The beginning of the game was a back-and-forth with nothing of note developing on either end for either of the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. The shifts were short and sweet as all four Devils lines hit the ice in the first 100 seconds. The McLeod line was the first shift to have sustained offensive zone time, which culminated with a shot over the bar by Tyce Thompson.
The defensive breakouts early on were particularly sloppy, as P.K. Subban and Colton White struggled to make tape-to-tape passes, leading White to turn over a pass out of the zone. This forced Jonathan Bernier to make a couple saves; and after two stoppages the Mercer line successfully turned play around - leading Jesper Boqvist to show a fair burst of speed on the rush, though he missed the net.
P.K. Subban took a blast from the point on his next shift, and at 4:30 in the first period, he scored the first of the game off K’Andre Miller’s skate. 1-0, Devils. Michael McLeod and Chase DeLeo had the assists. Following the goal, the Devils drew a holding penalty from Nils Lundkvist.
“People only see what you allow them to see.” - Dr. Melfi - P.K. Subban’s goal through the screen pic.twitter.com/Ov79XjSU6W— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 1, 2021
The first power play wave had Hamilton, Mercer, Zacha, Tatar, and Hischier. Tatar took the first shot of the penalty with a one-timer from the right circle. Hischier won the following draw, though Mercer lost the puck and Hamilton had to retrieve a clear. The second wave featured Subban, Holtz, Kuokkanen, Wood, and Boqvist. Janne Kuokkanen was able to take advantage, as Holtz blasted a one-timer into a Rangers defenseman, leaving a loose puck near Shesterkin. Kuokkanen collected it, and his shot gave the Devils a 2-0 lead.
Dr. Jennifer Melfi: “What line of work are you in?”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 1, 2021
Janne Kuokkanen: “Waste management consultant." pic.twitter.com/NxhAXGFdMe
Jonathan Bernier was tested often in the first half of the period, but his best save came in the tenth minute of the first, as Morgan Barron got behind the Devils’ defensemen and tried to beat Bernier on the short-side. On the other end, about a minute later, Miles Wood created a breakaway, shooting alone on Shesterkin - and he was able to bang away at his own rebound, but to no avail.
Dougie Hamilton made an excellent seeing-eye shot from the corner of the zone, getting the puck to the net and fooling Shesterkin, who let the puck leak behind into the crease. Tyce Thompson pounced on it to make it a 3-0 game.
Another waste management consultant opportunity. Tyce is in the family business. pic.twitter.com/a10lFB1Wna— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 1, 2021
P.K. Subban took a tripping penalty toward the end of the period, and Mika Zibanejad scored on a one-timer from Nils Lundkvist shortly after the first faceoff, which was won by Barclay Goodrow. 3-1.
The first line had a good showing to start the period, as Nico Hischier had a chance in close on Shesterkin which was fought away. After the Rangers cleared, Holtz hit Nico with a cross-ice pass, which Hischier took into the offensive zone before centering a chance for Wood to attempt a redirection - but Shesterkin stopped that as well.
Ryan Graves took an interference penalty a minute and 19 seconds into the period - which left the penalty kill without its new defenseman. After a quick clear, Janne Kuokkanen set Zacha up for a one-timer, which was stopped by Shesterkin. As the Rangers attacked, the Devils were caught for too many men on the ice - Boqvist served the penalty.
Nico Hischier took the draw with Colton White and Jeremy Groleau behind him. The Rangers won the draw, but could not make anything happen, as the Devils got the puck down ice twice before the Rangers got another offensive zone draw with 33 seconds left in the Graves penalty. Nico won the puck off the draw, and cleared the puck down ice. Zacha came on, and Colton White made a block to finish Graves’ penalty. Graves made a quick impact, knocking a loose puck away as the Rangers had an empty net with Bernier out of position. The Devils cleared at the very end of the penalty kill to keep the game 3-1.
Tomas Tatar put on a display in the offensive zone, using his speed to beat the Rangers around the zone. As Kuokkanen drew a delayed penalty in front of the net, Tatar played it to Zacha, who moved the puck to Colton White, who found Tatar swinging around for a one-timer, which beat Shesterkin cleanly. 4-1. Both Zacha and White made great plays with the puck to set Tatar up to finish what he started.
“I went ahead and ordered some for the table.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 2, 2021
Everyone is eating tonight. Tatar with a beauty. pic.twitter.com/DVAohYas5A
After the goal, Nico Hischier drew a tripping penalty from Greg McKegg. The Devils created a scramble by the net early in the power play, with Dawson Mercer forcing the issue up front. The Devils showed good puck movement early on, but were unable to create much space, as they were forced to cycle. Play was stopped with 39 seconds remaining in the power play, as a pass from Mercer was deflected out of play. The second unit did nothing of note.
Adam Huska replaced Igor Shesterkin after the first stoppage past the halfway mark of the game. Nico Hischier drew another penalty with just over eight minutes in the period, as Zac Jones pulled him down from behind while chasing a loose puck. Dougie Hamilton lost the puck quickly to Barclay Goodrow, forcing Bernier to make a save. The Devils did not get anything set up in the first minute. The second wave was similarly fruitless.
With a couple minutes left in the period, Dawson Mercer nearly completed a double deflection goal, as a shot from the point deflected to him, and his redirection went just wide of the goal. Graves took the initial shot, Boqvist appeared to tip it to the far side, and Mercer deflected it through the crease. Following that missed opportunity, the Devils struggled to get anything going in the offensive zone, and Tomas Tatar took a tripping penalty in the corner of the defensive zone. Fortunately, the Devils got the puck out early, and the Rangers iced the puck with 35 seconds to play. Pavel Zacha shot the puck as the puck dropped, and his shot went wide and low - but it was impressive nonetheless, even if the broadcast was too busy still talking about Mercer to acknowledge it. Nico just ran out of time at the end of the period with a breakaway, as time expired when he hit the offensive zone blueline with nobody even in his area code.
Nico Hischier made a great play on the penalty kill halfway through the first minute, intercepting a pass behind him and playing it ahead to Miles Wood, who took it down ice. The first good shift of the period came from Mercer’s line, after the penalty was killed, as they maintained zone possession until they appeared exhausted.
Five minutes into the period, the Rangers went back to the power play as Tyce Thompson took a slashing call. Miles Wood made his mark on the penalty kill, speeding allover the ice as he disrupted the Rangers. Graves made a great play as he cleanly stripped Mika Zibanejad high in the zone for a clear toward the end of the first minute - after which the Rangers played with a whimper. The power play went by the wayside with zero shots on Bernier.
A few couple minutes later, Jacob Trouba took a penalty for roughing Tomas Tatar, as he hit Tatar during an offsides call and proceeded to punch him in the back of the head. Gerard Gallant was not happy about the call, for whatever reason.
Pavel Zacha showed off his wrister on the power play, receiving a pass from Hamilton and ripping a shot from the top of the circle. 5-1, Devils. Maybe Trouba can give the Devils a few more of those during the games that actually count.
Minutes later, after being turned around at the edge of the crease, Jonathan Bernier came back from being out of position and made a glove save on his stomach on Lauri Pajuniemi. The broadcast and the crowd seemed to think the puck was going in, but Bernier came away with it.
Jimmy Vesey, capping off a solid game, skated the puck wide into the zone, faking a pass to a cutting Dawson Mercer. Huska bit hard, and Vesey’s shot bounced off him into the net. 6-1, Devils. Dawson Mercer followed this up shortly after, as he poked the puck away from K’Andre Miller at the blueline and created a breakway. Trouba was too slow to even take a penalty to stop Mercer. Mercer dragged the puck, and his low shot made it a 7-1 game.
The rest of the game passed by without incident, and the Devils skated off very happy with their performance. And as it happened, the Devils got to have Tatar, Hamilton, and Bernier skate out as the three stars. Funny how that happens.
The Game Highlights:
Another Great Game for Mercer; A Good Showing by Holtz
Dawson Mercer’s line was the second best for the Devils tonight, playing a team-high 11:18 together. They had a 68.18 CF%, 58.77 xGF%, and had two even strength goals. They also happened to play against mixed competition, feasting on the all competition except when they played against Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Against Zibanejad and Kreider, they had a 50.00 CF%, 20.35 xGF%, and a one-to-three shots ratio in 4:21 against. Against all other competition, they had a 75.00 CF%, 81.02 xGF%, and nine-to-one shots ratio. This tells me that Dawson Mercer would probably be a good fit for third line competition, as they had little trouble against other established NHLers such as the Miller-Trouba pairing (which they outshot four-to-none in 2:12 against as the Rangers’ pairing gave up a goal) and Filip Chytil (outshot four-to-one in 2:52 against).
Meanwhile, Alex Holtz was on the best performing even strength line - though they were not rewarded with a goal. Nico Hischier’s line with Wood and Holtz had team bests in CF% and xGF% at 71.43 and 76.90. They demolished the Zibanejad line, outshooting them seven-to-one (as well as outshooting the Rangers eight-to-one with Miller-Trouba on). And while Zibanejad showed he has a hell of a shot tonight, he had a 0.00 xGF% against Wood, Hischier, and Holtz, while being on the ice for 0.53 xGA. Nico Hischier is looking very strong at center, which is great to see. Holtz’s importance to Kuokkanen’s power play goal cannot be understated - it created Kuokkanen’s opportunity. To top it off, Miles Wood was excellent on the penalty kill on top of even strength play, with the Devils allowing zero shots with him and Hischier together on the ice during the penalty kill.
Get Zacha Back to the Wing
One of the downsides of the night was that Pavel Zacha did not impress at even strength in his return to center. Despite having Tomas Tatar on his line, they were held to a 25.00 CF%, albeit Tatar did score on one of their two shots as a line. Zacha did display his good hands and close-range maneuverability tonight - though mostly around the boards. He is most definitely a winger - which is fine with Mercer on the team.
How the Other Hopefuls Fared
Jimmy Vesey looked like an NHL player tonight. I would like to see him be on the main roster when the preseason is over. He was third among all Devils in individual expected goals at even strength with 0.22 on four shots and a goal, had three takeaways, and three hits. On the other end of the line, Jesper Boqvist was tenth among Devils in ixG at even strength with 0.09 on two shots, and had two takeaways. Boqvist was fine and played well with his line, but Vesey was more noticeable as a winger.
Tyce Thompson looks like he is getting more up to the speed he needs to play at in the NHL. He also seemed to regularly get under the Rangers’ skin, and was fourth in ixG with 0.2 on two shots and a goal. He also had two takeaways and two blocks. I could see him continuing to play next to Michael McLeod during the season.
Colton White may have had a pretty pass to Tomas Tatar, but I felt the rest of his game wasn’t spectacular. He was occasionally sloppy with the puck, which I don’t think is what this team needs from any of their depth defensemen. On one occasion, White had options in the offensive zone to pass to and chose to drive the puck low, losing it behind the net before he could pass to an open Nico Hischier. Had he chosen to pass earlier, Nico would have had a chance to make a play from behind goal. He might be a decent enough eighth defenseman, but I’m unsure of who of the lefties I would pick at this point.
Michael Vukojevic and Jeremy Groleau were invisible in quite a fine way tonight, though they mostly played against the weaker competition. They had a 58.82 CF% in 10:46, allowing just four shots on goal to the tune of a 59.38 xGF%. I think they could be a good pairing to keep together at the AHL level, if Vukojevic doesn’t impress enough to get a shot during this season.
A Good Goaltender?
Jonathan Bernier showed he can be everything you need from a starting goaltender tonight. He was tested early and was up to the task - even when the Rangers went into periods of non-attack and eventually came back with a flurry of opportunities, Bernier stayed sharp. He made the save on an odd two-on-none opportunity during a breakdown, made a diving save from his knees; making saves on six of six high danger shots against out of 25 total shots. So, if someone was unavailable for some amount of time for various reasons, I would feel comfortable with Jonathan Bernier taking the reins as a starting goaltender for however long he needs to. Now, the Devils just have to iron out who is third up.
Preseason is a good time for figuring stuff like this out.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Who caught your eye? Did you like how the Devils’ special teams performed? How did you feel about the trouble the Miller-Trouba pairing had, and Jacob Trouba’s tantrum? How did you feel about the performance of Igor Shesterkin and Adam Huska as compared to Jonathan Bernier? How did you feel about the depth options at forward and defense? Do you think Miles Wood could be a penalty killer? Are we ready to admit Holtz and Mercer should start in the NHL? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed in the gamethread or @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for enjoying this blissful game with us. As always, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.