An early pass from Kevin Bahl to Michael McLeod along the wall was intercepted at the blueline of the Devils’ defensive zone, forcing Andrew Hammond make a save on Rasmus Asplund all alone in front. The Buffalo Sabres looked like they were going to take a lead there, but Hammond stayed cool and used is blocker.
After Fabian Zetterlund was kicked out of a defensive zone draw, Pavel Zacha won it back and put on a beautiful passing display on the rush with Janne Kuokkanen, resulting in a one-timer chance for Zetterlund that was smothered up high by Craig Andersen.
Later, on a Sabres rush, Casey Mittelstadt beat Ryan Graves and Jesper Boqvist with a pass through the slot to Alex Tuch, who rang a shot off the iron. Graves played the rush too low despite the Devils outnumbering the Sabres 4-2, and his stick was thus not a factor in deterring Mittelstadt from making a pass, as he was more in position to block a poor-angle shot. Nonetheless, the Devils survived the play.
Nikita Okhotiuk nearly scored after Pavel Zacha threw his weight back to protect the puck in the corner, freeing up a passing play with Kuokkanen that seemed to skip past Kuokkanen’s stick in the slot and to Okhotiuk at the top of the zone. Okhotiuk blasted a shot from up high that went just wide and rebounded off the boards to Kuokkanen, who could not get a shot on it. Defending the counterattack, Tomas Tatar blocked a shot in the high slot to Fabian Zetterlund, who had his pass broken up on a two-on-one by Henri Jokiharju.
I thought P.K. Subban turned a puck over to the slot as he skated it out from behind the net with under four minutes left in the first, but the play was blown dead as the Sabres were about to get a shot off - the Devils were getting a power play. Kyle Okposo went to the box for hooking Subban.
The Devils nearly completed a tic-tac-toe passing play around the zone to get Jesper Bratt a goal, but he shot his backhand off the pipe and whiffed on the rebound as he had Andersen completely beat. Bratt then shot the puck wide of the net off a rebound from a Nico Hischier one-timer. The penalty expired without a goal, but they definitely should have had one. At even strength, Nikita Okhotiuk found Bratt to the side of the net with the whole goal to shoot at, but Bratt lost the handle and turned the puck over trying to pass back across.
Dawson Mercer had the first chance for the New Jersey Devils in the second, as he was alone to the side of Andersen, redirecting a pass from Jesper Boqvist behind the net right into the glove just past the first minute mark. Zacha later had a wrist shot from the circle gloved by Andersen.
After Nico Hischier squeezed down the wall on a rush, he passed off to Jesper Bratt, who made a tight passing play around the net to Yegor Sharangovich, who fired wide of the net. Sharangovich was right on top of Andersen and should have gotten it at least on net.
After Nathan Bastian dumped into the offensive zone following a nice defensive play by Ryan graves on Owen Power at the other end, Bastian appeared to injure his hand or wrist while throwing a check on Casey Fitzgerald behind the net. A minute later, Rasmus Dahlin lost the handle on a loose puck and clipped Andreas Johnsson to prevent him from having a break on Andersen. The Devils went to the power play. Dougie Hamilton knocked the stick out of Samuelsson’s hands, and the Devils lost their power play without a shot. Toward the end of the four-on-four, Ryan Graves drew a hook from Casey Mittelstadt before being completely tripped while trying to skate the puck away in the defensive zone. Mittelstadt only got called for one minor penalty, though.
The Devils went back to four-on-four for about half a minute right after the draw due to the time on the first penalty to Dahlin expiring. Nico Hischier passed to Damon Severson behind the net, who skated up the ice and passed back to Hischier for a weak angle rush shot. Kyle Okposo shot from center ice and beat Andrew Hammond. 1-0, Sabres. It appeared that Tatar deflected the puck down at the blueline, so good job to him I guess.
Right after the goal, Zacha lost the puck in the offensive zone, and he and Dougie Hamilton skated back behind a breakaway. Hammond saved the initial shot by Victor Olofsson but forgot to try and stop the rebound, as he did not even react to the goal by Alex Tuch. 2-0, Sabres.
After this goal, Yegor Sharangovich lost the puck and Damon Severson took a hooking penalty as Dylan Cozens had a breakaway on Hammond. The Devils managed to kill that penalty after Hammond made a sav. As Severson came out of the box when his penalty expired, Jokiharju took a slashing call as Severson tried a backhand move off a stretch pass from McLeod. Andersen just got the stick out to stop the shot.
Dawson Mercer then scored an own goal as he went down to one knee to stop a broken-stick slap shot by Dahlin, and deflected the weak shot past Hammond. 3-0, Sabres. Regardless of the deflection, Hammond should have had the shot - just like the first two he should have had.
Jesper Boqvist got the Devils back one goal with just seven seconds left in the period, as Mcihael McLeod cut around on the rush and centered the puck with Boqvist and Bastian cutting. Boqvist furiously whacked away until he got it past Andersen to make it a 3-1 game going into intermission.
Jesp when we needed him the most. Boqvy to the rescue. pic.twitter.com/ctsaD2K0K8— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 22, 2022
Dawson Mercer set up Tomas Tatar a couple minutes in on a three-on-two rush, but Tatar rang it off the post. Mercer got the puck back in the corner and sent the puck out for a one-timer by Michael McLeod that went over the crossbar.
Nikita Okhotiuk made it a one-goal game after Pavel Zacha set up a Janne Kuokkanen shot from a wide angle, which rebounded to Okhotiuk at the far circle for his first NHL goal! 3-2 - and Cangialosi noted on the MSG broadcast that it was Okhotiuk’s sixth shot attempt of the game.
First game ✔️— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 22, 2022
First goal ✔️
Andreas Johnsson should have scored about two and a half minutes later. Craig Andersen came out to play the puck and let the Sabres split off. Andersen passed right to Johnsson, who ran himself into trouble rather than take a shot. Andersen had a long distance to cover, so it was an incredible display of nonaggression from Johnsson.
Pavel Zacha took the puck from Dahlin in the neutral zone and cut into the faceoff circle, shooting off Andersen’s pad. It rebounded right past Kuokkanen. On the other end, Jeff Skinner fell down as he circled away from Subban. He knocked it to Owen Power, who whipped the puck low through Hammond’s wide open five hole. 4-2, Sabres. Owen Power got his first goal of his career.
The Devils should have had a third goal a couple times over the next several minutes. Nico Hischier missed a wide open Jesper Bratt with a bad, too hard pass for a tap-in. Dawson Mercer had a shot saved by a sprawling Andersen with five minutes left, and Boqvist barely shot the rebound wide before it was covered.
After Andreas Johnsson took too long to make a pass from behind the net, leading to a turnover in the offensive zone, the Devils overcommitted on the puck carrier in all three zones, and Jeff Skinner scored a redirection goal. 5-2, Sabres.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Die By The Blade.
Let me preface this first section with a highlight of the second goal allowed tonight.
Back-to-back shorthanded goals for the Sabres.— The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) April 22, 2022
Alex Tuch gives them a 2-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/3ber1dH444
I wish we still had Nate Schnarr.
Nikita Okhotiuk made his debut for the New Jerey Devils tonight. As a second round pick who has had plenty of time to develop under Kevin Dineen, it was nice to see the game he brought tonight. It would have been nice to see a guy like Nate Schnarr make his debut tonight. As you might have noticed, Andreas Johnsson was on the fourth line again tonight. While Johnsson is not performing poorly there - he shows more skill than most guys around him - he does not have the physicality to play that type of role. Nate Schnarr would have been a fabulous fourth line candidate. Well over six feet, right handed shot with some scoring touch? I’d take a chance on that, gladly.
Beyond the fact that Schnarr was an acquisition from the Taylor Hall trade and has progressed from 0.38 points per game in his first 21 game stint with Binghamton to .45 in his second season (33 games) before improving to 0.6 PPG in Utica under Dineen, Schnarr was eventually traded for Andrew Hammond. Schnarr just turned 23 at the end of February and should have been making an NHL debut right about now for a team that is well out of the playoff race. Instead, Fitzgerald traded him for Andrew Hammond. What is the difference between Hammond and a guy like Jon Gillies? At this point, there must be none.
It was dreadful to watch Andrew Hammond throughout this game. He can barely move around the crease, and seemed to be almost forcing himself through movements in the third period. Hammond makes later-years Cory Schneider look like a Vezina candidate. Hammond gave up five goals on 28 shots, and an expected goals against of 2.37. With 2.63 goals allowed above expected, you can chalk this loss up to another bad goalie performance. We could have been watching Schnarr trying to score his first NHL goal right now, but instead we’re evaluating whether an oft-injured 34 year old journeyman can be the answer to the Devils’ search for a third or fourth-string goaltender.
Okhotiuk’s NHL Debut, in Review
With that out of the way, let’s get to one of the only constantly good players tonight in Nikita Okhotiuk. He was one of four Devils to not be on the ice for a goal against at even strength, along with Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Ryan Graves. He had the fourth highest CF% with a 73.91 in 15:49, which ranked first among Devils defensemen. His 84.22 xGF% was second only to Fabian Zetterlund. Mind you, Okhotiuk was paired with P.K. Subban tonight, who has been rough down the stretch - and the line they played against most was Mittelstadt-Krebs-Tuch, who they dominated in five-plus minutes.
Okhotiuk was credited for seven shot attempts, four of which were on net, and three of which were listed as scoring chances. He was also credited for two hits and never seemed to be out of position defensively. I went into tonight hoping he could play a game like Jonas Siegenthaler, using his speed to cut down the gaps - but he was very noticeable on the offensive end. I hope I get to see him at least a couple more nights before he gets sent back for the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Checking in on the Power Play
After going 0 for 4 on the power play tonight with two shorthanded goals against, the Devils are 0 for their last 29 power play opportunities. In their last 19 games, the Devils are three for 53 on the power play with five shorthanded goals against. That’s 5.66% effective over nearly a quarter of a season. I like to factor out the shorthanded goals, so that’s like a -3.77% power play in true effectiveness. Anyone want to defend Mark Recchi in the comments tonight? I’ll offer that the goaltending on those chances were atrocious, but two things can be true at once - the Devils had a 49.39 xGF% in the second period on the power play. I would imagine the abbreviated power play that resulted in two shorthanded goals was even lower than that, though. Fire Recchi.
Some Scoring Trends to Keep Track Of
Michael McLeod got an assist on the goal by Boqvist tonight. That’s four points in three games - and he has been noticeably better since being scratched. This gave McLeod his 20th point of the season in his 72nd game. He’s going to need to keep this streak up to close out the year to improve his scoring pace from last season, though. And with an assist on the Okhotiuk goal, Janne Kuokkanen is up to six points in 10 games since returning from a wrist injury. Kuokkanen’s line with Zacha and Zetterlund performed rather well tonight, with an 82.35 CF%, allowing just three shot attempts against in 8:42 together (one of which, of course, beat Hammond) as they had a team-leading 79.98 xGF% together (the next highest was Johnsson-McLeod-Bastian at 45.77). Kuokkanen probably could have had another goal tonight off a Zacha rebound, or an assist if Zacha finished one of his shooting chances, aside from the one that preceded the Okhotiuk goal (Zacha was at the netfront and was denied by Andersen before the puck came was pushed up high).
Nico Hischier is also now pointless in his last three games. I’m not saying this to rag on him or anything, but if he wanted to get to the 65-point mark, this and his last two games made that a lot more difficult. He probably should have had an assist on one of a couple plays - whether it be Sharangovich or Bratt who flubbed a chance on Andersen, or when Nico missed a wide open Bratt when they could have had a tap-in. Hischier stands at 58 points in 68 games with five left to play. 60 points for Nico will be great to see, but I would have been ecstatic to see him get to 65 despite the injuries last year and early in this season. As this season closes out, it grows ever more clear that he is part of the solution to this team - and I hope for a strong finish from him.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Are there any thoughts left to be had? Leave them in the comments below.
And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.