This game decided to start things off spicy right from the start, with the Capitals taking a goalie interference call just three minutes into the first period. The Devils first power play unit looked decent, but Dawson Mercer came out on the second unit and immediately took a cross checking penalty in the corner. On to 4 on 4, where the Devils rushed into the Capitals zone and nearly put one past Vanacek with a drop pass to Dougie Hamilton, but no such luck just yet.
Hischier and Zacha rush down in a 2 on 1 to try again, but Hischier just misses the post.
Colton White makes a nice defensive play on what would have been a 2 on 1, taking just enough of the puck to prevent Caps prospect Aliaksei Protas from getting the shot off clean. Pavel Zacha backchecked enough to take away the pass option as well.
The Devils are making things difficult so far but Vanacek is not budging. Dawson Mercer in particular is shining, making smart plays, stripping breakout pass attempts, not falling trap to neutral zone pressure.
Dougie Hamilton rips a 2 on 1 opportunity away from the Capitals with a fantastic play and a long reach to take the puck away.
The Capitals aren’t having much luck so far, so Garrett Pilon helpfully decides to try and change their luck by taking a high sticking penalty. Thanks, Pilon!
Hischier, Zacha, Bratt, Hamilton, and Tatar come out for the first wave, but can’t get it done. The next wave comes out and Janne Kuokkaken carries the puck into the zone from outside before a short pass to Dawson Mercer. He toe drags Vanacek, gets him out of position but can’t pull the shot off. Alexander Holtz moves in to pick up the garbage and slips the shot past Vanacek to put the Devils up 1-0 with under a minute remaining in the first period.
The two yutes at it again. pic.twitter.com/Z59zIY4IYl— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 4, 2021
The Devils definitely outran the Capitals this first period, holding the Caps to just 4 shots on Blackwood and just 38.5% CF.
Dawson Mercer starts the second period off just as impressive as the first. He picks up the puck in the corner and, seeing no passing option other than Holtz behind the net, send a backhand shot directly into the defensemen’s feet in front of the net. It doesn’t work, but it sure was smart, and with the right bounce it very well could.
A pile of players from both teams end up tangled in the corner, so Janne Kuokkanen takes advantage of the open ice to run down the outside and take a shot that pings off the crossbar and out of play,
Up next comes Boqvist and Wood on a 2 on 1, but Geisser gets a stick on Boqvist’s pass and the puck careems away from Wood and out of danger.
But the Devils aren’t done yet. McLeod takes the puck down the end, turns and passes to Janne Kuokkanen. Kuokkanen takes a bump from behind and loses the puck, but it slides right back to McLeod, who launches a wrist shot that beats Vanacek to put the Devils up 2-0 just 4 minutes into the second period.
Mason Geertsen makes an impression as the Capitals try to get a shot or two off on Blackwood, taking a run at Geisser and just leveling him to free the puck for the Devils.
Nick Dowd and Conor McMicheal find themselves on a 2 on 1 down on Blackwood, but Blackwood handles it off to the side cleanly. McMichael forces a turnover in the corner but Graves steps in and denies him the shot.
Mackenzie Blackwood makes a stellar stretch save on a 2 on 1, aided from behind the play by a backchecking Jimmy Vesey.
Miles Wood pokes the puck away from a Capital in the neutral zone, nearly earning him a breakaway, but he’s stopped by Hendrix Lapierre and catches his stick attempting to regain the puck, earning him a (soft) hooking penalty.
Tonight’s penalty kill consits of Zacha, Hischier, Subban, and White. They only get a few clears but the box holds strong. Kuokkanen comes out with the second wave and turns on some offense, weaving around in the offensive zone to help kill some time. The penalty time wanes out without incident.
Trading penalties now, the Capitals take a delayed penalty, letting the Devils pull Blackwood and run 6 on 5 for a few seconds before the Capitals are able to touch up and stop the play. Alexander Alexeyev goes to the box for hooking.
Zacha gets a fantastic look to start off the power play, picking up a rebound in the slot that Vanacek just gets enough of. The second wave of the Devils power play, manned by Subban, Holtz, Kuokkanen, Mercer, and Wood sets up a beautiful cycle, leading to a shot from Wood.
The puck gets trapped among a pile of 5 skater battling on the wall in front of the Devils bench, so Miles Wood makes the smart call to subtly sneak over the wall from the middle of the battle into the bench to allow for a change in what looked like a hilariously Shakespearean comedy move.
Mason Geertsen reminds us all why we worry about pure grit players with a cross checking penalty against Garnet Hathaway with less than 2 minutes to go in the second period.
The Devils looked like they were going to kill the penalty and end the period safely, but Conor McMichael says no. He runs down the outside and just flips the puck over Blackwood’s shoulder to put the Capitals on the board 2-1.
Bratt and Hischier put in one last try to take the 2 goal lead back before the period ends, but Vanacek made some spectacular saves to keep the game to a one goal deficit for the Capitals before the horn sounds for the second intermission.
Wedgewood replaces Blackwood in net to start this period, as the Devils planned.
The Capitals come out with a little more pep in their step this period, livened up a little bit by the late goal.
Jesper Boqvist takes a stick high in the face by Trevor van Reimsdyke, leaving Boqvist struggling to get off the ice with a towel to his face. van Reimsdyke earns himself a double minor for the blood.
The first wave of the Devils power play lines up and sets up the cycle. Hamilton rips a slapshot that is blocked by Hagelin, who clears. Back down into the zone, the same wave sets up once again. Bratt calms the puck on the side wall, finds Pavel Zacha at the top of the left circle with a pass. Zacha steps in to the middle and rips the shot over Vanacek’s blocker and in. 3-1 Devils, and the second half of the double minor kicks in, leaving us another two minutes on the man advantage to work with, but nothing more comes of it.
A shot with friggan laser beams on its head. pic.twitter.com/VxkvTAlQlt— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 5, 2021
The Capitals start kicking up the physicality now. Beck Malenstyn takes out Colton White with a hard hit. Garnet Hathaway clips Dougie Hamilton up high, which is such a feat its tough to call it an accident, but no call is made.
Zacha nearly makes it a two goal game by picking up a loose puck in a messy play in front of Vanacek, but the capitals goaltender brushes it off. Bratt picks up the rebound but Vanacek snuffs that out too.
Wedgewood fights off a tricky redirection on what should have been an otherwise routine shot, as he manages to get the glove back out to snag the puck out of the air.
Jesper Boqvist returns to the ice with just about 4 minutes left in the game after having his face cleaned up in the locker room.
Washington pulls Vanacek with 2 minutes left. Jesper Bratt dangles around nearly every Capitals player, but just shanks the backhand wide of the empty net.
Subban lofts the puck up to center, too far for any Devils to catch and not far enough to make it a goal or icing, allowing Dmitry Orlov to take control and carry the puck back into the Devils zone, who is then stopped by Wedgewood. A few more long range attempts are made to pick up an empy net from various Devils but to no avail until Jimmy Vesey carries the puck up past the red line to take the shot, finding the back of the net to bring the Devils lead to 4-1 as the game ends.
The Game Highlights:
Give. Me. More.
This line combo is fantastic, and looks if possible even better than they did last year. Their chemistry is obvious, they read each other and create plays so easily. Hischier creates chance after chance for Pavel Zacha, who will figure out the finish sooner or later. Bratt’s playmaking on the power play and connection with Zacha led to the third goal for the Devils tonight. Statistically the line also looked good, finishing with 67%CF and 6 shots on net, including 3 high danger scoring chances.
This kid will be in the NHL this season. It might not be right at the beginning of the season. A few games in the AHL to sharpen up and build his confidence won’t not hurt him, so don’t panic and start calling in the tanks if he doesn’t make the opening night roster. He will be back. He’s creative, intelligent, works hard for all 60 minutes and all 200 feet, and isn’t afraid to make plays or pull the trigger. He’s defensively responsible, offensively explosive, and just generally exciting as a prospect. He picked up three scoring changes, two of which were high danger, although somehow isn’t credited for a shot on net.
This line really shook things around, showing off the individual skills of each player, although I wouldn’t say there was a ton of playmaking or chemistry there at least so far. The stats however are exceptionally complimentary— they finshed with a whopping 87%CF, only allowing one shot attempt against them. Granted they weren’t facing any particularly tough competition, but I would be remiss to not at least mention those numbers. Kuokkanen in particular made a splash tonight, picking up assists on each of the first two goals.
The man continues to impress. He’s defensively sound, as offensively powerful as everyone expected, and makes smart plays in between. We haven’t seen much from him yet this year, but it’s already obvious that watching him quarterback powerplays is going to be a highlight of this season. He also picked up an assist tonight on Zacha’s goal.
He was good, of course he is Blackwood, but he was noticably rusty, particularly in his puck handling. I’ve no worries that will improve by opening night of course, the man just needs some practice, and soon.
Who impressed you tonight? Who do you want to see more from? Any surprises, good or bad? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!