50 minutes before the game started, it was announced that Mackenzie Blackwood was placed on the COVID list, because good things don’t happen in the world. As such, Scott Wedgewood got the last-minute notice that he would be starting. He played his part in attempting to help his team win the game, but the rest of the team failed to get the memo.
The Islanders started off strong from the bat - with puck possession and pressure being domineering from their end. Wedgewood was tested early from a shot by Ryan Pulock before proceeding to stop his first real chance by denying Anthony Beauvillier on a two-on-one opportunity. However, he was beaten quickly only a short time later, as Matt Barzal drove down the right side of the ice, took advantage of Subban neglecting to pressure him, and sniped a perfect shot past Wedgewood which was virtually impossible to stop to open the scoring for the Islanders.
As play continued, Wedgewood continued to see pressure from the Islanders. An unlucky broken stick by a Devils defenseman led to a point-blank opportunity from Anders Lee, which Wedgewood stonewalled to keep the Devils in an okay position.
Some sustained pressure existed on the Devils side moving forward. However, the Devils gave away yet another odd-man opportunity, leading to a Jordan Eberle breakaway and backhand goal, for a 2-0 lead. The Islanders saw another chance to strike off a lob pass to Barzal in the dying minutes of the first, but Subban was able to restrict his movement and move the puck away.
The second period started off the same - slow moving Devils and constant Islanders pressure. However, the Devils and Nathan Bastian skated into the zone, with Bastian deciding to rip the puck at Varlamov, somehow beating him and his shutout streak, to put the Devils on the board. This goal sparked a response from the Devils, as they were actually able to put up some sustained pressure on their part. Ty Smith drew a power-play which the Islanders had the best chance in, but Wedgewood stopped that opportunity. The rest of the period saw back and forth play between the two teams, with the Islanders seeing better opportunities. However, Wedgewood was incredibly solid and robbed multiple Islander opportunities.
Nothing much transpired through the rest of the period, but Brock Nelson got a nasty cut on his head after he fell into Subban’s stick. Kudos to PK Subban on that one for checking on Nelson right away and ensuring he was alright the whole way through.
The Devils started the 3rd period inches away from their eventual disaster. Scott Mayfield took a shot off the point, which deflected off of Ryan Murray and then the post. After an encouraging 2nd period, a start like that to the 3rd could have been detrimental. The Islanders then cleanly won another draw, leading to a Beauvillier which again rang off the post. Zajac then got called for a hooking penalty, and Eberle was able to take a missed shot off the boards and slap it past Wedgewood for a 3-1 lead. The Devils then found themselves in trouble again as a result of some sloppy play and Nelson scored another goal to make it 4-1. After these opportunities, the Islanders focused more on defensive stability whilst the Devils struggled to connect on simple passes across the ice. The play felt like it had stagnated for the last 14+ minutes, ending with a 4-1 Islanders win.
Initial Thoughts Postgame
The Devils were dreadful today. Simple passes could never hit the target, with the fault being divided between both the passer and receiver. Furthermore, the Islanders seemed to have figured out the Devils offensive strategy to a tee, as they always had a man in position to intercept any offensive chances or outlet chances. Lastly, I’m frankly shocked that the Devils were listed as having 31 shots on goal. I don’t recall many - if any, chances at all for the Devils offensively, as it felt like all of their players were skating on concrete blocks throughout the game.
Scott Wedgewood, while maligned for not being an optimal NHL backup, was not at fault for the Devils’ loss. In fact, if not for Wedgewood the Islanders could have ran up the score to an even uglier result such as a 6-1 or 7-1 score, as they seemed to be able to create odd-man rushes at will, with no resistance at all from the Devils defensemen. While certainly not a starting level goaltender, I thought that Wedgewood played quite well given the situation and what the Devils gave him effort-wise today. If not for him, the game wouldn’t have been so close heading into the 3rd.
Oh, and we can’t talk about the 3rd period without talking about the Devils’ horrendous penalty kill. The Devils’ need some serious changes in personnel or strategy on special teams, as it’s been horrific at best to start the season. Their penalty kill, a source of strength even last season, sits at an awful 69.2%, while their power play is only at a 10% clip. I don’t know exactly what the Devils need to do to fix their special teams, but the coaching staff better find it quickly, or else the season could go downhill fast.
I don’t know what the record is for the most Too Many Men On the Ice penalties to start a season, but the Devils have to be close to a historically bad rate to start the season. For the third time in four games, the Devils were called for a Too Many Men On the Ice penalty - yet again a result of lackadaisical play and a lack of awareness on the ice. This Devils penalty kill has struggled too much to afford lapses in concentration like this and it should be expected that Lindsay Ruff and his staff do all they can to solve this problem.
While they made some mistakes on the ice which directly led to Islander goals, the 4th line for the Devils were the only line that actually created some opportunities for the Devils. The Kuokkanen, McLeod and Bastian line played hard in the offensive zone, which helped pin the Islanders whenever they were on the ice. While they didn’t create any particularly threatening chances - Bastian’s goal was more of a mistake on Varlamov’s part - they did their role in applying pressure and forcing some mistakes on the Islanders parts.
Gusev and Palmieri have not been what the Devils needed to start the season. Through the opening four games the duo have struggled immensely when on the ice, contributing to many broken plays and overall ruining the Devils rhythm and momentum. In today’s game, the two were nothing short of awful on the ice, with CF%’s of 39.29 and 37.04. Hopefully, the two of them do better as they are reunited with their linemates of Bratt and Hischier respectably.
Even with the duo’s inconsistency, Matt Tennyson was the worst while on the ice with a CF% of 25.00. I don’t think that Tennyson is an NHL-caliber defensemen, so hopefully Vatanen can make his way into the lineup soon and offer some additional stability.
I’m relatively surprised that PK Subban broken even with a CF% of 50.00. When watching Subban, it seems like his only offensive move has been to slap the puck from the blue line whilst simultaneously not even reaching the goalie. Furthermore, this is the 2nd game in a row where he’s been stuck in a position of choosing to pressure an opposing forward or cutting off a pass, and chosen some nonexistent option in-between where he just puts himself out of position. Perhaps I’m ragging too much on Subban, but I don’t necessarily see much top-line defenseman value in his play anymore.
The NHL Highlights
The Game Stats
What did you guys think about this game? Were there any players that you thought played well today? What changes need to be made to help the Devils in the future? Do any line changes needed to be made? Let me know in the comments below - let’s hope for a better performance on Sunday!