The New Jersey Devils had done a lot of positive things over the first four games of this season opening homestand to compile a 3-1 record, but poor play for most of Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames put the Devils in a position where they couldn’t overcome their mistakes and they dropped the finale by a score of 5-3.
The Flames dominated the pace of play throughout the opening period. Nico Daws was tested early but made a couple nice stops to keep the game scoreless. New Jersey failed to muster any quality chances as Calgary did a nice job not even letting the Devils get set up in the offensive zone, let alone putting the puck on net in any threatening manner. Calgary’s forecheck was ferocious and they did a brilliant job stifling the Devils.
The Devils carelessness with the puck in the neutral zone bit them early and often, and the Flames made them pay. Erik Gudbranson pushed the puck up along the boards. It was deflected towards Milan Lucic, who got in behind Dawson Mercer and snapped the puck past Daws’s five-hole for the 1-0 advantage. Midway through the first period, Jesper Bratt seemed to lose track of the puck along the boards even though it was literally right under him next to his feet. The puck was poked ahead to Andrew Mangiapane who carried it to a high danger area in front of the net. Jonas Siegenthaler was draped all over him, but Mangiapane managed to still get plenty on the shot as he was being taken down and he ripped it past Daws for a 2-0 lead. Moments later, PK Subban got called for a blatant trip on Milan Lucic. Calgary took advantage immediately on the ensuing power play. Ryan Graves failed to clear the puck along the boards, the Flames cycled it around, and Rasmus Andersson took a long shot from the blueline that was tipped in front by Elias Lindholm for the 3-0 lead. That would be all for Daws on this night, as Scott Wedgewood came on in relief. Shortly thereafter, Mangiapane tested Wedgewood early on a breakaway, juking him out of his skates and slipping the puck past him for a 4-0 lead and his second of the evening. The first period mercifully came to an end and the Devils crowd correctly booed the team off the ice for this lackluster effort.
All in all, it was easily the worst period the Devils have played all year, and perhaps the worst period the Devils have played in the Tom Fitzgerald-Lindy Ruff era. This despite the Devils being well-rested coming in and the Flames having played the night before in MSG. Shots were 10-4 Calgary and Natural Stat Trick had the Devils with a 37.93 CF%, but I’m pretty sure they’re just being generous. It wasn’t even that close.
The Devils wasted a power play opportunity to open the second period, mustering only one shot on goal. Siegenthaler went to the box moments later for hooking Tyler Pitlick. The Devils actually managed to pin the Flames back short-handed and kill some time. The Flames sent a few shot attempts wide of net before the penalty came to an end.
Calgary finally made a mistake at the 7:01 mark of the second, as Flames goaltender Dan Vladar made an errant pass from behind the net along the boards and straight to Pavel Zacha, who did not miss the wide open net.
Sharp shooting from a sharp angle. pic.twitter.com/HnLUCxnvR8— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 27, 2021
It was around that time where I checked Twitter to see that the Devils had benched Jesper Bratt and, to a lesser extent, Yegor Sharangovich. Given how poorly the Devils had played up to this point, you can’t say that the benchings were unwarranted.
This would appear to be the current (for now, we'll see) Devils lines:— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) October 27, 2021
That leaves ...
But they've been skipped at least once, possibly twice now.
Meanwhile, Calgary continued to generate more scoring chances throughout the second period. If it weren’t for Scott Wedgewood playing well, the Devils should have probably given up their 5th or 6th goal of the game in the second. Several members of the MSG Broadcast mentioned the Devils “had played better” in the second period. I’m not sure what game they were watching, as I’d say their 34.29% CF and 37.15% xGF% that period would say otherwise. The Flames continued to dominate the run of play and the only reason the Devils scored was on a fluky mistake that they took advantage of. Use whatever metric you want.....analytics, the eye test......the Devils stunk over the first forty minutes.
The Devils started to come alive in the third period. Jesper Bratt returned to the lineup and had a wraparound scoring chance that was turned away. Yegor Sharangovich also seemed to get the message from his benching and made an attempt to put the puck on the net. Gudbranson went to the box for interfering with Bratt at the 7:04 mark, but the Devils failed to gain the zone and establish a credible threat for most of that two minute advantage. Mason Geertsen, who was mostly invisible yet again for the Devils, committed a high sticking penalty and went to the sin bin midway through the third. Too many Devils converged along the boards on the ensuing kill, leading to Sean Monahan with a turnaround pass to find Matthew Thachuk for a point-blank scoring opportunity and he didn’t miss. 5-1 Calgary.
Seconds later, Dawson Mercer generated a scoring chance but Calgary cleared the puck. Dougie Hamilton retrieved it, completed a long pass to Andreas Johnsson at the blue line, and found Mercer as he was cutting towards the net. Mercer slipped the puck under Vladar’s pads to cut the deficit to 5-2. Vladar was unhappy as he was making the case that one of the straps on his helmet came loose and play should’ve been halted, but the referees disagreed and the goal stood.
Ty Smith and Matthew Tkachuk took coincidental minor penalties moments later but nothing came of 4v4 play. Jusso Valimaki caught Andreas Johnsson up high an elbow or stick. Johnsson wanted to drop the mitts but Valimaki declined. New Jersey got a power play opportunity with 3:30 to go and pulled Wedgewood for the 6-on-4 advantage. Pavel Zacha put the puck on the net, and it may have deflected off someone (Mercer?) and went past Vladar for his second of the night, with Mercer and Hamilton picking up their second points of the game.
The Devils would get no closer though, as they skated with an empty net for most of the final three minutes, didn’t really generate much in terms of a high danger scoring chance and Calgary held on for a 5-3 win.
The boxscore would suggest the Devils weren’t too bad when all things were said and done, but I think the Devils outburst in the third has more to do with score effects, tired legs on the part of the Flames, and a couple notable Devils getting the message after being benched for a large portion of the game. If there is any positive to take away from this, its that the Devils did enough in the third where you hope they take that momentum into their first road game of the season this weekend in Pittsburgh. Make no mistake though.....until they play a complete, sixty minute effort, they’re going to have trouble beating any NHL team, let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Matchsticks & Gasoline for the Flames perspective on this debacle of a game. I’m sure they’ll be happier with the result than I was.
Bratt and Sharangovich benched, and rightfully so
Jesper Bratt did not play at all in the second period and Yegor Sharangovich played a handful of shifts. If you watched the first period, you would see that they earned those benchings. Were they the worst Devils in the first 20 minutes? Arguably, no. They were bad though and Lindy Ruff decided to send a message and hold the two young wingers accountable for their poor play.
I’m glad Ruff did, as both players seemed to get the message and were much better in the third period. Bratt wound up leading all Devils skaters with a 61.54% CF on the night. Sharangovich created some scoring chances in the final frame.
Lindy Ruff has said recently that the Devils best players need to play better, and that couldn’t be more apparent after watching tonight’s game. The Devils best players, for the most part, were nowhere near good enough until it was too late. And that’s if they played well at all at any point of this game.
The Graves-Severson pairing was particularly awful
Ryan Graves posted a 22.73 CF% and Damon Severson was not much better with a 33.33% CF% in their first game together as a pairing. They must have had a heck of a run in the third period when the Devils finally generated some chances because after two periods, Graves was at 5.56% and Severson was at 17.65%.
I say all that to say the Graves-Severson pairing did not work, and the first change Lindy Ruff should make to the lineup for the games this weekend is to reunite Graves with Hamilton and Smith with Severson. Graves’s clearing attempt along the boards did not get out and led to the third Calgary goal, while Severson was in no-man’s land on the Lucic goal. We’ve seen the Graves-Hamilton and Smith-Severson pairings work in the past. Let’s not overthink this one.
Michael McLeod continues to struggle in an expanded role
Michael McLeod was arguably the worst Devils forward on the ice yet again in an expanded role (22.22% CF% and 11.22% xGF%). If Lindy Ruff could’ve gotten away with benching even more players, I’d say that McLeod was certainly bad enough to take a seat.
I don’t know what the answer is for the Devils, but Jack Hughes isn’t coming back anytime soon. Their lack of center depth is going to continue being an issue as a result. I get that its not fair to pin all of the Devils issues on McLeod because he’s not Jack Hughes and he’s not talented enough to step into that role and replace him. That said, I do wish Lindy Ruff, Tom Fitzgerald, and the Devils braintrust would see that McLeod playing more isn’t gonna cut it and come up with a better plan. If it means an early season trade to bring in another center, so be it.
Rough go for Nico (Daws)
Nico Daws gave up three goals on seven shots he faced and was chased from this one after just 12:10 of play, with Scott Wedgewood finishing the game.
I don’t want to pile on too much with Daws as it is his second NHL game. Despite winning his NHL debut, he’s not ready for this level. He did not play well tonight. I’m not blaming him for the loss, as he’s just another name on a long list of Devils players who didn’t play well tonight. Daws should see plenty of playing time at the AHL level this year and I still have confidence he can develop where he’s an option for the Devils down the road.
Let’s just say that with Mackenzie Blackwood at the morning skate today that I hope he progresses to the point where he’s starting in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Assuming he has, this is probably the last well see of Nico Daws at this level for awhile.
Blake Coleman’s return to New Jersey
Blake Coleman played his first game in New Jersey since the trade that sent him to Tampa Bay in February 2020. Unsurprisingly, he received a warm welcome from the Devils fans in attendance at Prudential Center. The Devils video production team, who continues to hit it out the park with these tribute videos, welcomed him back with a nice video package highlighting some of his best moments as a Devil. This is one of the few things the Devils did well tonight, and you can watch the video below as the Devils welcomed back a former fan-favorite.
Yes, the Devils played much better in the third period to make tonight’s effort look more respectable on the scoresheet. That doesn’t change the fact that the team had a total no-show for the first 40 minutes of this game. The Devils fell behind big early and gave themselves no chance to win the game despite the fact they were the well-rested team and Calgary played twice in two nights. The 5-3 loss was a deserved result and puts a damper on an otherwise successful homestand to open the season.
Are you as down on the Devils performance this evening as I am? Is there anything positive you can take away from it? Will we see some drastic lineup changes for the Devils next game in Pittsburgh on Saturday? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.