur’s 1993-94 season in rookie save percentage in Devils franchise history at .915. Blackwood also now currently sits at a 2.74 GAA and 20-12-7 record in 42 games. Brodeur played 47 games that season - so I think this should be revisited when Blackwood reaches that mark.
But this has also been a season of two halves so far for Blackwood. In his past 22 games, he is 12-4-4 with 49 goals allowed on 703 shots for a .930 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average. In his first 20 games, he went 8-8-3 with 60 goals allowed on 577 shots for a .896 save percentage and a 3.16 goals against average.
For the Devils to move forward and become a winning team, they need to have reliable goaltending. MacKenzie Blackwood has, if nothing else, shown that he has the talent to face down incredibly tough situations and still do his job very well. He should absolutely be the number one next season. And as Cory Schneider returns the team, the Devils can see if they have a six-million dollar backup for next season or if he’s going to be in the minors again. I just want a decent backup at this point, though, so I hope Schneider makes it easy on them.
Your Thoughts: What did you think about tonight’s game? Are you happy they won? Are you looking forward to next game? Who did you think had a good game? Who had a bad game? What did you think of Dakota Mermis?
Whether you followed along on the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.