After a dominant 7-1 win over Our Hated Rivals Friday night, the Devils had a quick turnaround for their third preseason game of the 2021-22 season. In actuality, however, a fresh Devils lineup composed entirely of players who sat out last night’s game were called upon for the Saturday matinee in Bridgeport against the New York Islanders.
The Islanders top line of Kiefer Bellows, Mat Barzal, and Kyle Palmieri made their presence known early. Palmieri fed a beautiful touchpass to Barzal, catching the Devils in transition and leaving Jonas Siegenthaler alone in an odd man rush. Barzal dished the puck to Bellows for the one-timer and the Islanders took the early 1-0 lead at 3:23 in the first period.
Aside from a handful of chances, the Islanders dominated the first period, with a 16-5 edge in shots on goal. That’s not to say the Devils didn’t have their chances. Marian Studenic had a couple opportunities throughout the period to put one in the net. Yegor Sharangovich had a pointblank opportunity late in the first period that was turned away by Ilya Sorokin. But make no mistake about it, this period was all Islanders.
Scott Wedgewood relieved Blackwood after the first period, and the Devils failed to capitalize on a couple power play opportunities early in the second period. Christian Jaros went to the box for hooking at the 14:05 mark, and the Devils makeshift penalty killing unit of Sharangovich-Studenic-Siegenthaler-Okhotiuk did a nice job preventing the Islanders from generating much of anything with the man advantage. On the ensuing shift, Jack Hughes did a great job keeping the puck away from Ross Johnston behind Sorokin’s net and generally being a pest. Hughes drew a Johnston cross-check for his efforts, leading to a penalty that the Devils failed to score on, but that is secondary to a potential injury to the man who has been referred to as “The Big Deal”. Hughes would go on to take another shift on the ensuing power play, but departed shortly after and did not return.
If the Devils had to list their top goal for today, it might have been to not see Jack Hughes crumpled on the ice in pain. He got up, went to the bench and seems to be OK. Skated a bit during the time out. Looks like he's coming back out for the PP as well.— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) October 2, 2021
Without too much speculation ... it appears to be a ribs/hip/side issue for Hughes. https://t.co/GmVrpZ380V— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) October 2, 2021
As for the rest of the second period, former Devils captain Zach Parise poked the puck away from Reilly Walsh on the point to create a shorthanded opportunity, but Wedgewood made the stop. The run of play opened up a bit after the Johnston penalty expired. The Devils had a 2-on-1 odd man rush where Andreas Johnsson’s cross-ice pass was intercepted. Moments later, Oliver Wahlstrom was able to spring a rush the other way. Bellows shot the puck in a similar spot to the one he scored from earlier in the game, and Wedgewood made the save. Nate Schnarr went to the box for a tripping call, and the Devils penalty kill held strong again despite Jaros losing his stick at one point. Aarne Talvitie ripped a shot off the crossbar in the closing seconds of the period, and the Devils would head to the dressing room down 1-0 after a much more competitive second period.
Hughes stayed behind in the locker room as the third period began. The Devils makeshift top line of Andreas Johnsson-Yegor Sharangovich-Marian Studenic would create a few opportunities, but the Islanders would control the pace of play for the early portion of the third period. The Devils got a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for 1:27 midway through the third as Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas went to the box. Following a timeout, Scott Mayfield and Thomas Hickey did a good job killing off the Devils 2-man advantage and improving to 5-5 on the penalty kill on the day.
The Devils would finally break through with 4:15 to go in regulation, as Mark Jankowski made his case to turn his PTO into a contract by scoring against our old friend Cory Schneider.
The Devils and Islanders skated 4-on-4 late in the third as Kyle Palmieri took exception to a big reverse hit by Siegenthaler on Bellows behind the Devils net. Palmieri and Siegenthaler exchanged pleasantries and each drew a roughing penalty for their actions, and the remainder of regulation ran its course, with both teams heading to 3-on-3 overtime.
The Islanders would continue to control the pace of play as they did for much of regulation until Yegor Sharangovich got control of the puck in the defensive zone, skated the length of the ice, and won the game for the Devils with his elite wristshot.
That's what we're talkin' bout. pic.twitter.com/IxumwmeyIi— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 2, 2021
Despite the lineups being what they were, despite being outshot by a 2:1 margin and despite Hughes and Blackwood’s early departures, the Devils won their third straight preseason game.
The Game Highlights:
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Lighthouse Hockey for the Islanders perspective on today’s game.
Jack Hughes update & other Devils injury notes
After the game, head coach Lindy Ruff was asked by the media for an update on Jack Hughes and if he might miss any time.
#NJDevils Lindy Ruff quote when asked if he thinks Jack Hughes might miss any time:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) October 2, 2021
"Not right now, you know I think that's encouraging for everyone that I feel that way. I'm hoping it's nothing, nothing serious, more precautionary, so I'm hopeful."
Will be evaluated tomorrow.
It goes without saying that the Devils can ill-afford for Jack Hughes to miss any significant time. The fact that Ruff seems to think that Hughes avoided a major injury or won’t miss significant time is encouraging, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest to find out any additional information. Ruff’s postgame comments can be seen below.
“Looking at compete, we got better as the game went on. The third period we found a way to get one and got another one to win.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 2, 2021
Lindy Ruff speaks after the OT win over the Islanders. #NJDevils | @InvestorsBank pic.twitter.com/wJuoNpzsOe
In other Devils-related news, Ruff revealed that Ty Smith is dealing with an undisclosed injury. A team spokesman stressed that Smith’s absence is precautionary, but Ruff mentioned that he doesn’t expect him to skate for “a number of days”. Additionally, Jesper Bratt is dealing with a non-COVID related illness. Bratt was supposed to play Friday against the Rangers, but obviously, that was not the case. Bratt appears to be on the mend as Ruff noted that he skated today, so perhaps we see him make his preseason debut next week.
Devils goaltending was outstanding
MacKenzie Blackwood saw his first action of the preseason and was tested early and often. Blackwood stopped all but one of the 16 shots on goal he faced in his first and only period. Considering how the Islanders dominated the run of play in the first period and the fact that Blackwood is still working his way back from offseason heel surgery, that was more than enough work for a preseason debut. Perhaps more importantly, he came out of the game healthy and moved around well in the crease. The Devils made the smart decision to give him the rest of the night off and let Scott Wedgewood finish the game. Wedgewood made the most of his opportunity, turning away all 22 shots he saw. He made some timely saves in the third period and overtime when the Islanders were buzzing again.
You can check out Mackenzie Blackwood’s postgame comments below.
Sharangovich continues to shine
Yegor Sharangovich scored in the preseason opener against Washington earlier this week off of a nifty backhand. He scored today with his wrister. He played on the penalty kill (and in a nice change of pace, the penalty kill pitched a shutout today). He continues to generate scoring chances with Jack Hughes, and perhaps more impressively, he generated scoring chances without him. Unfortunately, Natural Stat Trick doesn’t have the fancy stats available from today’s game, but between the 5 shots on goal you can see in the box score and from watching the game, you see a player who continues to get better and better. You see a player who’s confidence is growing the more experience he gets. With an elite wrister and a two-way game that is coming along nicely, I believe we’re seeing the beginnings of Yegor Sharangovich, top line winger. And I don’t mean “top line winger” for the Devils, I mean a guy who can play on the top line for most NHL teams. 30+ goal potential. All-Star potential. If the Devils have THAT in Sharangovich, it’ll go a long way as they continue to build something here in New Jersey.
Who else stood out?
Along with the goaltenders and Sharangovich, Ruff made a point to credit the play of Marian Studenic, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Nikita Okhotiuk. I would agree with his assessment. Studenic created some scoring chances when he was out there, and was rewarded with a promotion to the top line once Hughes was ruled out. He showed some chemistry with Sharangovich there, as well as when they were on the penalty kill together. It was the type of performance Studenic needed to have if he wants to remain in consideration for one of the Devils final roster spots. I don’t know that he did enough to earn a spot, but he did not hurt his cause either.
Siegenthaler was the de facto #1 defenseman for the Devils today with the roster they iced, and they leaned heavily on him as a result. I know he was on the ice for the Bellows goal as the one in the 2-on-1 situation, but I don’t think that’s a goal you can pin on him. He played well in all situations and you hope the Devils found something there with the trade to bring him aboard.
The other player I want to mention positively is Aarne Talvitie, who picked up the primary assist on Jankowski’s goal. He ripped a puck earlier in the game that went off of the crossbar as well. I think he is a guy who clearly still has some developing left to do, but he was noticeable in a positive way.
I’m a little disappointed in Andreas Johnsson, who didn’t really pop from what I saw in this game. He was also ‘rewarded’ with a promotion to the top line after the Hughes injury, but I didn’t really see a whole lot from him aside from the one scoring chance he had on the power play. I can appreciate him trying to be unselfish by passing the puck on his 2-on-1 opportunity, but I thought the correct play was for him to shoot and he declined to do so. I still question where he ultimately fits on this Devils roster and I came away from today’s game no closer to having any idea where he fits.
The rest of the lineup is what it is. There were some prospects like Reilly Walsh who continue to look overwhelmed with defensive responsibilities, and there were guys who continue to look like career AHL’ers. There’s a reason why the Devils were outshot 2:1 and its because the rest of the lineup wasn’t very good.
Cuts are coming
Ruff said postgame that the team will continue to make cuts tomorrow. The Devils made a few cuts earlier today as they assigned Ryan Schmelzer, Jeremy Groleau, Michael Vukojevic, and Mareks Mitens to the AHL. Utica opens their training camp on Monday, so I would expect to see many of the players who played in today’s game reassigned before their next game Monday at Prudential Center.
What did you think of today’s game? Are you concerned about Jack Hughes leaving early or, like Lindy Ruff, are you taking a wait-and-see approach? Is Yegor Sharangovich a star in the making? Did you come away impressed with the performance of the goaltenders? What other players stood out, positively or negatively, for you? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!