The McLeod line started for the Devils, and got into the zone for a short time before Michael McLeod lost the puck in the corner. After a stoppage for an offsides, the Zacha line came on and got the puck deep into the zone before Janne Kuokkanen turned the puck over. The Bruins were unable to make anything happen while counterattacking on either shift.
Mikhail Maltsev got the first shot for the Devils almost four minutes into the game - a shot from the blue line that was gloved by Jaroslav Halak. They stayed on for the faceoff, but the Bruins quickly got the puck back to the other end. P.K. Subban got into it in the corner with a Bruin while the Bruins got some pressure on Blackwood, but the Devils managed to keep the puck out of the goal.
The Hughes line got a lengthy offensive possession six minutes into the period, with multiple shots getting on Halak. The best opportunity was when Jesper Bratt sent a pass from behind the net to Andreas Johnsson cutting in, but Johnsson was denied. The Devils even got to do a line change during their possession for the McLeod line, but they were not as successful at getting the puck on goal.
Andreas Johnsson set Ty Smith up with a cross-ice pass during a rush about halfway through the period. Smith tried to go across for Bratt right in front of Halak, but the pass did not connect and the puck was steered away. On the other end, Miles Wood was taken down by Chris Wanger behind the net - and the referee called for tripping.
The Devils sent out Kuokkanen, Zacha, Johnsson, Subban, and Severson to start the power play. Interesting choice. The Bruins cleared off the draw, and Johnsson re-entered the zone - but his pass around the boards was off the mark. The Devils got back in, and Pavel Zacha set Damon Severson up for a shot - but the shot was pretty weak and Halak made the easy save. The Devils then changed their unit for Bratt, Hughes, Wood, Smith, and Palmieri. They got into the zone with just over 20 seconds left in the power play, and Sean Kuraly took the puck away and down the ice. The power play expired without another shot.
Mikhail Maltsev took the puck away twice on the forecheck in one shift with under six minutes to play in the period. The Devils did not immediately get a shot on goal, but a Will Butcher shot from the point was gloved by Halak. Yegor Sharangovich had an opportunity to shoot earlier in the shift off a turnover created by Maltsev - but the Bruins converged on him pretty quickly.
Not much happened for the rest of the period. The Devils did a great job of keeping the Bruins without shots on goal - they went over eight minutes without allowing one before Blackwood gloved a shot with about 30 seconds to play in the period. The shots were 7-7 and the score at 0 going into the first intermission.
The McLeod line started the period again for the Devils, and they got into the zone before a McLeod pass was intercepted. On the other end, the Bruins gained the zone, lost it on a bad pass, and then had play frozen on an offsides call. The Maltsev line then took the ice with Jesper Bratt in Kyle Palmieri’s place. I thought this was a bad decision, but Kyle Palmieri immediately proved me wrong when the Hughes line came on. Palmieri passed to Hughes in the neutral zone, and Hughes drew Lauzon wide before backhanding a pass back to Palmieri, who zipped a wrister past Halak. 1-0, Devils.
Palms smaht pahked it in the back of the net— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 19, 2021
: Hughes pic.twitter.com/H97QZ1EX8t
Andreas Johnsson took a huge blindside hit right after play resumed from David Pastrnak, and Kyle Palmieri responded with a big hit of his own on Pastrnak. Palmieri went off for two minutes for roughing, and Charlie McAvoy took a roughing call himself. During the four-on-four play, the Bruins had the Devils hemmed in for a bit, but failed to get a good shot on Blackwood. Brad Marchand got a wrist shot from the high slot on the rush after the Devils cleared the zone, but it was right to Blackwood and play was frozen.
Pavel Zacha had a golden opportunity off the rush as Will Butcher made a great backhand pass to him. Zacha’s shot went wide of the net. I think I would have liked to see Will Butcher go for the shot as he had the middle of the ice, but it was a nice pass.
The Devils went to the power play with twelve minutes to play in the period as John Moore went off for tripping Jesper Bratt. The Devils started with Hughes, McLeod, Bratt, Smith, and Palmieri on the power play. A cross-ice pass from Smith to Wood just missed Wood, and Patrice Bergeron took the puck back down the ice for a two-on-one. Smith went to take away the pass, and Bergeron’s shot was saved by Blackwood. Halfway through the power play, the Devils took a double minor as P.K. Subban took a high sticking call on Anders Bjork.
At four-on-four, the Devils mostly kept the puck out of their own end, and Nathan Bastian had the puck in the neutral zone when the Bruins power play started. However, Bastian did not choose to dump the puck in, and the Bruins quickly got to their attack. Kyle Palmieri got the puck off a clear, and was all alone for a breakaway on Jaroslav Halak. Palmieri went five hole as Halak kept his pad too high, and the game was 2-0, Devils. Jesper Bratt had a great break-up with his stick just prior to the clear that made its way to Palmieri. Severson got the primary assist for clearing the puck to Palmieri, and Bratt got the secondary for breaking up the Bruins’ play in the neutral zone.
Don’t worry about what happened after this. Just enjoy the moment.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 19, 2021
: Severson pic.twitter.com/9r21AsaYnw
Michael McLeod and Nate Bastian fought hard for a clear with just over a minute to play in the kill, and they changed off for Palmieri and Bratt again. In the last minute of the kill, Palmieri got the puck off a failed Bruins entry and cleared it. However, the Bruins fought back and got the puck deep in the zone. Palmieri tried to clear from his backhand, but it was too soft and Jake Debrusk intercepted, shot, and scored from the lower, inner edge of the faceoff circle. 2-1, still Devils - but play returned to five-on-five.
However, this would not last. After a netfront scrum, Nathan Bastian and Charlie Coyle took offsetting minors for roughing. At four-on-four, Pavel Zacha spun around in the zone, passed to Andreas Johnsson, got the puck back, and put the puck home in the top corner to make the game 3-1. Will Butcher got the secondary assist. It was a beautiful play from Pavel Zacha and Andreas Johnsson.
Big Z— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 19, 2021
: Butcher pic.twitter.com/Iy88PFfrbK
At the end of two periods, the Devils had a two goal lead and the shots advantage at 18-15.
With the McLeod line on to start the final period, Nate Bastian flipped the puck high to Miles Wood after McLeod battled for the puck on the boards. Wood sticked the puck on goal with one hand, and the Bruins iced the puck shortly after. With the Hughes line on, Palmieri made a pass to Jack Hughes, whose shot from high in the zone was deflected out of the zone.
Andreas Johnsson blocked a shot from the point nearly four minutes in and created a breakaway for himself. With Lauzon on his backside, Johnsson’s shot went wide. Lauzon did a good job to get back, and his stick disrupted Johnsson without taking a penalty.
After Pavel Zacha made a great cross-ice pass to Kyle Palmieri to set up a shot, Palmieri got the puck back after his first attempt was blocked and drew a tripping call as he moved toward the slot. Kuokkanen, Zacha, and Kulikov did a great job at keeping possession while out-numbered and waiting for help prior to the shot and penalty.
To start the power play, the Devils sent out Hughes, McLeod, Palmieri, Bratt, and Smith. The Bruins got the puck early and played keepaway in their own end before clearing the puck about 25 seconds in. Brad Marchand took another penalty after the clear for high sticking Jack Hughes during the breakout. With a five-on-three, the Devils switched McLeod for Wood. Jack Hughes set Bratt up early for a one-timer, but Halak made the save.
The first penalty expired with just a couple shot attempts with the two-man advantage. Jeremy Lauzon nearly scored on a two-on-one after coming out of the box, but hit the puck with his arms on top of the net as time neared expiration on the power play. The Devils were hemmed in again, but MacKenzie Blackwood stood strong against the Bruins’ shots, including a great opportunity for Wagner.
The Devils continued to frustrate the Bruins for the next several minutes, but neither team had much in the way of dangerous scoring chances. The Devils’ forecheckers seemed to rattle the Bruins, and a couple of scrums seemed on the verge of breaking out - usually between Miles Wood or P.K. Subban with the Bruins.
The Devils took a penalty for delay of game as Ty Smith sent the puck over the glass with two minutes and 11 seconds to play. The Bruins pulled Halak, and the Devils cleared the puck off the draw. With McLeod and Bastian with Vatanen and Kulikov, the Devils got a second clear as the Bruins entered the zone. With possession with just over a minute in the power play and the game, the Bruins got the puck to the point for a shot from McAvoy, which was tipped and got past Blackwood and the goal line. 3-2. Play returned to even strength - but the Bruins would be sure to pull Halak again, and they called for timeout after the goal.
Kyle Palmieri cleared the puck with the empty net, but was called for icing with 43.7 seconds to play. With McLeod on the ice, Bergeron won the draw, but the Bruins lost the puck and had to re-enter. MacKenzie Blackwood made a save on the rush, and the Bruins geared up for a few last second shots. Blackwood made a huge save on a Pastrnak slap shot with just four seconds to play, and the Devils won 3-2.
'Twas a good night.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 19, 2021
Check out all the highlights from tonight's W. pic.twitter.com/65q4adEHmI
Kyle Palmieri, Goal Scorer
You were worried about Kyle Palmieri. I was worried about Kyle Palmieri. In fairness to fellow writer CJ - he was not worried about Kyle Palmieri - but I definitely was. I was hoping for the hat trick tonight, but his two goals brings him to six points in ten games this season on an 8% shot percentage. Given his previous low with the Devils was 12.1% and his average with the team was 13.6% coming into this year, we are well on our way to seeing Palmieri get fully back into form. Perhaps we should not have expected so much given the near-year long layoff he had between games and a lack of preseason, but Palmieri is one of the main reasons the Devils won tonight. In 5:43 with Jack Hughes tonight, they got three shots on goal, were on the ice for zero against, and had an xG ratio of 0.22 to 0.08 for an xGF% of 74.60. I like Yegor Sharangovich and Mikhail Maltsev, but Hughes is clearly a better fit for Palmieri while Zajac and Hischier are still out of the lineup. And for what it’s worth - Jesper Bratt still did pretty well with his new line, as they had a 78.03 xGF% in 3:52 of five-on-five play - and they continued to do pretty well when playing with each other at four-on-four.
MacKenzie Blackwood, Clutch Puck Stopper
The last couple minutes of the game were absolutely brutal. The Devils took a bad penalty, and in the last 30 seconds or so Blackwood had to deal with a bunch of shot attempts through a sea of bodies. He stood his ground, and made sure the game did not go to overtime despite a last second blast from David Pastrnak. Blackwood finished the game with 25 saves on 27 shots - with two goals coming on power play opportunities against. He also saved three shorthanded shots, as the Bruins penalty kill is a danger to be wary of as well. Blackwood did his part tonight, and earned this victory.
Pavel Zacha...Getting Better?
Like many, Pavel Zacha did not have the best start to this season. He did not have a point in his first four games, and saw his ice time quickly reduced from second-line minutes to the third-line range he’s been used to during his career. He scored his first goal of the season in the second game against the Islanders, starting a seven game stretch in which he has four goals and two assists on 16 shots. Currently, he has a four-game point streak and goals in two straight - and they have been pretty big goals. His goal off the give-and-go with Johnsson was the game winner tonight, and he was pretty strong in the second and early third tonight for the Devils. Unfortunately, his line seemed to fare much worse against Boston, as Nick Merkley had a particularly dreadful night. Merkley had no shots, was not good handling the puck, and did very little defensively. Nonetheless, when Zacha was with other teammates - like his play with Johnsson and his offensive zone time with Kuokkanen, Kulikov, and Palmieri leading up to Palmieri drawing a penalty - he was strong on the puck and tended to make the right plays. Hopefully this continues.
Getting Under Their Skin
The Bruins could have tied the game tonight. They came pretty close in the late third - and I think they hurt themselves with their frustration earlier in the period. After Lauzon took his tripping call to prevent Palmieri from continuing his attack, Brad Marchand took a no-good goon penalty on Jack Hughes to round off his incessant behind-the-play hits throughout the game. For a guy who can score 30-40 goals, he sure has a way of hurting his team through penalties. Even if the Devils did not score, the Bruins were taken out of it for awhile by that five-on-three.
The Devils’ former fourth line surely contributed to this frustration. They had a great game tonight, and each of them did not let up on the Bruins at any point of the game. On top of that, they outshot the Bruins six to three, and had an xGF% of 73.97 in 9:19 at five-on-five. Nathan Bastian in particular was difficult for the Bruins to deal with tonight, as he is not the kind of soft Devils players they might have gotten used to playing against the past couple years.
...Come on, Mark Recchi
The power play has been pathetic this year. The personnel has not been optimized, and it relies far too much on its players making an unstoppable play rather than working through good systematic play. I was hoping Sami Vatanen might draw in at some point, but Recchi and Ruff sent out Subban and Severson to start the first power play - and Subban later on killed a Devils power play with his double minor for high sticking. That leads me to:
Welcome Back, Sami Vatanen
It’s like he never left - and he played an interesting game tonight. He threw his body around more than usual, and formed a great pairing with Dmitry Kulikov. In 10:40, Kulikov-Vatanen was on the ice for a goal by Kyle Palmieri, had a 10 to three shot ratio, and had an amazing 0.1 expected goals against while posting a defense-leading 0.79 xGF and 88.70 xGF%. And they did not just face anybody - Sami Vatanen played over half (7:30 of 14:44) against David Pastrnak. I hope to see more offense from Vatanen, but if he can keep this up - he could form the best Devils’ third pairing that we’ve seen in a long time with Kulikov.
What did you think about tonight’s game? Were you happy with the Devils’ performance? How are you feeling about them thus far? Were you expecting this sort of start? Do you think they can keep it up? How do you think the team will play after getting Zajac and Hischier back? How do you think Palmieri and Zacha will finish this season? Is MacKenzie Blackwood finally going to turn some heads? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. Thanks to Jenna for the preview this morning - and we face the Sabres next on Saturday. Good night.