The New Jersey Devils entered Sunday’s matinee against the Washington Capitals losers of nine straight against their Metropolitan Division rivals. They played a really strong game over the first 50 minutes before inexplicably shooting themselves in the foot and putting themselves in a position to lose yet again to the Capitals. Fortunately for them, Nico Hischier stepped up in a big way and scored the game-winning goal in overtime to snap that aforementioned skid and lead the Devils to their third straight win out of the Christmas break.
The Devils got things started quickly gaining the zone and making some fancy passing before turning the puck over in the offensive zone. Washington came back and quickly set up a one-timer for Alex Ovechkin that sailed wide. Jesper Bratt was sprung coming back on a partial 2-on-1 but the pass was a little off the mark for the Devils leading scorer. After a stoppage in play, the Devils gained the zone and cycled the puck before a point shot by Pavel Zacha was blocked. The teams went back and forth for a little bit before a Capitals icing created an offensive zone draw for the Devils, but Ilya Samsonov turned away a couple shots by Bratt and Jack Hughes from a sharp angle. Samsonov made another quick stop on Yegor Sharangovich before Washington finally got a clear and Tom Wilson made a clean hit on Jack Hughes, which drew a reaction from the home crowd in DC. Mackenzie Blackwood turned away John Carlson and covered up the second attempt by Connor McMichael heading into the TV timeout.
The Devils broke out of their zone after blocking a Evgeny Kuznetsov shot in their end. Nico Hischier fired a wobbler on net that Samsonov popped up and caught in his glove. The Devils got on the board moments later as PK Subban chipped the puck ahead for a streaking Jack Hughes. Hughes corralled it and fired the puck on net and a streaking Sharangovich buried the rebound for the 1-0 lead.
The Devils added to their lead moments later as Dawson Mercer made a highlight reel pass cross ice for a trailing Damon Severson, who roofed the puck above Samsonov’s left shoulder for the 2-0 advantage.
Blackwood turned aside a good scoring chance set up for Trevor van Riemsdyk and Samsonov covered up a loose puck on the other end to head into the commercial break.
The Devils continued the attack as Marian Studenic and Nathan Bastian shot low on Samsonov, perhaps looking for the rebound similar to the Sharangovich goal earlier, but Washington held strong. The Caps came back and got a couple shots on goal of their own but Blackwood stopped Alex Ovechkin. It was around this time that I noticed that Dougie Hamilton wasn’t out there, but Tom Gulitti pointed out that Hamilton took an inadvertent puck to the face and went down the tunnel. He would not return.
New Jersey continued to apply pressure as Bratt just missed on a nice feed by Hughes in front. The teams committed incidental minor penalties as Lars Eller went off for slashing and Jonas Siegenthaler left for tripping, so we’d play 4v4 for two minutes. The Devils gained the zone with Hischier feeding Bratt but Bratt fired the shot off the boards. The Devils were sloppy in the own end as Jack Hughes missed the puck and the Devils failed to get a clear and they were fortunate not to get scored on then and there. The Devils eventually did get a clear, but Washington regained the zone, Michael Sgarbossa drop-passed the puck to John Carlson, and the Caps cut the deficit to one with 47 seconds left in the first. The rest of the period was uneventful and the Devils went to the locker room up 2-1 in a period where they probably should’ve scored three or four times. The Devils finished the first period with a 5-1 edge in HDCF and 66.88% xGF%, highlighting the quality chances they generated.
The Devils got to work quickly in the second period, as Nico Hischier deflected a Severson shot from the point past Samsonov for the 3-1 lead.
Nick Jensen hauled down Janne Kuokkanen behind Samsonov’s net and the Devils would get their first power play opportunity of the day. New Jersey won the ensuing draw and held the zone, but Washington eventually got the clear after Trevor van Riemsdyk made a nice defensive play. The Devils nearly got scored on short-handed on a 2-on-1 off of a giveaway by Hughes but Blackwood just got a piece of Carl Hagelin’s shot and the puck deflected off of the post. Samsonov stopped a long-distance shot by Ty Smith for the Devils final threat with the man advantage and Jensen exited the box. Washington threatened for a bit but Blackwood held strong and Zacha missed a cutting Jesper Boqvist the other way before the puck was eventually sent out of play for the first commercial break of the period.
Washington got their feet under them and pinned the Devils back but the Devils eventually got a clear. The Devils nearly scored again as Hughes made a nice defensive play intercepting a pass and feeding Sharangovich for a partial break. Sharangovich elected to try to sneak the puck by Samsonov’s pads rather than force a pass to Bratt as Carlson charged back to clog up the passing lane. Unfortunately, Sharangovich was denied. Nic Dowd delivered a big hit on Marian Studenic that Subban took exception to. Somehow, the officials decided what Subban did getting in Dowd’s face was worthy of a double minor and the Caps went on the power play. The Caps cycled the puck and set up the classic Alex Ovechkin slapper from the circle that he has buried so many times before, but he just missed short-side as it hit the outside of the net. Michael McLeod and Janne Kuokkanen each created a chance short-handed before the Devils killed the power play.
Nico Hischier got up slowly and appeared to be in discomfort after blocking a shot, but the Devils did get a clear and another decent look the other way with Boqvist and Zacha. Hischier was out there for his next shift though in the closing minute of the second. The Caps nearly scored on Blackwood again but Michael Kempny’s stick failed him on an open look and the period came to an end as Hischier was hunched over on the bench. However, he was in good enough shape to do the intermission interview with Erika Wachter, so you knew that Hischier would gut this one out.
Overall, the Devils played their best second period in a while, finishing with a 4-1 edge in HDCF and holding the Caps to just five shots on goal. It should be noted that they were a bit fortuitous though as Washington had their chances and couldn’t convert. New Jersey would need a strong final period to snap their recent skid against the Capitals.
The Caps controlled things early in the third before Blackwood covered up a puck flipped towards the crease. The Devils blocked a Carlson shot from the point and Jesper Bratt eventually gained the zone before losing the puck. Janne Kuokkanen fired the puck on net that Samsonov made the easy pad save on. The Mercer line got the puck deep in the zone before the Caps got a clear, but the Devils sprung Mercer going back the other way as the Caps made a line change and Samsonov made the stop. Hischier won the offensive zone draw before Subban’s shot was deflected out of play. The two teams went back and forth for a bit before Blackwood made his best save of the game thus far, stonewalling Garnet Hathaway on a nice feed in front. The Devils missed an opportunity to add to their lead as Hischier made a nifty move with the puck and Siegenthaler fired the puck towards the net. The puck was loose in the crease briefly, but Hischier got tied up and couldn’t bury it for his second of the game.
Boqvist got a clean look point-blank, but failed to receive the puck cleanly and eventually fired the puck into Samsonov’s blocker. Blackwood continued to be tested as the third period went on. Ovechkin fired a quick wrister off of an offensive zone draw that Blackwood got a glove on but didn’t corral cleanly before eventually covering up. Jonas Siegenthaler got hit in the head with a Kuznetsov shot and went down the tunnel, leaving the Devils with four defensemen over the final 7:55 in regulation. Washington finally pulled within one as Hagelin chipped the puck towards Dowd, who casually flipped it under Blackwood’s arm to make it 3-2 New Jersey. It was the type of softie that Blackwood has allowed all too often recently.
Siegenthaler returned after the Dowd goal, missing one shift. The Devils won the defensive zone draw and Hischier tried to feed Boqvist, but he fanned on the shot. Subban fired a wrister into Samsonov’s glove going into the final TV timeout.
Blackwood made a bone-headed gaffe on a fairly innocuous dump in where he failed to cover the puck for whatever reason. He tried to sweep the puck into the corner, but didn’t quite get all of it, and Lars Eller took advantage passing it over to Conor Sheary for the easy tap-in to tie the game. I don’t normally post videos of highlights from the other team, but trust me, it was as U-G-L-Y as I described it.
Washington had one last threat late in regulation as Hagelin had Dowd for a clean look but Dowd fanned on the shot. The Devils tied up the puck along the boards as the final seconds ticked off in regulation and we’re inexplicably heading to overtime in a game the Devils controlled the majority of.
The Caps gained possession to start overtime but lost the zone on a pass back towards the blueline and had to reset. Ovechkin came on and immediately iced the puck, leading to a Devils offensive zone faceoff. Hughes lost the draw but Sharangovich stole the puck, reset, regained the zone, and fired a wrister that Samsonov stopped. Washington gained control after Severson turned the puck over in the defensive zone but Blackwood made the stop. Mercer controlled the puck and drop passed it to Zacha, who was denied by Samsonov.
The Devils let Blackwood off of the hook in overtime though, as Jack Hughes tried to center the puck for Hischier, but hit a Capital player in front. Hughes sped around the back of the net and took control of the loose puck in the offensive zone. With the three Capitals players converging on him, he smoothly sent it under Dmitry Orlov’s stick and over to an open Hischier. The captain did enough and fired the wrister past Samsonov for the OT winner!
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Japers Rink if you want to read the Capitals perspective on today’s game.
Blackwood Came up Big, Until he Didn’t
Mackenzie Blackwood has been bad this season.
How bad, you ask? How about “worst starting goaltender in the league other than Phillip Grubauer” bad?
The unfortunate part of this whole situation with his gaffe(s) is that for the first 52 or so minutes of this game, he played probably his best game in a month. His rebound control still leaves a lot to be desired, but he made the stops he needed to.....until he didn’t.
The Dowd goal is a softy that he’ll want back, which again, he’s had a lot of those this season. The Sheary game-tying goal simply can not happen under any circumstances, and its the type of play that would get someone shipped to the minor leagues if the only other options in net weren’t Akira Schmid and Jon Gillies.
It’s a real shame too, because Blackwood did a lot of good for the bulk of this game. I’m glad Hischier bailed him out with his game-winner. But I’ve been saying it for awhile and I’ll say it again here. Mackenzie Blackwood is not the answer in net. Goaltending continues to be a major issue for this team. Between this and Jonathan Bernier’s prognosis, Tom Fitzgerald, once again, will have his work cut out for him as he tries to figure out what the long-term solution is in net.
One thing is for certain though. It’s not Blackwood.
Big performance by the Siegenthaler-Severson pairing
Dougie Hamilton leaving today’s game early put the Devils in a bind, as they played the bulk of this game with five defensemen (and briefly four when Siegenthaler took a puck to the head). I thought the Siegenthaler-Severson pairing stepped up big in his absence. They played a lot of tough minutes against a Caps team that pushed hard in the third and both finished with an xGF% over 70%. Not only did they hold their own, they thrived.
That’s not to say the other three Devils defensemen played poorly, because they didn’t. Graves and Subban played plenty in this game, and I thought Ty Smith was fine in the 16:01 he got. The best thing I can say about defensemen is when I don’t notice them because they don’t make egregious errors and we got that tonight.
Hischier, Hughes Deliver Again
I read the comments. I keep the receipts.
I’ve seen all of this slander on the AATJ forums, various Discord channels and Twitter dot com. About how “Nico Hischier doesn’t do enough” or “Jack being careless with the puck” and the general complaints about neither one producing as much as you’d like. I’ve read all of it, many of which coming from you, the People Who Matter.
What do you have to say now? What do you have to say after Hischier, who took a physical pounding in this game, scored twice, including the game winner? What do you have to say after Hughes created more scoring opportunities out of nothing and now has eight points in his last three games?
The Devils two best forwards aren’t the problem. Here’s the thing though.....they never have been. That’s not to say they are perfect. They’re not. Guys have an off night or make a mistake from time to time. But they’re playing brilliantly now and they have a lot to do with the three-game win streak. Not the coaching or your random favorite fourth liner and certainly not the goaltender.
Find a new whipping boy if you want to get on someone for not doing enough.
Dougie Hamilton took an inadvertent puck to the face in the first period and did not return, only playing 4 shifts and 2:40 of ice time in this game.
Alain Nasreddine mentioned postgame that Dougie Hamilton went to the hospital for evaluation and was doing ok. He didn’t say much other than that other than the team “should know more after tonight”.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the Devils need Dougie Hamilton in the lineup. For now, consider him day-to-day and very questionable for Tuesday night in Boston.
The Devils outplayed Washington for much of the first 50 minutes of this game before allowing two bad goals to put the game in doubt. Fortunately, the Devils dug down and overcame some adversity in a gritty, gutty win and snapped a long losing streak against a team that has had their number for awhile, thanks in part to their two #1 picks leading the way.
What did you think of the win tonight? Are you as pleased as I am with the blueline, Hischier, Hughes, Sharangovich, and everybody else who contributed? Are you as done as I am with Mackenzie Blackwood? Are you concerned about Dougie Hamilton and his availability this week? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.