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Vitek Vanecek Earns Shutout as Devils Defeat the Avalanche, 1-0

Against the defending champs, the Devils held onto their one-goal lead for the majority of the third period after a hard-fought game.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils
Marino and Vanecek were outstanding tonight.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First Period

Tomas Tatar took an early penalty for hooking Devon Toews, and Damon Severson cleared the puck with a slap shot around the boards to begin the penalty kill a touch less than three minutes into the period. The New Jersey Devils did well on the kill, as the Avalanche struggled to generate chances against the likes of Severson and John Marino, who each dispossessed the Avalanche and cleared the zone when the Avalanche were in their offensive zone set-up. Boqvist had the final clear of the penalty kill in the dying seconds to cap off an impressive stand against the Colorado Avalanche.

Almost halfway through the period, Vitek Vanecek made a huge stop on J.T. Compher to the side of the slot. Compher received a pass with a head of steam, whistling the puck and forcing Vanecek to react with his pad. The Devils were mostly dominating the pace of play, but their shots did not seem as dangerous as that one by Colorado, despite the fact it was only their second shot on goal of the game.

With a bit under eight minutes to play in the period, Josh Manson took an interference minor for knocking Erik Haula to the ice when the Devils were in their defensive zone. Mercer lost the draw with the second unit on, and Tomas Tatar’s pass to regain the zone was intercepted, and Vanecek was handcuffed on a long shot from the Avalanche - but they did not score. When the first unit finally got on for the last 45 seconds, Bratt had a one-timer fought off, and Vanecek passed just past Evan Rodrigues’ stick following a Colorado clear - and he came close to causing a shorthanded goal in the last seconds of the power play.

Miles Wood almost broke the ice shortly after the penalty expired. Michael McLeod saw Wood cutting to the net with a step on the defense, and Wood redirected a pass past Pavel Francouz. However, Jared Bednar challenged for offsides, and Wood was found to be a step offsides on the replay.

The Colorado power play got another chance with 1:14 to play in the period, as Fabian Zetterlund went off for tripping Nathan Mackinnon by the boards. Nico Hischier slipped behind a between-the-legs pass at the top of the zone to clear the puck, avoiding a chance against. Nathan Bastian tried to set up Ryan Graves on a rush to end the period to no avail, as his pass was a bit too far for Graves to catch up to.

Second Period

Nico Hischier won the draw to John Marino to start the second period, killing a few seconds off the Avalanche power play. The Devils killed the rest of it without incident. The Avalanche later took a penalty, with Logan O’Connor going to the box for tripping. On their own power play, the Devils had a lot of trouble possessing the puck for very long - but Nico Hischier one-timed a shot just wide from the slot at the end of the first minute. The Avalanche cleared not long after, and the second unit also could not hold the offensive zone.

After the Devils’ power play expired, the Avalanche got a power play of their own as Miles Wood went off for high sticking Andrew Cogliano. The Devils held the Avalanche off early, with the Colorado first unit extremely sloppy in the first minute of their power play. The Devils had a hectic end to the penalty kill, with Vanecek making a big save on Artturi Lehkonen followed by a shot at an empty net on the rebound that was blocked by John Marino. The Devils piled around the goal crease, and Ryan Graves swiped the puck with a spin at Miles Wood as he left the box. Wood fought off a backcheck and challenged Francouz with a shot at the five hole - but it was fought off.

Yegor Sharangovich deflected a breakout pass from Josh Manson behind the Colorado net, and Sharanogvich rode Manson into the boards in pursuit of the puck, allowing the Devils to take possession to the delight of the crowd at the Prudential Center. The referee, however, called Sharangovich for “hooking.” The engage seemed mutual, as Manson was holding onto Sharangovich - but the Avalanche went to the power play.

On the penalty kill, Vitek Vanecek made a few timely saves, as Colorado finally brought the right energy to get shots on the Devils. However, they still could not get one on the Devils’ penalty kill units, as they went to 0 for 4 on the power play for the game.

Dougie Hamilton had an excellent shift, keeping the zone in the face of pressure at the blueline and creating a few shots - from long, medium, and short range - that Francouz was forced to stop from Dougie despite the four Avalanche players protecting the net. Tomas Tatar tried to swipe the loose puck into the net following the third shot by Hamilton, but he was denied and the puck was frozen.

Third Period

The Avalanche went to the box when Bowen Byram was tagged for cross-checking Jesper Bratt. The Devils took the lead on that power play, as Jack Hughes was hit with a cross-zone pass from Jesper Bratt to set up his wrist shot goal. 1-0, Devils. Nathan Bastian had a great screen here - I hope to see him more often, back in his netfront role.

Damon Severson took a penalty a few minutes later for slashing Martin Kaut in the defensive zone. John Marino got an early clear for the penalty kill, and Nico Hischier got another at the end of the first minute. Jonas Siegenthaler shut Nathan Mackinnon down in the following rush, and Nathan Bastian blocked a shot from Compher in the one after that. It was as close to a perfect positional kill as the Devils could ask for.

Vitek Vanecek made his biggest stop of the night when Evan Rodrigues got a clear lane to the net and put on a great move - but Vanecek shut it down by closing the five hole and staying with the backhand. The Avalanche got a couple more chances before play was frozen. Lehkonen later blasted a one-timer that was smothered by Vanecek with ease, with about eight minutes left that the Devils needed to hold on for.

Dawson Mercer, causing trouble on the forecheck, nearly made it 2-0 when a puck was knocked to him in the slot. Mercer collected the puck while smoothly evading Bowen Byram and shot on goal, but Francouz leaned over to take the shot into his padding. The Devils still only had a one goal lead going into the final four and a half minutes.

Pavel Francouz left to go the bench with about 1:30 to play. The Avalanche, with six attackers on after struggling to get offense pressure late in the game, drew a penalty as Evan Rodrigues was knocked to the ice by Tomas Tatar with a cross-check. With 59.1 to play, Colorado had their sixth power play of the game - this time with an extra attacker. Jared Bednar called timeout to draw up a plan for his power play, and the Devils faced Mackinnon, Rodrigues, Compher (who took the draw), Rantanen, Lehkonen, and Makar. The Devils sent out Haula, Hischier, Marino, and Graves. Haula got an early clear that Hischier pressured, but could not retrieve. Hischier nearly cleared the puck into the empty net following a rush save by Vanecek. Mackinnon shot over the net with 10 seconds to play, and Haula deflected a shot wide to end the game, as Vitek Vanecek pulled a shutout on 24 shots against.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Mile High Hockey for their recap.

Beating the Defending Champs

The New Jersey Devils would have lost this game 5-0 last year. Until now, it just did not seem like they had the physical or defensive chops to take on a team like the Colorado Avalanche - one with a lot of physical presence, speed, and a lot of shooting talent - and hold them off in a low-scoring game. The Devils might have had a bit of run-and-gun to thei early offense tonight, but they really tightened it up and played a positional, mature game to fend off the dangerous Avalanche. Of course, the Avs poked through the defensive structure a few times. Vitek Vanecek was forced to make some great stops. But did they ask too much of their goaltender? No. And Vanecek came up big when asked to do so.

The Devils also did not get discouraged by their general lack of finish tonight. That’s okay, when the team can play a structured enough game that the opposition is stifled into getting shutout. There were some things I did not like. I did not like that Tomas Tatar took two minor penalties while contributing as close to nothing as possible on offense. However, the team was playing more physical than they’ve shown in the past, and they made it work. It just would have been nice to see a bit more offensive polish from their top six tonight. Defensively, I have nothing to complain about. That’s fine - defense has always been part of the winning Devils identity. And this Devils team has not allowed 25 shots in a game yet. As long as it stays that way, I cannot see how this team does not push for a playoff spot. Even when Jesper Boqvist was out there - the Avalanche did not have a shot in 9:37 against him. With just 16 shots for Vanecek to stop at even strength, the Devils played like a legitimate hopeful tonight.

Vitek Vanecek and the Penalty Kill

Tonight was the best goaltending matchup between the Devils and Avalanche at The Rock since Martin Brodeur and Jean-Sebastien Giguere had dueling shutouts going into a shootout that Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise won for the Devils on March 15, 2012. That happened to be the first hockey game I saw in person. While that was a late-season game in the midst of a playoff run, this was a game where Vanecek faced down the defending Stanley Cup champions. He made 24 stops on a touch over 2.5 expected goals against - a solid effort against limited, but dangerous chances for the Avalanche.

The Avalanche just could not control the puck for long enough to make the Devils pay. Nico Hischier was nearly perfect in the faceoff dot, going 16-for-17 (94.12%) while being 6-for-1 when on the penalty kill. Hischier and Sharangovich only allowed one shot against on the penalty kill in a bit over three minutes together, while the Avs got three shots in a minute or so with Mercer in Sharangovich’s spot for the bad hooking call in the second period. The Avalanche had only seven shots on six power plays, as the Devils had their number the whole way.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of the defensive effort tonight? What do you think of Vitek Vanecek? How about Lindy Ruff, a few more games into the season? Do we really want to trade any of these defensemen, with how well they’re playing as a unit right now? Did you think Jesper Boqvist had a good game tonight? How about Dougie Hamilton, who saw the Avalanche outshot 12-4 at even strength? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. Goodnight.