The New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals struggled to get anything going at the start of the game. However, an early chance for Andreas Johnsson was for naught as a pass from Dawson Mercer went wide of Johnsson. He would have had an empty net to shoot at.
Yegor Sharangovich put on a show about four minutes in, as he collected a pass off the boards, dodged a defender, and hesitated with the puck as he entered the offensive zone. His shot was turned aside, but it was an excellent move to get an open shot.
On the other end after a faceoff, Daniel Sprong went wide on Damon Severson and drew Dougie Hamilton down to the ice. He centered the puck, which was finished in front by Anthony Mantha. 1-0, Capitals.
A few minutes later, Yegor Sharangovich made another excellent play with the puck. A pass from Dougie Hamilton was a bit behind him, but he pulled the puck around the defenseman to make himself open for another shot. It was, however, turned aside again.
Scott Wedgewood made a bad play almost halfway through the period leading to a Capitals goal. He came way too far out of the net to stop an Alex Ovechkin shot, kicking the rebound out to Dmitry Orlov. Wedgewood scrambled across, but Orlov went to his backhand to make it a 2-0 game.
The Devils took the first penalty of the game, as Damon Severson was guilty of tripping with 8:48 to play in the period. Vesey, Gauthier, Hamilton, and Graves led the first kill. The Devils let the Capitals play catch early on, not blocking any passing lanes as the puck found its way to T.J. Oshie in the slot, but Wedgewood made a good save. After this early disappointing allowance of puck movement, the Devils were very good on the kill. The kill ended with Pavel Zacha keeping the puck in the Capitals defensive zone for a good 15 or 20 seconds.
The Devils had a partial two-on-one with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha with just over four minutes to play, but it was broken up by a solid defensive play by John Carlson. The Devils then had an offensive zone faceoff, but the Capitals won the draw and forced the Devils to recollect in their own end. After doing so, Andreas Johnsson turned the puck over while trying to pass to Dougie Hamilton, leading to a breakaway for Connor McMichael. Wedgewood squeezed the puck under his arm.
With under two minutes to play, Scott Wedgewood nearly gave up his third of the period. While he was a bit out of position, the Capitals had a chance right in front of the net, and P.K. Subban made the block on Nic Dowd while sliding across the crease. It was rather timely, as I thought Dowd was going to score.
The second period was rather slow to begin, as the Devils and Capitals traded possessions without any really dangerous shots for the first four and a half minutes. After Scott Wedgewood made a save on Garnet Hathaway with around 15:30 to play in the period, the Capitals had an offensive zone draw. The Capitals won the draw, and cycled the puck for a fair bit before a shot was blocked out of play, giving them another faceoff. After another faceoff win, a shot from the point went high. The Devils turned play around, but Subban took a shot that went wide. Very low event, very low danger to start the period.
Andreas Johnsson had a great chance six minutes into the period, as he had the puck right in front of the net off a feed from Tomas Tatar. His backhand was stopped by Vanecek. The Devils sustained pressure for quite awhile, but were unable to generate anymore high grade chances despite the Capitals being stuck on the ice without a change with Nico Hischier coming on for Mercer and continuing the possession. Through eight and a half minutes, both teams had three shots in the period.
Near the end of the first half of the period, the Devils turned the puck over with a failed pass to Dougie Hamilton at the blueline, which was poked past Hamilton. Daniel Sprong took it up ice, and, unopposed, had a clean breakaway goal on Scott Wedgewood. 3-0, Capitals. Tatar needed to make a better pass there, or Hamilton needed to play the body.
Fredrik Gauthier and Mason Geertsen successfully led a forecheck with five minutes to play, pinning the Capitals deep. This led to Geertsen deflecting a pass from behind the net to Yegor Sharangovich, who ripped a shot off iron. On the other end, the Capitals had a three-on-one, which Wedgewood stopped.
Pavel Zacha had a nice chance with a minute and a half to play, as Janne Kuokkanen led a rush with him up the ice. Kuokkanen chose to hit the trailer, Severson with a pass, and Severson’s pass was just a bit in front of Zacha. Regardless, Zacha’s one-timer hit Vanecek in the mask – so he was pretty close to scoring. Jonas Siegenthaler followed this up with a point shot designed for Nico Hischier to play the rebound, but the net was dislodged.
The Mercer line had an amazing shift two minutes into the period, as Christian Jaros and Dawson Mercer had great shots on goal. Mercer had a one-timer that may have went off iron. This was following some great cross-zone passes and puck movement - a good sign for the offense after struggling with connecting passes earlier on.
Ryan Graves took a stupid penalty three and a half minutes into the period, as he appeared to take Tom Wilson’s knee out in the corner while the Devils had an opportunity for a rush the other way. He was called for tripping. While I thought it was a bit of a dirty hit, some may have been complaining that it was not a trip.
Nico Hischier took the puck up the ice while shorthanded about 30 or so seconds into the kill, but he took the shot at just the wrong moment, hitting a cutting Sharangovich in the arm. The Capitlas struggled a bit to get things going, and Damon Severson cleared with 40 seconds remaining in the penalty. The Devils successfully killed the penalty.
With Yegor Sharangovich centering Mason Geertsen and Fredrik Gauthier, Ryan graves lost the puck to the side of the net, and Tom Wilson slid it to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov just got the puck between Wedgewood and the post to make it a 4-0 game.
The Devils drew their first power play of the night with 8:23 to play, as Dougie Hamilton was hooked in the hands while handling the puck in the defensive zone. The first wave of the power play did not get anything going, suffering a few clears. However, after Dawson mercer fanned on a one-timer in the slot during the second wave’s shift, Damon Severson crashed for the puck and just poked it across to Janne Kuokkanen before the Capitals could clear. Kuokkanen scored five-hole to make it a 4-1 game. For some reason, Yegor Sharangovich got the secondary assist instead of Dawson Mercer, but unless it never touched his stick (which I thought it did), that should be changed.
Right after the goal, Jimmy Vesey nearly scored again. He got a nice pass from Andreas Johnsson and pulled the puck backhand as he went across Vanecek. However, he could not raise the puck and Vanecek was able to sprawl out for the save.
Andreas Johnsson and Dmitry Orlov got into a bit of a confrontation with five and a half minutes to play, drawing coincidental penalties. On the four-on-four, Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt created a chance early - but nothing much happened after that.
After Michael McLeod was taken down into the boards while he was off-balance, the Devils tried to retaliate. However, some players were still trying to play. While Yegor Sharangovich was creating offensive chances, Mason Geertsen cross-checked a Capitals player, and was penalized for it. This wasted the last minute or so.
The Opposition Opinion: Japers’ Rink will have it.
Lindy Ruff’s Terrible Line Management, and a Snakebitten Sharangovich
The Devils started the game with Michael McLeod filling in Jack Hughes’ spot, while the first and third line remained the same, The fourth line was Geertsen and Gauthier plus Jimmy Vesey. By the second period, this is what the lines looked like:
#NJDevils in the second period:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) October 22, 2021
Johnsson-Mercer-Tatar *same as start of game*
Lindy Ruff justified these combinations by pinning blame on the forwards. He warned his team that any sort of lack of effort will result in reduced ice time. You can hear him below.
“We’re not going to win if half our group doesn’t show up.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 22, 2021
Lindy Ruff speaks after tonight’s 4-1 loss to Washington. pic.twitter.com/TtX59rhZtR
Something I do not get here is what he was thinking with Gauthier and Geertsen. Was Sharangovich being punished? Because he was one of the better Devils this game in terms of chance generation. Indeed, a look at Natural Stat Trick shows just 9:49 for Sharangovich in even strength time, who had FIVE shots in that time and FOUR high danger scoring chances. His 0.69 iXG was followed up by Jimmy Vesey’s 0.23 as second best on the team tonight.
If Sharangovich was the problem tonight, then Lindy Ruff needs to check his eyes. This is not to say he was wrong about the team needing to play better with 50-50 pucks and staying in position (or about Jimmy Vesey looking pretty good) - but he needs to trust his sniper. That way, Sharangovich can break out of his slow start and start scoring the goals this team needs him to.
Another thing I did not like is what he did with Nico Hischier’s line. Bumping Kuokkanen and dropping Bratt did not pay off at all. In 4:15 together, Bratt-Hischier-Zacha had a 50.00 CF%, led 2-0 in shots, and had a 79.84 xGF% on two scoring chances (with one on the rush). In 8:07, Kuokkanen-Hischier-Zacha had a 53.85 CF%, were tied in shots 2-2, and had a 46.20 xGF%. Kuokkanen made a nice play on the rush to Severson nearly leading to a goal for Pavel Zacha, but 37-63 looked good at four-on-four together. They are simply more dynamic as a whole unit than split apart - and Ruff needs to just accept that once and for all.
Putting Sharangovich on a line with Geertsen and Gauthier is, on the surface, bad enough. And although I was going to compliment Geertsen for helping create that chance for Sharangovich in the second period, I am instead going to be angry about his stupid penalty at the end of the game. Yegor Sharangovich was all over the ice, trying to make anything and everything happen. I frankly thought he was going to score or create a goal - he just had that feel about him given the effort he was putting in during the third period. Instead, it was killed by a stupid, unnecessary penalty. While McLeod was taken down in a less-than-ideal manner, the clock was ticking. I would have rather seen the Devils answer the Caps’ bad hit with a goal than see Dougie Hamilton waste time going after Ovechkin and Geertsen take a cross-checking penalty while Sharangovich actually tries to play hockey.
Ready for Daws?
Scott Wedgewood had a tough task for him tonight. I’d say that two of his goals were preventable. Even a great game from him probably would have spelled a loss for the Devils. But with Mackenzie Blackwood out and Jonathan Bernier dealing with a nagging injury, I think the Devils should accept that they should go for another third or fourth string start. Nico Daws backed up tonight, and he stopped 25 of 27 shots in his first career AHL start earlier this week. Rather than see Jonathan Bernier turn something minor into something more serious, or rushing Mackenzie Blackwood back from his surgery rehab, I would rather see the Devils start Nico Daws.
Daws is only 20 years old and he did not get a lot of action last year in the DEL. In 10 games, he had an .898 save percentage. On the other hand, Scott Wedgewood is, however much I personally like him, not the best goaltender in the world. Ideally, the team would not need him to start right now - and I am interested to see whether he is really the third best goaltender in the organization. Daws is with the team, and he has some professional experience - and the DEL is not a terrible league. Scott Wedgewood allowed four goals on 27 shots. And although they were tough shots - Wedgwood had a 3.16 expected goals against - this team is not going to score four goals very often without Jack Hughes. I say they give the younger, bigger, and more athletic goaltender a shot in net. Especially on the Orlov goal, I felt Wedgewood’s lack of mobility really hurt his chances to make the stop.
Anyways, Buffalo is next.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you think they had a chance at any point? How should the team progress forward? Is it time to do away with the goons and bring up more skilled players? Who should start in goal on Saturday if Bernier is still out? How did you feel about Ruff’s reshuffled lines? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.