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Devils hold off the Isles to take a 2-1 victory

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The Islanders put up a good fight but the Devils struck first and held on tight, handing the playoff-bound Islanders their third loss in a row.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

If you watched either of the Bruins-Devils games earlier this week, you know how the first ten minutes of this period went.

If you didn’t watch, be glad you didn’t. We got absolutely blitzed.

However, unlike during the Bruins games, we found our footing and were able to become a competitive team! It just took half the first period.

Finally, we got our sea legs and started to compete offensively, forcing the Islanders back on their heels instead. When you step up and change the game flow, good things happen.

Like this first goal, by Pavel Zacha.

Hischier pressures the puck down in the corner, creating a turnover. Jesper Bratt picks up the puck and gets it to Zacha, who rips it home to put the Devils on the board first here in the first period.

Second Period

The Devils start this period off much better than the first. Great puck movement and actual control of the play, but the Islanders aren’t ready to go down without a fight.

Rushing into the zone, Mayfield finds Beauvillier crashing the net and puts the puck on his stick. Beauvillier takes the redirection off his skate as he beats Carrick to the net and puts it past Blackwood to tie the game for the Islanders at 1.

The Islanders follow their tying goal up immediately with a cross-check on Jesper Boqvist, so we’ll take a two-minute power play for the trouble.

Unfortunately, the Islanders have one of the best penalty kills in the league at the moment, and they’re ready and willing to give us trouble for it. Damon Severson loses control of the puck to Brock Nelson, who takes off looking for a shorthanded breakaway (sorry, Butch Goring, it wasn’t a clear breakaway, Severson was alongside him the whole time) but Severson does hook the life out of Nelson’s hands to prevent the shot, so we go to a brief 4 on 4 before an abbreviated penalty kill of a little over 90 seconds.

The Devils shockingly do an excellent job of killing the penalty, giving the Islanders almost no room to make anything happen, and upon its expiration immediately return to the offensive zone.

To redeem himself from the near breakaway, Damon Severson makes an excellent save on a wraparound try from Travis Zajac (which just feels wrong to write) to prevent a goal while Blackwood was still on the other side of the net from the previous save and had no stick.

Back down in the Islanders, zone, Severson decides he needs to do just a bit more to redeem himself. So he sets up down low in the corner, takes a pass, puts it straight on a cutting Michael McLeod’s stick and earns himself a primary assist on the go-ahead goal. 2-1 Devils.

His next shift out Severson feeds Jack Hughes a stretch pass for a near breakaway that’s just barely stopped by the backchecking Noah Dobson.

I’d say I forgive him at this point.

In the waning seconds of the period—literally with a single second left— McLeod clips Czikas on the face with a high stick on the face-off, so we’ll go to the penalty kill to start the third.

Third Period

The start of this penalty kill was not as clean as the last, but halfway through Sharangovitch pressures the puck at the blue line and is able to not only get it out of the zone but turn it into a shorthanded rush. No goal comes out of it as the pass is just a bit too far for Hischier to take, but I’ll take all the shorthanded rushes they want to give me. The Islanders laid the pressure on in the remaining seconds of the period but nothing enough to get past Blackwood.

Wahlstrom tries to create a breakaway of his own but he’s hounded and well defended by a racing Jack Hughes. Blackwood makes the save but plays the puck without Will Butcher realizing, leading to a turnover in the defensive zone that gets dicey but the Devils are eventually able to get it out of the zone.

Back in the Islanders zone Nathan Bastian picks up the puck behind the net and makes a brilliant reverse wraparound attempt that doesn’t go, but it sure looked like it could’ve gone in.

The Islanders are starting to play a more physical style of hockey as the game wears on with the Jersey lead still holding. Conor Carrick gets flattened for standing still with the puck just a second too long in the Devils zone. Nolan Foote gets knocked off the puck with a big open-ice hit. Studenic picks up the puck and he takes a hit for his trouble as well.

The Islanders start to pick up the pace and pen the Devils into the zone for a minute but Nico Hischier is able to get a stick on the puck and walk it out of the blue line on his way to the bench for a change.

Kyle Palmieri comes close to tying the game for the Islanders in the waning minutes, but its stripped from his stick by Will Butcher inches before he gets the shot off.

As the game winds down the Islanders pull the goalie and we find ourselves defending a 6 on 5 for over a minute. Nico Hischier is running around like a workhouse on steroids, gathering up loose pucks, blocking big shots, and just wreaking general havoc on the Islanders’ desperation man advantage. The Islanders take a timeout to plan their attack with just under 30 seconds to go in the period, which gives us a perfect opportunity to give our killers a rest, especially Hischier who had just blocked a huge shot and was definitely feeling it.

I don’t know what the Islanders plan was to tie the game up, but they didn’t accomplish it. Despite the scrambles at the end the Devils were able to hold the Islanders off and prevent the tying goal even with the 6 on 5, which is a huge and positive development that seems to have come from Ruff’s practice specifically on defending 6 on 5s a few weeks ago. Its a young team, and mistakes are going to happen, but they’re learning and improving every day and tonight they pulled out a win against what may be the best team in the division, and another win against another playoff-bound team. I’ll take it.

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

The Good

Once again, I’m impressed by Kevin Bahl. His defensive positioning is sound even in scrambles, he doesn’t back down and uses every inch of his reach and all of his size to make plays when he needs to. His offensive contributions are noticeable as well but he doesn’t sacrifice the defense for them. I’m just loving this kid and I wish we brought him up sooner.

Jack Hughes continues to develop his defensive skills, and is rapidly becoming a well-rounded center with impressive defensive abilities when he needs them. He made game-saving plays including backchecking on breakaways and skillfully handling the play, which is the kind of behavior I’d expect from a center like Hischier, not a player touted as pure offense like Hughes. I’m honestly delighted to see so much growth in this area of his game and it just continues to impress me every time he plays.

Yegor Sharangovitch is another young player who continues to impress me every game. Like Hughes, his defensive game is building to the point where he’s creating shorthanded chances on the penalty kill from his excellent positioning and vision on the ice.

Nico Hischier has just been such a welcome return to this lineup. It’s not surprising at all to see him all over the ice, saving the game in multiple spots and generally making a huge impact as an extremely talented all-around center, but it’s just so nice to see him come back from a season plagued by awful injuries and return to his usual form almost immediately. It's tough to think about how this season might have been different if we had him in the lineup from the beginning, but it is exciting to think what we might be able to do with a healthy lineup including a healthy Hischier next season.

Mackenzie Blackwood continues to be a brick wall in net now that he’s fully recovered from his bout with Covid. On the birthday of the original goalie of the franchise, today is as good a day as any to show a little extra love for the next goalie of the franchise, our goalie of the future.

The Bad

I really don’t have any Devils players I was overly disappointed by tonight, but there was one thing I wanted to mention here:

Ross Johnston, who is not a Devil, but I noticed something that I just had to comment on. Johnston is a big guy (6’5”, 235lbs) who is not used to playing against bigger guys than him. Early in the game he was on the receiving end of a solid takedown from Kevin Bahl. From that point on the only thing he seemed to do for the rest of the game was go out of his way to hit Conor Carrick. Moral of the story, big man takes on someone his own size and loses, tries to feel important hitting smaller players the rest of the game instead. I’d be pretty annoyed by that observation if I was an Islanders fan. You have a guy like that for one reason, and it isn’t for him to try to soothe his damaged ego the whole game. Extremely glad to not see any of that sort of behavior from any of the Devils.

Your Thoughts:

Which Devil impressed you the most tonight? Who do you think could improve on their performance? How weird was it to watch us playing against Palmieri and Zajac? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!