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Shut Down: Robin Lehner Keeps Devils Scoreless in 3-0 Loss to Golden Knights

The Devils had a very bad night, only posting 23 shots at even strength and having a rough time against a much better opponent.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Vegas Golden Knights
Easy for Lehner.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

First Period: Travis Zajac had a golden opportunity in his first shift of the save, as Jesper Boqvist found Zajac all alone in the faceoff circle to the right of Robin Lehner. Zajac tried going glove side, but Lehner knocked it away.

Josh Jacobs played the puck ahead but turned it over to the Golden Knights just past four minutes into the period. The Hischier line was able to disrupt the Vegas zone entry twice, however, getting the puck to their own offensive zone the first time and causing an offsides the second time.

Just under six minutes into the period, P.K. Subban turned the puck over in the defensive zone, and the Golden Knights had an opportunity to continue their attack. The puck was won back by the Devils, but Kevin Rooney was tripped as he left the defensive zone, giving the puck back. Blackwood went down to the ice with his pad stretched to the post to deny the one-on-none for Stephenson.

MacKenzie Blackwood had a series of terrific stops with seven minutes to play in the period. The Zacha line was being pressured with the Severson pairing. After stopping a point shot, Paul Stastny picked up the rebound and forced Blackwood to cover a seemingly impossible stretch to prevent a backhand goal.

The Devils took the first penalty of the game with five minutes and 53 seconds to play in the first period for tripping. Connor Carrick took the call while defending the Vegas rush. It was away from the puck, as Nick Cousins was trying to get positioned around the net.

On the penalty kill, Travis Zajac and Joey Anderson started the two minutes with Mueller and Severson. They got the puck out of the zone multiple times, preventing the Knights from getting shots on net. When the second unit of Zacha, Rooney, Mermis, and Subban came on, Subban failed to prevent a pass from behind the net from being sent to the lower half of the faceoff circle, forcing Blackwood to make a save. The Devils killed the rest of the penalty.

Through one period, the shot count was 11 to eight, Golden Knights, while the attempts were much more in their favor at a 65.63 CF% against the Devils.

Second Period: Max Pacioretty opened the scoring with his 31st of the season just 45 seconds into the period, assisted by William Karlsson. Pacioretty hit the corner from the top of the faceoff circle on a rush. 1-0, Golden Knights.

Jesper Bratt had a great opportunity to score six and a half minutes into the period, as the Devils broke up a breakout and Bratt was all alone with Lehner. Bratt chose to go backhand in the slot, but his shot went over the net

Max Pacioretty took a hooking penalty after Mirco Mueller blocked a shot, and the Devils went to the power play for the first time of the game, having had a lot of trouble getting anything going at even strength.

Jack Hughes took an early shot from high in the faceoff circle with Travis Zajac in front, but Zajac couldn’t get his stick on the shot and Lehner covered. After the second faceoff, the Devils had space to shoot but didn’t make anything of their opportunities. Nico Hischier hit a post on a rebound, and Nikita Gusev came on for the second minute with the first wave of the power play. Gusev took a slap shot that got blocked, and the Knights were able to soon after take the puck and clear it, effectively ending the power play having registered two shots.

Max Pacioretty took a second minor penalty of the period for holding Travis Zajac as Zajac tried to break out with six minutes and 12 seconds to play. Jack Hughes sent a bad pass to Nico Hischier early on, allowing the Golden Knights to converge on the puck in the corner and get a clear 35 seconds into the power play. With the first unit still on the ice, the Golden Knights stifled the second entry, and the Devils reset with their second unit for the last 45 seconds. Miles Wood was called for offsides with 33 seconds remaining. Zacha lost the draw, and McNabb cleared the puck to Subban, who allowed Zacha to dump in. Zacha spun away from a defenseman and played to Gusev, who tried to set up Bratt in the high slot - but he deferred to Subban. Subban’s blast from the point was turned away and cleared, ending the power play.

MacKenzie Blackwood had an amazing save, as William Karlsson played a puck to Nicolas Roy behind the net, who centered a pass for Max Pacioretty in the slot. Blackwood made the stop, and fell on the puck to freeze play. Pacioretty came very close to getting his second goal of the game, but Blackwood was on point.

The period ended 1-0, with the shots 20-19, Devils.

Third Period: Travis Zajac lost the opening draw, but turned play around after the Golden Knights entered the zone. The Devils’ counterattack failed to get a shot off, however, and the Golden Knights caught the defense sleeping early on. With Severson on his weak side, William Karlsson took a pass from Daniel Roy and sniped past MacKenzie Blackwood on a one-timer for his 15th goal of the season, and the 100th of his career. Max Pacioretty got his 34th assist on the season with the secondary assist. 2-0, Knights.

The Devils had trouble getting much going in the third period, as the Golden Knights were mostly able to just use their structure to prevent the Devils from approaching the net. The Devils were not eager to shoot, and only had a couple shots through the first several minutes of the third period.

The Golden Knights extended their lead with eleven minutes to play with the fourth line on the ice against the Zacha line. With the Knights shooting away on Blackwood, they were able to get behind Subban and Mueller - and Ryan Reaves chipped a rebound past Blackwood to make it 3-0, Vegas. William Carrier and Tomas Nosek got the assists.

Brandon Pirri took a minor penalty for slashing Jack Hughes’ stick with just over six minutes to play. The Devils were doing terribly at creating chances, and the power play started with the second unit. Pavel Zacha found Nikita Gusev with a cross-ice pass, who slid it across to Jesper Bratt for a wrist shot with Miles Wood in front. Lehner made the save and covered the rebound. After the second faceoff, a Subban shot was turned away and the Knights got a clear, and then a pass from the corner to the point split Subban and Bratt. The first unti came on for the second minute, but Nico Hischier couldn’t hold a soft pass with 35 seconds, and the Devils were offsides with 25 seconds. The Knights killed the penalty, and after it expired a Damon Severson one-timer hit Zach Whitecloud high, and the referees blew play dead after the Knights cleared the zone. Whitecloud went to the locker room.

With under two minutes to play, the Devils were still managing to get out-possessed by the Golden Knights, despite being down three goals and barely having even pressured the Knights in the third period. In the final minute, the Hischier line attempted to forecheck, and Josh Jacobs gave up possession with a dump-in at 40 seconds. In the final 30 seconds, P.K. Subban sent it ahead on the breakout, and Jesper Bratt created a one-timer for Pavel Zacha from the blueline with seven seconds to play. Lehner stopped and covered it. Zacha chipped the puck off the draw to Bratt, but it couldn’t be handled, and Nikita Gusev sent a last-second shot wide from the boards.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Knights on Ice for their recap.

Few Positives: Only a few Devils managed to break even in possession tonight. They were: Pavel Zacha (50.00), Jesper Bratt (52.00), Nico Hischier (57.14) and Kyle Palmieri (58.62). However, Zacha and Bratt had very unfavorable xGF% at 22.48 and 26.15, respectively. Five Devils had an xGF% above 50. They were Connor Carrick (50.75), Jack Hughes (53.76), Joey Anderson (59.47), Nico Hischier (62.65), and Kyle Palmieri (69.35). These numbers were very unimpressive when you take into account that how low the xGF totals were for some of those five. With Carrick on the ice, the Devils had 0.42 xGF. With Hughes, only 0.59. And with Anderson, just 0.53.

Nico Hischier was the best player for the Devils, with one of the more spirited efforts in the third period, a great showing on the power play, and consistent defense early on before the team started to break down. He also led the team in individual expected goals (ixG) at 0.57 in all situations, with the nearest being Hughes at 0.39 (which I noticed was mostly off of Hischier passes). Nico also had two rebound attempts and created one rebound according to Natural Stat Trick, being very active on the first power play. He came closest to scoring for the Devils there, ringing a shot off the post after he collected a rebound, on a play that was mostly created by him.

MacKenzie Blackwood saved 29 of 32 for a .906 save percentage on an expected 2.98 goals against. Considering how weak the Devils defense is, it should come as no surprise that Blackwood turned in what ended up a flashy but imperfect performance in a game where perfect wouldn’t have even been enough.

Defensive Culprits: Dakota Mermis had a very negative effect on first line performance tonight. In the five minutes Dakota Mermis played with Nico Hischier, the teams tied in shots and attempts, but the Devils allowed four scoring chances and two high danger ones while earning just two scoring chances and none of the high-danger variety. In those five minutes, the Devils had an expected goals ratio of 0.08-0.35 for a 17.86 xGF%. In the minutes played without Dakota Mermis on the ice, the Devils with Nico Hischier had an 84.72 xGF%. The Devils with Hischier registered three high-danger chances with Mirco Mueller also on the ice, posting a 0.66-0.13 xG ratio for a 83.10 xGF%.

Bad Combinations: The Carrick-Jacobs pairing was not a good mix with the Zajac line tonight. In the four minutes and 31 seconds that Josh Jacobs played with Travis Zajac, the Devils got outshot 5-0, and didn’t even register an attempt with a 0.00 CF%. The Zajac line with Carrick and Jacobs allowed five scoring chances and two high danger scoring chances, accounting for all but one scoring chance against for the Devils’ bottom pairing. The 0.32 xGA with Zajac’s line accounted for all but 0.09 of the xGA accumulated by the Carrick-Jacobs pairing.

The Mueller-Subban pairing might have done well with the top line, but they played awful behind the Zacha line. On the goal allowed, both Subban and Mueller strayed from the net and allowed the Golden Knights’ crash to gain position. Ryan Reaves was practically uncontested when he scored, having no defensemen between him and Blackwood. With Mueller, Pavel Zacha and the Devils had 0.89 xGA and a 18.56 xGF%.

Boqvist and Wood...: The attempt of tonight by Alain Nasreddine at a new iteration of Travis Zajac’s line failed pretty miserably. In 11:01 together, the Devils took five attempts and allowed 15 for a 25.00 CF%, getting outshot eight to two, and allowing a goal on a 0.22-0.62 xGF-xGA ratio and 26.01 xGF%. Jesper Boqvist, in his first game back, was one of five Devils to not register a shot. I think that this line needs a more dynamic presence than Miles Wood, as his defensive zone coverage leaves a lot to be desired. I think that Alain Nasreddine should consider using Michael McLeod and Joey Anderson with Zajac, as he would be an improvement for them over Kevin Rooney.

Superior Coaching: Peter DeBoer knew how to beat Alain Nasreddine tonight. By taking away space to get the puck close to the net, he exposed the Devils’ system’s lack of ability to cycle the puck to create breakdowns. Unforced errors, bouncing passes (too often from Jack Hughes on the power play), missed zone holds all contribute to the picture of sloppy play the Devils gave us tonight. When that continually happens across 60 minutes, it will almost always be impossible to beat a team so devoted to structure. This could be seen most significantly in the third period, when the Golden Knights outshot the Devils 12 to seven while only allowing six shots in 18 minutes of even strength play with the Devils already down a goal. By halfway through the third, they were down three goals, but failed to swing possession or shots in their favor regardless afterwards. DeBoer shut Nasreddine down tonight, and this will probably happen a few more times against playoff teams as this season winds down.

Your Thoughts: What did you think about tonight’s game. Did you miss John Hayden? Were you disappointed in what you saw from Boqvist on the Zajac line? Do you think Nasreddine should have been more aggressive in making changes? Is he avoiding in-game line adjustments too much? Does this feel like the beginning of a return to a more normal level of performance for MacKenzie Blackwood? How would this have looked if Cory Schneider was in net? How did the breakouts and entries look to you? How did the effort in the third make you feel? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.