With 45 games remaining and coming off another extended break due to COVID-related postponements, the New Jersey Devils had a chance to get the second half of the 2021-22 season off on the right foot against the lowly Arizona Coyotes. To Arizona’s credit, they weathered an early barrage by the Devils and made the most of their chances against Mackenzie Blackwood, with the end result being a frustrating 4-1 Devils loss.
New Jersey played a strong first period, with a 12-1 edge in shots on goal and a 4-1 edge in HDCF. It was lopsided enough where Arizona didn’t muster their first shot against Blackwood until there was a minute and change remaining in the first, as Blackwood made the pad save on a Ilya Lyubuskin shot.
Christian Fischer went to the box for hauling down Janne Kuokkanen in the Devils defensive zone. Jesper Bratt fed Jack Hughes in transition but Hughes lost the puck in front of Vejmelka. Bratt collected the puck and fed Hischier, who fired the wrister from about 10 yards out. Vejmelka got a piece of it, but not enough as the puck trickled over the goal line for a 1-0 Devils lead.
The problem is that that was all the Devils managed to muster on this night. Give credit to Vejmelka who made a lot of big stops as the Devils worked the puck in deep and got some quality shots against the rookie netminder for Arizona. The Devils had their chances to put Arizona away early and not only did they fail, but they paid dearly for their failures.
The Devils and Yotes went back and forth over the opening minute of the second before Hughes casually flipped the puck towards Vejmelka, who caught it for the stoppage. The Hischier line cycled the puck in the zone and got a partial change before Janne Kuokkanen partially fanned on a shot. The Devils fourth line got the puck in deep but couldn’t work the puck past Vejmelka. The Devils won an offensive zone draw and Tatar’s redirection went wide. Hughes tried to fire a sharp-angle shot off Vejmelka to no avail and moments later fed Bratt for a point-blank chance that Vejmelka made the pad save on. Arizona got the puck in deep and Loui Ericsson worked the puck along the boards for Dysin Mayo, who snapped a riser through a mass of bodies and behind Blackwood to tie the game 1-1.
Bratt clipped Gostisbehere with a high stick for Arizona’s first power play of the game. The Devils got an early clear but only to the neutral zone and Arizona reset before working the puck down low, Siegenthaler collected the loose puck and cleared it to center and the Devils got a change on Severson’s clear seconds later. Jimmy Vesey intercepted a pass and non-chalantly cleared the puck as the Devils changed again and the Devils killed off the rest of the Bratt penalty. Arizona took advantage of a Ryan Graves defensive zone turnover, kept a loose puck alive in front of Blackwood, and punched it by the Devils beleaguered goaltender for a 2-1 lead (despite being outshot 22-5). Arizona added to their lead after the commercial break as Travis Boyd redirected a Clayton Keller shot from the point by Blackwood for a 3-1 lead, much to the dismay of the Devils fans in attendance.
The Devils had one decent scoring chance over the final few minutes of the second as Mercer crashed the net and Johnsson couldn’t put it past Vejmelka. Hischier fired a shot wide as time expired and Arizona took a 3-1 lead to the break.
Jimmy Vesey got a couple shots in on Vejmelka to start the third, to no avail. Nathan Bastian flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty at the 1:52 mark. Arizona didn’t generate much in terms of high-danger on the power play, although Blackwood had to turn aside shots from Johan Larsson and Jacob Chychrun in the closing seconds of the man advantage. Arizona tightened up defensively and limited the Devils chances the other way before getting the puck in deep. Crowse fed Larsson in front to make it 4-1 Yotes with 11:33 to go as the boo birds in attendance continued to express their displeasure.
The Devils failed to generate a whole lot despite being down 3 goals at this point. The Mercer line caught Vejmelka off balance but couldn’t capitalize. Vesey rang the puck off the pipe, Subban broke his stick on one of his patented shots from the blueline that had no chance of going in. Arizona effectively parked the bus and kept the Devils from generating much else.
The Devils pulled Blackwood down three with 3:05 to go. Vejmelka made a quick stop to force another offensive zone draw for the Devils. Arizona was content to continue firing for the hail mary empty netter, which led to several icings and offensive zone draws for the Devils. While all this was going on, the Devils failed to set up much aside from a look in front for Mercer, despite having the extra skater. Arizona sent one final clearing attempt off of the post and won 4-1.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Five For Howling if you want to read the Coyotes perspective on today’s game.
The Devils are Going Nowhere Until they Figure It Out In Net
I was concerned in the gamethread that the Devils were only a bad bounce away from a tie game when they were up 1-0 through one, and sure enough, Dysin Mayo gets a seeing —eye shot through Christian Jaros and some other guys in front of Blackwood to tie the game. And the Devils issues snowballed from there, as they failed to clear the puck from the zone on the Crouse goal and a Boyd redirection gives them a 2 goal lead in the blink of an eye. Add in the Larsson goal to make it 4-1 and its the 8th time this season Blackwood has given up 4 or more in a game in 23 outings. You simply can not win games consistently at the NHL level when you’re giving up that many goals a game, regardless of opponent.
Juxtapose that with Karel Vejmelka who stood on his head over the first 30 minutes of the game and it just hammers home how much quality goaltending, or lack thereof, is holding this Devils team back from reaching whatever their ceiling is.
At this point, I’m not sure what else there is to say about the goaltending, and specifically Blackwood. Tonight was as bad as it gets with him stopping 13 of 17 shots, yet, its not even his worst performance of the season. As Shayna Goldman points out, he finished the night with 2.1 more goals than expected allowed. There have been worse outings than tonight this season. None of this is good!
As things stand, Blackwood's allowed 2.36 more goals than expected in all situations. That would stack up as the second worst performance in terms of GSAx of the season for him, according to @NatStatTrick pic.twitter.com/QaNNt3UTZX— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 20, 2022
It’s not just that he’s been bad, its that once something goes wrong, the floodgates open up, more bad things happen, momentum completely shifts, and it undoes all of the good work the Devils have done up to that point.
I don’t know what the answer is other than I don’t want to see Blackwood in goal anymore.
Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth
The Devils had plenty of time to prepare for this game. Most of the players that were on the COVID list earlier this month returned to team activities and got some practices in leading up to the game today. I thought the Devils did a lot of things well with their puck movement and the looks they were getting offensively, and I thought they deserved credit for how they played defensively in the first period, keeping Arizona from getting anything on net aside from one measly shot.
And then, the Devils got punched in the mouth. You know the old saying from Mike Tyson, right? “Everyone Has a Plan Until They Get Punched In the Mouth!”. They didn’t literally get punched in the mouth, of course, and you could debate whether that punch was Vejmelka channeling his inner Hasek or Blackwood doing Blackwood things. But once the punch happened, the Devils looked like a completely different team that never generated any real threat of getting back in the game, let alone winning it. The passing wasn’t as sharp. The shot attempts were getting blocked. They weren’t as tight defensively. Blackwood let in goal after goal. The usual stuff.
Of course, when Tyson said it, I don’t think he had the lowly Arizona Coyotes in mind. Tyson was talking about going up against world champions and the best of the best. And that’s part of what makes this loss all the more frustrating from the Devils perspective. Arizona is not a good team, yet they withstood an early barrage, smacked the Devils in the mouth, and the Devils folded. Against the ARIZONA COYOTES. Not the Carolina Hurricanes or Tampa Bay Lightning or Toronto Maple Leafs, who they’ll see the next few weeks, but against a team that is willingly skating Andrew Ladd and Loui Eriksson in 2022. The fact the Devils responded the way they did, by having no response, is alarming.
Frustration Setting In
This is the most angry I’ve seen the team after a loss this season. Angry at no one else but themselves.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) January 20, 2022
“This is on us,” - #NJDevils Ryan Graves
I mean, I get it. I’m frustrated too. But what are you guys going to do to fix it?
What did you think of the loss tonight? Is it time to bench Blackwood? How would you go about fixing this mess? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.