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Devils Top Bruins 5-3 to Close Out The Preseason

The New Jersey Devils defeated the Boston Bruins 5-3 to end the preseason with a 5-2 record. With a few more roster moves left to be made, who is in and who is out as the Devils inch closer to Opening Night?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins
The top line of Ondrej Palat-Jack Hughes-Alex Holtz was mostly good.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

The New Jersey Devils got things started with the line of Sharangovich-Haula-Bratt taking control off of the opening faceoff but they couldn’t do anything in the offensive zone before the Bruins cleared. The Devils got the 4th line on with Damon Severson setting up Brendan Smith for a shot and Michael McLeod on the rebound, but they were denied by Linus Ullmark. Trent Frederic was caught boarding Jesper Boqvist to give the Devils a power play. The Devils struggled to get much going with Jake Debrusk getting a chance short-handed after a wraparound along the boards got past Jack Hughes. Ullmark denied Alex Holtz in the closing seconds of the power play. Boston was able to pin the Devils back in their end before Hughes eventually cleared the puck to the neutral zone for a change. With the pace picking up, Haula connected with Bratt on a stretch pass but Ullmark stopped the backhanded attempt.

Boston gained control in the offensive end after the first TV timeout but Patrice Bergeron sent a one-timer wide of the net. The Haula line were able to turn the tables with some offensive zone time but Ullmark made a stop on Haula and Severson missed the net on a followup attempt. Boston pinned the Mercer line deep but the Devils eventually got a clear and Ullmark stopped McLeod coming back the other way before the TV timeout.

Brendan Smith drew an interference call on Brandon Carlo to give the Devils another chance with the man advantage. The Devils did a good job moving the puck to set up a chance for Hamilton that was stopped. Boston came right back Jack Studnicka shot but Blackwood did a nice job stopping the puck. Hughes set up Bratt on the other end for a redirect as the pace has once again perked up.

Boston got set up in the offensive zone again and chipped the puck towards the front of Blackwood’s crease. Fortunately, the Devils were able to clear it away. Jesper Boqvist came back the other way with a head of steam and was stopped trying to slip the puck past Ullmark five-hole. Sharangovich dug a puck out along the boards in the neutral zone and fed Bratt for a chance, but Ullmark snuffed it out. Palat found Hughes with some space in front but Hughes missed the net glove-side. Hughes regained control of the puck in the neutral zone and tried to make a move in front for Palat. Palat chipped it back to a trailing Holtz who buried it for a 1-0 Devils lead.

Neither team did a whole lot over the final minute and the Devils went to the dressing room up 1-0. It was a solid period overall for the Devils as they held an edge in shots on goal (15-7), CF% (65.52 percent), and xGF (69.08%), although their work on the power play left a lot to be desired.

Second Period

The Devils gained the offensive zone early in the period with Jonas Siegenthaler being stopped by Ullmark. Damon Severson got caught high sticking David Krejci to give Boston their first power play. Krejci sent a feed through the crease that was chipped away and out of the zone. Krejci nearly found Pastrnak for a top-quality chance but Dougie Hamilton just got a stick on it. The Devils killed off the rest of the power play as Pastrnak tried to skate through traffic and do it himself in the closing moments. The Hughes line pinned the Bruins deep as Tomas Nosek was playing without a stick but Boston iced it and got a clear on the subsequent sequence. The Devils got whistled for too many men after regaining the zone to give Boston another power play after the first TV timeout.

Boston quickly made the Devils pay for that mistake as Ryan Graves partially whiffed on the puck while trying to play it along the boards. David Krejci found David Pastrnak, who slipped in behind the Devils defense. Pastrnak had all the time in the world to pick his spot and slipped the puck under Blackwood’s pad to tie the game. Vitek Vanecek replaced Blackwood (15 saves on 16 shots) with 10:08 left in the second.

Boston continues to hem the Devils in on their end with Reilly sailing a shot wide. The Devils finally got a shot on net as Dougie Hamilton gained the zone and fired it as a sharp angle. Hamilton collected the puck along the boards and fed it in front for Dawson Mercer, who redirected it past Ullmark to make it 2-1 Devils.

Boston nearly tied it as Frederic came close to redirecting a Lindholm blast from the point, but the puck trickled wide of the net. Ullmark stopped John Marino on the other end for a stoppage with 5:54 remaining in the period.

Mercer nearly found Tomas Tatar with a pass through the slot but couldn’t connect. Boston came back moments later with Vanecek covering up a loose puck after Bergeron and DeBrusk whacked at it. McLeod lost a trio of defensive zone faceoffs while the Devils kept icing the puck. The Devils did manage to eventually clear the zone though and get a much needed change. Bratt found Mercer for a potential scoring chance late in the period, with Ullmark stopping Siegenthaler’s shot in the closing seconds. The Devils managed to escape the second up 2-1 despite being thoroughly outplayed. Boston finished the period with an 8-1 edge in HDCF and an xGF% of 69.16 percent as they were much better defensively and kept the Devils on their heels.

Third Period

The Devils nearly added to their lead early in the third as Dougie Hamilton walked in with the puck, but the shot was blocked away. The Devils kept at it as Graves connected with Palat on a stretch pass. Palat found Marino who found Holtz behind Ullmark’s net, and Holtz fed Hughes in front for the goal to make it 3-1.

The Devils added to the lead moments later as Reilly’s stick failed him on a clearing attempt as Yegor Sharangovich was bearing down on him. Sharangovich picked up the loose puck and snapped a wrister by Ullmark to make it 4-1 New Jersey.

Nick Foligno stole the puck from Brendan Smith in the neutral zone to set up a 2-on-1 but Vanecek made the stop on Jakub Lauko.

Mercer collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and shipped it to Tatar, who sent a backhanded shot on Ullmark. Boston nearly got on the board again as they slipped one past Siegenthaler to spring Nosek, but Nosek was off the mark. Hamilton found Siegenthaler for a long shot from the point that Ullmark gloved with 8:08 left.

After the Devils lost yet another faceoff (more on this in a bit) and chipped the puck into the neutral zone, Bratt punched the puck ahead for Shanangovich who just missed the net on a partial breakaway. Boston’s 4th line pinned the Devils in deep yet again with Clifton keeping the puck in, passing cross-ice for Forbort and sending it in front and off of Lauko and in to make it 4-2 New Jersey.

The Devils came right back with McLeod trying to make a power move but he lost control of the puck in front. Boston kept applying pressure with Lauko firing a shot towards the crease but Vanecek covered it up. The Bruins pulled Ullmark with 3:32 remaining. Boston kept control off of the ensuing faceoff but Brendan Smith chipped the puck into the bench area for a stoppage. McLeod won a defensive zone draw and Smith cleared again. Boston regained the zone and Krejci and Lindholm played a give-and-go before Krejci fed Bergeron to one-time it past Vanecek to pull Boston within one with 2:46 left.

Boston pulled Ullmark again with just under two minutes left. The Devils iced it with 1:41 left and Pastrnak got a sharp-angle shot on net off the ensuing faceoff. After a timeout, Bergeron beat McLeod in the dot again and Pastrnak sailed a shot wide. The Devils iced the puck again with 57.2 seconds left. McLeod won the ensuing faceoff and the Bruins couldn’t hold the zone, letting the Devils get a critical change. Tatar managed to chip the puck out of the defensive zone, took the puck away from Zboril, and tapped in the empty-netter to ice the game with 18 seconds remaining. Devils win 5-3.


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: Visit Stanley Cup of Chowder if you would like to read the Bruins’ perspective on tonight’s game.

Things I Liked And Didn’t Like From The Game

  • I LIKED THE play of John Marino who has quietly had an excellent preseason. If Siegenthaler is their best defensive defenseman, Marino is a close second. I’d expect to see a lot of him in late-game situations where the Devils are trying to protect a lead late. I also thought Tomas Tatar had another solid game. I hope he took his struggles last season to heart and is out to prove people wrong this year.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE the Devils fourth line of Boqvist-McLeod-Bastian, as there were large stretches where they got pinned back in their own zone and couldn’t clear the puck. There was one stretch in particular late in the second period where McLeod lost three defensive zone faceoffs in a row and the Devils kept icing the puck because they couldn’t clear it from their end otherwise. It was sequences like this that I’m referencing when I say that McLeod is not a good 4th line center, although he didn’t get a lot of support from either of his wingers there. Did this particular sequence lead to a goal against? No. But it is sequences like this where I think the Devils can do better with their fourth line.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE that nobody on the Devils could win a faceoff to save their lives. Faceoffs generally don’t matter a ton over the course of a game, but they can matter situationally. There were several instances where BECAUSE the Devils couldn’t win a defensive zone draw, they had to work a lot harder to ultimately get a defensive zone clear. I get that Bergeron is fantastic in the dot and Krejci historically is as well, but when you’re getting your lunch handed to you by the Jack Studnickas and Tomas Noseks of the world as well, that’s a problem. I’m not asking Jack Hughes, Erik Haula, Dawson Mercer, or Michael McLeod to each win 55% of their draws, but they gotta be better than the 35% they were as a collective group
  • I LIKED the bounceback effort by Mackenzie Blackwood in net, stopping 15 of 16 shots. I can’t really fault him for the one goal against either as that was more due to a defensive zone giveaway and the Devils defense losing track of David Pastrnak. I didn’t think Vanecek was awful in net either, although he might want the Bergeron goal back. I can’t really get on him for the goal that deflected in off of Lauko.
  • I LIKED that Ondrej Palat wore an ‘A’. I hope he wears one throughout the season and the Devils lean on him as a veteran leader.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE how the power play looked in their limited opportunities. The Devils are still giving up way too many shorthanded opportunities the other way and they will get burned if they keep doing that. In fairness to Andrew Brunette, I think they’re still in the process of figuring out what personnel they want to use, but the early results have not been pretty.
  • Lastly, I LIKED THAT Pavel Zacha was mostly invisible against the Devils. It’s nice to see that some things will never change.

Final Cuts Are Coming

As you likely know by now, the Devils trimmed their training camp roster down to 27 players yesterday. The Devils need to cut down to the maximum 23 players by 5pm ET on Monday, October 10th, so lets talk about some of the guys on the bubble.

Neither Kevin Bahl nor Simon Nemec played in the preseason finale. I’m not sure I would read a whole lot into the decision to hold them out tonight, but I wouldn’t be shocked if one or perhaps even both are sent down as neither player has to clear waivers. Personally, I think Kevin Bahl has done enough to make this team and I think I’d prefer to see him out there on Opening Night over Brendan Smith. But if the Devils feel that tonight’s defensive lineup is also the Opening Night lineup, then perhaps it makes sense to send them both down to play regularly in the AHL, keep them on speeddial, and let Mason Geertsen act as the 7th defenseman.

Ah yes. Mason Geertsen. He’s still around even though he didn’t play tonight. Of course, he never should have been claimed off of waivers last year, never should’ve made the Opening Night roster last year, never should’ve stuck on the roster all of last year, never should’ve been re-signed, and never should have lasted as long as he has in camp this season. But he has. Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald clearly see something that he brings to the table that they like. I think they’d be better off looking elsewhere for the so-called intangibles Geertsen brings to the table. There will be plenty of players placed on waivers over the next couple days who can do what Geertsen does, but better. There’s also the added bonus they can also play a little bit of hockey. I don’t think any of this matters though.....I expect Geertsen to make the team at this point.

As I mentioned earlier, I thought the fourth line of Jesper Boqvist, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian was bad tonight. The 4th line was routinely pinned back tonight and its a minor miracle the Devils didn’t give up any goals when they were on the ice (It’s also yet another example of how +/- is a flawed stat, but I digress). Since we’re talking short-term here, I’m not going to get on my soapbox about how the Devils need to upgrade over all of them once this team is actually ready to contend. I can’t help but feel they’ll all make the roster by default though, especially in the off chance Nico Hischier isn’t ready for Opening Night.

I think Alex Holtz did enough tonight to clinch his spot on the NHL roster. His skating certainly looks improved, his playmaking ability is underrated, and there’s clearly something there on a line with Jack Hughes and Ondrej Palat. Assuming the Devils are committed to consistently playing him in the Top Six, I think they should have him on the NHL roster.

I thought Fabian Zetterlund was mostly ok tonight. He hasn’t left zero doubt this preseason that he should be on the roster, but I think he’s an NHL player (his late season stint last year suggests he is), I think there’s been more positive than negative this preseason and I’m not willing to risk losing him on waivers given the other options available to the Devils.

So how would I handle the final roster decisions? I’d likely IR Jonathan Bernier and Tyce Thompson, send Simon Nemec down to the AHL, and place Mason Geertsen on waivers to get down to 23. Will the Devils do that? They should, but they’ll probably galaxy brain this and find a way to get Geertsen in the Opening Night lineup. Leave a comment below how you think the final roster cuts will play out.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of the game today? What stood out to you, both positive and negative? Please feel free to leave a comment on tonight’s game and thanks for reading!