The margin of error in the National Hockey League is small enough where any one mistake can lead to a goal against and be the difference between a win or a loss. For the New Jersey Devils on this Halloween night, Ty Smith gave the puck away twice against the Columbus Blue Jackets in critical moments that were amplified by the fact that the puck was put behind Scott Wedgewood in the back of the net. The Devils were unable to overcome these unforced errors and lost a game that they probably deserved to win as a result.
The Devils got on the scoreboard 67 seconds into the game as Jackets netminder Joonas Korpisalo turned away an Andreas Johnsson shot. Columbus failed to clear the puck from the zone, as PK Subban recovered it and fed it up along the boards. Jesper Bratt retrieved it and found Johnsson, who wouldn’t miss a second time. 1-0 New Jersey.
Dawson Mercer went to the box for an ill-advised trip of Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski, and the Devils couldn’t duplicate the success their penalty kill had the night before in Pittsburgh. Boone Jenner did a good job screening Scott Wedgewood, Jakub Voracek fed the puck to Oliver Bjorkstrand, and the Devils killer snapped the puck past Wedgewood from the slot to tie the game at the 11:54 mark. Columbus added to their lead moments later, as the aforementioned Smith made a terrible pass behind Nico Hischier that the captain couldn’t corral. Voracek took the puck and stared down Patrik Laine before finally passing the puck off and Laine did what Laine does when he’s on top of his game. He scored a filthy goal on a rocket of a shot and Columbus took a 2-1 lead. It was a pure snipe by one of the best snipers in the world that doesn’t happen if Smith isn’t as careless with the puck as he was. Lindy Ruff saw things the same was I did, as Smith took a seat for the rest of the period.
The Devils threw the kitchen sink at the Blue Jackets in the closing seconds of the first, as Hischier tried to backhand roof one past Korpisalo. Hischer instead barrelled him over and was fortunate not to get called for interference. Columbus stood tall with their goaltender on his back and the puck loose in front of him. Time expired and the Jackets went to the dressing room with a well-deserved 2-1 lead. Columbus held a 58.97% CF% edge and an xGF% of 58.52% after the first period and looked like the team that wasn’t playing their second game in two nights.
Columbus continued their strong run of play to start the second period but the Devils did generate a handful of chances. Mercer and Bratt caught the Jackets flat-footed in a 2-on-1 but the defenseman did a nice job of getting a stick on the puck to deflect away Mercer’s pass. Hischier held the puck deep in the offensive zone and found Dougie Hamilton who jumped into the play, but Korpisalo made the save with Tatar standing there for a potential rebound. Aside from that though, the Devils didn’t get much going in the first six minutes of the third.
Momentum would shift towards the Devils moments later. Jonas Siegenthaler went to the box for holding Cole Sillinger but the Devils penalty kill held strong. As the penalty expired, the Devils got the puck in deep as Siegenthaler came out of the box. Siegenthaler looked to feed Hamilton, but the puck was deflected towards the blueline. PK Subban controlled the puck while the Devils reset and punched it along the boards. Mercer, who was all over the ice in a good way in this game and got under Columbus’s skin, controlled the puck behind Korpisalo’s net and slid the puck under his pads for the equalizer.
The PA announcer hadn’t even finished announcing the Mercer goal when the Devils struck again. Zacha worked the puck along the boards to Hischier, who once again fed Hamilton with a clean look from the right circle. This time, the $9M man wouldn’t miss and the Devils took the 3-2 lead.
Dougie Hamilton smashin’ pumpkins and pucks. pic.twitter.com/nLaSflTIcz— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 31, 2021
As the final minutes of the second period ticked away, the Devils seemed to pick up the pace and get their legs under them. The passing was a little crisper and the Devils did a better job of jumping up into the play and creating their own opportunities. New Jersey won the possession battle in the second and made the most of their chances to score twice in the blink of an eye and take the lead into the third.
The Devils got their first power play of the night 2:56 into the third on a delay of game penalty and almost added to their lead but Korpisalo robbed Hischier on a beautiful feed from Pavel Zacha on what was the best opportunity the Devils would get with the man advantage. Columbus buzzed around Wedgewood’s crease shortly after the penalty expired but couldn’t put a good shot up against the Devils. Bratt continued his strong play from the last couple games ringing one off of the pipe moments later. After the first TV timeout, Tomas Tatar got a good look all alone on Korpisalo but the Finnish netminder made the glove save.
The Devils pinned the Jackets back as Andreas Johnsson stole the puck in the neutral zone, keeping Columbus pinned back for an extended shift. The Devils followed up that good shift with another one as the 4th line of Kuokkanen-Gauthier-Studenic continued to apply pressure. Unfortunately, Ty Smith tried to flip the puck out of the Devils zone and didn’t quite get it high enough. Jackets captain Boone Jenner gloved the puck down, fought past McLeod and a diving Smith, and ripped it by Wedgewood to even the score at 3 with 5:19 to go. Ruff had seen enough of Smith by this point, limiting him to one more shift for the remainder of the game.
Vladislav Gavrikov went to the box with 3:33 remaining and the Devils called their timeout to draw up the ensuing power play. They nearly took the lead after the faceoff, but couldn’t put the puck past Korpisalo, who was very sharp in this game. Scott Harrington caught Dawson Mercer in the mouth with a high stick, but the Devils couldn’t take advantage of the brief 5-on-3 advantage as Jenner did a great job battling along the boards and letting time tick off the clock before getting a clear. Columbus nearly scored a short-handed goal as Gavrikov came out of the box for a 2-on-1 opportunity but failed to put it behind Wedgewood. The remainder of the Devils power play was uneventful and this game would head to overtime.
The Devils started overtime with the trio of McLeod, Bratt, and Hamilton. McLeod won the faceoff and promptly exited for Pavel Zacha. Zacha found Bratt to the right of Korpisalo but lost control of the puck and the Devils retrieved it in the neutral zone. Bratt and Zacha exited for Mercer and Johnsson. The Devils gained the zone and Hamilton spun with the puck before dumping off to Mercer, who couldn’t slip it by the goaltender. Korpisalo took exception to Mercer’s extra effort and rewarded the 20 year old center with a face full of blocker, but there was no call by the officials, much to the chagrin of the Prudential Center faithful.
Columbus won the ensuing draw against the Hischier-Sharangovich-Graves trio and gained the zone, but couldn’t put it past Wedgewood on the centering try. The Devils took their time getting the personnel on they wanted, and Bratt snapped a wrister that Korpisalo got his blocker on to deflect out of play. Play went back and forth over the next minute as Laine and Hamilton were denied. The Jackets continued to slow the pace and try to pick their spot and nearly won it in overtime as Bjorkstrand rang it off the pipe. Studenic found Sharangovich breaking the other way but Sharangovich ran out of space and had to retreat. Johnsson fed Hamilton for one of his team-high TEN shots on goal but Korpisalo made the stop. Bratt cycled around with the puck before finding Hamilton again for two more shots but the Devils just couldn’t get it to go. Hamilton took yet another shot off of a feed from Bratt that didn’t go. Bjorkstrand took another shot as Zach Werenski and Mercer crashed into Wedgewood as the puck went out of play. The final seconds ticked off of the exciting overtime period and this one was headed to the skills competition.
Jesper Bratt led off the shootout for the Devils but snapped the wrister into Korpisalo’s pads. Oliver Bjorkstrand shot first for the Jackets and moved in at a snail’s pace, but his shot was deflected out of play by Wedgewood’s glove. Dougie Hamilton was up next for the Devils and moved in quickly but couldn’t put it past Korpisalo. Patrik Laine’s ensuing shot sailed wide. Dawson Mercer was up third for the Devils but couldn’t slip the puck under Korpisalo’s pad. Jake Voracek flipped the backhand past Wedgewood for the game winner and Columbus won 4-3 in the shootout.
New Jersey played well enough to win the game and get two points. They held the lead throughout most of the third period. The Devils were even stronger in the third than they were in the second with a 62.07% CF% and an xGF% of 66.36% and they had their chances to win in the third and in overtime despite Smith’s giveaways. Unfortunately for the Devils on this Halloween night, they received the proverbial trick instead of the treat and had to settle for one point.
The Opposition Opinion: MrSwift13 notes that the Jackets essentially survived against the Devils as they were gashed defensively over at Jackets Cannon. I would agree with his assessment of the game from a Columbus perspective.
Ty Smith has not been good
Smith played his fourth game of the season tonight after missing most of training camp, and he continued to struggle to start the season. He (and partner Damon Severson) got steamrolled at 5v5 with a 34.38 CF%. Lindy Ruff correctly benched him after both turnovers, minus one extra shift in the third, and Smith didn’t see the ice at all in overtime.
Ruff mentioned postgame that Smith needs to make better reads and that the lack of a camp may be catching up to him. That may very well be the case, but he hasn’t looked particularly good at all in any of the last three games he’s played. I don’t know if Ruff will decide to sit him a game after he reviews the tape, but you would hope that Smith gets the message either way that this isn’t good enough. He’s too talented to continue playing this poorly.
The power play also failed
The Devils had their chances to win the game late in regulation and nearly did off of their timeout, but couldn’t put the puck behind Korpisalo. They also couldn’t take advantage of a brief two-man advantage and nearly gave up the game-losing goal the other way while on the power play. They finished this night 0-for-3 on the power play.
I will say that I did think the Devils got some good looks, but ultimately, this is a results-oriented business. Mark Recchi isn’t going to keep his job running the power play solely because the team gets good looks. They need to find a way to score with the man advantage when they have the opportunity.
Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt line continues to roll
If there’s one positive to take away from tonight, it’s that the line of Andreas Johnsson-Dawson Mercer-Jesper Bratt continues to be the best line the Devils have put on the ice these last few games. All three players not only played well on the puck, but off of it as well. They created turnovers. They created scoring opportunities as Johnsson and Mercer both scored. They pinned the Blue Jackets back deep and wore them down and gave their teammates a chance to finish what they started. Mercer in particular got under Columbus’s skin as the game wore along to the point where Korpisalo Carey Price’d Mercer and punched him in the face with his blocker. It is exactly what you want to see, minus the punch in the face part.
No, I don’t think it should’ve been a match penalty, by the way. I know Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko brought it up postgame and I wanted to touch on that briefly.
Graves-Hamilton beast mode tonight
Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton led the Devils defensive pairings in CF% and combined for 14 SOG, which is absurd for a defensive pairing. They continue to be, arguably, the single best thing about this Devils team and I question why exactly Lindy Ruff thought it was a good idea to separate them the other day. Leave them together and let them do their thing, which is dominate.
Blame Wedgewood if you want. I won’t.
I don’t think Scott Wedgewood played poorly in this game. I thought Boone Jenner did a good job screening him on the power play goal Columbus scored. I’m not sure any goaltender on the planet was stopping the Laine goal. Should he have had the Jenner goal? Maybe? I have more of an issue with the failed clear that led to that goal.
Wedgewood is who he is at this stage of his career. He’s a third goaltender for a reason. One of the guys ahead of him on the depth chart has yet to make his season debut, and the other worked hard in his first game back in the lineup the night before. It is what it is. I don’t think its really worth getting mad at Wedgewood for being an AHL goaltender. He’s not why they lost tonight.
The Devils had an opportunity to be awesome tonight, like that house you used to trick or treat at as a kid that would hand out the full size candy bars. Instead, they were that house that hands out candy corn that nobody likes. They wasted an opportunity to get two points and in a division that is expected to be as tight as the Metropolitan will be, every point matters. Hopefully, the Devils fare better when they travel out to the West Coast for the annual California road trip.
Are you as disappointed with the loss as I am? Do you also blame Ty Smith for the loss or is your ire directed elsewhere? What were your biggest takeaways from the game, positive or negative? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.