The New Jersey Devils opened with a near goal against, as the Islanders had a shot from the wall that deflected just wide of goal. Soon after, the Devils lapsed in neutral zone coverage and Mat Barzal had a breakaway that was saved by Blackwood. The Devils then iced the puck.
After taking it up ice, Jesper Bratt took a shot that was gloved. Then, Mackenzie Blackwood had an issue behind the net handling the puck, but the Devils got it out. A couple minutes later, Pavel Zacha and Alex Holtz had a rush chance, but Holtz could not bury the pass.
After icing the puck with a high stick, P.K. Subban went off ice with an injury. He came back on a couple minutes later. Damon Severson made a terrible giveaway from behind the net, but Blackwood bailed him out. Soon after, Ty Smith made a great neutral zone breakup and sprang Dawson Mercer, but Mercer could not bury the breakaway chance. The Devils then took a penalty in their own end, as Bratt went off for holding behind the net.
On the kill, McLeod, Vesey, Severson, and Graves led off with a couple clears. After a bad Islanders giveaway following a wide backhand try by Kuokkanen, P.K. Subban had a clear shot on goal that was saved, followed up by Nico on the rebound, leaving a loose puck in the crease for Janne Kuokkanen to clean up off the blocked shot by Nico. 1-0! Shorthanded!
Kuok up this morning feelin’ dangerous. pic.twitter.com/u0FWahjfr3— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 12, 2021
Back on defense, Damon Severson made a great breakup at the netside, and Blackwood showed off some good poke work before covering with his glove. The Devils finished the kill with a clear.
Back at evens, Mackenzie Blackwood made a monster glove save on Oliver Wahlstrom on the rush, with Ty Smith diving for the block. Ryan Graves blocked a shot with his knee after the following faceoff that made him hobble off. Janne Kuokkanen had to defend Mat Barzal on a rush, and Blackwood made the save on the contested shot before Jonas Siegenthaler tied up Brock Nelson in front, allowing the puck to be frozen.
Ryan Graves came back on with under four to play. The Islanders took a penalty with under two to play, as Zach Parise high sticked Ty Smith. The first wave came on with 1:46 to play, and the Islanders cleared. Hamilton got the first shot of the power play, which was not deflected and smothered. Most of the power play was bad, with the Islanders having a threatening moment in front of Blackwood broken up by Zacha. At the end of one, the shots were 15-10 in favor of the Islanders. The Devils were bleeding shots against, and their even strength xGF% was just 34.69. Not great, but they were plenty opportunistic.
The Nico line started the second period, losing the draw and then repossessing behind the net. They got the puck in the offensive zone a couple times before changing. Tyce Thompson had a nice shot after skating in, which was almost cleaned up by McLeod before the puck skidded into the corner. Andreas Johnsson nearly scored on a one-timer that Sorokin knocked to behind the net on the next possession.
The Devils ceded a partial breakaway to Zach Parise, but Jonas Siegenthaler took a weak slashing call. Vesey cleared off the draw and later intercepted a pass for another clear. Hischier and Subban both had clears. The Islanders set up in the second minute, but Dougie Hamilton intercepted a pass down low for a clear. Subban followed that up with another clear down ice, and the penalty was killed.
The next several minutes were rather uneventful, with the Islanders mostly playing keep-away. The Devils, however, did not allow anything dangerous on Blackwood. Alex Holtz had Nico all alone at one point, but put the pass way behind him, killing a potential breakaway.
Damon Severson fell down in front with over seven to play, giving the Islanders a slot one-timer that was saved by Blackwood. The Devils and Islanders traded some chances in the following minute and a half, with Sorokin and Blackwood staying strong. There was a netfront scramble with five and a half to play, leading to a post-whistle scrum in front of Blackwood as Palmieri dug away. Severson and Palmieri took offsetting minors.
Zacha, Bratt, Graves, and Hamilton took the ice. After losing the first draw, McLeod took the second before getting back off for Zacha. Bratt found Zacha in the circle, but Sorokin flashed the blocker. Mercer, coming on with Johnsson, nearly buried a chance that deflected off the post after beating Sorokin. Hischier, Tatar, Smith, and Subban were then on after a stoppage, and Nico cleared the crease of a dangerous rebound before the Devils took an offensive zone penalty for hooking. Tatar went off for two with 3:20 to play.
Blackwood was tested early, making a big freeze of the puck with Lee in front. Jimmy Vesey cleared after the following draw, and Kuokkanen blocked Barzal’s shot before the Devils cleared. Dawson Mercer took it away as the seconds ticked down, drawing a trip from Wahlstrom in the offensive zone corner.
Hischier, Zacha, Mercer, and Hamilton took the ice. The clock did not run after the first draw, giving Nico a second chance to win it. He did, and nearly scored with a goal line tip. After some nice puck movement between Tomas Tatar, Pavel Zacha, and Dougie Hamilton, Tatar buried a chance from the netside, deflecting a shot from Hamilton! 2-0! Zacha got the secondary assist on the goal. It was an amazing deflection, with Tatar jumping in traffic.
After two, the shots were 30-25, Islanders. The Devils owned special teams play, though - and that was all they needed.
The McLeod line started the third, nearly giving up a goal as Martin kicked the puck into the crease. Blackwood made the cover on the loose puck as a scramble ensued. The Devils were hemmed in early, but mostly kept shots to the outside after the initial chance.
Tomas Tatar was sprung for a breakaway in the second minute, forcing Sorokin down - but he could not lift the puck over the pad. The following minutes mostly consisted of the Devils winding the puck around and not letting the Islanders take possession.
After the Islanders lost the puck to Johnsson in the neutral zone after a block up high by Mercer, Johnsson slid the puck over to Mercer, who was all alone on Sorokin with under 15 to ply. Mercer dipped and doodled with the puck, squeezing it through on the forehand to make it a 3-0 game!
Anders Lee had a chance in close with 11 to play, but he lost the puck behind him. Nonetheless, Blackwood had to make a save in close with the Islanders hunting for a goal. With under six minutes to play, Mercer and Johnsson had another chance, with Mercer feeding Johnsson on a two-on-one. Johnsson pulled to the backhand but was stopped by Sorokin’s pad.
After Ty Smith was taken down around the neck while chasing a puck into the corner, Mackenzie Blackwood was run over in the crease as Zach Parise earned some crosschecks from the Devils with just under four to play. No penalty was called on either side.
With Jimmy Vesey joining the first line on the other end, the Devils got some perimeter shots flowing. There was a wide shot by Graves, and the puck rang around to Dougie Hamilton to the right of the circle along the wall. Dougie wound up and beat Sorokin with a clapper to make it 4-0! And the Islanders fans really started filing out after that.
Dougie, Dougie, Dougie, can’t you see? Sometimes your goals just hypnotize me. pic.twitter.com/XB6sACSeCx— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 12, 2021
With that, the Devils wound play down without incident. Mackenzie Blackwood nailed down the 42 save shutout, and the Devils sent the Islanders away with joy permeating from the Devils fans and players in the building.
The Opposition Opinion: They will have a recap over at Lighthouse Hockey.
Islanders, Down for the Count at the Rock
Hoo boy, did the Islanders fans think they could own the Prudential Center tonight. They came in with the chants, they came in with the noise. But who came with the goals? The New Jersey Devils did. This was the first game I have been to since the Covid shutdown - and it was a thrilling return. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Islanders fans become more and more dejected as the game went on, reflecting the players on their team who pretty much have up after Tomas Tatar laid the knockout blow at the end of the second. After that, the Islanders were down for the count. Glorious win.
Back in Blackwood
It’s very, very nice to see Mackenzie Blackwood look this good in goal. 42 shots, 42 saves. Not once did I see Blackwood out of position - and although the Devils skaters needed to come up big for him on some rebounds, Blackwood gave them the time they needed to get up in the game. And once the Devils got up, they never looked back.
Blackwood on Ws v FLA/NYI: "In the past you'd see the schedule and go 'ugh' these are going to be tough games. This year, there's a different aura in the room. You don't care who you play bc if you play your game you can compete with anyone."— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) November 12, 2021
According to Natural Stat Trick, Blackwood saved 11 high danger shots, seven medium danger shots, and 24 low danger shots for a total goals saved above expected of 3.72. However, the Devils did a great job of limiting rush chances against - as the Islanders only had one shot on the rush (compared to six rebound shots). The problem for the defense was not necessarily being outnumbered, but being hard enough on the puck when in-zone. I saw a lot of collapsing around the net, which I guess ultimately worked out. But if they were facing, I’d say, a faster team than the Islanders, they would not have had a fun time with their in-zone defense. Mackenzie Blackwood did his job, though - and we have that to be happy about.
Special Teams Set it Up, Third Period Play Shut it Down
Five on five play is very important, considering most of the game is played at evens. But when teams are in a deadlock, like the Devils and Islanders were, teams need to execute on special teams. The Devils got the best of the chances during their first penalty kill, earning a shorthanded goal for Janne Kuokkanen with a flurry of shots and movement in close on Ilya Sorokin. On that first kill, the Devils were credited with the only scoring chance - the Kuokkanen clean-up. The Devils did not get much benefit from the referees tonight, having to kill three penalties while the Islanders were only called for very obvious infractions. Despite getting fewer opportunities, the Devils made the most of theirs with the Tatar goal. That was the story of the Devils’ goals - making the most of their opportunities.
Indeed, Natural Stat Trick shows the Devils with an xGF% of 38.98. I am not really sold on that. The Devils had the edge in high-danger scoring chances with 13 at evens, while holding the New York Islanders to 10. In the third period, most importantly, the Devils had the high-danger advantage of six to three chances. Of course, one of these ended up being the Dawson Mercer goal.
Not Great Games For Everyone, Though
I thought Alexander Holtz had a really tough time tonight. He was credited with two shots, but he had a team-worst 21.74 CF% at even strength in 12:25 of ice time. He only had 1:33 of power play ice time (with a 25.11 xGF% on special teams), and the Devils were outshot 10-2 with him on the ice at evens. Nico Hischier had a 25.00 CF% with Holtz, and a 66.67 CF% without him. When Dougie Hamilton scored his goal, Jimmy Vesey had taken Holtz’s place on the first line. I have an inkling of a feeling that he might be Uitca-bound after this game, which sucks because the Islanders can be a tough defensive team. I just cannot see Lindy Ruff keeping the first line together like that - this was their “worst” game of the year, for what it is worth. I can see Jimmy Vesey getting some time with Nico Hischier - or Yegor Sharangovich in his return.
The fourth line also had some iffy moments tonight. At even strength, Tyce Thompson had a 27.27 CF% and 38.93 xGF%. Michael McLeod was the only player on the ice with a 0.00 individual expected goals - though he did manage to knock Chara to the ice as the big man tried to crunch him into the boards. That brought me some joy. The fourth line was not bleeding high danger chances against, fortunately - as they had a 43.01 xGF%, which was good for third on the team.
Some More Positives
Meanwhile, I thought Jesper Boqvist had another good game. His lineup spot should remain secure for the time being, and I think he clicks pretty well with Janne Kuokkanen and Tomas Tatar. Meanwhile, Dougie Hamilton was excellent in his return, creating the opportunity for Tatar to score his goal on the power play, and displaying his shot again to add insult to injury in the third. Dougie did seem a bit flat trying to defend at times, but he was still the best defenseman on the ice. And once the Devils got ahead, I thought Dawson Mercer was really flying all over the ice. He could have had a multi-point night, and I think he could even get up to a point-per-game pace if he keeps creating offense like he is. He showed off plenty of speed tonight - and I think he was flashing his speed even better than Mat Barzal out there. I mean, just look at this. I don’t want to hear anyone say he’s just an “average” skater ever again.
In terms of counting statistics, both Ryan Graves and P.K. Subban have six points in 12 games. Nico Hischier has eight points, and a four-game point streak. Pavel Zacha now has nine points, with his secondary on the Tatar goal. Andreas Johnsson is the first to break double-digits with his assist on the Mercer goal. And Dawson Mercer now had four goals - with eight total points to his name. Dougie Hamilton, meanwhile, has eight points in nine games - he is everything the Devils asked for.
And you know what? The Devils just faced two teams that a lot of people might have mocked into late playoff runs, or even Cup appearances. The total score against the Panthers and Islanders? 11-3. Now that’s a statement - especially without Jack Hughes on the ice.
What did you think of tonight’s win? Were you elated? Overjoyed? How did it feel to crush the Islanders on the scoreboard? How did it feel to watch Mackenzie Blackwood post a shutout? How did it feel to watch Tatar score his first, and see Dawson score on the breakaway? How do you feel about the sizeable Islanders contingent at The Rock who had nothing to show for tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.