The first period starts off about as slow as you’d expect from two teams riddled with injury and illness. The first shot to actually force a save took nearly five minutes to come. The Canadians laid the first few shots on net, but none were quality scoring chances— the first good scoring chance of the night came on a pass from Travs Zajac behind the net to Blake Coleman in the slot with a one-timer that missed the net.
7 minutes into the game and we still have not had a proper shot on net but we’ll go to the power play thanks to a holding call against the Canadians on Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri, Simmonds, Hughes, Coleman, and Severson struggle to get into the zone a bit but do manage to crash the net and get their first shot of the night on a good chance before the Canadians clear the zone. Back into the Devils zone and Joel Armia steals a pass and turns it into a shorthanded chance for Montreal but fortunately not much comes from it. With top players out, this power play unit has not had much time to gel together, so a slow start is not terribly unexpected. The penalty expires without much more excitement. Montreal looks to make something of the successful kill but Miles Wood says no sirs. A breakout pass finds Miles Wood, who breaks into the zone around two Montreal defensemen. He fends off one slightly to the outside and rips a shot that beats Montreal’s backup goaltender Charlie Lindgren and puts the Devils on top to start the night. 1-0 Devils.
The Devils second line tries to make things a little more exciting with a beautiful passing sequence a minute later. Coleman feeds Zajac to take the puck into the zone. Zajac, from the boards, finds Nikita Gusev driving the backdoor. Gusev was just a bit too tied up by Montreal’s defense to finish but he nearly managed it anyway. The line tries to manage a similar trick next time out, this time Zajac to Gusev on the opposite wall to a streaking Coleman but Lindgren just manages to get across in time to catch a piece of the Coleman shot.
The first line closes out the period with a good shot from Palmieri to top off a period where the first line managed a grand total of one shot on goal, compared to 5 against, and were outchanced 2 to 7. Not the best start for Hughes on the top line.
We return to the second period and pick up right where we left off— with Kyle Palmieri drawing yet another penalty. Second time is the charm for Palms tonight— right off the face-off the Devils play a little passing tic tac toe. Severson finds Palmieri wide who walks in and rings one bardown just six seconds into the power play. 2-0 Devils.
To kick things up even more, John Hayden and Montreal’s Dale Weise drop the gloves at center ice in a not so exciting but nonetheless appreciated show of spirit.
Power plays seem to be working for the Devils tonight, so why not another? Miles Wood gets tripped up on the breakout so another man advantage for the Devils. Severson sends a shot in towards the net from way high that Wayne Simmonds shovels in front of the net but redirects way high and over the net. The Canadians get it cleared, the Devils struggle to regroup and Joel Armia strips Gusec and forces Severson to take a penalty to prevent the shorthanded chance. We go to 4v4 for just under 30 seconds before an abbreviated Canadians powerplay.
Do we even need the man advantage to score? Jesper Bratt says NO. Butcher feeds Pavel Zacha rushing the net who crosses it over to Jesper Bratt rushing the other side of the slot. Bratt actually flubs the shot, which Lindgren buys and the change-up shot finds the back of the net. 3-0 Devils!
With a 3-0 lead wind in their sails, the Devils kill the 90 second Montreal powerplay effectively, holding them without a shot.
One improvement that needs to be pointed out here— Jack Hughes’ effort on the forecheck. From being benched for poor effort, to a sudden first line promotion, and now he strips the puck from Jeff Petry and turns it directly into a scoring chance at the front of the net while the rest of his line was changing. Good effort, good hands, good execution— that’s what we want to see from our rookie first overall picks.
What we want to see from our fourth liners? A physical presence, and we’re sure getting that tonight. Kevin Rooney drops the gloves with Nick Cousins in a brief scrap. Max Domi slashed Andy Greene moments before so both players will go to the box for Montreal and the Devils will get another power play.
What we don’t want to see? Constant Joel Armia power play turnovers. But that’s what we’re going to keep doing tonight. Armia blocks a pass from Palmieri, turns and finds no one back. Severson tries to get back but Armia roofs it on his third shorthanded chance of the night to get Montreal on the board. 3-1 now.
A little life gets you a long way in the NHL, and that shorthanded goal is exactly what the doctor ordered to get Montreal’s feet moving. Nate Thompson picks up some speed with the puck down the wing, kicks the stick of a lazily-pressuring Will Butcher, and power moves into the slot to beat Louis Domingue. 3-2 game.
Is it really a Devils game if we don’t blow a lead and make things interesting??
The Canadians keep coming. They pressure down in the Devils zone, the puck finds Max Domi wide open in the slot who paints a corner with the shot, but Louis Domingue somehow makes a fantastic glove save through the screen to barely hang onto the Devils lead heading into the second intermission.
Joey Anderson has made his season debut and would like to make sure he at least makes it onto the score sheet tonight, so if he can’t make it on the goal side he’ll just have to get in on the penalty side. So to start the third period he’ll take a high sticking call and sit for 2. Shorthanded rushes are the name of the game tonight, so why not a shorthanded run for Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac right off the bat? Shea Weber breaks up the pass attempt but Coleman gets a shot off at least.
Following that rush, the Canadians power play looks much better than it did earlier this game, but the Devils and Domingue still manage to hold them off. Andersen finds the puck right out of the box and turns a penalty kill into a 2 on 1, but his pass to Coleman just skips over his stick.
Back down the other way come the Canadians. Colton White plays his man well, but Connor Carrick can’t get the handle on the rushing Nick Cousins in the slot— Cousins finds the puck, and the puck finds the back of the net. Tie game, and the Devils have officially blown a 3 goal lead.
And the Canadians keep coming. They immediately re-enter the Devils zone and refuse to leave. The Devils cannot get the puck cleared, Louis Domingue appears to have received some kind of contact made with him but nothing able to be called goaltender interference— and an errant puck is bounced off multiple sticks and legs and past Domingue. 4-3 game, the Canadians have taken the lead.
Why. Just why.
It takes the Devils some few minutes before they finally start to pressure into the Canadians zone again. The closest they come to regaining the tie is a shot from the point that finds Hughes and is directed through Lingren and straight across the crease.
With 90 seconds remaining, the Devils opt to pull Louis Domingue. Montreal suddently thinks they can also play with 6 skaters and draw a too many men penalty, so the Devils will finish the remainder of the third period with a power play. Off the draw, the Devils win the puck so Domingue runs to the bench and the Devils set up. Jack Hughes and Damon Severson juggle back and forth a bit. Severson finds Gusev open across the ice. Gusev rips a shot that opens up a free for all in front of Lindgren. The puck spits out to the high slot and who finds it but Kyle Palmieri— Palmieri loads the gun and fires the tying goal with under 20 seconds to go in the third period. 4-4 game, we’re going to overtime.
With half our usual top players missing, 3 on 3 starts tonight with Severson, Zacha, and Palmieri against Petry, Domi, and Kovalchuk. The Devils are stripped entering the zone and Kovalchuk and Domi turn it into a 2 on 1, but Severson handles it well and Domingue makes the save.
The Canadians keep the pressure on here in overtime. Bratt tries to take the puck out but Armia squashes that plan, literally. Finally the Devils get it out and Blake Coleman is able to get a shot off but from too wide to make anything happen. The Devils play it back to Louis Domingue to regroup, Domingue flips it way down ice and springs Zacha way up at the blue line but Zacha and Coleman can’t push it pass Lindgren.
Hughes comes on and generates 2 separate 2 on 1 opportunities with Coleman and Severson respectively, and opts for the pass both times. If Jack Hughes, first overall pick, does not start taking the shot in 2 on 1s in overtime, I am going to start screaming shoot at the TV (again). And I don’t want to be that person (again). So please, for the LOVE OF GOD, Jack, shoot the puck.
Spoiler alert— he does not, and no one scores, and the games goes to a shootout.
Devils— Nikita Gusev loses the handle on the puck at the last second and can’t get the shot off successfully
Canadians— Joel Armia rips a shot glove side and is stopped by Domingue
Devils— Kyle Palmieri goes for the deke, fakes forehand, goes backhand, is stopped by Lindgren
Canadians— Ilya Kovalchuk goes blocker side, beats Domingue
Devils— Jack Hughes dekes, looks like he has Lindgren beat but he just gets he pad over and makes the save.
Canadians win on Kovalchuk’s shootout goal.
Well... That Happened
What exactly went wrong? What changed? Would you believe... nothing? How many shorthanded opportunities did Joel Armia have before that first one finally went in? How much of the game prior to that goal did the Devils really control the play at 5 v 5?
How many breakaways does Miles Wood get like that per week? How many actually go in? How often does flubbing the shot actually help you score a goal?
My point is here, the Devils did not earn that 3 goal lead— they earned one goal, the one from Palmieri, had some fortunate penalties and a ton of lucky bounces. They were making a ton of mistakes that they were lucky hadn’t bitten them yet— multiple shorthanded breakaways against is not a sign of a good team leading by 3 goals. Finally the mistakes piled up into a goal, the momentum shifted, and the Devils luck ran out. Lucky goals stopped going in for them — the Hughes tap at the end of the third that ran across the crease didn’t bounce the right way.
Montreal turned the momentum the right way, the Devils couldn’t get a handle on it, and their glaring errors earlier in the game turned into their demise. They manage to tie it, but that’s not enough to make up for the errors earlier in the game.
Nevermind— so the second line was, as usual, absolutely fantastic and we’re just gonna only talk about that line from now on. Multiple high danger scoring chances, positive shot attempt ratio, even generated chances separately in overtime.
Power play? Yes we scored a power play goal, but that was 6 seconds off the face-off so it should barely count toward the power play unit’s success, and we also allowed multiple shorthanded chances against. No good.
Defense? Lazy, way too many miscues and poor plays that led to bigger problems. The shorthanded goal that happened because Severson didn’t hang behind Palmieri. Thompson’s goal as a result of poor defense from Will Butcher. Same thing with Cousins’ goal and Connor Carrick. Domingue was screened by his own defense on multiple occasions, forced to make saves on shots from wide open players in the slot, not a great game all around for the defense. They all owe Domingue dinner.
Offense? As mentioned, the second line was fine, and the fourth line did about what is expected of them. The third line was barely noticable outside the Wood goal— they were outchanced 1 to 10. Same with the first line; they were outchanced 3 to 9 and managed a grand total of just 2 shots on net— yes they scored but outside of a lucky bounce that’s not the numbers you want to see from your ‘top line’.
All in all, a poor showing from a team that could have won by sheer dumb luck. That being said, we do also have to acknowledge we were missing two of our top four defensemen and our number one center while playing our backup goaltender, so things were a bit skewed against us in that regard.
Bag skate tomorrow, boys.
Your take: What led to the collapse? Are we slightly less upset by the loss due to the injuries or no excuses? How much insult to injury did Kovalchuk’s winner add? Leave your thoughts and salty takes in the comments below and I’m sorry you had to read this.