The New Jersey Devils started tonight’s game rather well, shutting the Chicago Blackhawks out of the slot and generating a bit of offense a few minutes into the game. There were plenty of stoppages in the opening stretch, which likely benefitted the Devils as they played the end of a back-to-back. Damon Severson, in particular, caught my eye early on as he tried to singlehandedly power an offensive zone shift for the third line. A few minutes later, Severson broke up a two-on-one after Ryan Graves made a boneheaded turnover with a backhand pass in the defensive zone. Following a stoppage, Hagel nearly scored on a rebound from a shot by Dominik Kubalik, but the shot went wide of the net as Jon Gillies was not quick enough to move across the net.
Brandon Hagel ultimately scored the first goal of the game, as Jon Gillies made a bad pass behind the net and Ty Smith turned the puck over trying to pass to Jack Hughes. Hagel walked in and ripped a shot past Gillies to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
Jack Hughes fell down while trying to keep the puck away from Seth Jones in the offensive zone, and Hughes pushed the puck to the point where Ryan Graves was able to beat Jones to the puck. Graves’ poke got it back to Hughes, who let the defender cover Dawson Mercer closely as he snuck into the middle and beat Lankinen with a wrist shot! 1-1 - and Hughes almost gave the Devils a lead soon after when he shot the puck off iron.
Near the end of the period, the Hughes line had yet another great shift - though Jesper Bratt was in Dawson Mercer’s position. Bratt danced around the offensive zone and was wide open in the high slot - but he passed to Hughes at a wide angle. Hughes wasn’t able to get a quick shot and Lankinen got over to save his shot. The Devils kept at it, and Yegor Sharangovich scored after they started firing away. 2-1, Devils.
In his 100th NHL game, Sharangovich gets one.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 26, 2022
There was never any doubt. pic.twitter.com/dphNqq6m9N
Michael McLeod took a boarding penalty in the first minute of the period, as Connor Murphy had to go to the dressing room. McLeod got into a scrap with Ryan Carpenter as a result, and the Devils went to the penalty kill following the fight.
Yegor Sharangovich disrupted a pass in the Blackhawks’ end and got in on Lankinen early. He shot from a sharp angle, and Lankinen turned it aside. With the second unit of the penalty kill on the ice about a minute later, Alex DeBrincat drew the Devils to his side and threaded a pass to Patrick Kane, who tied the game above Gillies’ glove. 2-2.
Jack Hughes made an incredible backhand pass to Dawson Mercer on the rush, who was not able to handle the puck as he had a wide open net to shoot at. Hughes got back on the puck and drew a tripping penalty in the corner. The Devils were terrible on the power play, and Nathan Bastian took a penalty for slashing to break up a two-on-one play.
The Devils were able to survive the penalty kill after an uneventful four-on-four. Jonas Siegenthaler made a timely block, and Jon Gillies made an excellent save as the penalty was expiring. A couple minutes later, Nico Hischier poked the puck behind the defense for a breakaway and did not life the puck off his backhand after he got Lankinen to the ice. The Devils then took another penalty, with Ty Smith going to the box for hooking.
Jon Gillies made a couple of stops early in the Blackhawks’ power play. However, the penalty kill was not especially sharp as Patrick Kane was left alone again - and his shot deflected off of Damon Severson and past Gillies. 3-2, Blackhawks, with eight and a half minutes to play in the second period.
Right after the Blackhawks seemed to get away with too many men on the ice, Ryan Graves took a tripping penalty as he was just about to give a rush chance to Borgstrom. The Devils pushed the Blackhawks back early in this kill, and Chicago finally set up toward the end of the first minute - but Severson got a clear to knock the first unit off the ice. Nico Hischier blocked a shot by Seth Jones and created a breakaway for Yegor Sharangovich. Sharangovich, like Hischier, got too close on Lankinen and could not score. The Blackhawks took it back to their offensive end, and Brandon Hagel scored on a one-timer from the high slot, off a pass from Patrick Kane. 4-2, Blackhawks on their third power play goal of the period.
Jesper Bratt showed his teammates how to finish a breakaway. Damon Severson threw the puck tape to tape from behind Gillies’ goal line to Bratt on the far blue-line. Bratt went five hole on a snap shot, and he trimmed the Blackhawks’ lead to just one with a couple minutes to play in the period. The Devils then went to the power play for the final 1:37, as Dach went to the box for slashing Jack Hughes in the neutral zone. The Devils power play was rather weak, with Hamilton getting the first shot for it with just 5.6 to play in the period. After Lankinen covered, McLeod could not win the draw and the Devils went to the intermission down one.
The Devils did not sustain enough offensive pressure in the first five minutes of the period. They had some fleeting moments of offensive zone time, but Gillies tended to see more threatening chances than Lankinen. The Devils’ fortune nearly shifted seven minutes in. Severson sent the puck in for the Devils and Sharangovich was high in the zone for the Devils, feeding Hughes who just bobbled the puck and couldn’t score from the netside despite having Lankinen beat.
The Devils tied the game out of absolutely nowhere. Jesper Boqvist fought off Seth Jones behind the net and set up there. He sent the puck high to Tatar, who shot for a deflection wide. The Devils then took a few more point shots, and Siegenthaler threw one from the wall off the crossbar and in! 4-4.
Siegenthaler picked one heck of a time to score his first. pic.twitter.com/GEohe4rbW8— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 26, 2022
The Devils continually gave the Blackhawks opportunities to take the lead back. Kirby Dach finally made them pay for an odd-man rush opportunity when he poked the puck past Ryan Graves at the blueline. Dach took the puck down, and Severson took the pass a bit too far as Dach cut across Gillies and scored. 5-4.
Less than a minute later, Jon Gillies let his sixth goal of the game to Ryan Carpenter. Jonas Siegenthaler missed the puck as he went to the ice, and Entwistle passed across to Carpenter who backhanded the puck past Gillies. 6-4.
The Devils clawed back just a minute after the goal by Carpenter. Jack Hughes took the puck around the zone and sent it off to Severson at the goal line. Severson passed across the Bratt on the far-side who beat Lankinen! 6-5, with 4:15 to play.
Bratt is so good at the hockey, guys. pic.twitter.com/xbu4zZBkZd— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 26, 2022
However, Jack Hughes would give it back. After the Devils pulled Gillies and Nico Hischier was hauled down, the Devils had trouble retaking the offensive zone. Hughes was taking the puck up ice and just completely lost it, leaving it for Patrick Kane to score a hat trick goal. 7-5. With under half a minute to play, Brandon Hagel got a hat trick of his own as he scored on the empty net as he got tripped up by P.K. Subban. 8-5.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Second City Hockey.
Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken
Dawson Mercer was not a fit on Nico Hischier’s wing tonight after Lindy Ruff shuffled the top six. In the 7:52 that Bratt played with Hischier, that line had a 61.11 CF%, an 8-5 shots differential, and was on the ice for a goal by the Devils. The Hughes line with Mercer did trail in shots on goal two to five, but they also had a goal scored in 9:03 together. We already know that Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt is an electric combination - but the Hischier line became useless down the stretch tonight. In 5:04, the Hischier line with Mercer had a 27.27 CF%, one shot on goal, gave up a goal, and had a 9.17 xGF%.
With Jesper Boqvist leading the third line to a good game tonight that also resulted in one goal for the Devils and none for the opposition, I question Ruff’s decision making here. None of the original five-on-five lines gave up a goal - they actually had a 3-0 goals differential. I understand shortening the bench and getting offensive players more time on the ice down late in the game - but this was not that type of move. It aided Hughes’ offense at the expense of an entire line, and the Devils just could not keep the foot on the gas pedal as this game was lost despite Siegenthaler’s tying goal.
The power play also looked pretty broken tonight - and it did not help that the penalty kill was actually a mess for once. The Devils actually got outshot two-to-one when on the power play, and their power play xGF% was 31.41. By comparison, the Blackhawks outshot the Devils six-to-one on their power play, taking ten more shot attempts than the Devils did with the man advantage. Great stuff by the power play, which is still using Damon Severson on the first unit.
John Gillies allowed six goals tonight on an expected goals against of 2.73. For the most part, I was not mad about the early goals. But man, does Gillies look bad on some of those goals. Patrick Kane is a great shooter, but Gillies was down way too early on Kane’s power play goal where Gillies was beaten glove side from the circle. It was not like Kane shot a one-timer: Gillies had plenty of time to get set and cut down the angle more than he did. It’s not that it’s Gillies fault for any particular goal, but he needs to save some of them.
The Devils have scored 30 goals in their last six games. In that time, they are 3-3-0. They won the two games where they scored seven and last night when they scored six. But in games where the Devils have scored two, three, and now five - Gillies has lost each game, with the Devils giving up 18 goals in those three losses. It’s high time for Tom Fitzgerald to acquire any new goaltender, whether they are another waiver wire pickup or a free agent signing or a trade.
Jon Gillies has an .883 save percentage. He is 3-9-0 in 12 starts. Scott Wedgewood has a .904 save percentage in 23 games this season after having a .900 save percentage in 16 games last season. Cory Schneider was bought out despite the Devils having plenty of cap space to eat his contract after he had an .887 save percentage in his final season in 13 games (for the record, he was 3-0-1 with a .952 in his final stint before the COVID shutdown). Remember when the Devils had Eric Comrie? He saved 30 of 33 in his only game for the Devils last season, and he has a .916 save percentage in 9 games for Winnipeg this season.
I refuse to believe there is nobody out there for the Devils to get. They’ve lost far superior goaltenders to Jon Gillies, yet they feel obligated to continually trot this guy out there. Aside from tonight, where it was necessary to keep Nico Daws fresh for the next game, there is no reason to keep Gillies on the roster. .883 through 12 starts is not good enough, and every time I watch him play I think of all the goaltending depth that Tom Fitzgerald has let go of.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about the defensive performance? Does Ryan Graves make mistakes more often than Damon Severson? Was I the only one who thought that P.K. Subban looked so slow tonight that he should have gotten the night off to rest (where is Reilly Walsh)? How many more games will Jon Gillies play? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and have a good night.