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Devils’ Defense Dreadful in 5-2 Loss to Wild

The Devils look at risk of unraveling just past the quarter-mark in the season.

New Jersey Devils v Minnesota Wild
Nice defense, Graves.
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

First Period

The New Jersey Devils started the game on the defensive end, as the Mercer line successfully defended the initial attack by the Minnesota Wild but failed to get the puck out despite possessing the puck while the Wild changed lines. The Mercer line finally got off after a 75-second shift. Before getting off, Johnsson set Zacha up for a two-on-one shot that was saved by Kahkonen.

The Devils took a penalty early, as Jonas Siegenthaler was called for high sticking Joel Eriksson Ek on the faceoff 3:37 into the game. The Devils won the faceoff, and Vesey’s first clearing attempt came back to the Devils - and Severson executed the followup attempt successfully. The Devils did not allow the Wild to stay in the zone long, as Graves slapped the puck around the boards after their re-entry. Mackenzie Blackwood had to make a couple big saves in the second minute, but the Devils kept the Wild at bay. As the penalty expired, McLeod took the puck up ice and dumped in as the Mercer line took the ice.

After Ty Smith made a terrible pinch following a long rebound off a Hamilton slap shot, Kevin Fiala had a partial breakaway with Hamilton chasing and backhanded a shot off the crossbar.

The Wild would not be denied, though. A couple minutes later, Kirill Kaprizov faked out Ryan Graves with a turn of the back, and Graves reached around for a poke check as Kaprizov turned back to the net and flipped a puck past Blackwood. 1-0, Wild.

Mackenzie Blackwood continued to play poorly as he came way out of the net after a turnover deep in the Devils zone, giving Rem Pitlick the whole net to shoot at as he lost his stick. 2-0. Just check out this awesome puck protection by Graves in a vulnerable spot, too.

Mackeznie Blackwood almost gave up another goal, as he gave the side of the net to Marcus Foligno, who tried to shoot it off Blackwood’s skate. Blackwood got spun around trying to get the puck, but it stayed out.

After P.K. Subban tried to hit Yegor Sharangovich for a deflection, Sharangovich got held behind the Wild net - and the Devils went to the power play with 3:48 left in the first. Nico Sturm went to the box.

Hughes, Hischier, Zacha, Hamilton, and Vesey took to the ice. Nico Hischier took a low shot that rebounded to the slot, but Vesey was not ready for it - as the puck could have been played better by a right-handed player. The Devils changed to the second wave at the end of the first minute of the power play. Severson had a shot blocked, and Tatar shot wide. Severson then got a shot through, and Johnsson played it to Bratt - whose shot went right into Kahkonen’s shoulder and out of play. Bratt had another shot after the faceoff, and chased his own rebound down before his pass back to the point got past Jack Hughes.

Second Period

The Mercer line had a much improved start to the second, with Jesper Bratt willing possession for the Devils and creating a few shot attempts by him, Johnsson, and Hamilton after Mercer took the zone and shot the puck wide. The Hischier line followed up with a good shift, with Jack Hughes nearly scoring on a loose puck from a Subban slap shot. Kahkonen covered, and the Hischier line continued their possession after a draw before Ty Smith lost the puck at the blueline.

Mackenzie Blackwood continued his awesome night when a wide-angled shot from Kaprizov went off Blackwood’s pad, deflecting high off Severson’s helmet and back into the net. 3-0, Wild.

Right after the Wild goal, the Devils’ fourth line got the puck into the offensive zone and crashed around the net while Hamilton moved the puck over to Ryan Graves. Graves’ shot beat Kahkonen threw the slew of bodies to make it 3-1.

The Devils continued their better period when Dougie Hamilton found Tomas Tatar streaking up the ice after an initial exit attempt was knocked back to him. Tatar shot it off quickly, and Kahkonen was not ready to make the save. 3-2 with over 12 minutes to play in the second.

The Devils cannot make anything good last long, though. With Ryan Graves back on defense yet again, he let Dmitry Kulikov beat him to a rebound at the side of the net, as Blackwood failed to keep the puck in his glove off a Ryan Hartman shot. 4-2.

After Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes did a good job of keeping the puck away from the Wild, turning their backs with puck possession, Hughes was taken down behind Kahkonen’s net. The Devils went back to the power play with 7:20 to play in the second. Pitlick went to the box.

Off the draw, the Wild cleared and took possession of the puck in the Devils end, moving it back to their own before clearing again. The Devils finally got into the offensive zone 40 seconds in, and set up with 1:13 to use. Vesey went for a wraparound, but was stopped by Jonas Brodin while the net was wide open. The second unit came on with 50 seconds to play. Severson had a weak one-timer blocked by Sturm after some good puck movement, and Johnsson’s pass to Severson was intercepted by Ryan Hartman. However, Severson stood Hartman up, checking him to the ice as he entered the Devils’ defensive zone. The penalty expired without a shot on net.

After Pavel Zacha had a shot attempt get blocked high in the offensive zone, he was called for hooking Jordan Greenway. On the penalty kill, the Devils failed with a few clearing attempts before Nico Hischier held up play deep in the Wild defensive zone in the corner. The Wild came back quickly after winning the puck back, and Blackwood made a save on a rush backhand with under 20 seconds to play in the second. Vesey cleared off the following draw, and Matt Dumba sped into the Devils’ zone and nearly scored as he crashed into P.K. Subban. 4-2 at the end of two.

Third Period

The Devils started the period on the penalty kill, and managed to push the Wild back and away from Blackwood. After the penalty expired, Hartman shanked a one-timer chance. The Mercer line took to the ice, and Blackwood covered the puck to his left as Fiala had free reign down low with Graves failing to defend around the net.

The Hischier line got a three-on-two rush, and Jack Hughes was tripped by Marcus Foligno from behind, and Hughes went crashing into the boards. Hughes was fine, but there should have been an interference or tripping minor on Foligno. There was not. Nonetheless, the Devils would go to the power play, as Sharangovich was high-sticked by Brandon Duhaime.

The second unit started this power play, but passed too much instead of shooting. Dougie Hamilton got the first shot with 40 seconds left in the power play, and Jimmy Vesey tried to jam it home but could not. The Devils won the next draw, and Zacha’s shot was blocked. The Devils held the zone, and Nico Hischier’s shot went above the crossbar. On the re-entry, a puck bounced over Sharangovich in the shot and the Wild took it down ice. Their possession was shortlived, but the penalty expired without a goal yet again.

With 13:44 to play, after a bad shift by the Mercer line, Andreas Johnsson dropped the gloves with Ryan Hartman. Johnsson took off his helmet, giving the Wild a power play.

On the penalty kill, Blackwood made a couple saves in the first minute or so before the Wild iced the puck with 42 seconds left to kill. As the Devils were about to return to even strength, Dawson Mercer was called for tripping as the Wild were breaking out, as he took Matt Dumba down. The Wild had five-on-three for five seconds, and Tatar came out of the box on the Johnsson extra minor.

On the rest of the next penalty kill, the Wild had a couple of chances. Blackwood made a good save in the second minute on Hartman, and Kaprizov fanned on a netside chance with an open net. Mercer returned to the ice with over nine minutes to play.

Jack Hughes returned to the ice, but the Devils were mostly playing defense after the stoppage. With the Mercer line on, Jesper Bratt tipped up a long shot (from the Devils’ defensive end) by P.K. Subban into Kahkonen, and shot the rebounding puck - but could not score.

Tomas Tatar had a great chance to score with five and a half minutes to play, as Sharangovich set up a one-timer for Severson. Tatar and Vesey were in front, and Kahkonen went down on his side - but they could not lift the rebound over him.

Ryan Hartman put the game away for Minnestoa Wild with 3:55 to play in the third. As Jonas Siegenthaler came up to challenge him, Hartman beat him cleanly to the outside and shot far-side on Blackwood, ringing it off the post and in. 5-2, Wild.

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 Opposition Opinion: Check out Hockey Wilderness.

Weak

The Devils were bad all-around in the first period, did a better job in the second on offense (but not defense), and then might as well have stayed in the locker room for the third. This was the result, in a 5-2 loss.

Ryan Graves was incredibly weak on defense tonight. He went for the poke check on Kaprizov, who was turning away from him, rather than taking the body. He let offensive juggernaut Dmitry Kulikov have free reign around the net for a rebound goal. He also made the turnover that led to the goal by Rem Pitlick.

Mackenzie Blackwood was also weak in net tonight. With the game in Winnipeg coming up, Bernier should have gotten the start, with Blackwood possibly still dealing with effects from his second vaccine dose. Blackwood was regularly putting himself out of position, and had terrible rebound control tonight.

The Devils also had several chances on the power play tonight. The first power play was good. The Devils have five scoring chances and four shots with 0.45 xGF. The second and third power plays had one shot in total, amounting to 0.08 total xGF. The Devils are now 1 for 26 on road power plays, with a grand rate of 3.84% of power plays resulting in a goal. If the team does not fire Recchi, they should at least take the power play away from him.

Questionable Coaching Decisions

Lindy Ruff decided to sit Janne Kuokkanen tonight, in favor of Mason Geertsen.

I do not think I need to say much about this. When Jack Hughes could have been reinjured by a dangerous, diving trip from behind by Marcus Foligno - which should be reviewed by Player Safety if they are worth their salt - who dropped the gloves for the Devils? Oh yeah, Andreas Johnsson decided to fight Ryan Hartman, and his forgetting a rule that has been in place for years gave the Wild a power play, with the Devils down two. At least he cross-checked Nick Bjugstad for the crime of continuing to play hockey up until the buzzer. I would have understood if Geertsen went after Foligno at some point, but even as an enforcer he’s bad at his job.

Additionally, I was surprised by the fact that Jack Hughes played the entire game at wing. The first line had one shot on goal tonight. They were the only line that did not give up a goal, so I guess that was good. But a 22.68 xGF%? Not good. And since the Mercer line was bad tonight (2 goals against, 40.91 xGF%), I would have had no problem breaking them up. It just seemed like negligence to keep the original lines together so late in the game, and play the best line - the Sharangovich line - the least of the top nine (which only played 6:30 all together in total). It was just banging their heads against the wall, even though they could have switched Bratt and Hughes, and had Mercer take draws for the second line.

Do or Die Time

The Devils are now 9-8-4. They are, at the time I am checking the standings, five points out of a playoff spot. They are 3-5-2 in their last ten games. With Jack Hughes back on the ice, there is no excuse for the Devils - that they “ran into a better team.” The Devils are highly talented and the coaching staff is making a mess of the team. While Ty Smith has been bad this year, the decision to split up the second and third pairings and play Siegenthaler with Severson and Smith with Subban has been a disaster lately. While that does not explain how Ryan Graves forgot how to play defense tonight, it does not help that the Devils do not have a fallback mid-line shutdown pairing like Siegenthaler and Subban.

If the Devils were not just coming off the return of Jack Hughes, these last two games would not seem so bad. Maybe Hughes is still shaking off rust. But that does not excuse the collapse in defensive coverage and discipline for the rest of the team. Lindy Ruff needs to nip this in the bud immediately, and get his team back to levels of defensive play and passing ability that is respectable on a basic level for an NHL team.

And I mean - hey - the Devils got themselves to within one tonight. Then they forgot how to play hockey again.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about the coaching decisions? Did you feel like Blackwood should have played? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

And whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.