Still missing tonight under COVID protocols are Nico Hischier, Christian Jaros, and Ryan Graves, along with Jesper Boqvist and PK Subban added recently. Ruff insists the remaining players who were under the weather for Tuesday night’s game due to non-covid-related illnesses, such as Mackenzie Blackwood, are no longer feeling the ill effects tonight. Geertsen slots in on defense alongside Kevin Bahl, which is making me feel some ill effects just to say that.
The Devils look good to start things off. Hughes, Zacha, and Bratt make things difficult for Robin Lehner their first shift out, with Bratt sending a shot clear across the empty crease. The Knights force them out of the zone but the Devils come right back. Hamilton carries it over the line and blasts a shot that is stopped by Lehner, but he loses it in the feet of the defenseman. Jack Hughes finds the rebound in the slot and slaps it home to put the Devils on the board really quickly here. 1-0 Devils.
Immediately following the goal, the Knights take a too many men penalty, which may genuinely be an attempt by them to get the goal back considering how bad the Devils powerplay has been lately. The Devils win the faceoff and get a quick backhand attempt on Lehner, but after that their powerplay quickly dissolves into its usual uselessness once again. The powerplay mercifully ends without anyone scoring.
Let’s check in on the Geertsen-Bahl pairing, shall we?
Kevin Bahl picks up a routine loose puck, passes it directly to the forechecking Golden Knight who thankfully was so unprepared for it he rebounded it directly to Kevin Bahl. Bahl, under sudden pressure, sends it back to Geertsen, who falls over upon receiving the pass. He does make the clear though. Amazing.
The defense is changed and out comes Damon Severson, who takes a penalty for roughing against Marchessault in the defensive zone, so we’ll see if the powerplay can maintain the same level of mediocrity as the powerplay.
Success? The Knights walk all over the Devils penalty kill until Kuokkanen trips up Evgeni Dadanov in the slot, sending the Devils to a 5 on 3 for a full minute.
Vesey gets the first clear off the faceoff. Siegenthaler tips the puck out of play, which takes us right back to the faceoff. McLeod wins it and scrambles to clear it out. The first penalty expires, sending us to another minute of 5 on 4. The Devils struggle to clear it out this time, with Vegas eventually sending it back to the point to Coghlan, who rips a slap shot that beats Mackenzie Blackwood. Tie game, 1-1.
The Zacha-Hughes-Bratt line continues to wreak havoc on the Golden Knights, with Hughes nearly connecting with Zacha to create another goal for that line, but the defense just pulled Zacha back enough to prevent it, sending us to the first intermission tied at one.
The second period does not start off the way we would hope. Blackwood gets taken out in net by Tatar, who tried to push off the Vegas player and instead pushed himself backwards into Blackwood. Blackwood goes down in the net and has to be tended to by team staff. Fortunately he is able to stay in the game, hopefully no worse for the wear. Tatar’s line gives him as much time to recover as possible with a few minutes of pressure in the offensive zone, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Vegas comes back the other way and gets the puck to Kolesar at the dot. Kolesar shoots the puck which is redirected only inches from Blackwood’s glove by Carrier. 2-1, Vegas takes the lead for the first time tonight.
Blackwood looks sharp on the next Vegas rush though, so he seems to be okay, it was just an unfortunate redirection. Jesper Bratt draws a penalty attempting to move in down the outside, so we’ll go back to the powerplay here and hopefully make something out of it.
It starts off poorly— we win the faceoff but fail to maintain the zone. The Devils were offside on their attempt to regain the zone. McNabb makes the next clear directly at Blackwood. Finally the Devils are able to get in the zone with just 75 seconds to go in the man advantage. The Devils get two shots off before the Knights clear again. Ty Smith makes a beautiful play to maintain the zone and keep possession as the powerplay winds down, but it just isn't enough to get us a goal for our ever-worsening powerplay stats.
Janne Kuokkanen gets an absolute rocket on net after picking up a loose puck, but it misses the net.
Jack Hughes is a man on a mission tonight, taking a pass from Vesey with enough room to shoot at but he just skims over the top of the net.
Bratt goes 1v1 with McNabb and nearly earns himself a breakaway but he loses the handle on the fake.
Johnsson sees a stretch pass that nearly puts him on a breakaway, but he gets tied up with the chasing defenseman and can’t get to the pass.
A lot of chances for the Devils as the period draws to a close but nothing to show on the scoreboard as we go to the second intermission still down 2-1.
The Devils need to come out hard and fast to start this period on the right foot. We chose the fourth line to start the period. That does not feel like the right choice for that goal. At least Hughes-Zacha-Bratt came on next.
Dougie Hamilton smacks Carrier in the face with his stick unfortunately, sending us to the penalty kill early on, which is also not good for our momentum.
Surprisingly, the Devils penalty kill is actually effective, or the Vegas powerplay is really bad, or both. Vegas takes two offsides and an icing, stifling their chances for doing anything productive with the man advantage.
Pacioretty wreaks some havoc and pulls Blackwood way out of his net with Stone across the crease and the covering Siegenthaler on his knees, but Pacioretty tries to pass to Stone and Siegenthaler appears to just get a stick on the pass, preventing what would have been a sure goal for Stone.
One rush later however and William Karlsson gets the job done— he takes a beautiful stretch pass and walks straight through the neutral zone and past Smith who was caught flat-footed, then beats Blackwood just under the crossbar. 3-1 Vegas.
And just for good measure, off the faceoff the Devils give up a 2 on 1 against Bahl because Geertsen was more interested in laying a hit than playing his position, and Roy doesn’t miss on his shot. 4-1 Vegas.
The Devils get a small break here as Sharangovitch takes a high stick from Coghlan, putting us on the powerplay. Which isn’t much, but will hopefully at least give Blackwood two minutes to reset himself.
Surprisingly, the Devils are actually able to get something done on this one. The pressure in the zone is excellent, everyone is moving their feet creating havoc for the Vegas defenders, and finally it happens— Tomas Tatar leans for the head fake and sends a beautiful shot while falling that beats Lehner. Devils finally get one for an answer, 4-2 now.
Aaaaaand we go right to the penalty kill, because of course we do. Bastian takes a penalty for tripping Pacioretty at the red line. Jimmy Vesey has decided this shouldn’t be a bad thing though, and takes matters into his own hands on a shorthanded breakaway. He tries for a high shot but Lehner gets a piece of his shoulder on it, sending it up and over the net. The Knights attempt to set up in the zone, but it deflects out of the zone. The Devils chase it back out into the Vegas zone. Siegenthaler gets a shot from the point. Vesey deflects it from the crease and right past Lehner, finishing the shorthanded opportunity from moments earlier. Powerplay goal AND a shorthanded goal in one night? What team is this? 4-3 now.
Lehner really put his body out there to help us get this shorty pic.twitter.com/ZXMZ78hKpO— Devils on MSG (@DevilsMSGN) December 17, 2021
The Devils get their energy going in the final minutes here, looking for the tying goal. Vesey rocks Whitecloud, possibly a retaliation hit for his hit on Hughes moments earlier. The Devils pull Blackwood for the sixth attacker. Hamilton passes to Hughes who shoots, but Lehner makes the save. Hamilton snaps a high shot that is blocked away, giving Vegas possession. The clear misses the net but it bounces directly to Marchessault, who doesn’t miss. Wave goodbye to the comeback, boys, its 5-3 now.
The Devils pull Blackwood again anyway, and it does lead to one more goal— Jack Hughes again. Hamilton passes to Severson down at the circle, who feeds Hughes straight through the slot. Hughes has a wide open net to shoot at and doesn’t miss, putting us back within one goal, but the goal is waved off for offsides, because of course it is.
To make things colorful at the end of the game, Mason Geertsen tried to drop the gloves with Petrangiello and ended up with two players tied up on him as McNabb joins in as well, leading to a massive pile up in the Vegas end. Robin Lehner takes a shot at Kevin Bahl as the refs are leading the original offenders off the ice, which creates even more havoc and a second round of rough and tumble. Lehner heads down the tunnel, leaving Laurent Brossoit to come out and stand in the net for the final 15 seconds of the game.
The Game Highlights:
Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Pavel Zacha together are just a joy to watch. 66.66% of the scoring chances, 3 high danger chances, 5 rush attempts. Jack Hughes led the team in on-ice FF% and a whopping 9 on-ice high danger scoring chances, SEVEN of which were Hughes himself. He and Dougie Hamilton led the team in xGF with 1.19 and 1.28 respectively. Jesper Bratt was not far behind with 1.0 himself, with Zacha at 0.6.
Somehow, the powerplay? It looked slow and bad as usual as first but it really came together and delivered for the Devils, creating some good movement and eventually even a real, actual goal. Who knew that was possible? All jokes aside, the powerplay actually started to look like a proper NHL man-advantage towards the end of the game, so perhaps there is some hope to what we’re doing after all.
Blackwood continues to look like an average goalie, which is really not what this team needs him to be. He’s more than capable of being better than .862. Those two quick goals were his to save. We desperately need Blackwood playing like ye Blackwood of ole if we are going to right this ship.
Ruffs usage, again. The fourth line of Vesey, McLeod and Bastian had the second most ice time at 5 on 5, and got hammered in with 33.33CF%. Kuokkanen, Sharangovitch and Studenic had the third most time, and also got slapped around with a 33.33CF%. Tatar, Mercer and Johnsson broke even while playing just 7:40, a full two minutes less than the fourth line. Why are we swapping the fourth and second lines?? That's FOUR MORE SHIFTS we could have potentially created offense, leading to either a goal or just a general shift in momentum that could snowball over the entire game. I understand McLeod is good at faceoffs, but they just do not make that much of a difference. Especially when the majority of faceoffs he’s given are in the neutral zone. Make it make sense.
I will also mention that Ruff’s postgame comments about ‘wanting to frustrating the other team, and we succeeded because Petro yelled at me’ definitely did not inspire me with any confidence whatsoever. I thought our objective was supposed to be to win, Lindy?
It was another loss in the end, but the pieces changed considerably tonight. There was no slow first period start. Both special teams were actually okay, in fact both put up a goal which is a pretty darn good percentage, and both seemed to get better as the game went along. They gave up two big ones quickly that ended up being their undoing, but it didn’t take the fight out of them. They continued to battle and nearly made a full comeback. The question is, can we continue to put those pieces together in bigger and better ways until they start forming wins again?
How are you feeling about this game? Was it an improvement, or just another disappointing loss? Is there hope for this powerplay? And one more, just for fun: who wins that goalie fight, Mackenzie Blackwood or Robin Lehner? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!