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Blackwood Returns, but Devils Lose to Senators 5-4 in OT

Mackenzie Blackwood, making his first start since January 19th, was a mixed bag in his return as Drake Batherson beat him in overtime to lift the Sens over the Devils

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Ottawa Senators
Drake Batherson was the hero tonight for the Sens
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Game Recap

The shorthanded New Jersey Devils got things started against the Ottawa Senators winning the opening draw. They chipped the puck in, but the Sens got a quick clear and Thomas Chabot flipped a soft shot towards the returning Mackenzie Blackwood that he easily gloved. The Devils came right back with a Yegor Sharangovich sharp angle shot that Anton Forsberg stopped and a couple Ryan Graves shot attempts that got blocked in front. Ottawa returned the favor with a Dylan Gambrell shot from the point that Blackwood stopped. After Reilly Walsh turned the puck over in the defensive zone, the Sens chipped the puck in front for Parker Kelly but Blackwood was up to the task. The Devils came right back with Mason Geertsen (!!!) redirecting a Severson pass towards Forsberg but nothing going for the Devils. Ottawa came back with some offensive zone pressure with Blackwood making a right pad stop on Artem Zub.

The teams spent the next few minutes going back and forth in the neutral zone before a stoppage for a hand pass. Fabian Zetterlund sent a pass in front for Nolan Foote that Forsberg denied. Jesper Bratt gained the zone and made a nifty move but missed the net. The Sens came back with Tim Stutzle gaining the zone and beating his defender but Blackwood denied him. The Devils got hemmed in in their end before Geertsen (!!!!) made a little spin move and found McLeod, whose shot was deflected out of play for a TV timeout.

Mercer made a nice stick play to strip Chabot in the offensive end. The Devils came right back feeding Mercer for a shot from the point that Forsberg stopped. The Boqvist line was up next with Kuokkanen and Boqvist crashing the net. After Ottawa had some time in the offensive zone, the Devils 4th liners caught the Sens in a 4-on-2 with McLeod feeding Bastian on the doorstep, but the Sens cleared the crease. Artem Zub got called for a high stick on Ty Smith to give the Devils a chance on the power play with 5:20 left in the period.

Ottawa got a quick clear but the Devils regained the zone with a Hamilton shot from the point being blocked in front and a Sens clear. The rest of the power play was mostly uneventful until a long distance shot from Ty Smith was redirected off of the post and cleared away, as it was just out of the reach of a tap-in by Sharangovich.

After the Devils got away with a too many men penalty, the refs caught Janne Kuokkanen with a hook with 46.7 seconds remaining in the period. The Sens worked the puck down low thanks to some miscommunication with led to Ryan Graves being out of position. Brady Tkachuk found Thomas Chabot with the one-touch pass to make it 1-0 Ottawa, which was also the score after 20 minutes of play. Rough break for a Devils team that otherwise was fine in the period, as they played with more energy and urgency than they did in the Detroit game.

The Sens took control off the second period opening faceoff and wasted no time adding to their lead as Brady Tkachuk got position on Damon Severson on a loose puck behind the crease. Tkachuk found Drake Batherson in front to make it 2-0 Ottawa.

The Devils were quiet over the next few minutes until a feed in front for McLeod was blocked away. The Sens set up Batherson in the high slot for a blast that was off the mark and Blackwood made a nice stop on a chance in front by Alex Formenton on a partial breakaway. Forsberg denied Dougie Hamilton on the other end as we went to the first TV timeout of the period.

The Devils took control off of the offensive zone draw with Graves’s shot attempt blocked out of the offensive zone. Jesper Bratt came right back with a drop pass for Sharangovich that he couldn’t get a clean shot off on. After a stoppage for a high stick, Bahl sent a shot towards the net that trickled in front for Zetterlund. Forsberg did a nice job getting over to deny him. The Devils came right back on the next shift with Zetterlund carrying it into the zone and finding Nolan Foote on a royal road pass, who roofed it to cut the deficit in half.

The Devils kept the pressure on with their fourth line as Bastian found Mason Geertsen (!!!!!!) on the doorstep, but Forsberg made the stop.

Ottawa tilted the ice over the next minute or so with the Tkachuk line but Blackwood stopped the Chabot shot for a whistle. The Devils fourth liners eventually got a clear but McLeod couldn’t connect with Geertsen. Foote worked a puck along the boards for Zacha but the Sens backcheck was strong. The Devils got their makeshift top line of Sharangovich-Mercer-Bratt on, but just missed connecting with Bratt for an easy tap-in to tie the game.

Severson supposedly caught someone (Norris?) with a high stick (the MSG cameras didn’t catch the penalty, but Norris winced like he got hit by a high stick). Either way, Ottawa was going back on the power play. Blackwood made a good save in tight on Tkachuk, but left a big rebound for Tim Stutzle with space on the short side to make it 3-1 Senators.

Severson had a chance in the final minute of the period but Forsberg made the initial stop and denied the rebound as well. Zacha found Zetterlund for a one-timer that Forsberg stopped. The Devils persistence in the final minute paid off though with Zacha winning the ensuing faceoff. After Ty Smith worked the puck along the boards, Zacha backhanded one towards the net and Foote was there on the doorstep to clean it up for his second of the night. 3-2 Sens going into the second intermission.

The Devils controlled things off of the opening draw in the third period, with Forsberg steering a Bratt shot aside and Sharangovich not quite fooling Forsberg by taking a little something off of his shot after regaining the zone. The Sens came back with some offensive zone time but Foote broke up a pass from Formenton. Sharangovich fed Mercer for a shot that was deflected away and Bratt had a wraparound attempt that was denied. Erik Brannstrom sent a long distance shot that Blackwood saved. Ottawa continued to pressure Blackwood with the netminder denying Kelly and Watson missing the net. The Devils came back with Zacha connecting with Zetterlund on a cross-ice pass and Forsberg making the stop. Scott Sabourin took exception to a a hit along the boards and went to the box for cross checking.

The Devils had a rough time early in the man advantage gaining the zone and getting established. Boqvist eventually gained the zone but Watson collected the puck near the boards and cleared. Yegor Sharangovich made a brutal pass to spring Tim Stutzle for a breakaway chance the other way. Stutzle beat Blackwood for his second of the night to make it 4-2 Ottawa, surrendering their 14th short-handed goal on the season in the process. Ottawa killed off the remainder of the Devils power play.

The Devils got back within one after nearly falling even further behind as Damon Severson made a nice play to strip Tkachuk on a partial breakaway and Sabourin missed the net. They came right back with Jesper Bratt connecting with Zacha on the seeing-eye shot to make it 4-3 Sens.

The Devils tied the game after the commercial break as Damon Severson did a good job keeping the puck in the offensive zone and fed Sharangovich down low, who beat Forsberg five-hole.

The Foote-Zacha-Zetterlund continued their strong run of play setting up Ty Smith for a shot on goal and Forsberg also stopped Hamilton from the point as well. The Sens came right back with a point-blank chance for Gambrell that Blackwood probably made his best stop of the night on. The Devils and Sens each traded shots off of the post before the Devils got a couple more chances against Forsberg. Blackwood made another big stop on a partial breakaway chance by Gambrell thanks to an errant pass by Zacha.

The Devils probably got away with a boarding call in the closing minutes, much to the chagrin of the Sens fans in attendance. Sharangovich sent a shot towards the net that deflected out of play with 1:40 to go in regulation. The Sens came back sending a puck in front for Gambrell that Blackwood covered up. The Devils iced the puck with 1:02 to go. Mercer supposedly cross-checked Norris along the boards (he didn’t, Norris lost an edge cutting back and Mercer happened to be right there) with 53.2 to go for another Ottawa power play. The Devils got an important clear and Severson got a second critical clear to send the game to overtime.

The Sens started overtime with 1:06 in carryover penalty time. Zacha won the opening draw and punched the puck in deep to kill more time and Graves got a big clear. The Sens came back with a partial 2-on-1 but Graves made a big play laying out to deny the opportunity. McLeod intercepted a pass as time expired for one final clear and the Devils got through the penalty. Boqvist lost the ensuing faceoff and the Sens got reset with Formenton trying to feed Gaudette. The Devils took control of the loose puck but lost it along the boards, leading to a few shots by the Sens. Stutzle found Batherson entering the zone. Batherson made a nice toe-drag move to beat Ty Smith, and slipped it past Blackwood to win the game for the Senators. 5-4 Sens win.

Highlights

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Visit Silver Seven Sens if you want to read the Ottawa perspective of this game.

Things I Liked

  • Credit to the Foote-Zacha-Zetterlund line, who clearly was the Devils most dangerous line this evening. Aside from leading the Devils in xGF at .96 and HDCF, Foote and Zacha combined for the Devils first three goals.
  • The Devils fourth line brought noticeable energy and even set up.....(checks notes).....Mason Geertsen (!!!!!!!!!!) for a couple scoring chances! Seriously! I’m just as surprised as you are by these developments.
  • Reilly Walsh looked mostly fine in his NHL debut, although he had a couple instances where he was a little careless with the puck and was fortunate it didn’t cost him. Chalk it up to first game jitters, I suppose, but he did pick up his first NHL point on the first Foote goal.

Mixed Bag for Blackwood

If I had to sum up Mackenzie Blackwood’s first NHL game in three plus months in one sentence, I would say it looked a lot like most of his performances leading up to his shutdown.

Blackwood acknowledged in his postgame press conference that he hadn’t practiced a lot in the lead up to his return, but insisted his heel feels good. That’s the most important thing, first and foremost. Hopefully, he continues to feel good in the lead up to and through the season finale against Detroit later this week.

I have to take Blackwood at his word that he feels good, especially with his lateral movement, pushoffs, rebound control and all the stuff he needs to be on top of. I did not think he looked particularly good on the first Stutzle goal between the big rebound and his recovery to get in position. Needless to say, he got burned there. I think Blackwood would like the Batherson game-winning goal back as well as the young Sens forward kind of slipped it under his pads after he juked Ty Smith out of his skates. That said, Blackwood also didn’t a lot of help from his teammates as he got hung out to dry on special teams.

There was some good here though with his performance. Lindy Ruff said in his postgame comments that “He (Blackwood) gave us a chance to come back.” And that is true. Blackwood made some big saves at points throughout this game. His saves on Kelly and Gambrell in particular in the third period shouldn’t just be dismissed or ignored.

Your mileage may vary in terms of what you were hoping to see from Blackwood in his return. I don’t think anyone can come away from tonight or the Detroit game on Friday definitively saying he’s back. 29 saves on 34 shots isn’t good enough. But if all you wanted for Blackwood was for him to make it through the game healthy, then mission accomplished, I suppose. Either way, the Devils still need to address the position this offseason, and I don’t think there was anything Blackwood could’ve done tonight to change any opinions there.

Can We Learn About Guys or Not?

I get that the win-loss results are what they are at this point, but with so many young players up from Utica and the team in evaluation mode, can we at least attempt to put guys in positions they’re not used to being in at this level and seeing how they respond?

Case in point, Kevin Bahl and Reilly Walsh didn’t play after the 3:24 to go mark of the third period tonight. I get it. They’re two rookie defensemen, one of them making their NHL debut. And I get the Devils had to kill a penalty to close out regulation and start overtime.

I’ve seen enough of Ty Smith this year to know he’s not good defensively. I’ve seen him get burned before in 3-on-3 overtime. It doesn’t take a genius watching to know that any forward with a modicum of puck-handling ability can and likely will make Smith look ridiculous, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Do things go differently if Ruff trusts Bahl enough to play him at any point in the overtime?

I understand that the default “200 Hockey Men” mindset is that rookies will make mistakes and need to be stapled to the bench, but at Game 80 of a lost season, what do you have to lose experimenting with what you have. You don’t need to look any further than Nolan Foote as a perfect example of this. Foote got one shift in the third period of the loss against the Red Wings on Sunday. That was a game they basically trailed throughout and the Devils only dressed 11 forwards to begin with due to the bug going around the team. Tonight, he scored twice and was part of arguably the best Devils line.

It’s just more questionable coaching by a coaching staff that looks overmatched, which brings me to this.....

Special Teams Sinks Devils Again, but are Changes Finally Coming?

The Devils penalty kill has continued their recent struggles, surrendering two more PPGs in three opportunities. They’re killing penalties at a 75.4% rate since March 1 (26th in the league) and have been trending in the wrong direction for awhile now after stabilizing things in the middle of the season. The Devils power play was 0-2 tonight, barely threatening to score and extending their league lead in short-handed goals allowed to 14. None of this is new or surprising if you’ve been following this team throughout the year, and even dating back to last year.

There may finally be some changes coming though, per a report from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

I would hope that with the Devils on pace for a win-loss record on par with the early 1980s teams, with more abysmal performances on special teams, and the team staring down the very real possibility of winning just 5 of their final 23 games, that they might be considering some changes. Quite frankly, I’d be concerned if they weren’t.

Let me be clear. Lindy Ruff needs to go. Alain Nasreddine, Mark Recchi, and Dave Rogalski needed to go last year and need to go now. Tom Fitzgerald, if he’s thinking about keeping any of these guys, needs to go. The fact that noted Devils fan and the closest thing we have to a Devils insider in Greg Wyshynski only puts it at 50/50, frankly, is disappointing. Even if Tom Fitzgerald has a perfect offseason, its tough to see the Devils not continue to make the same bone-headed mistakes they’re accustomed to making with this system they run, or not continue to have a bad power play or overload defenders. And that’s if they nail the offseason, which they probably won’t. I don’t know where they’re finding league average goaltending, and I’m not sure they can contend without Shesterkin-level goaltending. While part of that is a roster issue, a bigger part of it is the coaching issue.

Let’s not throw away next season before it even begins by keeping a failed coaching staff aboard. If it really is 50/50, admit the mistake, rip the band-aid off, cut your losses, and move on. I’d even be ok if they want to frame it as a retirement a la Dave Gettleman and spin it as a success that Jack Hughes developed (although I’d argue that he was always going to figure it out whether Lindy Ruff or John Fischer was the head coach). Any way you want to slice it, the time has come for this team to take the next step and try to contend. It’s not gonna happen with this staff.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of the loss today? What did you think about Blackwood’s return? What stood out to you, positively or negatively? Please feel free to leave a comment on tonight’s game and thanks for reading!