Mike Smith deflected an early shot from Jack Hughes high, after Jesper Bratt picked up the puck in the neutral zone and had a two-on-one just 20 seconds into the game. Smith got the glove on it. With the fourth line then on against the McDavid line, Mackenzie Blackwood had to make a big save on Jesse Puljujarvi. Marian Studenic soon after took the puck down the length of the ice, drawing a penalty as he drove the net.
This power play struck quickly. Nico Hischier won the draw, and Nathan Bastian worked below the goal line. He got the puck out to Bratt on the wall, who kept it moving along to Dougie Hamilton. Dougie set Jack Hughes up for a one-timer that blasted past Mike Smith! 1-0, Devils.
The Edmonton Oilers would quickly tie the game. With a line of Johnsson, McLeod, and Kuokkanen on the ice, Ryan McLeod set Connor McDavid up for a wide-angled shot that Blackwood could not get across quick enough to save.
Nico Hischier would then take a page out of Jack Hughes’ book. Pavel Zacha set Ryan Graves up for a point blast, which was deflected down by Jesper Boqvist. Nico Hischier threw the puck from below the goal line off of Mike Smith - and he scored! 2-1, Devils.
Nic-oh lookie there we got the lead again! pic.twitter.com/5msNWPe7nu— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 31, 2021
To recap the crazy New Year's Eve fireworks from The Rock.— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) December 31, 2021
Hughes (pp) at 1:38
McDavid at 2:48
Hischier at 3:05
The Devils would, again, not be able to hold onto the lead for very long. Marian Studenic turned the puck over to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who threw it back to Slater Koekkoek. Koekkoek’s shot was deflected by Kailer Yamamoto, and it was a tie game again just six minutes into the game.
With around nine minutes to play in the first period, Damon Severson had a very active shift, forcing the Oilers to get a bit jumpy in their defensive zone. As the Oilers tried to counter, Mercer tracked back to collect the loose puck - and Severson sprang Johnsson ahead, who flipped the puck in for Dawson Mercer as he zipped around the ice. Mercer got on it and quickly got off a backhand, which got past Smith! 3-2, Devils.
When the Oilers and Devils were not scoring, the Devils often struggled to limit chances against. Only Nico Hischier’s line came out on top in shots differential, while the Mercer line played to about even. Interestingly, Alain Nasreddine saw that Michael McLeod was not matching up well against Connor McDavid and chose to match Dawson Mercer with him instead. Mercer’s line was able to keep McDavid at bay, while McLeod struggled mightily and saw less time as the period progressed. Jack Hughes’ line allowed four shots to the McDavid line in just over a minute against, while they dominated Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ line.
The Devils controlled play early in the second. Michael McLeod’s linehad a good shift early on, as Studenic had a long-range shot off a feed from McLeod as they wasted time against the McDavid line. Jack Hughes’ line took a couple of long range shots, and Yegor Sharangovich had a deflection chance in front that was smothered by Mike Smith.
After the Oilers had a few good shifts, Andreas Johnsson pushed the puck out of the defensive zone and the Devils performed an absolutely awful line change. Duncan Keith split the defense with a long pass to Connor McDavid, who worked Mackenzie Blackwood to the ice and tied the game at 3-3.
After Jack Hughes went all around the ice, having a rush shot blocked and then following up with a sharp-angle netside shot that went wide, Damon Severson laid a big hit on Zach Hyman at the blueline. The Oilers responded by taking a penalty, and Jack Hughes led the Devils on a three-on-one. Hughes shot, and Smith got the glove on it. Darnell Nurse took the penalty for roughing.
Nico Hischier got the first and only great chance of the power play, as Jesper Bratt set him up in the slot. Hischier shot high, and Mike Smith threw the glove out to make the save. Nico won the following draw, and Jesper Bratt’s shot was gloved by Smith again. in the final 30 seconds, Dougie Hamilton sent a slap shot low, which was kicked out by Smith. Nico Hischier tried to get the rebound, but Smith covered the shot. The Oilers killed this penalty.
The second period was a much more low event affair than the first. The long change really hurt the Devils in trying to counterattack. And while the Oilers had a few long shifts, they mostly missed with their cross-seam passes and did not get much in the way of dangerous shots off their offensive zone set-ups, as they were only credited for four scoring chances in the second period.
Mackenzie Blackwood was tested early, as he made a save off a redirection by Ryan McLeod, with Connor McDavid bearing down on him. Blackwood made a couple more saves in the first few minutes. Most of the Devils’ offense came from the Hischier line, as Jesper Boqvist had a chance in front - and Boqvist just lost the handle on what could have been a breakaway off a feed from Pavel Zacha. Zacha later had a chance in front but was practically pulled off the puck.
Janne Kuokkanen, who had an active stick all game but just hadn’t gotten a shot off, got a feed from Andreas Johnsson on the rush for a one-timer that went bar-down! 4-3, Devils with under 15 minutes to play.
After the goal, Dougie Hamilton blocked a shot by Kailer Yamamoto with his ankle and hobbled off the ice during a stoppage for icing.
Pavel Zacha had a chance to shoot on a rush, but slapped the puck across to Nico Hischier who was unable to get on it for a clean shot. The puck appeared to be frozen but play was not blown dead, and McDavid went the other way. Severson was back, and danger was temporarily averted. However, Ryan McLeod, on the following shift, sent a puck out from the corner to the front of the net that was buried by Devin Shore to tie the game at 4-4.
On a delayed penalty, Dougie Hamilton swiped the puck to the point, and Jack Hughes touched up the puck but play was not blown dead. The Kailer Yamamoto then scored on a feed across from Leon Draisaitl. The referees had a discussion after the goal. This was an absolute failure of the referees, and Alain Nasreddine challenged for a missed game stoppage.
The review took a very long time. It took over 10 minutes from the time the goal was scored for play to resume, and the referees called it a non-challengeable play but did not award the Oilers a power play. I do not buy that explanation, as they were looking at that review for a solid six or seven minutes. And the delivery of the explanation...woof:
With play resumed, Yegor Sharangovich had a redirection chance stopped by Mike Smith. Smith later played the puck at the edge of the trapezoid, but no call was made. Smith later played the puck from behind the net to Dougie Hamilton, but Hamilton did not calm the puck quick enough to shoot on the empty net.
Jesper Bratt had a chance to score with under five minutes to play, and the Devils scrambled for the puck in the crease. Somehow, the puck did not go in as Smith was at the edge of his crease and play was blown dead with a slew of Oilers and Devils in the blue paint.
With 4:47 to play, Yegor Sharangovich was called for a faceoff violation penalty. The Devils killed this penalty while allowing shots by Puljujarvi and Draisaitl.
With Blackwood pulled after the penalty kill, the Devils failed to get a shot off in the initial shift. After a stoppage, Nico Hischier won the puck back to Dougie Hamilton, whose shot was deflected by Yegor Sharangovich and past Smith! Tie game with under 30 seconds to play!
The Oilers won the initial draw, and Mackenzie Blackwood made a stop as Leon Draisaitl cut across the crease. Zacha and Hischier changed off for Bratt and Hughes. Severson opened up some space for Bratt to get a breakaway, and Smith denied him on the five hole. Shortly after, Jack Hughes had a full-ice breakaway from the defensive zone that was stopped by Smith.
Tyson Barrie went for a high shot on Blackwood, but it was fought off. Dawson Mercer’s stick was held at the Devils blueline as they tried to counterattack, but no call was made. Nico Hischier was poked by Ryan McLeod, and he fought off the Oilers by the Devils bench. Zacha tried to set Hischier up from below the goal line, but the Oilers denied the pass.
With Bratt and Hughes back on, Bratt circled around the corner with the puck and dropped it back to Jack Hughes. Hughes lofted a shot at Smith through McDavid’s legs, and the Smith had trouble with it - the puck trickled through! 6-5 win in overtime for the Devils!
The Opposition Opinion: Copper and Blue has this up.
Big Game Jack (x2)
Jack Hughes was the best player on the ice today. With seven shots on goal on nine attempts, three high-danger chances and two goals - the Devils could not have survived a game like this without him. This was especially true as the Hischier line struggled down the stretch after a good first period, and the fourth line was absolutely hammered by the Oilers’ top lines. By comparison, the Devils held Connor McDavid to only three shots today, and prevented McDavid from getting a shot in either their third period power play or overtime. McDavid was certainly efficient, but he did not control the game like Hughes did and seemed to be dogged down the stretch as a result of being double shifted.
With six points in two games since the Christmas break, Jack Hughes is up to 14 points in 15 games - or a 76-77 point pace per 82 games. Jesper Bratt, meanwhile, is inching closer to a point-per-game pace himself with 29 points in 31 games.
Great Third Line Game
Dawson Mercer played 7:30 against Connor McDavid today. In that time, the Devils outshot the Oilers 5-3, as Mercer scored his backhand goal. In addition to Mercer’s strong play against Connor McDavid, Andreas Johnsson continues to be a rather good playmaker for the Devils, as he made a perfect set up for Mercer’s goal and created a lot of space for Kuokkanen’s wicked one-timer.
While I recommended that Kuokkanen and Boqvist be switched in the lineup after Wednesday night’s game, I think it worked out for the better that the lines stayed steady. Nico’s line was again the victim of a goal against that was not really their fault - as Subban picked a terrible time to change and left McDavid alone behind him. However, Boqvist was making better plays with the puck this afternoon’s game - and all three forwards factored into the Hischier goal in the first period. Zacha beat Kailer Yamamoto to the loose puck after batting Evan Bouchard’s pass to set up Graves’ shot, which Boqvist threw Mike Smith off of with the deflection. Had P.K. Subban waited for his forwards to fully change before slowly getting off the ice, the Devils’ first line would have finished with a 1-0 goals differential.
Janne Kuokkanen adds solid two-way play to the Mercer line. In the absence of Tomas Tatar. His style is a bit more physical and slower, but he is often in the right place at the right time when defending the neutral zone - and I think that helped the Mercer line tonight. He might not have the offensive skill that Johnsson and Mercer have, but he has his moments as seen in his goal tonight.
On Blackwood and the Referees
Mackenzie Blackwood had himself another rough night. He is credited with five goals against on just 2.83 xGA and 37 shots against. However, I am leery of using expected goals when pucks are coming off of shots from Connor McDavid and company. And if you consider that one of those goals outright should not have counted, it’s more like Blackwood gave up four goals on 36 shots against with one goal scored by referee blindness. Still not pretty, but it’s hard to argue that many goalies do better against the Edmonton Oilers.
As for the officiating crew, I will be taking notice of whenever Francois St-Laurent or Dean Morton are calling a game in the future. Because how do you miss this? How are you so blind that you do not see a player make a clearing attempt during a delayed penalty?
After a verrrrry long review, the decision is that it was a 'non-challengeable play' (the attempt was a missed stoppage). pic.twitter.com/4tjWRFgomA— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) December 31, 2021
It does not help that Dean Morton sounded like he was about to nervous-puke during his explanation for it being non-reviewable. I mean, if the Devils lost tonight, I would not have minded Alain Nasreddine drawing a fine for criticizing Morton as Claude Julien did in early 2020, though in this particular instance St-Laurent’s inaction to blow the play dead is more appalling for an NHL referee.
In the end, though, the Devils were able to fight back from this awfulness and secure the victory. The top three forward lines did their job today - and Nathan Bastian chipped in with some solid screens in front of Mike Smith. Not many teams can come out on top trying to run-and-gun alongside the Edmonton Oilers, but the New Jersey Devils did it tonight. Sometimes adversity makes a team stronger, and the Devils’ core continues to show a lot of promise with their ability to come back from late-game deficits and score timely goals.
What did you think of this afternoon’s game? How do you think the game would have went if the fifth Oilers goal did not happen or was overturned? How do you feel about Mackenzie Blackwood right now? What did you make of the play from the top three Devils centers today? How did you feel watching Siegenthaler and Severson defend against McDavid? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - have a happy New Year.