After Mikhail Sergachev took a high sticking penalty in the early stages of the period, the New Jersey Devils power play went to work. The first unit had their best performance of the season. Not allowing a clear off the draw, the Devils shook off the aggressive penalty kill of the Tampa Bay Lightning with their work on the boards and on-target passing. Damon Severson took the first attempt from up high, and the Devils were able to create chances for both Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes. They were unable to convert, and the first unit stayed on for nearly a minute and a half. Right after Nathan Bastian cut in front but was denied on his chance, and the puck was worked back high before Severson’s shot split Hischier and Bastian’s sticks in front and beat Vasilevskiy cleanly. 1-0, Devils.
Yegor Sharangovich nearly scored after an excellent shift by his line, but Pierre-Edouard Bellemare pulled the puck from the goal line before it could trickle across after Sharangovich’s blast beat Vasilevskiy. Nathan Bastian was at the side of the net, but as he reached the puck Vasilevskiy covered it with the glove.
The Devils had several good looks this period, but Jon Gillies had to face down a bunch of great chances for the Lightning as well. Towards the end of the period, the Devils started playing much more loosely in their own zone, leading to chances in front for Perry and Bellemarre. Gillies kept the Devils up one going into the first intermission.
Andreas Johnsson took a penalty for high sticking 52 seconds into the period. Damon Severson cleared off the draw, and the Devils kept the Lightning out of the offensive zone for the first 30 seconds, at which point the Lightning quickly set a one-timer up for Steven Stamkos that went high and wide. Victor Hedman got the puck from Stamkos after a miassed attempt by Killorn, and Killorn had a couple shots at the rebound before he pulled it to his backhand and scored. 1-1.
Victor Hedman turned the puck over to P.K. Subban with a weak clear, and Subban faked shot before sliding the puck to Dawson Mercer in the high slot. Mercer’s shot was blocked by Sergachev. The Devils continued the attack, and Andreas Johnsson nearly scored on a rebound from Ryan Graves in front.
On a rush after an icing by the Devils, Pavel Zacha made a nice move to evade two Lightning players to drop the puck off for Jonas Siegenthaler. Siegenthaler deked around Victor Hedman, and Jan Rutta high sticked him in the face in front of Vasilevskiy. The Devils were able to keep the play going, and Hughes had a chance before play was blown dead as the Devils started moving the puck too slowly and the Lightning caught up. Rutta was whistled for four minutes.
With the second unit on, the Devils did not get a shot in the first minute. Tomas Tatar fumbled a pass by Zacha in the neutral zone, and Anthony Cirelli got a far shot that was gloved by Gillies.
With the first unit on, the Devils quickly took possession and set up in the offensive zone. However, after just one shot attempt by Hughes, Damon Severson got beaten by Anthony Cirelli and hooked him. Cirelli got a clean shot off, but the referees awarded a penalty shot. Cirelli made a great move to the backhand, and Gillies stuck with it and denied the shot with his pad.
With 2:32 left on the power play, the Devils took possession off the draw but got denied at the blueline. Mathieu Joseph’s initial shot was saved, but Jon Gillies did not track the rebound and Joseph had a wide open net to shoot at from the side of Gillies. 2-1, Lightning.
With still two minutes on the power play, Ruff sent the second unit out. The Lightning dumped down the ice after Vasilevskiy handled the puck behind the net. The first unit came back on. Nico Hischier had a chance to shoot in the slot but tried to backhand a pass to Bratt, and the Lightning cleared. Back in the zone, the Devils had a couple chances for Hughes and Bratt, but the Lightning stopped all of them. The Devils’ best power play of the year was followed by perhaps their worst.
After the power play, Ryan Graves was hit from behind into the boards. Nothing came out of it. Later, Jack Hughes found Jesper Bratt for a one-on-one with Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev took him down with a raised stick, but play went on. The second period ended with a 2-1 score in favor of the Lightning.
Jack Hughes had an early chance to tie the game. On a two-on-one with Jesper Bratt, Hughes passed back to Bratt, who sent a return pass that gave Hughes much of the net to shoot at - but he went far-side right into Vasilevskiy’s chest.
The Devils had plenty of offensive zone time between the Hughes and Hischier lines, but they just could not get a shot on Vasilevskiy in the first half of this period. The Lightning went into shutdown mode, and blocked attempts left and right from the New Jersey Devils.
After being denied by all five Tampa Bay Lightning on a zone entry, Jack Hughes got the zone back and bought time for the Devils to enter. He gave the puck to Jesper Bratt, who had three Lightning and Sharangovich in front as a screen. His shot missed the net, but Jack Hughes scored on the rebound from the boards as Vasilevskiy knocked the net off. The referees asserted it was a good goal - 2-2 with over nine minutes to play.
After Jack Hughes turned over the puck on a zone entry, the Lightning came back down the ice with a cross-ice pass to Brayden Point. Seigenthaler crashed to Point, and Gillies came too far out of the net. Point went to Cirelli in front, who had a wide open net to shoot at. 3-2, Lightning.
Jon Gillies was pulled with over two minutes to play. The most the Devils got from the first minute or so with him pulled was a shot from Hughes that was blocked - and Bastian batted at the resulting loose puck. The puck went out of play in the neutral zone with less than a minute to play, and the Devils called timeout before there was a center ice faceoff.
The Devils lsot the draw and they had to defend a rush by the Lightning. They did so successfully and gained the offensive zone with under 30 seconds to ply. Jack Hughes was upended along the boards, and Bastian had a backhand chance that was poked away by Vasilevskiy. With a final faceoff after an icing, Jack Hughes held the zone and gave Ty Smith a chance to shoot off a blocked shot around the slot, but Smith fanned on it and the Devils lost 3-2.
Nothing Beyond the Hughes Line
The big problem for the Devils tonight was that the team did not produce much offense when Jack Hughes' line was not on the ice. Only his line had a shot advantage against the Lightning and his line created the even strength goal. Unfortunately for the Devils, they were also the line that gave up the counterattack goal to Cirelli. But seeing plays like Jesper Bratt walking Victor Hedman with a great deke, and the feed from Hughes to Bratt that led to Bratt being hauled down, or the pass back that Hughes misfired at the start of the third - I know this line has more in them.
I had high hopes for the Nico Hischier line with Bastian tonight, but they struggled to get chances. I thought Pavel Zacha had some good looks - a pull to the forehand on the rush, and a shot around the slot off a turnover. Aside from that, Hischier was not able to fight off the Lightning defense often enough to create chances. Getting a top line winger has to be a priority for Tom Fitzgerald moving forward. I know McLeod’s injury led to some reshuffling and that Tatar would usually be in that spot, but I don’t even think Tatar would have made much of a difference for that line tonight.
Oh, I can already hear the size debate.
The Devils gave up three goals tonight and all three were on rebounds. Alex Killorn had all day to shoot the rebounds on Gillies on the power play. Mathieu Joseph was unchallenged on the rush and collected his own rebound with plenty of time and space to work with. Anthony Cirelli was all alone in front when Jack Hughes overloaded towards the puck carrier before they were burnt with a cross-ice pass to Point, who set up Cirelli. Cirelli had time for multiple attempts in front.
Alain Nasreddine has plenty of size to work with. Between Ryan Graves, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Damon Severson still being in the lineup while Dougie Hamilton is out, the Devils still have a few defensively capable players in the mix. Their rush coverage, yet, is very wishy-washy. On the Cirelli goal, my eyes followed Jack Hughes - who weaved around trying to puck chase. If the Devils are going to have a forward like Hughes who hunts for takeaways from behind, then Severson needs to see that and clamp down the middle of the ice where Cirelli is heading, as Siegenthaler was set to divert any shooting chances for Brayden Point. Hughes is a playmaker on both ends of the ice - but the Devils need to adjust their system when he’s on so they overload one side of the ice too much.
I get annoyed when I see the Devils’ big defensemen get worked down low. The difference tonight was the Lightning didn’t even need to outwork them - the Devils just were not there. Their defensive positioning was piss poor when it mattered most, and that sealed their loss.
Bright Side for Gillies
Jon Gillies had another good game tonight. He stopped 32 of 35 shots with a 2.99 expected goals against while facing one of the best teams in the league. All three of his goals allowed were on high danger shots, of which he stopped 10 of 13. When you allow 13 high danger shots to just 11 medium and nine low danger shots to the Tampa Bay offense, you should expect to lose.
How many saves has Gillies made tonight that wouldn't "not been his fault" had they gone in...— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) January 28, 2022
I think it’s fair to say that Akira Schmid would not have fared well in the same spot tonight. And while Gillies may not be part of the answer at the goaltending position, he is at least proving himself to be at least capable of being a third stringer in the NHL. At age 28, playing his first National League Hockey games in four seasons, he has a .907 save percentage in six starts and seven appearances between the Blues and Devils this season, and he has a .927 save percentage in his last three games.
This was game 42 of the season, and Jon Gillies may have more in store for us. Or maybe this is about as good as he’ll get. Either way, it has to be nice for him to carve out an NHL role later than most AHL goalies would still be getting chances. Now it would be nice if we could see Nico Daws get some looks with him for the final 40 games.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Did you think the Devils should have won? What did you think of the defensive coverage? What did you think of the top line with Bastian? How did you feel about the power play inconsistency? What did you think of Gillies? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.