The New Jersey Devils have struggled to win hockey games this season, in large part because of poor goaltending. To that point, they were averaging 6.75 goals per game in their last four wins entering tonight and essentially removed goaltending from the equation by putting the puck in the net. On Monday night, the Devils once again dropped 7 goals in a win as they took care of business at home against the Vancouver Canucks.
The teams traded blows over the first minute with stoppages for a Canucks hand pass and Canucks offside. Vancouver eventually got the puck in deep as Nico Daws played the puck and made a save on a shot by Vasily Podkolzin. Daws turned aside J.T. Miller on the next sequence after the Devils got a clear off of the defensive zone draw. The Devils eventually gained the zone with the Hughes line but couldn’t get a shot on net as Colton White couldn’t handle a pass back to the blueline. The Zacha-Hischier-Bratt line gained the zone but Jaroslav Halak turned away Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier for the stoppage.
The Devils got on the board as Oliver Ekman-Larsson turned the puck over to Jack Hughes in the Canucks zone. Hughes got a head of steam and had Dawson Mercer with him on the partial 2-on-1 breakaway. The young Devils phenom decided to keep the puck himself and snapped the wrister past Halak for the 1-0 lead. He added a nice little hit to Tyler Myers, who is 6’8” and listed at 229 pounds, on the follow through for good measure.
Nico Daws held strong as the Canucks’ Nils Hoglander got a few shots on the rookie goaltender, but he made the stops he needed to. Pavel Zacha and Dougie Hamilton nearly one-armed a puck past Halak for a two-goal lead as they pushed hard. Moments later, Hughes found Dawson Mercer down low, who worked the puck back to Yegor Sharangovich who had enough space in front to bury the puck for the 2-0 lead.
Sharangovich puts the boys up by 2! pic.twitter.com/voP9qgzDPI— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 1, 2022
Luke Schenn went to the box at the 16:22 mark for interfering with Nate Bastian, giving the Devils their first power play opportunity. The Devils nearly got burned again with a short-handed opportunity against but the shot attempt went wide of the cage. No harm, no foul. The Devils regained the zone as a centering try by Dawson Mercer was tipped along the boards. Zacha dug the puck out and found Hischier, who fed it cross ice for Jesper Bratt who had half an open net to shoot at. Bratt sent it back to Mercer as Halak was resetting and the rookie buried it for the power play goal against the league’s worst penalty kill. 3-0 New Jersey.
“Just shoot it at me, Jesper!” - Dawson, obviously. pic.twitter.com/9Iy4nvAK7g— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 1, 2022
Zacha found Hischier in the final minute, but the captain rang it off the pipe. Nico Daws held strong the other end and the Devils went to the dressing room with a deserved 3-0 lead.
Vancouver got on the board as the Devils got hemmed in deep in their zone as Yegor Sharangovich misplayed a puck back. Jonas Siegenthaler sent the puck to the stick of Bo Horvat on a clearing attempt. The Canucks captain worked it down low to Travis Hamonic and Vasily Podkolzin knocked it in to get the visitors on the board. The Devils had a response moments later as Andreas Johnsson punched the puck ahead for Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist got a step on Quinn Hughes and beat Halak with the power move to make it 4-1 Devils.
The Devils added to their lead 1:59 later as Ryan Graves fired the puck from the point into a mass of bodies in front. The puck appeared to deflect in off of Luke Schenn’s leg for the 5-1 lead.
Jesper Bratt got in on the fun taking the feed from Pavel Zacha (YOU LIKE WHAT YOU SEE WITH ZACHA, VANCOUVER?) and ripped it by Halak for the Devils sixth goal in the first 26 minutes and change of this contest. That would be all for Halak, as Thatcher Demko came on to relieve him.
Jesper Bratt is the greatest athlete of all time. Sorry, we don’t make the rules. pic.twitter.com/8Ww6JsTCTG— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 1, 2022
Vancouver pulled within four as they took advantage of some loose defensive play by the Devils and set up Tanner Pearson for the one-timer that trickled by Daws. 6-2 New Jersey. The Canucks pinned the Devils in deep after the next TV timeout as they failed to get a clear, but eventually did get the puck to the neutral zone. Yegor Sharangovich had a partial breakaway but lost control of the puck. Either that or he was trying to drop pass the puck for a trailing Dawson Mercer. I’ll let you decide what he was trying to do there.
Nico Hischier went to the box for hooking at the 15:55 mark to give the Canucks their first power play opportunity. Vancouver did a good job moving the puck around to set up Elias Pettersson but Ryan Graves blocked the shot attempt. Bo Horvat ripped one off the outside of the post as the Devils failed to clear the zone. Vancouver found Pettersson alone but the shot attempt was deflected out of play to give the Devils a much needed stoppage and line change. Daws cleared the puck to kill the final seconds of the Canucks power play.
The Devils got a late power play in the second as Matthew Highmore hooked Jack Hughes, who had three Canucks players converging on him off of a turnover by Vancouver. Hughes had a shot on the power play that was saved by Demko and cleared to center. He tried to slip one by in the closing seconds of the period but the Canucks cleared it again and Tomas Tatar sailed a shot wide of the cage as the horn sounded. 6-2 Devils after 40 minutes of play.
As the Devils started the third, they couldn’t capitalize on the remainder of the power play opportunity with Nico Hischier getting their best chance off of a feed in front. Zacha had a breakaway opportunity that he also couldn’t put past Demko. Daws did a good job stopping Tyler Motte on a breakaway opportunity a few minutes later as a hustling Sharangovich made up for a giveaway with a strong backcheck. The Devils added to their lead at the 11:42 mark as Tomas Tatar won the puck along the boards, boxed out his man and punched it ahead for Jesper Boqvist, who found a streaking Dougie Hamilton alone in front for his first goal since his return to the lineup. 7-2 Devils.
Daws slammed the door over the final few minutes of the game to keep the Canucks from getting any closer and the Devils win by a score of 7-2.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Nucks Misconduct if you want to read the Canucks perspective on tonight’s game.
The Devils have not played a lot of games this season with their “Core Four” of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton all in the lineup at the same time. I looked earlier today off of a comment in the Devils In the Details post by Nate. By my count, this is only the 14th time this season that they’ve all played together, which includes the game where Hughes injured his shoulder against Seattle and Hamilton broke his jaw against the Capitals. Their record is now 8-5-1 in those games, while they’re 11-24-4 when missing at least one of them from the lineup, and the Devils are averaging 3.92 goals per game in those contests.
We all know how much the goaltending has let the Devils down this season, but the sheer number of games lost between their best players has definitely been a factor as well as to why the Devils are where they are in the standings. When you see the Devils offense clicking and these players all contributing, you can see why Tom Fitzgerald says things like “We are watching the next generation of Stanley Cup champions right before our eyes.”
Its easy to read that quote and be skeptical, especially when the Devils still have glaring holes on the roster. including a big one in net. Heck, I think there’s a decent chance that Fitz’s comments could easily wind up on the Old Takes Exposed Twitter account one day. It also needs to be acknowledged that 14 games out of 53 is a relatively small sample size. But for one night against a Vancouver team that has played relatively well since hiring Bruce Boudreau mid-season, these Devils showed those flashes of what they’re potentially capable of. We just need to see more consistency going forward instead of the scoring in bunches approach this team has seemed to master.
Daws Did Enough. Let’s See What We Have Here....
You don’t need me to tell you how much the Devils goaltending has struggled this season, but just to hammer home the point....entering tonight, the Devils had given up 4+ goals in 54 percent of their games this season (28 games total). Their record in those games is 3-23-2. Essentially, their season has boiled down to this next sentence. If the Devils don’t score a ton of goals, they’re not going to win.
I say all that to say that Nico Daws, once again, was solid tonight. He did a good job surviving some early onslaughts from the Canucks when the game was still in doubt and slammed the door shut to prevent the Canucks from ever seriously threatening to come back. He did his job, which is more than we can say about most of the Devils goaltending performances in the 2021-22 season.
I’m normally not a fan of playing goaltenders in a back-to-back situation, but Daws is clearly a better option than Jon Gillies at this point and if nothing else, the Devils know what they have in Gillies. Gillies not good. Daws could just be a flash in the pan, but he’s also a young player who is still developing and has theoretical upside.
I’d like to see the Devils try to learn what they have in Daws over the final 29 games of this season. They have nothing to lose by not doing so in an otherwise lost season. Daws did face a lot of rubber tonight, stopping 36 of 38 shots, but the game was essentially over early in the second period and it didn’t feel like Daws was seriously tested outside of a handful of chances here and there. It won’t ruin Nico Daws to start again tomorrow and see if he can get on a little bit of a roll, and he’s not in any danger of losing his job if he does stink tomorrow. Let’s see if Lindy Ruff has enough sense to see that and ride the closest thing he’s had to a hot hand in net.
No Smith, No Problem
For the first time this season, Ty Smith was a healthy scratch. Its tough to argue that this wasn’t deserved, as Smith has struggled for months. Colton White drew the assignment in his place and he was....fine. Not bad, not great. But with how much Smith has struggled, ‘fine’ is just fine.
White had his moments in the first where he looked a little shaky, but as the game went on, I didn’t notice him. That’s about the best thing I can say about a defenseman in general when I’m not noticing what they’re doing. There’s no reason to go back to Smith off of a 7-2 win, so let’s roll with White until he gives the Devils a reason not to go with him.
The Devils did a lot of good things tonight and earned a 7-2 win over the Canucks. Their top three lines all stood out in a positive way and Nico Daws was solid yet again in net to give the Devils a chance to win. Fortunately for Daws, he didn’t have to sweat this game too much as seven different players scored goals for the Devils.
What did you think of the win tonight? Are you as pleased with the dominance of the Top Six as I am? Would you go right back to Nico Daws tomorrow in Columbus? How did you feel about Colton White with him getting an opportunity? Did anything else from tonight’s game stand out to you? Please feel free to make your voice heard in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.