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Devils Uncompetitive Down the Stretch in 5-2 Preseason Loss to Islanders

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First Period

The New Jersey Devils did not get to the best start as Nikita Okhotiuk took a hooking call on Aatu Raty in the early stages of the first period, giving the New York Islanders a power play. The New Jersey Devils faced Barzal, Palmieri, Nelson, Parise, and Dobson on their kill - but they were unable to get a clean chance in the first minute. The second Islanders unit came on for the final 40 seconds, but the Devils kill kept them in a peripheral cycle until Anthony Beauvillier fired into Mackenize Blackwood’s stomach from the top of the circle as the power play expired.

Graeme Clarke got a golden opportunity to score several minutes in, as the Islanders gave him a clear lane to shoot off a draw, with Miles Wood lurking around the net. The puck went to the far side, and the Devils could not get on a rebound. However, they would score less than a minute later - as Ryan graves kicked the puck to his stick off a pass from Damon Severson and whipped a wrist shot past Semyon Varlamov. 1-0, Devils. Check the footwork from Severson here.

Mat Barzal was called for hooking Jesper Boqvist’s ankles in the neutral zone following the faceoff. Boqvist, Wood, Zetterlund, Severson, and Holtz took the ice as the first unit. They were not able to get too many clean lanes to shoot from, and the second unit came on a bit before the first minute ended. Nolan Foote took a shot on Varlamov from the top of the faceoff circle that was smothered before Pinho and Bastian could jump on the rebound. Foote later rang a shot off the iron from around the faceoff dot, and the Devils were unable to get a good attempt after that.

Mat Barzal tied the game after a bad turnover by Alex Holtz to Ryan Pulock at the blueline. Pulock split a slew of Devils to get the puck to Barzal, who shot from the forehand after a shifty move in front of Blackwood. 1-1. Holtz had the puck along the boards and tried to lift it out of the zone, but Pulock was able to glove it down.

Mackenzie Blackwood let up a bad goal not long after Barzal tied it. Noah Dobson shot it right through his arms on the rush, as Dobson got the puck from Beauvillier at the side of the right faceoff circle. 2-1, Islanders.

Second Period

I liked Fabian Zetterlund at the start of the second period. In one shift, he got two shots on goal and got the rebound both times. His swift skating, even with the puck, in the offensive zone makes him a threat to get into a dangerous scoring position at any time.

Mason Geertsen and Ross Johnston went to the box six and a half minutes in for matching roughing calls. During four-on-four play, Alex Holtz made an excellent move to the inside, forcing Adam Pelech to take a hooking penalty. Brock Nelson received a pass from Romanov on an immediate shorthanded rush and nearly scored - but was denied by the pad of Blackwood on a tight shot. When play became a five-on-four power play, Fabian Zetterlund faked a shot and set up a one-timer for Graeme clarke in the slot. Bastian jammed the puck at the net, and it rebounded back out to Clarke to the left of the net. Clarke made quick work of it, and tied the game at 2-2 for the Devils.

Clarke later had a couple of shots on Varlamov - one off the mask from the goal line, and the other from the top of the left faceoff circle. The Islanders went up 3-2 with a bit over five minutes to play in the period, as a shot from Salo went down off Okhotiuk - and Blackwood dove to ensure Ross Johnston could not backhand the loose puck into the net. Johnston, ever the offensive presence, could not be denied as a point shot then deflected in off of him.

The Islanders went to the box with four and a half minutes as Otto Koivula lifted the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. The Devils’ power play was rather unremarkable, though.

Third Period

Miles Wood and Adam Pelech got matching minors for holding the stick and tripping, respectively, as Wood was about to get a breakaway before he was tripped up. During four-on-four play, Mackenzie Blackwood was unable to recover following a shot by Salo was kicked out. Beauvillier got the puck to the left of goal and shot it past a diving Blackwood. 4-2, Islanders.

After the goal, Aatu Raty took a minor penalty, putting the Devils on the power play. The Devils gave Bastian a chance at the edge of the crease during four-on-three, but the puck was cleared away as the coincidental minor penalties expired. They could not get anything going at five-on-four, and the power play expired with just a couple tries on Varlamov.

Several minutes in, Nikita Okhotiuk deflected a shot by Barzal from the low slot at a wide open net over the net, and over the glass. The Islanders would get their fifth anyway, as Aatu Raty turned and shot from above the faceoff circles and got it past Blackwood on the glove side. 5-2. And that would be the final score, as the Devils failed to answer back at any point - and did not seem particularly close to doing so.

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 Lighthouse Hockey.

Whole Lotta Nothing

While it seemed at first like the Devils’ forwards were all playing hard in their efforts to compete for one of the final roster spots, there was a lot of disappointment to be had in the squad tonight. Sure, the Islanders played a real NHL roster and the Devils played a forward lineup of mostly Utica guys. The outcome does not matter. The drop in compete level after the Islanders took the 3-2 lead, though, was not a good look for the group. Nolan Foote struck me as on his game in the first period. As the game dragged on, Foote’s early intensity wore out and became the motions of the game. Still, he was fourth on the team in shot attempts and second in total shots. But that’s a knock on the rest of the lineup tonight.

I might have expected more involvement of the defense, considering Severson and Nemec were playing - yet it seemed only Graves showed his ability and willingness to get involved offensively. Severson had a rare game in which he registered no attempts on goal at even strength, with just one on the power play - though he was one of the few who was not on the ice for a goal against. But he’s not the only one to be passive with the puck tonight: Talvitie and McLeod literally did not attempt a shot - and they accounted for 29:29 of the centers’ ice time. Okhotiuk had a terrible game, missing defensive assignments, taking bad penalties, and not showing much for his attempts on offense. When Brendan Smith was on the ice, the Devils were outshot 2-8. While Nemec did not get on the scoresheet, he did handle himself reasonably defensively. He had excelled shutting down the Beauvillier-Nelson-Bellows line (6-0 shots in 4:30+), but struggled mightily against the Parise-Barzal-Palmieri line (1-5 shots, 1 GA in 3:00). I liked his pairing with Kevin Bahl during the game, but Nemec’s pairing with Okhotiuk was terrible at preventing chances.

Graeme Clarke

There is a very notable exception to this. Graeme Clarke was on his game again today - and it seemed like he never really slipped as the rest of the team seemed to. On a power play that was going nowhere, he displayed the ability to gain the zone without relying on the drop pass, and stopped up high as the penalty killers dropped down. This opened up a passing lane that he executed to perfection. And while this did not lead to anything, Clarke continually shows the ability to slow things down and make the right play. He also did so in the defensive zone in the face of a forechecker trying to stop the Devils from breaking into the neutral zone - Clarke held the puck away and circled back to give himself the time and space to make a safe pass across to Simon Nemec. Then, factoring in the goal and the several good chances on goal - and Graeme Clarke seems like he is trying to force a decision by Tom Fitzgerald to put someone on waivers. Clarke had 10 shot attempts, and six were on goal. He had two rush attempts, one rebound attempt, and created a rebound leading up to his goal. He lead the Devils in CF% at 66.67, and he was creating everything that came from his line with Wood and McLeod.

Boqvist vs. McLeod

One of those decisions was at the forefront of tonight’s lineup. Jesper Boqvist centered Fabian Zetterlund and Alex Holtz. Michael McLeod centered Miles Wood and Graeme Clarke. Both centers were underwhelming, but Boqvist was extremely so. Boqvist finished as the worst of the centers with a 34.78 CF%, seeing the Islanders outshoot and outchance the Devils at a 2:1 margin with three goals against to show for it. Michael McLeod looked much better on the sheet with a 59.09 CF%, and was one of the only Devils to not be on the ice for a goal against. McLeod may have had the best on-ice stats of the centers by far, but it was never because he actually did anything with the puck. McLeod generally looks like he is actively trying to get rid of the puck in the most uncreative manner as soon as he touches it. He had zero shots, zero attempts, and zero ixG in over 16 minutes of ice time. His stat line is a magnificent row of zeroes until you get to the giveaways column (two). McLeod was very much the beneficiary of Graeme Clarke’s offensive intensity tonight, regarding his on-ice stats.

Where Everyone Stands

I think Graeme Clarke and Kevin Bahl gained a lot from tonight. Okhotiuk may have taken himself out of the running entirely, leaving the expected platoon for 3LD with Brendan Smith to Bahl. Bahl did rather well with Nemec tonight. Clarke may not be on the roster, but I think he made it much more possible with tonight that someone gets waived to clear some room. Holtz could have done much better tonight, and Zetterlund could afford to make more of a statement as well assuming they both get another game on Saturday. I think Nathan Bastian showed again why he’s still around, as his netfront game was on point - and he was solid defensively. Had he not been saddled with Pinho and Geertsen, he might have gotten a chance to be involved at even strength.

I would not expect to see Talvitie, Pinho, Geertsen, or Okhotiuk after tonight. I’m not sure if Foote will get another chance on Saturday. Clarke, Zetterlund, Holtz, and Boqvist should probably stay in the lineup for another look with a higher-end lineup. Hopefully we get to see this continue to play out until the best roster possible is assembled.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about the position battles? How about Blackwood? Is Graeme Clarke our surprise rookie looming on the horizon? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and thanks for reading.