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It’s Over! Devils End 2021-22 Season with a 5-3 Loss to the Red Wings

The Devils finished off one of the worst seasons in franchise history with a home loss to Detroit.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils
One final loss for the Devils as they cap off one of the worst seasons in franchise history
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Game Recap

The New Jersey Devils got things started against the Detroit Red Wings losing the opening draw. After Alex Holtz chipped the puck in deep and the Devils made a line change, the Red Wings connected on a long pass from Jake Walman to Oskar Sundqvist, who found Michael Rasmussen in front to snap the wrister by Mackenzie Blackwood for a quick 1-0 Detroit lead 68 seconds into the game.

Detroit continued to stymie the Devils defensively much like they did this past weekend over the next few minutes, with only Kevin Bahl managing to get a shot on net in the first few minutes of the game. Damon Severson intercepted a pass in the offensive end to set up Jimmy Vesey in front, but he couldn’t get a good handle on it to take advantage. Fabian Zetterlund made a nice move to get a backhanded opportunity on Magnus Hellberg, but he made the stop. The Red Wings came back a few minutes later with Lucas Raymond finding Tyler Bertuzzi in front for a good scoring opportunity but Blackwood denied him. The Devils came back with some offensive zone time but couldn’t beat Hellberg with Graves being denied twice, as well as Bastian. We finally went to the first TV timeout with 8:06 left in the first after a Bastian shot attempt was deflected into the netting.

The Devils finally tied the game up as Mo Seider tried to play the puck ahead to one of the Red Wings, but it went right to Fabian Zetterlund. Zetterlund took advantage of this miscue and fired it through a mass of bodies in front that Hellberg made the initial stop on, but Dawson Mercer was there on the doorstep to clean up the rebound to even the game at 1 goal apiece.

There wasn’t a whole lot that happened in the final couple minutes of the first aside from Pavel Zacha ringing a shot off the pipe and the Red Wings pinning the Devils back a little bit. Holtz tried to spring Yegor Sharangovich on a stretch pass, but was intercepted by Jordan Oesterle, and the period ended tied at 1.

The Devils took control of the opening draw to start the second but quickly lost the puck leading to a chance the other way for the Red Wings. Severson blocked away a shot by Lucas Raymond. The Red Wings got another decent chance with Jake Walman firing a shot from distance and the puck being loose in front of Blackwood, but he eventually covered it up. Nikita Okhotiuk delivered a big hit on Sam Gagner which drew a rise from the crowd. Vesey found Nico Hischier, who is playing in his 300th NHL game, for a shot that Hellberg stopped. Hischier came back with a feed in front for Hamilton that he just lost a handle of. The Devils got pinned back in their defensive zone for a few minutes but eventually flipped it out of the zone. Detroit came right back with Sam Gagner feeding Calder Trophy favorite Moritz Seider, who ripped a shot from the point off both posts and in. 2-1 Red Wings.

The Devils came back a couple moments later with Michael McLeod finding Nathan Bastian on the doorstep, but Hellberg recovered just in time to deny him five hole. Detroit got a couple nice chances in front over the next few minutes but Blackwood was up to the task. Olli Juolevi interfered with Jimmy Vesey for our first Devils power play of the night.

The Devils power play got off to a decent start finding Fabian Zetterlund in front but he missed. That wound up being the Devils best chance on the power play. Detroit got a clear and did a good job on the kill keeping the Devils from getting set up. The Devils failed one more time to gain the zone and get established, and the Wings got one more clear to kill off the penalty.

The Devils tied the game up as Jesper Boqvist did a really good job gaining the zone and staying strong on the puck with a Red Wing getting a stick on it. Boqvist circled behind Hellberg’s crease and fed Dougie Hamilton from the point, who fired it on net. Nolan Foote was there in front to redirect it past Hellberg to tie the game.

PK Subban, perhaps playing his final game as a member of the Devils, turned the puck over in the neutral zone which led to a scoring chance in front for Walman that Blackwood denied. Detroit controlled most of the final minute of the period with Seider getting a little too much space to get his shot off on Blackwood, but he made the save. 2-2 after 40 minutes.

Detroit controlled possession for most of the final period, as the Wings took the puck away from Mercer along the boards and found Tyler Bertuzzi alone in front. Blackwood did a nice job stopping the initial shot, but Bertuzzi took the loose puck, cycled behind the crease, and found Joe Veleno in front to give Detroit the lead again. Not a great look for the Devils defensively as the five skaters got caught puck watching for what seems like the 1000th time this season. 3-2 Detroit.

The Devils came back chipping the puck in front, which led to a chance for Jimmy Vesey that Hellberg denied. PK Subban bodied a Red Wings player along the boards to deny him a breakaway opportunity, but its interference and Detroit’s first power play of the night. The Devils kill did a nice job over the first 40 seconds or so and even forced the Wings to ice the puck, leading to a couple offensive zone draws for the Devils. Detroit regained control though, forcing the Devils to retreat and clear to kill more time. The Devils got one more clear and Severson connected with Yegor Sharangovich for a Grade A scoring chance in the closing seconds of the Detroit power play. The shot deflected off of Hellberg’s arm and out of play.

After the commercial break, the Devils won a defensive zone draw and flipped the puck out of the zone. Bratt collected the puck in the neutral zone and found Hischier, who got it to Zetterlund. Zetterlund put it on net and the puck trickled past Hellberg and in to tie the game once again.

Physicality picked up with Turner Elson and PK Subban getting into a shoving match in front of the crease, but no penalties came from it. Detroit came back with a strong shift with Pius Suter whacking at a loose puck into Blackwood’s pads and past him until Hamilton finally cleared the crease. Unfortunately for the Devils, Toronto decided to take a second look at it and replay showed the puck completely crossed the goal line before Hamilton cleared the puck. 4-3 Detroit with 9:27 to go.

Dawson Mercer took the puck away from Tyler Bertuzzi in the offensive zone to set up a good scoring chance, but unfortunately, he caught Bertuzzi with a high stick in the process to give Detroit another power play with 5:29 remaining. The Devils got an early clear and Vesey did a nice job killing more time. The Red Wings lost Hischier in coverage coming off the bench, but the Devils just missed the stretch pass to give him a short-handed opportunity. Detroit came back with a 2-on-1 partial breakaway that Bertuzzi fired off the mark. Jesper Boqvist got on a loose puck in the closing seconds but couldn’t get the shot off.

The Devils pulled Blackwood for the extra skater as Ryan Graves sent a shot towards Hellberg that he covered up with 2:21 left. The Devils used their timeout to talk things over. The Devils won the offensive zone draw and Hamilton sent a shot towards the net, but the Devils couldn’t poke it in off the scramble and Detroit cleared the zone. Detroit controlled the faceoff and Seider sent a shot towards the empty net but wide. Bertuzzi was there to try to ice it but Hamilton leveled him to keep it a one-goal game. The Devils came back on the other end with Hellberg saving a shot from Bratt with a minute to go. Detroit got a clear off of the ensuing draw and the puck was chipped over the glass with 36.9 seconds to go. Detroit won another draw late and iced the puck with Seider going for the empty net again. The Devils won the faceoff but Hamilton’s shot was blocked away. Bertuzzi fired one off the post, but Hischier turned the puck over in traffic and the Gagner found Bertuzzi for the empty netter to ice it and end the Devils season.

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 Winging It In Motown if you want to read the Detroit perspective of this game.

Things I Liked And Didn’t Like From The Game

  • I LIKED THAT Fabian Zetterlund chipped in a goal and assist, played with some energy, was strong along the boards, and gave the Devils a strong lasting impression going into the offseason. Zetterlund finished with 3 goals and 5 assists in 14 games this season, but he made a strong case to push for a roster spot in camp next year. Lindy Ruff made a point postgame to single him out as their best forward tonight and its tough to disagree with that.
  • I LIKED THAT Nico Hischier reached the 60 point plateau for the first time in his career, even if he doesn’t appear to care all that much about individual accolades
  • I LIKED THAT Dawson Mercer broke a lengthy goal drought in his 82nd and final game of the season. Of all the players on the Devils, I’m most looking forward to seeing how Mercer looks in 2022-23 as he continues his development.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE THAT Blackwood was mostly average at best yet again in net. I’m happy that he managed to come back and looked relatively healthy, but he didn’t do anything in his two starts to suggest to Tom Fitzgerald that he shouldn’t aggressively upgrade at the goaltending position. Not that I expected him to in a relatively small two game sample size.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE THAT Alex Holtz was mostly invisible in his two game stint to end the season here. I wouldn’t be too worried about him long-term, and he’s still the favorite to make the Opening Night roster out of camp next season, but I’d also like to see him earn his spot.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE THAT after a rough game against the Red Wings last year where they failed to get a lot of pucks on net, that today was more of the same. Games like today are a good example of where the Devils miss Hughes’s creativity on offense.
  • I DIDN’T LIKE THAT the Devils lost a bunch of faceoffs late with the game on the line down a goal. I do think there’s something to being able to win a faceoff when it matters, and its one area I’d like to see Jack Hughes (even though he didn’t play tonight), Jesper Boqvist, and Dawson Mercer improve as they continue to develop and get stronger. All three of those players were sub 40 percent on the season, which isn’t good enough.

Tom Fitzgerald Speaks (so do Jack Hughes and Miles Wood)

Its not quite breakup day for the Devils as the season didn’t technically end until the game ended, but that didn’t stop the Devils for making some of their most prominent players and decision makers available throughout the MSG broadcast. I decided to transcribe what I found interesting from GM Tom Fitzgerald had to say, as well as Jack Hughes and Miles Wood, who joined the broadcast during the intermissions.

Here’s a brief synopsis of what Tom Fitzgerald had to say.

  • On evaluating this year: “We know what our record is. No one is happy in this organization.....it’s my job as the general manager to evaluate every single aspect of our organization and do a full audit.....its not just the coaches, its not just the players, it’s everything. Trying to build a culture here, a winning culture. Where do we start? That’s my job this upcoming week to put a full evalv on everything.”
  • On what he’s looking to add to insulate core: “Goaltending is the #1 priority for me to look at to help our team improve. Now we look at the talent we have, we’re not one of the biggest teams up front. Can we add through free agency, through trades, to get bigger, stronger, more complimentary players to the skill players we have in place. That’s the fun part.”
  • On Mackenzie Blackwood: “With Mackenzie, the most important thing is that he’s healthy. Where is he mentally with his game, how can he jump in? I think with Mackenzie, it’s going into the offseason with a good mindset of being able to train properly, get at what he needs to do. I don’t know where Jonathan (Bernier) is gonna be but my job is to help our organization get better in every aspect of the organization”
  • On Nico Daws: “We know we have a future NHL goaltender on our hands.”
  • On Jesper Bratt upcoming contractual negotiations: “He’s due for a raise. We’ll have some interesting conversations with his agent, we’ve had some early discussions with that, just preliminary stuff. I just wanted to finish the season here before we attack that. We believe we can get a deal and Jesper is here long-term.”
  • On Miles Wood: “I’ve gotta help these kids with some adults in the locker room. We’ve missed Miles Wood all year.....He’s grown into a really strong leader. He’s got a strong voice in that room....and that’s exactly what we need. When you miss a person like this all year, its tough to replace.”

My takeaway from what Fitz had to say (with me reading between the lines)......Tom Fitzgerald is well aware the goaltending stinks (and they probably can’t count on Bernier next season), the Devils need more leaders/adults in the room, and need more size up front to be tougher to play against and compliment what they already have with their skill players. I would suggest if you’re going to fantasy GM in the comments section, to keep those parameters in mind of the type of players the Devils may be looking for this offseason.

Jack Hughes joined Erika and Sal during the first intermission.

  • On his most recent injury: “Pretty much back to normal now. I feel good. My body feels good. Obviously frustrating only playing 49 games, but my body feels good now which is a good sign.”
  • On injuries in general: “It’s really frustrating. Missing 33 games is a huge chunk of the season.....I obviously missed 20 with my shoulder and COVID and the last thing I wanted to do was miss more games. My goal (next year) is to play 80, 82 games and be healthy the whole season.”
  • On his shot: “I put a lot of work into my shot this summer. I don’t want to just be a passer or a playmaker, I want to be a threat. It’s not just about the goals, it’s more about the threat. Teams have to worry about not just the passing threat but the shooting threat. The name of the game is to score goals so I want to be a guy who can score goals and produce for my team that way as well.”
  • On his defensive side of his game: “Obviously we can talk about the D side of the puck, my takeaways, and things like that. At the end of the day, they brought me here to be a high offensive guy and this is my first year of doing that. Defensively, I got better, my game away from the puck and obviously my game with the puck and converting on my chances got better too.”
  • What’s your message to the fans for their support: “No one wants to win more than the guys in that locker room. Obviously its frustrating for the fans, for us, for anyone with a passion for the Devils. I think the fans can start to see a lot of positive strides coming from the young players, we’re building something for sure. I know how hard it is to win in the league so I don’t want to promise anything, but we got a good really core here and I think we got the potential to be a special team.”

Miles Wood joined Erika and Sal during the second intermission.

  • On his rehab, return, and recovery: “It was very important for me to get back as fast as possible but if I had to redo the process again, I’d probably make sure my hip is fully healed. With the surgery that I got, it usually takes six months to be fully healed and fully back. When I got the surgery, I told the training staff I want to be back as fast as possible. The four and a half month mark came and the doctors cleared and I told the training staff I feel good but the problem with that is that the hip didn’t heal fast enough after games and that was the problem that hurt me and that’s why I stopped playing.”

Sherman Abrams Watch

Despite completing one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Devils were not the worst team in the Metropolitan Division, as the Flyers finished in last place after a 4-2 home loss against the Ottawa Senators. With those losses, the Devils clinched the 28th best record (or 5th worst record, depending how you want to look at it) going into the NHL Draft Lottery.

There will be plenty of time to discuss the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery (scheduled for May 10th), as well as the draft itself, but here’s what you need to know in regards to the odds for the two drawings (there are no longer three drawings).

With the Devils clinching the 5th best odds, they have a 8.5% chance of moving up to #1 and a 8.8% chance of moving up to #2. The most likely mathematical scenario would involve them dropping one spot to the 6th overall pick at 44.2 percent, and if they were really unlucky and got passed by two teams, there’s a 13.9 percent chance of them dropping to 7th. Lastly, there’s a 24.5% chance of them standing pat at 5th overall.

Lastly, with this being the first season of the new rules that were implemented for the draft lottery, keep in mind that previous lottery wins in 2017 and 2019 would not prevent the Devils from winning the lottery in 2022 and 2023. That would be notable since there’s a special talent tearing up the WHL that a lot of bad hockey teams would love to get their hands on with the first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. A lottery win this year wouldn’t make the Devils ineligible for an even bigger prize a year from now.

Final Thoughts

I want to take some time in this recap to thank you, The People That Matter, for reading these previews and recaps all season. I had hoped that when I accepted the position to write previews and recaps that the Devils would’ve lived up to their end of the bargain as well by playing meaningful games later in the season. Instead, we got one of the worst seasons in franchise history that rivals some of the early 1980s teams and a lot of questions that need to be answered in the offseason.

We’ll learn a lot about where the Devils think they are with the coaching staff and if they’re retained in the coming days and weeks. I’ve said my piece on this in the past and how I believe every last coach on the NHL staff needs to go, so nothing really changed there, but ultimately, that decision comes down to Tom Fitzgerald (and ownership above him) and what he/they think about where the Devils are.

For what its worth, Lindy Ruff didn’t sound like he’s sweating his future all that much when he talked to the media after the game. That may be a glaring and obvious tell with where the Devils are leaning.

Bill Parcells famously said “You are what your record says you are.” and I think that applies here. There are plenty of excuses as to why the Devils record is what it is and there’s not one single thing the Devils can point to and say “If we fixed _______, problem solved”. The Devils need to fix a lot of things and this is a pivotal offseason in that regard. Fitzgerald and Ruff alluded to that and while you can certainly look at the step the core of this team made in their development, there remains a lot of work that needs to be done. One of the next steps that needs to be taken is the mentality that losing is no longer acceptable, and I sincerely hope this is where the Devils bring some respected veterans in to hammer home that message with this group. The fact Fitz mentioned that they need more adults on this roster in his conversation with Erika and Sal is a big positive in my eyes.

What did you think of the game today and the season as a collective whole? What did you think about Blackwood’s second start since his return? Big picture, what changes would you like to see now that the season has finally come to an end? Please feel free to leave a comment on tonight’s game and the season as a whole and thanks for reading!