The Swedish line of Bratt, Boqvist, and Holtz started the game for the New Jersey Devils, with Jesper Bratt ripping a shot from up high to cause the first stoppage on a glove save by Antti Raanta. The Devils then played defense for a few minutes, with Nikita Okhotiuk making some good pass blocks on his shift. The Devils finally got another shot when Jesper Bratt and Dougie Hamilton had a two-on-one where Hamilton failed to lift the shot and just sent it into Raanta’s pad.
Following a non-call on a trip on Damon Severson in the corner, Andrew Hammond gave up a weak first goal, as Ethan Bear shot from the blue line and Hammond skated out of the crease as he weakly tried to blocker it away as it deflected off of Boqvist and in. Better positioning would have kept the game tied. Hammond then let in another terrible goal as Ian Cole as a puck deflected off of Hamilton, while Hammond skated himself out of position again. 2-0, Hurricanes.
Hammond is terrible at keeping his line. He's drifting beyond the post all the time.— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) April 28, 2022
If the puck or player does /anything/ unexpected, he's out of position.
Ty Smith then made, quite possibly, the worst play of the season as he was preparing to breakout from behind the net and passed right to Martin Necas, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi received a pass on an immediate two-on-none and scored as Ty scrambled back to the front of the net. 3-0.
Fabian Zetterlund then picked the top shelf on a nice shot off a great setup by Pavel Zacha. It was a rush play, and Zacha backed off the defense with his size and created space for Zetterlund to slide into the slot and shoot. 3-1. It was an amazing shot, and Jesper Boqvist almost made it one goal closer as he got the blocker on a two-on-one with Bratt.
Snipe City. Population: Fabian. pic.twitter.com/7gKHIV0ibD— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 28, 2022
After one period, the Devils matched the Canes on shots with 11 for each side, though the Devils only had a 34.76 xGF%. The Zacha line was the only one that did well defensively, only allowing 0.01 xGA in their 4:21 as a line, while the rest of the Devils allowed 1.4 xGA.
The opening minutes of the second were not quite as eventful as the middle of the first when those goals came in bunches. A bit under four minutes in, the Devils took a penalty for slashing as Kevin Bahl was battling in front of the net. I hate those weak slashing calls.
Tony DeAngelo shot the puck from the point off Vincent Trocheck to start the kill, and Janne Kuokkanen was able to clear. After the Hurricanes re-entered the offensive zone, DeAngelo got another shot attempt from the point - this time on goal - and Hammond made the save. The Devils cleared quickly after the following draw, and Pavel Zacha applied pressure on the forecheck. At the end of his shift, Zacha intercepted the puck in the slot and lifted it lightly out of the zone to complete the kill. As Kevin Bahl left the box, the Hurricanes were called for too many men on the ice.
Holtz, Bastian, Boqvist, Bratt, and Hamilton went to the power play. Hamilton collected the puck off an early clear. Bratt was denied at the blueline, and Hamilton had to circle back to fire in - but the Canes took it back and Trocheck got a shot off on the rush, saved by Hammond. The Devils got no shots on the power play. Jesper Boqvist got in on the rush following the expiration of the two minutes, and his shot was blockered high over the net by Raanta.
Brett Pesce had a great chance in front, and his backhand was saved by a sprawling Hammond. Aho followed up with a shot from the slot, and it did not make it through to the net as either Zacha or Hammond blocked it. Soon after, Fabian Zetterlund was sprung on a breakaway by Jimmy Vesey and rang the shot off the iron.
With under six minutes to play, Yegor Sharangovich had a glorious chance to give the Devils another goal. He one-touched a shot on his strong side of a cross-ice pass, and Raanta came over to make a beautiful save.
With 2:33 to play, Teuvo Teravainen scored off of a faceoff draw, getting the top corner above the glove on Hammond. Hammond probably shouldn’t have been down in the butterfly before the shot was even ripped. 4-1, Canes.
With under a minute and a half to play, Pavel Zacha backhanded the puck from the corner right to Nolan Foote’s tape, but Foote fanned on the shot from the slot as he had a dangerous scoring chance. Foote later tried to center it for a Zetterlund deflection, but Raanta made the save.
The Canes started the scoring in the third period, as Damon Severson missed with a check on Seth Jarvis and Kevin Bahl failed to cover the pass to the front of the net, leading to Hammond’s fifth goal against in the game. 5-1. I cannot fault Hammond on this one.
Canes not even playing their best players, and they're up 5-1. Ruff is cooked— Alex Chauvancy (@AlexC_THW) April 29, 2022
A couple minutes later, Nathan Bastian took a two minute penalty for slashing. The Hurricanes swung the puck quickly around the zone, finally shooting in the second minute as Necas had a shot gloved by Hammond. After the penalty expired, Brady Skjei deflected a puck from the wall off of Okhotiuk and in. 6-1, on a goal that Hammond should have had the side of the net sealed off on.
Jon Gillies came in after that. He made a couple saves early on, not putting himself out of position as he got warmed up to game speed. Ty Smith had a beautiful rush redirection that was smothered by Raanta with under 10 minutes in the game to play.
The Devils finally got another goal with under six minutes to play, as Pavel Zacha led the rush into the zone with speed, dropping it back to Nolan Foote, who laid a beautiful pass for Jesper Bratt to one-time a shot above a diving Raanta. 6-2.
NHL Video Highlight - Jesper Bratt scores against the Carolina Hurricanes to make it 6-2. pic.twitter.com/MX0Pq03mNF— NJDevils Game Bot (@NJDevilsGameBot) April 29, 2022
Jimmy Vesey(!) finally, in his return, got a goal I have felt he’s deserved to have been scoring all season. He toe dragged into a wrist shot and followed up with a backhanded shot that chipped over Raanta. 6-3, with just over four minutes to play. The Devils then went to the power play for a delay of game with three and a half to play.
The power play sucked in the first minute. They probably would have been better off declining it. Fabian Zetterlund got a one-timer through with half a minute left in the two minutes, but that was pretty much it. The referees decided a penalty was worth calling with 35 seconds to play, as the Devils had too many men on the ice. The Devils cleared off the draw, and the Hurricanes came back into the zone for a wide shot before time expired.
The Opposition Opinion: Here you go - Canes Country.
Lindy Ruff...And Fire Recchi (as Always)
The Carolina Hurricanes rested a couple of their players tonight, including Evgeni Svechnikov and Jaccob Slavin. You might think that evened the playing field for the New Jersey Devils, who are playing without their top centers in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. It did not really do much. At five-on-five, the Devils matched the Hurricanes in shots, 29 to 29 - but hemorrhaged chances around the goal crease at times. Andrew Hammond made things worse by trying to save shots that may have been going wide by positioning his chest around the posts, ceding the middle of the net to two deflections. Bad goaltending is one thing, but Jon Gillies is, to his credit, 1-0-1 against the Hurricanes this season - and should have been 2-0. You might think that the head coach would see that and give him another start. But Lindy Ruff does not always make the best decisions for who goes in goal.
Tom Fitzgerald has been seemingly well-liked by #NJDevils fans during his GM tenure, myself included.— Jeff O'Connor (@JeffOConnor) April 29, 2022
If Lindy Ruff is not relieved of his duties by next week, I'll have strong doubts about whether or not Fitz can lead this team to success.
Not every goaltender is Dominik Hasek or Ryan Miller. If Lindy Ruff wants to continue his NHL coaching career, he may have to hope that another team is generous enough to give him a chance. Andrew Hammond did him no favors tonight, but Ruff dug his own grave. His players give inconsistent efforts - and look no further than Damon Severson in the third period for that - and check out of games when the power play goes awry. Which leads me to:
Fire. Mark. Recchi. The New Jersey Devils had two power plays tonight. They got one shot. The Hurricanes, by comparison, had five shots in two full power plays plus the 30 seconds at the end of the game. The Hurricanes had 0.39 xGF on their power plays, with 0 xGA. The Devils had 0.11 xGF, with 0.2 xGA. It is not just that this team occasionally cedes a shorthanded goal: they play worse with a man advantage than they do at even strength. If that is not enough of an indication that your power play coach needs to be canned, I do not know what else to say except the Devils ticket reps should expect fewer and fewer people to want to go to games with this coaching staff. I cannot imagine trying to convince people to buy tickets for this team right now. Maybe if the “marketing department” can get us Luke Hughes, the ticket sales department can get us a new coaching staff. I mean, I thought the Devils could have made this a 6-4 game and pulled Gillies for a few minutes if that power play for Stepan getting a delay of game did not happen. And the answers to this poll from John comes one step closer.
The #NJDevils have 2 games left in April and this season. They have scored 1 power play goal all month and allowed 3 shorthanded goals. Will the PP even things up in these 2 games?— John Fischer (@JKFischer) April 28, 2022
Reviewing a Few Games: Holtz, the Zacha line, Mercer, and Vesey
Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer had a rough night tonight. Their lines were, by far, the worst on the Devils in terms of results. Bratt-Boqvist-Holtz showed offensive flash, flying around the ice to start before getting hemmed in a few times throughout the game. They were outshot nine to five in 9:39, with a 32.88 xGF% on an absolutely horrendous 1.27 xGA. That works out to just a hair under 7.9 xGA/60. Hammond let up two goals with them on the ice, as they scored none. Alex Holtz seemed the most out of sorts on this line, not really getting as involved at even strength as Bratt and Boqvist accounted for most of the chance generation - Holtz only had one attempt at even strength in a shot from just behind the back of the right faceoff dot.
Dawson Mercer had a perplexing game. I barely noticed him offensively, but he was credited for five takeaways. I do not know if the scorekeeper at PNC arena was feeling generous, but the rest of the Devils combined for six - and the Hurricanes had 13, with Pesce, Teravainen, and DeAngelo all tied for the most on their squad with two. Unfortunately for Mercer, he had zero shots on net with a 0.0 ixG on three shot attempts. His line, like the Boqvist line, gave up two goals. I wish this line worked, but as the season has gone on I have continually felt like Mercer just doesn’t have too many good offensive games at center anymore.
Pavel Zacha and his line had another fruitful night tonight. While they did not have as good a second and third period defensively as the first, ending with just a 49.14 xGF% - they did score a beautiful goal and actually outshot opposition. Through two games, Nolan Foote and Fabian Zetterlund have played rather well with Pavel Zacha, who reached a career high in points with his two assists. I cannot say I expected this, considering Foote’s struggles with the NHL game in limited minutes. But for what it’s worth, they seem to feed off of Zetterlund’s speed and the size of Foote and Zacha. Zetterlund was not satisfied, though - and I love his competitive attitude.
I am very happy for Jimmy Vesey. While I am not sure he has a spot on the New Jersey Devils next season, I would not mind seeing him back - and I think he deserves an NHL job. He has been excellent - absolutely excellent - on the penalty kill this season. He scored what was just his eighth goal tonight, and just his 15th point. In 67 games, that does not look great - but the guy is still great at getting to the scoring areas for a bottom six player, and I think he could have scored upwards of 15 goals if he had a better shot or was just a bit quicker at times. I think he should be proud of his season. It might not have been what he wanted on paper, but he has a high hockey IQ and could really thrive in the right spot. I wanted him to get traded to a powerhouse at the deadline just to see what he could do on a good team, but I like watching him - so I won’t complain about still having him too much.
The fourth line ended up doing pretty well tonight. Nathan Bastian got his fifth assist and 16th point in 59 games for the Devils on the goal by Vesey, and the McLeod line as a whole held the Canes to two shots in 9:04, allowing no high-danger chances against as they had a 66.26 xGF%. This was one of the best games I have seen them play as a line.
Congratulations to The Canes Goalies
I thought I would pass this along, as it came up on my Twitter feed.
I thought Antti Raanta was excellent tonight, despite giving up three goals on 2.78 xG. He was extremely mobile in the net, snuffing out great chances from guys like Sharangovich and Boqvist on a couple occasions. Raanta has had a rather odd career between being overshadowed in Chicago and New York before standing on his head in Arizona, which led to him succumbing a bit to injury. He probably deserved a few Vezina votes in 2017-18, with a 24.8 goals saved above average in just 47 games - but he’ll have some hardware now as he shares the Jennings with Andersen for his 28 games in net this season. He is under contract for next season, as he is on a two-year deal.
Last Thoughts From Me, and Your Thoughts
Since this is my last recap for the year - Jared will be taking care of this for the last game of the season tomorrow night, I want to tie this back to the Devils to close this out.
This season has been astounding, and really in the most creatively bad way you could possibly come up with. Jesper Bratt got his 72nd point of the season tonight on his 26th goal. I know I thought Bratt was capable of reaching 70 points, but I thought that the Devils would be a playoff team once he started scoring like that. Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes both became bona fide top centers this season. I thought the Devils would be a playoff team when that happened. Jesper Boqvist has become a respectable contributor. Jonas Siegenthaler broke out as a possibly elite shutdown defenseman. Dawson Mercer scored at least half a point per game (currently at 41) and should finish the year as the only Devil to play all 82 games. Damon Severson made a mockery of his previous scoring years, standing at 11 goals and 35 assists as of now. It feels wrong to be saying all of this for a team that only has 27 wins. But there are reasons for that.
Dougie Hamilton has been underwhelming ever since his red hot start. I know he did not lose his game in the middle of this year. He will be back. Ryan Graves has been a bit of an oddball as someone who was supposed to defend the net but actually gives up too many shots around and in the crease while limiting medium and low danger shots rather well. P.K. Subban was inconsistent, showing flashes of his old greatness while being dragged down by his lack of mobility (and I think he would benefit from a situation where he does not play every night). Ty Smith looks totally lost defensively, and I only ever seem to like seeing him on the ice when he jumps up in a forward spot. I know I ragged on him earlier for his giveaway leading to the third goal, but seeing him so angry at himself as he went to the bench was a bit upsetting. I do not think I have ever seen Devil skate to the bench so quickly after giving up a goal. The guy is barely older than I am, and he looked more sure of himself when he made his debut than tonight - his 114th NHL game.
A lot went wrong for the Devils, beyond just the injuries to the goalies and Jack Hughes. It is deeper than that. It has gotten to the point where it is really hard to watch them during some losses, where their body language shows it all. A team that scores three goals a game should be a decent team - especially when they have some high-caliber defensemen on the roster. But nothing seemed to go right this season, and I think more than any other year I will be glad to leave this one in the rear-view mirror so I can be excited about most of the players I’ve mentioned here as they get a chance to battle back to relevancy in October. I am thankful now for the late start to this season, as this offseason will be shorter than usual. This roster deserved better than what they had this season.
I will be previewing tomorrow’s game in morning, so I will have more to say then. Now, I turn to all of you: what did you think of tonight’s game? What did you feel watching Hammond give up those goals? How did you feel watching those breakdowns? How did you feel watching Zetterlund light the lamp? How about Vesey and Bratt? Were there any games you particularly liked? Leave your thoughts below in the comments, and thanks for reading.