The New Jersey Devils had their work cut out for them Tuesday against the Boston Bruins before they got the bad news before the game that they’d be missing several key players. To the Devils credit, they played hard, but it was an uphill battle all night. They were outplayed and outclassed by the veteran-laden Bruins and got several bad bounces and more poor goaltending by Mackenzie Blackwood and earned the 5-3 loss on this night.
The Bruins got things started getting the puck in deep before Blackwood covered up for a stoppage 41 seconds in. Boston won the ensuing offensive zone draw but turned the puck over and the teams went back and forth. Ryan Graves fed a helpless, errant pass towards the net for Dawson Mercer that Linus Ullmark had to stop.
Boston got on board as Alex Holtz lost control of the puck in the offensive zone as he was looking for a dropoff pass for Jonas Siegenthaler. Curtis Lazar picked it up and skated the length of the ice and slipped the puck under Blackwood’s pads for the typical softie and a 1-0 Boston lead at the 2:53 mark. The Bruins continued to press the issue immediately after the Lazar goal but Blackwood made a few saves to keep the deficit at one.
The referees decided to get in on the fun by denying the Devils a power play as Brandon Carlo got his stick in on Michael McLeod’s skates. McLeod wound up stepping on the puck and tripping, and the refs decided that that didn’t warrant tripping on an infraction that gets called 99 out of 100 other times it happens. Alas, we play on.....
The Devils wasted most of the next couple minutes, highlighted by PK Subban holding the puck for a long time behind Blackwood’s cage and Subban missing a pass back to the blueline, forcing the Devils to regroup and reset. There was a stoppage for the second TV timeout with 9:06 remaining as Subban and David Pastrnak got tied up and knocked Blackwood’s net off of its moorings.
Andreas Johnsson took a puck to the side of the head as Brandon Carlo tried to flip the puck ahead and went down the tunnel to get checked out by the Devils medical staff. Fortunately, he returned to the bench for his next shift. Boston won the ensuing offensive zone draw but the Devils did a nice job keeping them from creating anything dangerous. Jesper Bratt took control of the puck and got the puck to Jack Hughes, whose pass was blocked by a Bruins defenseman and the play went the other way. Bratt sent another backhanded shot towards Ullmark that was deflected out of play. Boston won the defensive zone draw and Curtis Lazar nearly potted his second of the night as the Devils left the middle of the ice open.
The Devils got their best scoring chance with 3 minutes left in the first as Andreas Johnsson stole the puck in the defensive zone and Janne Kuokkanen went the length of the ice, but Ullmark stopped his shot and a rebound attempt for Dawson Mercer as well. The Devils were fortunate that Boston failed to add to their lead with just over a minute to go as Craig Smith sent the puck towards net and Patrice Bergeron couldn’t bury it on the doorstep. The Devils wasted one final opportunity at the end of the period as Mason Geertsen sent the puck into Holtz’s skates on the doorstep of Ullmark’s crease and Subban’s shot from the point was blocked in front.
All-in-all, I thought Boston convincingly outplayed the Devils in the first period. Natural Stat Trick says the Devils had a 3-1 HDCF advantage, but I’d say it was the opposite and Boston generated better quality chances and threatened more.
The Devils tied the game early in the second period as Nathan Bastian jumped the play and intercepted a pass intended for Pastrnak along the blueline. Bastian skated the length of the ice and fired the wrister under Ullmark’s glove to tie the game at 1.
Boston immediately answered with one of the more bizarre goals you’re ever going to see. Seriously, you can’t make it up at this point.
The MSG broadcast went to the NHL rulebook and apparently there’s a rule where if the puck is resting on the netting on the top of the goal, it can be played by either team within 3 seconds, otherwise, it would be a stoppage. I also learned today that if you poke the puck from underneath like Oskar Steen did and the puck rolls down the goaltender’s back and into the net, that’s not playing the puck with a high stick in the offensive zone. The more you know.
The Devils had a response moments later as Jesper Bratt gained the zone and chipped the puck ahead to Jack Hughes. Hughes punched it towards the net and Tomas Tatar, in his first game back from the COVID protocol list, knotted the equalizer.
Boston regained the lead after the first TV timeout, as Mackenzie Blackwood failed to hug the post and Trent Frederic slipped it past him for softie #2 and a 3-2 Bruins lead. To add injury to insult, Dawson Mercer caught a puck to the face and went down the tunnel as the game went to commercial.
Mercer didn’t come back immediately as Boqvist centered Johnsson and Holtz on the ensuing shift. Former Devils Hart Trophy Winner Taylor Hall tripped Ryan Graves in the Devils defensive zone, leading to the Devils first power play of the night. Boston made things interesting as Patrice Bergeron almost scored a short-handed goal as Blackwood did a poor job hugging the post again, but the puck landed on the netting alongside the cage. Boston wound up generating two more scoring chances despite being the team down a man. For those keeping track at home, that was three legitimate scoring chances for the Bruins on the Devils power play, in which they had zero.
The Bruins got a late chance in the second as Hughes lost an edge in the offensive zone and Blackwood made a stop on a Craig Smith shot. Blackwood turned away a Tomas Nosek shot as well as Boston won the offensive zone draw, and blocked a final Nosek shot from the point as time expired. Overall, the Devils were better in the second than they were in the first, but fell victim to a weird bounce and more shoddy goaltending and went to the dressing room trailing 3-2.
The Devils attacked to start the third as Ullmark stopped a Kuokkanen shot, Hughes won the offensive zone draw, and Ullmark stopped another Devils shot on goal. Blackwood was tested again as Lazar got another shot on net, but the Devils were fortunate that Frederic knocked the net off of the moorings as the puck was loose in the crease. Boston set up a one-timer for Frederic that Blackwood turned away. Dawson Mercer, who was back for the third period after getting some stitches, had a really strong shift as he made a nice stick play to deny Hall a goal with the net wide open and then batted a puck away to almost create a breakaway opportunity.
Damon Severson went to the box for holding the stick at the 5:28 mark, giving Boston their first power play of the night. McLeod made a nice play to clear the zone and kill almost 30 seconds of the power play and the Devils got another clear on a blocked shot. Subban got a third clear for the Devils and McLeod punched the puck into the neutral zone as the Devils did a really solid job keeping Boston from getting set up. Blackwood knocked the net off of the moorings and the Devils killed the rest of the penalty. McLeod sent a floater of a pass towards center ice for Severson as he exited the box and the defenseman capitalized on the opportunity to tie the game yet again.
The Hail Mikey toss to Sevy for the score. pic.twitter.com/mjGMKNX6yf— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 5, 2022
The Devils continued to attack as Tatar fed Hughes and the young phenom fired the shot into Ullmark’s pads for the stoppage. The teams traded blows for a bit as neither team was really able to generate any sustained pressure. Boston finally gained control as Nick Foligno was denied and the Devils finally got a clear and a much needed line change. The Bruins finally made the Devils pay as Christian Jaros lost his stick and a battle along the wall and Boston worked the puck in front for Pastrnak. His initial shot was denied, but he put the rebound past Blackwood to give the Bruins the lead yet again. 4-3 Boston with 5:49 to go.
The Devils got some decent pressure as Johnsson tried to feed a puck in front for Holtz, but was blocked. The puck came out in front for McLeod off of a feed from Bastian, but with the puck rolling on him, he couldn’t get enough on it. Alain Nasreddine pulled Blackwood for the extra skater with the offensive zone draw and 1:46 remaining. Boston was able to get the puck to the neutral zone and the Devils had to regroup. Bratt fired a puck into traffic and it never made it to Ullmark. With the puck going back in the Devils zone, Jack Hughes’s pass was errant and he iced the puck, forcing Blackwood to return to the cage for the defensive zone faceoff with 52 seconds to go. The officials missed Jack Hughes getting the stick slashed out of his hands by Nosek, Brandon Carlo fired a shot from the blueline that deflected off the inside of Dawson Mercer’s leg and under Blackwood’s pads to make it 5-3 Boston and put the game out of reach.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Stanley Cup of Chowder if you want to read the Bruins perspective on today’s game.
It’s Time to Sit Blackwood
Depending on your point of view, Mackenzie Blackwood gave up two more Charmin-soft goals tonight, and perhaps a third if you want to be a harsh grader on the Steen goal. Myself personally, I will give him a break on that one, but I will not excuse the other two. Those are unacceptable goals to allow that have only become further magnified with Blackwood’s continued struggles.
This is a results-oriented business, and the bottom line is that Blackwood’s results haven’t been good enough for awhile now. Blackwood has posted an .876 save percentage in his last 11 games entering tonight and is a .900 goaltender over the last two seasons. That’s just not going to cut it. I wrote in my recap of the Washington game that Blackwood was good until he wasn’t and the same sort of holds true tonight. He does make some nice saves, but he’s simply making too many mistakes, too many gaffes, and he’s giving the Devils no chance to win these games unless they score 5 goals a night, which is simply too much to ask for this group when they’re not 100 percent. Especially on nights like tonight when they’re missing half of their Top Six and their #1 defenseman.
Steve Cangialosi alluded to the fact that Blackwood wasn’t 100 percent a few games ago. If he’s hurt, then he’s hurt and he needs to go on IR, internal depth chart be damned. I fail to see how Mackenzie Blackwood right now is a better option than Akira Schmid, Jon Gillies, a 49-year old Martin Brodeur, a Zamboni driver, or a beer league goaltender. By continuing to run Blackwood out there, the Devils are repeating the mistakes they made back in 2013 when Pete DeBoer ran an ineffective Johan Hedberg into the ground when he clearly didn’t have it and effectively ruining any chance the Devils had of making the playoffs in the lockout-shortened season because he didn’t trust the alternative options. By having Blackwood try to play through his issues, the Devils are doing a disservice to the other 18 skaters who are busting their ass for this team to try to win the game. Its not fair to them and its not fair to Blackwood to continue to put him in this position.
Blackwood is clearly struggling and he’s hurting the cause more than helping. To make matters worse, he sounds like a guy who has no answers in his postgame press conference. It’s time to sit Mackenzie Blackwood.
The Steen Goal Was Weird, but I Think They Got the Call Right
I’ve watched the Oskar Steen goal roughly 30 times now (you can watch it at the Twitter link above), and I THINK the officials ultimately got it right.
It’s a strange play that I’ve never seen before but I saw it as Steen tipping the puck up from underneath the crossbar and the puck landing on Blackwood’s back/shoulders and rolling into the net. In my opinion, that’s below the crossbar and not high-sticking. It was within the three seconds that the MSG broadcast alluded to from the rulebook, so I don’t think there was an issue there. I know Steen tried whacking at the puck but I couldn’t see him definitively make direct contact and knock the puck in the net from there with a high stick. If anything, I saw him knock Blackwood in the shoulder with his stick at least once before the puck crossed the goalline, perhaps twice.
It’s an unfortunate play when your goaltender is struggling, and MAYBE Alain Nasreddine could’ve tried challenging for a high-stick, but I didn’t see anything there to suggest the play could be overturned. I’d chalk it up as a fluky play and the type that goes against you when things are going poorly and move on.
Not Much Going Outside of the Top Line
The only Devils line that finished on the positive side in regards to possession was the Tatar-Hughes-Bratt line and that lined up with what I saw watching the game. Hughes and Bratt clearly have some chemistry as they both managed to find the scoresheet again with the helpers on Tatar’s goal, and I didn’t think Tatar looked out of place riding their coattails. It’s not a combination I would prefer going forward, but considering the Devils roster issues at the moment, I thought they were fine.
It goes without saying that I thought the Devils really missed Hischier, Sharangovich, and even Zacha. As much as I enjoy Mercer’s game, having Hischier centering that other Top Six line I believe really opens up things for everyone else, and I don’t think its an accident the Devils had success with them both in the lineup in the week leading up to this game. Fortunately, it looks like the Devils might be getting some good news on Hischier.
Good news for #NJDevils Nico Hischier, he’ll be back with his teammates tomorrow in New Jersey.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) January 5, 2022
He’s considered day-to-day, with a lower body injury that comes down to his pain tolerance. We will see if he could possibly return for Thursday’s game against Columbus.
Hearing that Nico is day-to-day and its a “pain tolerance” issue is much better than the alternative. Hopefully, he is back sooner rather than later. If he’s not, then perhaps it would make sense for the Devils to put in a claim on Victor Rask as their center depth is currently compromised.
Setting Holtz Up To Fail
I did not like the Devils line combinations tonight and considering how important Holtz is to the future of the team, I thought the Devils did him a disservice putting him on a 4th line with an offensive black hole in Mason Geertsen and a center in Jesper Boqvist who needs better players to elevate him because he’s not good enough to drive play on his own.
I think the Devils coaching staff realized this as well because they did work Holtz onto other lines as the game went on, particularly when Johnsson and Mercer missed some time in-game. There were some shifts where he was out there with Hughes, for example, but not really enough to make a definitive statement from in terms of performance. Holtz finished with 9:50 in ice time and his most common linemate was Boqvist (for 7:16) and they got hammered in possession.
If the Devils are going to play Holtz, they need to find a way to get him on a line with Hughes or Hischier when healthy. But I haven’t seen enough from Holtz to convince me that he deserves those shifts with them, and I don’t want their lines to suffer as a result. It also doesn’t help matters when Holtz is turning the puck over and the play ends up as a goal against, although I’d blame Blackwood for that first goal moreso than Holtz as #10’s mistake occurred 140 feet away from Blackwood’s crease.
It’s a real conundrum for the Devils coaching staff as to what to do with Holtz and while I don’t have the answers, I can say with certainty that putting him with Boqvist and Geertsen isn’t it. Either put him in a position to succeed or send him back in Utica.
I did not think the Devils played that poorly tonight (outside of their goaltending), but between their thin lineup and some weird bounces, they came up short in a game they really needed to have if they want to continue any delusional thoughts they have towards competing for a playoff spot. It’s a real shame too, as they managed to shut down some of Boston’s big name players in Bergeron, Marchand, and Hall. Unfortunately, on this night, it wasn’t enough.
What did you think of the loss tonight? Is it time to bench Blackwood? What would you do with Holtz? Please feel free to leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.