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Devils Fall 5-3 to the Buffalo Referees

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...I mean, the Buffalo Sabres. Eh. Same thing.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

Welcome to the NHL, Tyce Thompson!

Just four minutes into the game, Tyce Thompson enters the zone and picks up the puck off the boards off the chip in from Maltsev. With zero hesitation he turns it into a shot on net that Linus Ullmark banks a dramatic rebound on, directly to a speeding Damon Severson heading towards the slot. Severson grabs the rebound and buries it into the wide open net to put the Devils on the board and Tyce Thompson on the scoresheet for the first time in his NHL career. Hopefully the first of many in a Devils uniform.

Hopefully that will be a good sign of the plan for the rest of the game: get pucks on net, and good things happen.

Jack Hughes is the next Devil to test Ullmark with a quick backhand under pressure but Ullmark says no this time.

Tage Thompson would like to be the second Thompson on the scoresheet tonight and comes close off of a pass from behind the net from Rasmus Asplund, but Scott Wedgewood manages some sort of pizza topping-style save to squash the puck and the play dead.

Rasmus Asplund, however, refuses to go down empty-handed. The Sabres pick off a pass from Johnsson and come back down the ice. PK Subban sprawls in a completely useless attempt to stop Casey Mittelstadt from saucing the puck across to a wide open Rasmus Asplund, who beats Wedgewood to tie the game at 1.

I’m just a Devils fan, sitting in front of a laptop, asking PK Subban to STOP DOING THAT. Zajac was already right there on the puck carrier. He could’ve actually covered the pass instead of expecting the puck to magically not go through his impression of a table from 6 inches away, but I guess that’s just not what a guy who gets paid 9 million for winning a trophy 7 years ago would do.

We almost managed to get into the first intermission with the game tied at one, but the Sabres get the Devils scrambling in their own zone in the final minute with a face-off win. Montour picks up a wild rebound and buries it far side. 2-1 Sabres.

But not for long! Nick Merkley zooms into the zone on a breakaway in the final fifteen seconds of the period and draws a penalty. The Devils win the face-off and jump in immediately—Ty Smith fakes the shot and passes to Zacha, who shoots and banks it off Zajac and then Bratt in front of the net and in with less than half a second remaining to even things out for the second period.

Give me this chaotic, fast-paced, swift action hockey all day long please! Just less turnovers in the defensive zone.

Second Period

Tyce Thompson is not satisfied with just his first NHL point in his first NHL game. He’s hungry for his first goal too, and he nearly gets it, again just four minutes into the period. Ullmark is able to make the save but Tyce is making smart, dangerous plays all over this game.

Ty Smith tries a beautiful spin move but gets slewfooted about 300 degrees into the circle, so we’re off to another powerplay.

The Devils powerplay unit gets right back to work again. Bratt blasts a shot at a wide open net just 15 seconds in but Ullmark somehow gets over at lightning speed and makes the save. The Sabres get the puck out of the zone off the faceoff but the Devils are right back into the zone. The Sabres hold them off this time and are able to kill the penalty but the powerplay looked miles better overall than it has most of this season.

The Devils offense if kicked up a notch now though, and they will not be denied. Wood carries the puck into the zone, spins away from the defense, and finds Jesper Bratt. Bratt feeds Zacha at the backdoor who is miraculously denied by the toenail of Ullmark, but Zacha doesn’t quit. While falling he picks his own rebound up and sails it over the leg of Ullmark this time to put the Devils back in the lead, 3-2.

Buuuut not for long. Again.

The Devils once again turn the puck over in the defensive zone. Rasmus Dahlin carries the puck around Nick Merkley and beats Wedgewood 5-hole to tie the game again. 3-3.

Collin Miller feels bad that the Devils lost our lead so quickly again, so immediately on the next play he flips the puck over the glass unaided and heads to the penalty box (the wrong one at first, but he got there eventually).

Onto the powerplay and Travis Zajac picks up a pass in front of the net that he nearly puts on net but its stopped by Ullmark. The Devils powerplay seems a bit less shooty here, which isn’t working in our favor. A few too many forced passes that screwed us up and the powerplay fizzles out. Wood and Kuokkanen are undeterred, pairing up for two beautiful chances at the side of the net rushing into the zone but both are snuffed out.

Aiming for another last minute goal, this time its Mikhail Maltsev carrying the puck in. Instead of a penalty though he finds himself absolutely robbed on a wraparound that Ullmark left sitting wide open in front of the net, but the nearest Devil is Johnsson and he’s standing behind the goalie and Jokiharju on the wrong side of the net and can’t get to the puck before it’s cleared.

Still, we’ll go into the second intermission once again tied, and that’s about as much as we can ask for so far this game.

Third Period

The Devils start off the period by getting robbed from a McLeod goal (this period’s first four minutes goal) due to a questionable interference call on Sami Vatanen.

Sharangovitch isn’t happy to have to play defense on the kill, so he says why not play offense instead? He picks off a pass and runs shorthanded into the Sabres zone to get a shot on net and kill plenty of penalty time. In the waning seconds Colin Miller rings a shot off the crossbar but not across the line. The ringing of the iron signals the end of the penalty and the Devils survive their first penalty kill of the game.

On his ensuing shift, Vatanen absolutely rocks Henri Jokiharju behind the net.

The TV timeout woke up some fight in the Buffalo Sabres, who come out hard and fast and force Wedgewood to work for his dinner. The Devils finally get the puck back into the offensive zone and the Sabres draw a tripping penalty from Sharangovitch. It was a legitimate trip but he was trying to play the puck and Jokiharju stepped through the stick so I can’t be mad at him.

The Sabres next powerplay looks much better than their first. Mittelstadt finds himself with a wide open net just 30 seconds in but rips it just wide. Zajac picks off the puck up top and rushes out of the zone, but Dahlin picks it right back before he can exit and he puts it through Wedgewood for a second time tonight. Sabres take the lead 4-3.

The Devils aren’t happy with giving up a goal. This time its their turn to wake up some fight, and they give the Sabres a run for their money in the offensive zone, but unfortunately its on the wrong side of the TV timeout this time and we only get one shift of the action before the next pause.

The Devils are right back into it after the pause, but the Sabres are putting up a better defensive fight this time. They get it out and almost to a breakaway for Tage Thompson, but Kulikov sweeps it clear from the side beautifully.

Back in the zone and the Devils have the Sabres scrambling again. Hughes come in next with a shot from wide but he delivers it right to Ullmark’s chest, who holds on. On the ensuing faceoff Severson rips a shot that Ullmark does not hold onto, and instead is left sitting loose in the crease but the refs blow the whistle anyway because they hate joy.

Kuokkanen takes a massive high stick to the face behind the net from Dahlin but the refs are considering it follow-through and though they blow the whistle for the player down on the ice, they don’t call a penalty. I’m pretty sure the follow through rule applies to a shot not any old play on the puck, but don’t quote me on that.

To add insult to injury, the ensuing face-off is forced out of the zone. The Devils gather the puck, pull Wedgewood, and almost immediately Rasmus Ristolainen adds injustice to the insult and injury by hitting the bullseye from 200 feet and putting the Sabres ahead 5-3 with the empty net goal.

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 Highlights:

Post Game Thoughts:

What do we have to do to win a game??

COME ON.

Listen, I don’t care what the score was, the Devils won that game. I can’t be mad at them for this loss. I’ll tell you who I am mad at though, but first:

The Good

-Tyce Thompson! The NHL said welcome to the big leagues, Tyce Thompson said nope welcome to the Tyce Thompson Show.

Alright it wasn’t that exciting but he was excellent. His chemistry with Maltsev and McLeod was excellent already even if you don’t consider his first point. He put up great numbers, 2 shots on net, an all around solid first game for the rookie.

-Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha — their transformation into their best versions of themselves this season continues to impress every game, and this one was even better than usual. Zacha’s scoring effort on his goal was beautiful. Wood’s decision with the puck on the play leading to that goal was quick, smart, and nothing he would’ve done in previous seasons. This season won’t be one of playoff races or tons of wins, but the excellent development of our players into the kind of players that can take you to those wins for years to come is something even better. In this strange and unfortunate season, I don’t think we could’ve asked for much more.

-The powerplay was lightning in a bottle compared to the sleepy days of old where we were afraid to do anything resembling shooting the puck. Sure, as the game went on they started to regress into old habits a bit, but it will take time for a new style to stick. Hopefully this new style/attitude, whatever it is, will continue to be reinforced and we’ll see it more and more throughout the remainder of this season. We have the talent and the guns to play like that every game and especially every powerplay. Its nice to see it come out in full bloom every now and then.

The Bad

The refereeing.

Now, I know we all like to complain about referees, but in this case I think we can legitimately say the refs directly cost us this game. Before I get into this I would just like to remind everyone that I refereed for about ten years, so yes I know they’re people and I know what it’s like. The first big problem was the Sami Vatanen penalty that negated a slick goal from McLeod. That play was not interference, and if you were going to call anything there it should have been on the defenseman hitting the oncoming offensive player, not the other way around, because a player without the puck trying to move through towards the slot is not interference but a defenseman picking a puckless opponent is. The Devils should have been up 4-3 there, not losing our momentum on a kill. Two kills in a row is tough for any team to defend, especially one that’s still getting their stuff together on the kill, so the Sabres fourth goal was almost a given, and shouldn’t have happened. Bad call.

Then we get to the puck loose in the front of the net, and the refs blow the play dead. I know, they lost sight of it, but that puck was loose visibly in front of the ref on the right side of Ullmark, then was shoved under him and the ref blew the whistle the absolute second he lost sight of it, which was way too fast considering the goaltender didn’t make any movements to cover it so you should absolutely be giving it more than a half second to pop back out the other side the way it did before assuming it disappeared mysteriously. Bad whistle.

Then we lose out on a high sticking call on Kuokkanen, which I already expressed my opinion that they did not apply the follow through rule correctly since normal play of the puck is not a “shooting motion” and we’ve been called on that before as it should be. To top it off we lose out not only on a potential four minute powerplay while hot in the offensive zone, but we’re also pulled out of the zone for the ensuing face-off for the crime of a kid being in pain from being slapped in the face with a six foot long stick. Ridiculous. Bad no-call.

Its tough losing a game to a team we should absolutely be beating, but I’d rather lose to the actual team, not crappy refereeing. This was crap calls, and that sucks. I’ll be contributing to any Gofundme’s to pay for Lindy Ruff’s fines from tonight’s postgame conference.

Your Take:

Would we have won this game? How did you feel about Tyce Thompson’s debut? Who was our best player tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!