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Devils Defeat Islanders 4-1 Behind Balanced Attack, Solid Goaltending

In their preseason home opener, the New Jersey Devils played well in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. This recap covers the things the Devils did well in a solid performance overall.

NHL: Preseason-New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils
Jack Hughes scored tonight, thanks in part to the work Ondrej Palat and Alex Holtz (not pictured) did along the boards.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

The two teams started off with their fourth liners but after an early icing, the New Jersey Devils gained control of the puck. The Devils got their top line of Palat-Hughes-Holtz on after a clear but the Isles chipped away a Palat feed towards the front of the net. After a few uneventful shifts, the Devils had good offensive zone time with Holtz firing a shot on net. Casey Cizikas tripped up Palat to give the Devils a power play. The Isles did a good job keeping the Devils second power play unit from getting set up. The Devils got their top unit on and in the zone. Jack Hughes broke his stick on a shot attempt and the Isles got the puck out to the neutral zone. After the man advantage ended, Hughes fed Mercer in front for a potential scoring chance but the Isles redirected the puck out of danger. Moments later, Isles winger William DuFour connected with Nikita Soshnikov on a stretch pass and ripped it off Vitek Vanecek’s glove and in for a 1-0 New York Islanders lead.

After a hard takedown by Adam Pelech on Jack Hughes, Miles Wood tried feeing Simon Nemec cross-ice for a scoring change, but to no avail. The Isles came back with a 3-on-2 rush but Vanecek made the stop on a Kiefer Bellows shot. A few minutes later, Alex Holtz dug a feed from Palat out of the corner and tried to send it back to him in front, but was just off the mark where Palat couldn’t finish. Shortly after that, Haula gained the zone and dropped it off for Dawson Mercer, but Ilya Sorokin made the save.

The Devils got on the scoreboard as Yegor Sharangovich took a feed from John Marino and snapped a wrister from distance past Sorokin to tie the game at 1.

The Devils added to the lead 78 seconds later as Dougie Hamilton fired a puck through a mass of bodies in front, including a Mason Geertsen (!!) screen.

New Jersey kept at it over the final minute as Bastian sailed a shot wide and a Geertsen shot attempt down in front was chipped away. 2-1 Devils after 20 minutes of play, where the Devils came on strong over the final 6 minutes or so. The Devils finished the period with a 10-5 edge in shots on goal, a CF% of 66.67%, and an xGF% of 77.02%.

Second Period

The Devils wasted little time adding to the lead early in the second as Alex Holtz and Ondrej Palat won the puck along the boards. Holtz found Jack Hughes alone in front, who beat Sorokin above his blocker to make it 3-1 Devils.

Geertsen tripped up Oliver Wahlstrom to give New York their first chance on the power play. The Devils did a nice job keeping the Isles from generating much of anything with the man advantage and actually had the best scoring chance as Sharangovich tried to feed Dougie Hamilton in front. Sebastian Aho did a nice job steering the puck out of danger though and the Devils killed the rest of the penalty.

Erik Haula got caught with a slash to put the Devils right back in the box. The Isles gained the zone and set up Wahlstrom with a good scoring opportunity but Vanecek made the stop and the Devils cleared. Fabian Zetterlund and Dawson Mercer did a nice job late in the power play keeping the puck deep in the Isles zone. Haula exited the box and Vanecek made a save on a shot by Pelech.

Former Devils goaltender Cory Schneider came on in relief for Sorokin. Hughes gained the zone and did Jack Hughes things skating circles around the opposition, but the Devils couldn’t create anything there. Zetterlund intercepted a pass in the offensive zone and nearly scored a highlight-reel goal, but Schneider got the pad on it to deny him.

After Beauvillier ripped a backhanded shot off of the crossbar, Miles Wood came back the other way with a head of steam. Wood dropped the puck off for Haula who got to the front of the net and chipped it past Schneider to make it 4-1 Devils.

Kyle Palmieri hit Palat up high and got called for roughing. Hughes and Hamilton mostly played give-and-go over the final 30 seconds of the period before Hamilton sent the puck towards the front of the net in the closing seconds. It was deflected away and the Devils enter the third period with a three goal lead and 1:08 of carryover time. The Isles did a better job in the second period of tilting the ice towards their end (9-6 edge in SOG), but have little to show for it being outscored 0-2 in the middle frame.

Third Period

Akira Schmid relieved Vanecek to start the third period. The Devils set up the puck for Mercer and Holtz in the closing moments of the power play but neither could finish and Palmieri came out of the box. Brendan Smith got called for boarding to give the Isles another chance on the power play. The Isles got a couple pucks on net early in the power play but the Devils did a good job keeping them from seriously threatening. Sharangovich almost created another scoring chance short-handed but couldn’t connect with Mercer as the penalty expired. Pelech made a great pass to connect with Casey Cizikas, who snuck in behind the Devils defensemen, but the puck fortunately rolled up on him and the Isles didn’t score there. Geertsen got called for interference for another New York power play after the first TV timeout.

The Isles kept the puck in the zone for most of the power play but Zetterlund laid out his body to block a Pulock shot and Schmid made a few stops on Palmieri and Pulock. Geertsen exited the box and Paul LaDue cross-checked Holtz on the other end to give the Devils a power play. Schneider made a couple nice saves in the first 1:23 of the power play, turning away Sharangovich. Hamilton found Hughes late in the power play but Hughes lost an edge and partially fanned on the shot.

The Devils got caught with too many men, giving New York another chance on the power play. The Isles didn’t really threaten until late in the power play with Josh Bailey sailed a shot wide, and the Devils killed it off. Wood and Haula nearly connected on another point-blank scoring chance off of a turnover in the Islanders end. Schmid made a good stop on his end and Siegenthaler connected with Mercer on a stretch pass, but Schneider did a good job stopping him. Schneider denied Haula on a slapper moments later. Sharangovich set up Zetterlund in front for a scoring chance with about 30 seconds left but couldn’t beat the veteran netminder. The Devils didn’t sit back and continued to attack in the closing minutes of this 4-1 win.


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

The Opposition Opinion: Visit Lighthouse Hockey if you would like to read the Islanders’ perspective on tonight’s game.

The Proverbial Fly in the Ointment

If I were to point out a negative with tonight’s performance (there really aren’t too many things to complain about), I would note that it is preseason, and this Islanders roster the Devils saw tonight is not very good.

With that said, the Devils can’t control the players the other team plays. They beat a very good goaltender in Ilya Sorokin three times. The Islanders have had a lot of success with the Pelech-Pulock defensive pairing, but I don’t think the Devils were intimidated going up against them by any means. We can debate whether or not we think the Islanders will be good this season or if they have enough offense up front (spoiler: they won’t be and they don’t), but the Devils held their NHL regular forwards off the scoresheet. Not bad considering the Devils didn’t do a good job holding anyone off the scoresheet last season, regardless of skill level.

With that said....

Things I Liked From The Game

For those unfamiliar with my style of writing, which is average at best even though the takes are outstanding, A++++ level takes, I introduced this section late last season where I simply list what I like and did not like from the game in my recaps. I’ll be carrying that over into this year, so with no further delays, here’s what I liked from tonight’s game.

  • I LIKED THAT Alex Holtz looks like he belongs. I mentioned in my preview yesterday that I want to see players like him who are on the roster bubble leave no doubt that they should be on the team. So far, Holtz is doing exactly that, as he has consistently done that in the prospects challenge and intra-squad scrimmages and now the preseason opener. If the Devils let me make the decision (note: they should, I have good opinions), he’s on his way to making the team.
  • I LIKED THAT Zetterlund continues to make a positive impression. He stood out in a big way with the energy he brought, and managed to find the scoresheet with a secondary assist on the Sharangovich goal. He nearly added two other goals between a highlight-reel play in the second period and a late feed from Sharangovich in the final minute. There’s a long way to go, but again, if its up to me, Fabian Zetterlund is on the Opening Night roster.
  • I LIKED THAT there was balanced scoring. A big part of why the Devils struggled last season was because they went through long stretches where their third-line forwards scored 4 points in 30 games and they got no secondary offense outside of their top guys. Tonight, we saw all four lines contribute on the four goals. Yes, that even includes Mason Geertsen and the screen he provided on the Hamilton goal. Credit where its due.
  • I LIKED THAT the Devils made an effort to get to the front of the net. John made a note of this in the gamethread and I agree with him. One of my pet peeves the last few years with this team is them settling for shots from the point and blueline, but it felt like they tried to get to the high-danger chances more (they finished the game with a 9-6 edge in HDCF). I hope this continues throughout the preseason and into the regular season.
  • I LIKED THAT Simon Nemec got over 20 minutes of ice time in his preseason debut. If you are one to put stock into the “takeaways” statistic, he led the Devils with 3. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think he looked overwhelmed in his first taste of NHL action. I also liked that he wasn’t afraid to scrap it up after a stoppage in play. Do I think Nemec makes the Opening Night roster? Its too early to say, but I don’t think he hurt his case tonight even if its an uphill battle.
  • I LIKED THAT for a second consecutive night, the goaltending wasn’t a dumpster fire. Blackwood looked fine last night. Vanecek looked fine tonight. Daws and Schmid were good in relief. Again, its the preseason against incomplete lineups, so make of that what you will, but given the choice between good goaltending and whatever the Devils ran out there last year, I’ll take the former and not the latter.
  • I LIKED THAT the Devils at least looked good on the penalty kill, although I think its too early to make any definitive statements on special teams seeing as the Devils didn’t really start installing anything before yesterday. Still though, most of the Islanders power plays were uneventful and non-threatening, which are the best kind of opposition power plays. Again, its preseason, and the Isles roster is bad, but it still should be noted.
  • Lastly, I LIKED THAT while the Devils were arguably outplayed at 5v5 over the final 40 minutes (the numbers say they barely were, but eye test says it was 50-50 at best and the Devils scored while the Isles didn’t), they didn’t really sit back and continued to attack, particularly in the closing minutes of the game. It was tough for either team to really get in an offensive flow with so many penalties, but I liked that they continued to generate scoring chances right up to the final whistle and weren’t content to just sit on a 3-goal lead. Again, the Devils goaltending was bad last year and they blew their fair share of leads. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense and keeping your foot on the gas.

Other Takeaways

Tonight was also the Devils debut for Bill Spaulding, who replaced Steve Cangialosi as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster. Considering it was his first time working a Devils broadcast, I thought he sounded very professional and polished. He sounded like a guy who has called Devils games for years. I don’t know who else the Devils considered for the role, but I think they made a good choice with Spaulding.

Also, I like the new MSG scorebug. It’s simple, clean, and I can read it without squinting. I don’t have much to add other than that.

Lastly, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw Erika Wachter interview Patrik Elias during the first intermission and when Elias was asked about how the team was playing, he more or less said the first 10 minutes weren’t very good. Elias was on some pretty good teams and would know a thing or two about how a team should play if they want to have any aspirations towards winning anything. I would hope him being around the team during camp is a positive experience for the group as they try to take that next step from being perennial losers to winners.

Final Thoughts

What did you think of the game today? Are you as pleased as I was with the performance of Holtz, Zetterlund, and Nemec? What else stood out to you, both positive and negative? Please feel free to leave a comment on tonight’s game and the season as a whole and thanks for reading!