The first few minutes of the game were, perhaps thankfully, uneventful for the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche. Dougie Hamilton displayed his reach to break up a rush opportunity for Artturi Lehkonen. Kevin Bahl later used his stick to reach far to break possession close to Hammond’s net, pushing the puck behind the net. Hammond only had to make a save about three and a half minutes in on a point shot.
The Devils came closest to scoring early on off a shot from Yegor Sharangovich, who hit the post from far out off a rush drop from Nico Hischier. The Devils tried to maintain possession, but Lehkonen had Hischier locked down on the boards and probably got away with a hold after the puck was off Hischier’s stick. Kevin Bahl hit the outside post a couple minutes later, and Hamilton created more chaos with a shot from the goal line as Janne Kuokkanen was knocked into the crease that led to a Yegor Sharangovich backhand wraparound that was saved by Pavel Francouz. After this outburst, Andrew Hammond made an excellent save on a redirect by Darren Helm (who still plays hockey).
After Jesper Bratt fanned on a pass in an odd-man rush, the Avalanche went the other way and Kevin Bahl took a penalty for holding Mikko Rantanen as he struggled to turn back against Rantanen with a full head of steam. The Devils pushed the puck down ice to start the kill. Rantanen shot off the glass after an entry, and Nico Hischier had a pass across to Sharangovich broken up by Makar on the counterattack. Kuokkanen took away the puck on the forecheck on the following shift, and the Devils wasted more time before Hammond froze the puck on a non-shot with 40 seconds left to kill. Alex Newhook nearly scored in the final seconds, but he shot the puck off the post as he turned around in the slot.
The third line had an excellent shift with four and a half to play, with Janne Kuokkanen and Pavel Zacha displaying solid puck control with defenders on their backs as they kept the puck moving in the offensive zone. This resulted in a backhand centering pass from Kuokkanen to Zacha that was one-touched but saved by Francouz as Zacha was tripped up. Oh well. It looked like Francouz did a good job of getting his stick out at the pass. At the end of one, the Devils were tied with the Avalanche at zero.
The Devils would manage to give up a bad goal to start the scoring, as Darren Helm took a shot from the wall in the midst of a change - and P.K. Subban went to his knees as the rebound was kicked right past him. Logan O’Connor took the long rebound and ripped a shot through the Devils to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead. The shot deflected off of Ty Smith’s stick, as well.
The Avalanche continued to bring the attack to the Devils in the second period, and Andre Burakovsky expanded their lead nearly eight minutes in. Lehkonen circled the net as Hamilton gave chase and was picked off. Lehkonen passed it out to the slot, and Burakovsky went top shelf as the net tipped over. Due to the net coming down, the referees did a quick review and ruled that the goal was good. A video overhead showed that the net was definitely coming down before it went in, but I don’t care. That rule is stupid, and the goal should count - especially since Hamilton knocked it off.
The Devils were called for another delayed penalty with a bit over six minutes to play in the period. Michael McLeod was called for hooking Logan O’Connor. Pavel Zacha took to the kill with Nathan Bastian, won the draw, and the Devils cleared. Zacha tried to clear after a re-entry, but Makar knocked it down. Mikko Rantanen shot low on Hammond from the faceoff dot, perhaps expecting him to kick it right out to the other side - and Artturi Lehkonen buried it. 3-0.
At the end of two, the Devils trailed by three goals. After leading the first period in shots 13-12, the Devils gave up 14 shots to the Avalanche in the second while only getting five on goal themselves. In the process, they had a stunningly low xGF% of 15.44 (after 61.4 in the first period) in all situations. At even strength, they had an xGF% of 21.00 (after 69.27 in the first). It seems like one of the coaches got to their players in the first intermission.
The Devils finally drew a penalty, as Pavel Zacha had Cale Makar beat - and Makar had to take a holding penalty. Zacha joined the first wave of the power play, and Dougie Hamilton started the party off with a weak slap shot that was blocked wide. Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier accounted for most of the good puck movement around the zone, and Hischier set up a netfront chance for Bastian that was for naught. Hamilton then took another weak slapper that was blocked and sent out of the zone by O’Connor, and Nico Hischier had to race back to save his hide from Nico Sturm getting a breakaway.
Dawson Mercer was taken down by a backchecking Andrew Cogliano when Mercer was cutting into the slot a bit past eight minutes into the third. The Devils went back to the power play with the same personnel, and the Avalanche cleared off the draw this time. After getting the puck deep, the Avalanche cleared the puck again. Dougie Hamilton shot the puck off glass from the high slot after another re-entry. Nico Hischier got the puck to Bratt in the slot, but he shot off the glass as well. Zacha got the puck back to Hamilton a couple times, but the puck didn’t get to Francouz either time.
Kevin Bahl had to defend a two-on-one and did so successfully, going to his knees and taking up space, allowing Hammond to make a pad save off a tight shot after the puck deflected off him. On the play, Nathan Mackinnon dove for the puck and cut Ryan Graves’ face with his skate. Pavel Zacha then had a one-on-one rush chance kicked out by Francouz. The Avalanche went the other way again, but Nico Hischier took it back cut down the middle and just had the puck stripped off before he could shoot. However, Pavel Zacha got on it and backhanded a pass across to Bratt, who scored on a one-timer right in front of Francouz! 3-1, with eight minutes to play.
Bratt's 24th gets us within two. pic.twitter.com/7Sr3xnYQX5— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 15, 2022
The Avalanche appeared to score with a minute and a half to play - and the strobes came on - but the referee waved no goal for the puck hitting the post. Hammond promptly left the ice, and the Devils finally got chance at six-on-five with Bastian turning and shooting in front. Francouz froze the puck, and the Devils called timeout to get their power play unit on the ice, plus Severson.
Nico Hischier lost the draw, and Manson lifted the puck for a cherry-picking Valeri Nichushkin. Pavel Zacha contested the play, but the linesman called offside and sent the play to center ice. The Avalanche won the draw again, and Hamilton got the puck out of the zone twice. Nico dropped the puck for Bratt in the zone, and Bratt shot wide from the slot. Time expired with the score 3-1 in favor of the Avalanche, with the puck being sent down by Mackinnon into the empty net about a second too late (not that he shot it unnecessarily, but it didn’t have much juice on it and reached the net rather slowly). The Devils had a decent enough third period, but the second period collapse really killed them.
The Opposition Opinion: Head on over to Mile High Hockey.
Beginning? Check. Ending? Check. Middle? Well...
As I said at the end of the second period, the Devils started off this game extremely well. In fact, Natural Stat Trick had them dominating the scoring chance and expected goals battle through one period. On a better coached team, you might expect them to break through in the second, pot a couple goals that they could have had in the first, and so on. However, other teams seem to get more of a jolt from their coaches during intermission, leading to the Devils regularly coughing up games that they start and finish - on paper - extremely well.
"You can't just have a 20-30 minute good game against this kind of team."— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 15, 2022
More Bratt: https://t.co/xG9Cb8LGXX
: Coach Ruff: https://t.co/VEqV3mjuBV#NJDevils | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/LqNq2SzWsP
Alain Nasreddine was the only coach who the MSG cameras showed actually trying to correct his players’ mistakes. He did so regarding Ty Smith’s deflection own goal to give the Avalanche the initial lead in the game. It would be nice to see Mark Recchi lean down and tell his guys where to make better plays in the offensive zone - especially coming off of occasionally horrific power plays. It would be nice to see Lindy Ruff lean over every once in awhile and talk to his players. Instead, we just see the look of passively accepted defeat on his face. Maybe he says something to them off the ice - I don’t know. But it is not a good sign when this was one of the only times I can recall a coach visibly trying to teach a player how to correct a mistake. Maybe we need more of that.
The Devils really collapsed in that second period. At one point, Steve Cangialosi noted that the Devils took the first shot of the middle frame, followed by at 10 unanswered Colorado shots. That is simply unacceptable. Despite their awful, awful second period, the Devils finished with a 50.31 xGF% at even strength and a 46.2 xGF% in all situations. Andrew Hammond gave up his three goals on 28 shots (.893) and an expected goals against of 2.36 - so he was a little bit below average tonight. At even strength, he gave up two goals on 25 shots (.920) with an expected goals against of 1.77.
What Worked, What Didn’t
I noticed a lot of stretch passes in the second period that got picked off. It’s almost like they became predictable. P.K. Subban got burned here in the second period when the Devils gave up the first goal of the game. Looking at the play below, notice how much time and space the Devils defensemen have - and how quickly the Avalanche counter the failed stretch pass. Helm promptly took his shot from the wall, and the rest was history.
Nico Hischier had a bit of a mixed game tonight. His line struggled when he was with Yegor Sharangovich and Fabian Zetterlund, with just a 25.00 CF% in 8:07. They got outshot 2-8 and were on the ice for a goal against in the second period before Lindy Ruff broke them up. The Avalanche were all over them, and I think Nico probably drew an uncalled penalty or two - but that’s going to happen with how he tries to will possession of the puck.
I have not been a fan of Dawson Mercer’s return to center, in general. I understand it is necessary with Jack Hughes out of the lineup, but it can be painful to watch. I think Tomas Tatar simply plays too differently from a stylistic standpoint, and the result is not enough offense. Tatar-Mercer-Bratt only had two shots in 7:55 and gave up a goal. Mercer and Tatar played a bit over four minutes without Bratt and only totaled one more shot. Dawson Mercer had 0.06 ixG on one shot tonight. The most notable play involving Mercer tonight was when Nathan Mackinnon caught him unprepared and absolutely rocked him when they were skating for the puck.
Janne Kuokkanen, Jesper Boqvist, and Pavel Zacha were the most consistently good forwards tonight. As a line, they had a 61.54 CF% and 67.19 xGF%, leading all lines in xGF with 0.55 in just 3:43 together. When Boqvist and Kuokkanen played with Sharangovich, they had an 85.71 CF% and outshot the Avalanche 3-0 with a 50.73 xGF%. Just check out this puck movement between Kuokkanen and Zacha leading up to that centering chance that Francouz appeared to break up just in time - I don’t want to hear people saying that these players are incapable of handling physicality. Would I like to see them rock a guy more often? Yeah. But in the offensive zone, this is definitely not a problem. Before this bit below, Kuokkanen fought off a defender to establish zone control down low. After the shot from Smith, Boqvist poked the rebound to Kuokkanen - and Kuokkanen created the chance for Zacha. This is what you want to see from your third line.
Unfortunately, the Devils need to finish better. Both teams hit a couple posts tonight, but missed shots from the Devils’ top players really hurt them throughout the game until Bratt connected on their lone goal. Even if Hammond played his best game tonight, it may not have been enough - and you can’t fault him on the first goal, which should have gone wide if not for Smith’s stick. But the Devils really fell apart after that, so who knows? I think they could have won if the coaches kept their heads in it, though. There seems to be little consistency in effort and structure from this team, and it’s just tiring.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about the second period? What about Hammond’s performance? How did you think the skaters performed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.