Going into a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Boston Bruins, the New Jersey Devils knew that they were going to need to shut down Boston’s “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak in order to extend their winning streak past three games. The Devils got off to a solid start against the best line in the NHL, but Boston got the better of them as the game went on and decisively defeated the Devils 5-2.
The Devils got things started putting the McLeod line out there against the Bruins top line. After a Bernier save and stoppage in play, the Devils got the Hischier line out there but they failed to get anything going. The run of play went back and forth over the next few minutes. Pavel Zacha forced an offensive zone turnover and the Devils tried to feed it in front for Alex Holtz for a prime scoring look but they couldn’t quite get it there. Zacha created another scoring opportunity moments later intercepting a pass at the Devils blueline, which led to a breakaway, but Swayman made the stop as Zacha tried to slip it in five hole.
Jesper Boqvist went to the box shortly after the first TV timeout on a questionable high-sticking call, but that penalty was offset by a delay of game call 50 seconds later as Swayman played the puck in the Martyzoid. The Devils got a brief power play that was most notable for Dougie Hamilton brilliantly playing defense on a 2-on-1 the other way as Brad Marchand tried to find Patrice Bergeron. Tomar Tatar was brought down along the boards moments later and the Devils got their first full two-minute power play with Connor Clifton going to the sin bin for interference.
Boston got the immediate clear off of the faceoff and another clear 25 seconds later. The Bruins looked more like the team that had the man advantage as Curtis Lazar needed to be turned away on a breakaway and the Bruins put the puck on net again. The Devils finally got something going on the tail end of the power play but were denied by Swayman, who played brilliantly for Boston.
Alex Holtz created a scoring chance the other way as he picked the puck after being gloved down by Matt Grzelcyk. He found Zacha in the 3-on-2 odd man rush but Swayman made the stop. Ty Smith tried an ill-advised pass into traffic from his own zone, but the Bruins picked the puck off in the neutral zone and the three-on-one wound up with Eric Haula putting the puck behind Jonathan Bernier into the Devils net for the 1-0 Boston lead. The Devils nearly tied it late in the first, but Damon Severson and Janne Kuokkanen were turned away in the closing seconds of the period and Boston took the 1-0 lead to the dressing room.
The first period wasn’t all bad though. They held Boston’s top line to zero shots on goal, and only two shot attempts by David Pastrnak. The Siegenthaler-Subban pairing looked good, as did the Kuokkanen-Boqvist-Tatar line. I thought the Hischier line, and in particular, Pavel Zacha, did a really good job creating some legitimate scoring opportunities the other way. Unfortunately, hockey can be a game of inches where one mistake can put you behind the eight-ball, as that happened yet again with Ty Smith in what is becoming a trend.
The opening minutes of the second period were uneventful until Dawson Mercer went to the box on a dangerous looking tripping penalty where Clifton collided hard with the boards. Boston generated a couple scoring chances before the Devils got a clear with roughly a minute to go in the kill. Boston regained the zone. Brad Marchand took the feed from Charlie McAvoy and fired a low whistler through a variety of bodies and skates that Jonathan Bernier almost certainly never saw for the 2-0 Bruins lead.
The Devils had an immediate answer though 28 seconds later. Jesper Bratt carried the puck into the zone and fed Andreas Johnsson, who dropped it for a tailing Dawson Mercer. Mercer roofed the puck, atoning for his earlier penalty, and the Devils cut the deficit in half.
Boston regained their two goal lead moments later though as Marchand struck again. Marchand carried the puck into the Devils zone and passed it over the Pastrnak who fired it on the net. Siegenthaler got caught in no-man’s land and Marchand buried the loose puck. 3-1 Boston.
Taylor Hall hooked Alex Holtz and the Devils went on the power play. The Devils started with their second PP unit and had their best looking power play of the game thus far, but didn’t score and Boston killed off the penalty.
The Devils spent most of the next few minutes playing from the perimeter and not really making Swayman work all that hard. New Jersey was denied a power play opportunity despite Brandon Carlo cross-checking Nico Hischier from behind, as Hischier had the gall to fall down as a result of being cross-checked. The Devils and Bruins skated 4-on-4 as Hischier was called for embellishment.
The Devils got some better chances late in the second though. Tomas Tatar found Nico Hischier all alone but Swayman made the glove save. Moments later, Zacha tried to go five-hole again and was denied once again. The Devils finally broke through with :36 seconds to go as Charlie Coyle tried to clear the puck up along the boards, but it took a weird bounce to Dawson Mercer in front of Swayman, who made a brilliant pass to Jesper Bratt at the right circle. Bratt snapped the one-timer past Swayman to once again make it a one-goal game.
What a Bratt, scoring in the final minute of the period. pic.twitter.com/lGZ7kchCZd— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 13, 2021
Boston controlled much of the pace of play in the second, but the Devils finished the period strong, led by the strong play of the Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt play.
The Devils started the third period and Brad Marchand continued to make his presence known generating some opportunities for the Bruins. However, the Devils nearly got another scoring chance as Mercer intercepted a pass in the offensive zone and passed to Johnsson, who one-handed the puck towards the crease that Swayman covered up. Yegor Sharangovich carried it into the zone moments later and found Johnsson who was denied. Lindy Ruff shortened his lineup a bit by bumping up Tatar to play with Zacha and Hischier. Mercer nearly tied the game before the first TV timeout as the Devils second line continued their relentless play. Charlie Coyle fired a shot that appeared to ring off of both posts with 11:47 to go.
Boston added to their lead Bergeron goal with 9:11 left. Ryan Graves was in the offensive zone and couldn’t corral a puck off of a blocked shot off Jimmy Vesey’s stick. Graves took an uncalled crosscheck in the back by former Devil and Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak was off to the races the other way. Pastrnak made a power move around Michael McLeod and tried to push the puck past Bernier but it sat there on the goal line before Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron tapped it in for the 4-2 Boston lead. The Devils continued to push but would pull no closer. Bernier was lifted for the extra skater with roughly 2 and a half minutes to go. Bratt’s pass for Ty Smith was intercepted by Jake DeBrusk, who had a clear shot from the Devils logo at center ice for the empty net goal.
The Devils did a decent job early of slowing down Boston’s top line, but you need to give a full sixty minute effort when you’re playing against the best line in the NHL. The Devils did not do that as they made their presence felt in the second and third periods and Boston won in a convincing manner, 5-2.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Stanley Cup of Chowder for the Bruins take on their win today.
Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt line continues to be the Devils most dangerous line
The bright spot for the Devils today was the continued brilliance of the Mercer line. Johnsson tallied two assists to extend the team scoring lead with 12 points in 13 games, while Mercer and Bratt each added a goal and an assist. They very easily could have had another goal or two in this game as well had a couple bounces gone their way.
Combined, Johnsson-Mercer-Bratt posted a 72.73% CF% and they were a threat throughout the game.
Ryan Graves injured and did not return
Ryan Graves took an uncalled cross-check by Taylor Hall in the back during the sequence that ultimately led to the Bergeron goal that made it 4-2. Graves went to the Devils bench hunched over in pain before ultimately going down the tunnel to the Devils dressing room and he did not return. Ruff did not offer an update postgame other than he’s hopeful Graves will be able to play tomorrow in MSG.
Graves has been a steady, reliable presence on the Devils backend since coming over from the trade with the Avalanche in the offseason. I would hope for the Devils sake that this injury is nothing major and he’ll be back in a matter of days, but we will need to wait for further update. Graves appeared to be in a significant amount of pain and discomfort. Don’t be surprised if Colton White or even Christian Jaros draw into the Devils lineup tomorrow, because I’d be stunned if Graves was able to go.
Officiating was terrible
Lindy Ruff did not want to comment on the officiating after the game, most likely because he knew he would be fined by the league if he criticized them. Fortunately, I am not subject to the NHL’s rules on such matters, so I’ll say what he wanted to say. The officiating was bad. Really bad.
I want to be crystal clear. The Devils did NOT lose today because of bad officiating. However, bad officiating was clearly a theme throughout today’s game. The referees were more concerned with trying to not appear to be biased against one team or the other and wound up swallowing the whistle on some pretty clear infractions. I noted early in the gamethread that the referees missed a trip/hook in the neutral zone on Michael McLeod and that was probably the least egregious call or non-call that went against the Devils. I didn’t love the high-sticking call that Boqvist went to the box for. The zebras missed a blatant boarding call where the Devils were fortunate that Jesper Boqvist wasn’t hurt. They also missed the cross-check from Hall that knocked Graves out of the game and directly led to a goal against the other way. Their most egregious error, however, was when they decided Nico Hischier was embellishing when he fell down after Carlo cross checked him in the back. That was a potentially pivotal moment in the game where the Devils, down a goal, should have had a power play and the referees denied them that opportunity.
My general rule of thumb is that I hate complaining about officiating because officiating is really had and also universally bad across all sports. The Devils power play wasn’t great tonight and there’s no guarantee they make the Bruins pay even if those infractions were called correctly. But I do want to see more consistency going forward. The NHL is supposed to be putting more of an emphasis on cross-checking, for example, but you sure could have fooled me watching this game. Instead, it looked like the referees were more concerned with not wanting to give one team an unfair advantage. That shouldn’t matter though. Call the rulebook when the penalties happen. Don’t pull a Tim Peel and look to make up stuff that isn’t there because then, we’re starting to get into a gray area where we begin to question the legitimacy of what we’re watching.
Sharangovich returns to the lineup as Holtz’s leash gets shorter?
After sitting in the press box for two games as a healthy scratch, Yegor Sharangovich returned to the Devils lineup, taking the place of Tyce Thompson (who Lindy Ruff revealed postgame was injured against the Islanders). I thought Sharangovich looked solid in his return to the lineup, as he finished third among Devils skaters with a xGF% of 64.94%, but I think his placement in the lineup was questionable with him playing in a 4th line role with Michael McLeod and Jimmy Vesey.
Meanwhile, there was a stretch late in the second period where Jimmy Vesey was briefly elevated to the Devils top line along with Zacha and Hischier. Lindy Ruff elected to play Tomas Tatar with Hischier and Zacha for the bulk of the third period as the Devils were chasing the rest of the game.
For what its worth, I didn’t think Holtz played all that poorly, but Lindy Ruff’s opinion is the one that matters. I thought that Holtz might get through the Rangers game tomorrow to show what he can do, but after today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided he needed a little more time in the oven in Utica, put Sharangovich with Zacha and Hischier on the top line, and either insert Mason Geertsen or call up someone else (preferably Marian Studenic) for the 4th line since Thompson apparently isn’t an option.
A Day to Forget for Jonathan Bernier
Jonathan Bernier drew the start for the Devils today and while I didn’t think he played poorly, I thought he left a bunch of juicy rebound opportunities for the Bruins to capitalize on. Bernier stopped 31 of 35 shots and the only goal I would definitively say that wasn’t his fault was the Marchand PPG since that one went through a mass of bodies and skates and it was a real seeing-eye goal.
I wouldn’t worry much about Bernier having an off-day or lament that they went with him over Blackwood since the Devils are on the front end of a back-to-back and Bernier was going to get one of these two games anyways. That said, I would like to see a little better rebound control on Bernier’s part going forward. Burn the tape of this one and move on if you’re #45.
The Devils played hard today, but credit Boston. Not only did they not make careless mistakes with the puck, but their top line made adjustments to what the Devils were doing early to them and made them pay by combining for three goals and three assists. Charlie McAvoy tallied three assists of his own and the Bruins handed the Devils a 5-2 loss. The Devils won’t have a lot of time to let this one fester though, as they play again tomorrow in the World’s Most Overrated Arena against their cross-river rivals, the New York Rangers.
What did you think about tonight’s loss? Are you as pleased as I am that the Mercer line continues to play well? Is it time to send Holtz back to the AHL to work on some things? Are you as ticked off about the officiating as I was? Can the Devils bounce back tomorrow against their rivals? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.