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Good, Awful, Okay: Not a Winning Strategy As the Devils Fall in Florida 4-1

Mackenzie Blackwood’s off night highlights a brutal second period that ends up costing the game for the Devils

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Florida Panthers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils take on a Barkovless Panthers team tonight in Florida. We bolstered our roster ahead of tonight’s game with the addition of UDevil Fabian Zetterlund, who played his first NHL game today.

First Period

The Devils come out rocking to start the game tonight. After night after night of slow starts earlier this season, the Devils control the play right from the offset of tonight's game. Jesper Bratt looks to draw first blood with a quick rush down the ice and a feed to Andreas Johnsson, but the connection missed what would have been a nearly wide-open net for Johnsson. Florida brings the puck back finally after that play and gives Blackwood a warmup shot or two, but nothing he can’t handle. Thornton nearly finds an empty net with Blackwood scrambling, but he gets lucky as Thornton misses the net with the backhand.

McLeod is able to carry the puck out of the zone, and the top line joins the ice. Hischier finds Tatar wide open in the slot, who rings it off the inside of the pipe but no dice. Florida must have gotten a little excited by the rush of play, as they put a few too many people on the ice, so the Devils will go to their first power play of the evening. Huberdeau catches the Devils unprepared early in the man-advantage, but isn’t able to get a shot away before he’s stripped of the puck. The powerplay does manage to get one good look, but that’s all before the penalty expires.

Florida is able to get a moment of zone time on a mini man-advantage as Nico Hischier is forced to the bench after a high collision, but the Devils take play back their way as soon as his replacement is able to join them. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be too shaken up by it, as he does return to the ice for his next shift.

Verhaeghe takes a quick rush at Blackwood and makes a slick pass into the crease to Reinhart, but he’s stopped at the doorstep. Dawson Mercer returns the favor moments later with Andreas Johnsson, but he is also stopped. Ty Smith fans on the shot twice, giving the Panthers the opportunity to take the puck back towards the Devils zone. Boqvist takes a high stick that goes ignored by the refs, so he goes to the bench. The Devils are able to clear the zone and head back the other way. Jimmy Vesey takes his time then feeds Dougie Hamilton at the half-wall, who rips a shot off the pipe, off Spencer Knight, and into the back of the net to put the Devils on the board. 1-0!

Florida gets a few more looks but the Devils have been excellent at shutting down their advances. Bratt looks to repeat his goal from Sunday against the Ranges, but Knight shuts it down.

As the period fades out, Carter Verhaeghe slips past the Devils defense down the wall, steps in, and lasers a shot that beats Blackwood with just 6 seconds to go. Though the Devils were utterly dominant that period and Blackwood just as solid behind them, we’ll go to the first intermission tied at 1.

To be fair to the Devils, this does not look like a period that should be tied at 1:

In addition to the Corsi, we led in faceoffs with 23 of the wins, only 4 giveaways to the Panthers 9, and shots 22 to 13.

Second Period

Both teams have decided to come out flying to start the season. Nico Hischier takes a shot and delivers a juicy rebound to Pavel Zacha, but Knight just barely gets the pads over. Florida is up next, drilling straight to the net but Blackwood makes the scrambling save while Siegenthaler helps out by literally sitting on Reinhart. Florida keeps the pressure on, creating more havoc that eventually leaves Kuokkanen trying to defend in front of the net. Backwood is forced to stretch for the puck and Luostarinen tucks it under his pads, putting Florida in the lead early in this middle period.

The Devils try to get things going back in their favor but the Panthers have the wind right now. Jesper Bratt gets knocked down and loses the puck. Florida takes it for Huberdeau, who runs down the boards and sends a shot that beats Blackwood glove side to put Florida up 3-1 very quickly.

Lindy Ruff challenges for offsides, which the play absolutely was as Huberdeau was skating backwards and had both feet fully over the line before he received the pass, but the situation room hates the Devils so somehow its not offsides and now we’re down two goals and down a man for two minutes. Which is also a stupid rule.

Fortunately the Devils special teams have been strong tonight, and the stupid penalty for a stupid rule and a stupid call is killed. Stupid. Okay I’m done.

The momentum has definitely swung though, as Florida continues to control the puck. The Panthers win the faceoff, Duclair gets the pass and dangles past Blackwood to put Florida up 4-1. That play wasn’t 100% on Blackwood but it wasn’t his best play, and two of the first three goals were shots he absolutely should have had. Ruff apparently agrees, because Blackwood’s night is done, and Bernier comes out to finish off the second half of the game.

Bernier gets busy quickly and he makes an absolutely disgusting save within seconds of taking the net, reaching across to make a save on an otherwise empty net with the blade of his skate.

Florida takes a penalty for high sticking on Sam Bennet, hopefully resetting some of the momentum. The Devils look excellent very quickly, with a one two three passing play getting Nico Hischier a shot from the slot within seconds of the puck dropping. The Devils maintain control. Zacha gets a shot off that is redirected out of play. Severson gets the next shot on net, but Knight gloves it easily. McLeod is chased out of the ensuing faceoff, which allows the Panthers to win it and regain control, effectively killing the remainder of the penalty. Bennet nearly gets sprung out of the box with a stretch pass but fortunately for the Devils, he just misses the connection.

The momentum unfortunately does not shift, and instead the Panthers get a penalty of their own as Dougie Hamilton takes a trip attempting to stop Reinhart from making a power move into the net. The Devils are able to manage the kill until the period ends, leaving just three seconds left to the Cat’s power play when the third period resumes.

If you were delighted by the gameflow from the first period, prepare to be whatever the opposite of delighted is:

Bad. That’s just bad.

On to the Third Period

The Devils come out a little stronger this period, nearly sending Kuokkanen to a goal just seconds in but he rings it off the iron. Both teams keep up a fast pace, flying back and forth with barely even a stoppage for the first five minutes. Fabian Zetterlund shows off exactly what he’s made of with a speedy rush and a strong power move to the net that forces Knight to freeze the puck.

Florida tests Bernier, but the veteran goalie continues to hold his crease.

More back and forth, ping pong hockey fills up the time ticking by in the third period. Zacha gives the backhand a try but all of the few shots on goal this period are going straight to the pads.

Things start to get a little feisty as the period winds to a close, with Radko Gudas tangling up with Andreas Johnsson before both head to the box/tunnel for fighting. Gudas takes an extra 2 for tripping The Devils pull Bernier for the 6 on 4. The Devils control the zone but cannot buy a goal to finish this game. Zacha, Hamilton, and Hischier all have opportunities but absolutely nothing will go right for them now. The penalty ends, the period ends, and the game ends with the Devils down 4-1 to the still-undefeated-at-home Florida Panthers.

The Game Stats: The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Game Thingies that have to be at least slightly good to deserve me calling them highlights:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:

The Good:

Andreas Johnson continues his revenge tour on all of us who wrote him off last season. Tonight was yet another game he was all over the ice, involved in all the big plays, doing just about everything right. No giveaways, 1 takeaway, 3 shot attempts, a high danger chance, and a penalty drawn. The Panthers sure took note of him too— he took 6 hits tonight. The Bratt - Mercer - Johnsson line as a whole continues to work for the Devils as well.

Special Teams is also continuing to improve, which is absolutely not something I expected to say earlier this season. I’m fairly confident they waited specifically for me to finally give in and say we needed to fire the assistant coaches before they decided to stop sucking, but I will happily accept the L as long as they continue to kill penalties and look good on power plays. They didn’t score on the power play tonight, but at least they were actually generating chances—2 shot attempts on the first powerplay, 6 on the second, 4 actual shots on the 6 on 4 at the end of the third.

The First Period was fantastic, something the Devils haven’t managed much so far this season. They dominated every area of the ice, every area of the analytics, but somehow failed to dominate on the scoresheet after the late goal from Verhaeghe. This brings us somewhat prematurely to:

The Ugly:

The Second Period

Unfortunately, the Devils allowed that last-second goal to change the momentum and weren’t able to claw their way back into any semblance of control until the third period, but by then the damage was more than done. This is another incidence where the youth of this team shines like a black eye— this was a mental battle that they weren't experienced enough to win. The Panthers are, and knew how to use that goal to change their fate, and the Devils weren’t able to settle themselves and the game down and do anything about that. It took until what I’m sure was a heck of a speech from Ruff in the locker room during the second intermission to calm things down. It’s just unfortunate that didn’t happen immediately after that goal during the first intermission, or we could have seen a completely different game tonight.

The Bad:

Mackenzie Blackwood. Not good. At all. He looked okay in the first period, but the first goal to Verhaeghe was not a shot he should have let in. I’d give him the excuse that he just wasn’t prepared for the shot with 6 seconds left, not that that is something that should happen, but the next two goals were a bit uncharacteristic as he scrambled around for the puck, and the fourth was yet another glove side shot that he should have had. He barely looked like he even knew where the puck on that one. The fact that he left Sunday’s game in concussion protocol and then played like this tonight does not make me comfortable. Here’s hoping he was just rusty after a week off.