The New Jersey Devils got off to another slow start, which was not necessarily a bad thing as they mostly prevented the Toronto Maple Leafs from creating dangerous chances in the first few minutes. Vitek Vanecek made a few saves, not exactly pulling off any highway robberies in the process. Matt Murray, on the other end, was relatively unchallenged in the first five minutes. The saving grace offensively at the beginning was a play in which Nico Hischier spun away from several Maple Leafs, out of the corner, to set up Fabian Zetterlund for a chance that was blocked.
Nico Hischier just turned this play into setup pass into the slot. pic.twitter.com/zJSzgj4bZw— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) November 18, 2022
Matt Murray finally saw shots nearly seven minutes in, when Tomas Tatar and Fabian Zetterlund had a two-on-one. Zetterlund, on the outside, gave the puck to Tatar in the high slot. Tatar passed it back, which was a rather poor decision when he could have split out wide with the puck before doing so. Instead, Zetterlund had to slide his shot around the one defender, leading to a chance for Nico Hischier as Nico poked the rebound at the five-hole. Murray squeezed it.
Zach Aston-Reese took the first penalty of the game for Toronto when he slashed Nathan Bastian when Bastian took the puck away on the backcheck. With less than half the period to play, the Devils went to the power play. Toronto won the initial draw and cleared, leading to Hamilton starting the breakout - but Marner intercepted his drop pass and forced Vanecek to make a big save. The Devils got set up at the end of the first minute, but their three shot attempts were all blocked or wide before the second unit came on for the final 40 seconds. At the end of the power play, Fabian Zetterlund’s one-timer gave Erik Haula a rebound chance, but he could not put it home. On the other end, Auston Matthews was all alone with a rush chance but shot right into Vanecek’s glove.
Dougie Hamilton took a high sticking minor penalty with 5:58 to play in the period. The Maple Leafs put some solid pressure on the Devils early, but did not get a clean chance or shot on goal in the first minute. Still, the Devils failed to get a full-ice clear, leaving the first kill unit on the ice until it was too late to stop a pass from Michael Bunting to Auston Matthews in the low slot for a tap-in goal. 1-0, Leafs.
The Devils did not take long to answer - 24 seconds, to be exact. The Hughes line was putting in work in the offensive zone, with wide puck movement from the walls. After a point shot went wide and around to the boards, Haula collected and centered the puck for Jesper Bratt, who shot beautifully past Matt Murray to tie the game at 1-1. Brendan Smith got his first assist of the season on this goal for shooting wide from the blueline, which bounded around to Haula.
Ya just can’t leave Jesper Bratt alone like that. pic.twitter.com/tsu5HKn4mC— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 18, 2022
Denis Malgin had a takeaway on the forecheck, turning and shooting into Dougie Hamilton, who went down to the ice in a heap of pain. He slowly got off the ice, and the rest of the period went by. As it ended, the camera flashed to Dougie, who seemed to be fine - the puck looked like it hit his midsection.
After a hectic few minutes, Nico Hischier was rewarded for his recent pay when Tatar initiated a turnover at the blueline, allowing Zetterlund to take the puck through the neutral zone and set up Nico Hischier on the two-on-one. Nico does not miss these days. 2-1, Devils on a perfect shot above Murray into the far corner.
Cap with an absolute snipe. pic.twitter.com/ca7MKxyAYD— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 18, 2022
After this goal, the Devils looked much more confident on the back end in taking away the lanes, but they still got hemmed in the defensive zone more often than they should. The Leafs finally got a big chance when Brendan Smith had to sell out on a two-on-one with a desperate shot block, buying time for the Devils to get some backpressure to force Pontus Holmberg to shoot the rebound wide. Erik Haula hooked Auston Matthews just about a minute later, giving the Leafs a six-on-five chance for over a minute, not getting a shot in what seemed like an overly passive approach before the Devils touched up.
The Devils met this kill much better than the first, as they got an early clear high in the zone to allow a forward change. The Leafs stayed to the periphery on this power play, not really pressuring down low as their possession was not as crisp as their first opportunity. The penalty eventually expired, marking a convincing kill.
After the Maple Leafs dominated possession for a couple minutes, Matt Murray came across to make an excellent save on Jack Hughes, who had much of the net to shoot at from low on the left side. Hughes received a pass from Hamilton, and Murray just threw his arms up at the shot to make it deflect off him and the crossbar, out of play. After play resumed, Jack Hughes was run over by Jordie Benn, which resulted in a penalty for Toronto. He was called for cross checking, which turned out to be the right call.
With 2:24, the Devils went to the power play. Nathan Bastian was called for goaltender interference when he touched Matt Murray’s skate when Murray came out of the crease to make a save on a high shot from Dougie Hamilton. Murray fell over, leading to the call. At four-on-four, Jack Hughes had a great chance on a backhand, off a pass from Marino along the goal line, but Murray made the save. Michael McLeod nearly scored on a rush just as the four-on-four turned to a penalty kill, but Murray just got the puck squeezed in his leg pad. The period expired with 10 seconds remaining on the abbreviated penalty kill.
The Devils finished off their penalty kill and proceeded to control much of play at the start of the third period. Jack Hughes had an excellent takeaway through an uncalled hold as the only Devil in the offensive zone, skating through a few Maple Leafs and going across the net with a backhand that Murray slid out of his net to cling onto. Dougie Hamilton later had a chance to the side of the net, off a beautiful backhand pass across the net from McLeod, but Hamilton’s shot deflected off Murray’s glove out of play.
Damon Severson took a bad cross checking penalty on Holmberg with 12:19 to play. The Devils were able to survive this penalty kill, but the Maple Leafs were far more threatening in these two minutes. At the end, Nico Hischier took the puck at center ice from Yegor Sharanovich, getting held from behind by Nylander as he put a backhand move on Murray that was saved with just nine seconds left to kill.
As play drew closer to the final five minutes, play became end-to-end. Dougie Hamilton, again, nearly scored on the rebound of a three-on-one chance. Nico Hischier had a chance where he just missed the net on a great move. Miles Wood had a two-on-one with Bastian where Wood just missed the net on the redirection. Eventually, Michael McLeod took a momentum-killing delay of game penalty, just before the final five minutes.
No goal to show for it, but slick move by Hischier for the scoring chance pic.twitter.com/TWsx559BZL— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) November 18, 2022
On the kill, Nico Hischier seemed to get hurt when he blocked a shot up high, but he stayed on the bench. Sharangovich was then disruptive on the kill, rising a shot over the crossbar and interrupting play in the neutral zone. Alexander Kerfoot knocked away Siegenthaler’s stick at the end of the kill, leading to Siegenthaler retaliating by running Kerfoot over in pursuit of his stick by the blueline. No calls were made on either end, and the penalty was killed.
As Matt Murray was going off for the extra attacker, Nylander tied the game on the rush with a wrist shot from above the faceoff circle. The shot deflected off Siegenthaler and over Vanecek’s glove. 2-2, with 2:09 to play.
Nylander evens the score with ~2 minutes to go. The Maple Leafs with 4F1D at even strength here. pic.twitter.com/RPaNtvtCKO— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) November 18, 2022
After the BMW and Hughes lines took shifts, the Hischier line came on for the final minute. Fabian Zetterlund blocked a shot in a slide in front of the blueline, getting off for Sharangovich as Hischier and Tatar pushed ahead. They kept the puck away from the defensive end until the game went to overtime.
Lindy Ruff sent out Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton to start overtime. Sheldon Keefe sent out John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly. Hischier won the draw, and Hamilton took it and sent it back for Bratt, who brought it through the zones. The Devils cycled up high before Bratt went out to center for a line change after 40 seconds. Hughes and Sharangovich came on. After Sharangovich was stripped, Jack Hughes made a huge anticipatory interception on the breakout, skating through and getting two shots on goal before going hard to the ice. Sharangovich, in the chaos as Hughes was tripped down, shot the loose puck past Murray to win the game! 3-2 win, and well-deserved for the Devils.
If Sharangovich had not scored, the Devils were slated to go to the power play with a delayed tripping call on Murray or Rielly, who combined with poke checks to to take down Hughes. The Devils didn’t need a power play to end the game, though, and I am happy with it that way.
The Opposition Opinion: Go check out the Pension Plan Puppets.
The Devils relied on Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Jack Hughes for their offense today. Nico Hischier, in particular, was driving offensive play with supreme efficacy tonight. Both him and Jack Hughes were willing to, at times, try to create offense by themselves in the offensive zone (literally with nobody else around) even as three, four, or even five Maple Leafs would be in the zone. Nico just stays low on the puck, completely unmovable. Jack just skates through them. They are the best center duo in the NHL right now, and I am very willing to stand by that statement. It feels good to be able to.
The Devils got through most of this win streak on balanced scoring, but there will be times that the top guys need to pull the sled by themselves. It was just like that tonight, as Matt Murray played a solid game and the Devils needed their best to score. Bratt’s goal off the great pass from Haula, Nico’s goal and general dominance, and Jack’s anticipation and creation to give Yegor Sharangovich the perfect rebound chance delivered the victory tonight.
Nico and Jack were just monsters tonight. pic.twitter.com/RGAUsY01bp— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) November 18, 2022
The Devils, despite playing one of the best established offensive forces in the league, allowed under 30 shots again tonight, with 27 getting to Vanecek. On top of that, the Devils dominated in the scoring chance department after the Maple Leafs seemed to have their number early. The Devils had six high danger chances in the third period. The Leafs had six in the game.
Brendan Smith played his best game as a Devil tonight. I have been ragging on him lately, but he made a really good play on that two-on-one and only saw the Devils allowing two shots on goal at evens with him on the ice. The Devils also shared the defensive burden tonight. Even early, when the Leafs controlled play, I was not concerned because of how good their structure was. The Leafs could not penetrate the scoring areas of the offensive zone because they had no lanes. They took plenty of attempts, but the Devils blocked everything they could with 17 credited blocks. Six Devils had two - Bastian, Siegenthaler, Bratt, Marino, Hamilton, and Hischier.
We saw Hamilton and Hischier hurt a bit from those blocks. That didn’t stop them from leading their respective positions in ice time. Hamilton and Siegenthaler both posted exactly 23:46, while Hischier led forwards with 19:42 of ice time. I am loving these three bring to every shift, and Siegenthaler was a monster in the third period with physical defense along the boards and plenty of solid stick work.
All this is great for Vitek Vanecek. He did exactly what was expected of him tonight, stopping 25 of 27 shots. He did not have to make any spectacular saves, but he did not give the Leafs a break at any point of the game. Vanecek was also able to make a difference with his play out of the crease. In the late third, he zipped out to beat Nylander to a loose puck after the Devils made a poor decision to pass it back into the defensive zone. He is calm, no matter where he is on the ice. And as long as he keeps pulling wins for the team, everyone should be happy right now.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How elated are you at the winning streak? How do you feel about the beginning of Vitek Vanecek’s Devils career, about a month in? How good is our top center duo? Is Siegenthaler-Hamilton the best defensive pairing in the NHL? How did you feel when overtime started? What did you think of the play to end it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter (if that’s still working) @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.