The New Jersey Devils got out to a quick start against the San Jose Sharks, when Nico Hischier led the Devils into the zone and tried to find Jesper Bratt cutting across the net. The first pass was blocked, but Hischier found Ryan Graves on his left for the goal on an out-of-position James Reimer! 1-0, Devils.
Timo Meier had a glorious scoring chance when the Devils’ defense broke down in the slot. Gaining a loose puck while skating across Vanecek, Meier shot from the edge of the crease but was robbed by Vitek Vanecek. A couple minutes later, Miles Wood was high sticked in the face behind the Sharks’ net, but no call was made.
Both the Sharks and Devils defenses were having troubles handling the puck around the net. The Sharks turned the puck over from behind the goal right to Nico Hischier, whose shot from the slot was deflected wide as Jesper Bratt swiped at it. On the other end, a few minutes later, Ryan Graves and company lost the puck by the boards, leading to a wide open chance for Nick Bonino, whose deflection went wide.
After the Devils got their first shot on net in several minutes - this time again from Ryan Graves, play was unexpectedly halted. The referees and Sharks gathered behind Reimer’s goal, which had the boards opened for the ice crew. One of the referees put their headset on by the scorer’s table, and play was suspended with 3:59 to play in the first period — both teams headed back to their locker rooms for an early intermission.
Resumed First Period
After intermission, the teams returned to play. As the Devils were about to go down a man on a delayed penalty for tripping, Erik Karlsson got it to Mikey Eyssimont, who found Meier at the netside, who chipped the redirection past Vanecek. 1-1 with a bit over three minutes to play in the first period.
Dougie Hamilton flubbed a puck at the blueline, leading to a breakaway that Vanecek had to face down with a minute and a half to play in the period. Gregor went for a backhand, but he flew it too high. Shortly after, Miles Wood went to serve a bench minor for too many men on the ice. With just 3.7 second to play in the first period, Erik Karlsson put the Sharks up 2-1 with a point shot after Dawson Mercer filed to clear the zone despite having the time and space to do so.
As Yegor Sharangovich froze James Reimer a bit with a long-range wrist shot that trickled out of the glove and wide, Miles Wood was taken down by Benning as he drove to the net, giving the Devils a power play. Predictably, the Devils power play took awhile to get going, with the first unit taking until the first minute was nearly over to gain the zone. They worked around the net, and Tomas Tatar fought for a loose puck that he whacked into Reimer. On the second unit, Dawson Mercer sent a one-timer wide from side of the slot. He later had another shot fought off by Reimer, and a third off the side of the net.
A few minutes after the power play expired, Jonas Siegenthaler had an excellent play to deter a two-on-one when he dove for the pass across to deflect it away from Matt Nieto. Jesper Bratt had a two-on-one with Nico Hischier awhile later, but waited for the tougher play in the pass back to Ondrej Palat, whose contested shot seemed to weakly hit the lower side of the net.
Ondrej Palat followed up his rough start to this game by leading the Devils right into the offensive zone off the draw. He went down to the goal line and spun back with an open lane right to Nico Hischier cutting up the middle. He slid it over, and Nico whipped the redirection over Reimer’s shoulder! 2-2.
Later, Nico and Palat had a two-on-one after Bratt deflected the puck from the boards with his skate. Hischier looked over for a pass and went high to the glove side, but Reimer made the save to keep the game tied. Jack Hughes later took a high sticking minor penalty as e was backchecking. The Devils’ penalty kill looked rough throughout, and just as the penalty expired Nick Bonino wrapped with a turnaround goal at the front of the crease to put the Sharks back in the lead at 3-2.
Jonas Siegenthaler saved another goal as Timo Meier made a fool of Dougie Hamilton at the blueline and earned himself a breakaway. Meier’s first shot was saved by Vanecek, but Meier wrapped around the net and was just denied by a diving Jonas Siegenthaler.
Late in the game, the Devils continued to attack. Jack Hughes had a nice chance to the right of Reimer, but his shot was saved off good puck movement from Damon Severson. Hughes was set up for a re-entry rush chance, but Reimer flashed the low glove to deny him a goal.
With 3:19, the Devils were called for too many men, when Dougie Hamilton did not get off the ice on a line change. Miles Wood served the penalty again. The Devils got two early clears in this penalty kill, but the Devils sent out a defensive killing unit, keeping Nico Hischier off the ice for the whole two minutes. McLeod played 90 seconds, while Haula got two shifts.
Vanecek left for the extra attacker with a minute left. The Devils did very little after getting an early shot that was cleared away. They finally took a shot with 10 seconds left — off the stick of Jack Hughes from long-range — and it tipped off Karlsson and past Reimer with Palat setting the screen! 3-3 with 8.6 to play.
Hughes was credited with the tying tally! Let's go, baby! pic.twitter.com/l9BZzR2zZL— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 16, 2023
Michael McLeod won the draw and raced off, getting off for Jesper Bratt. The Devils turned it over in their own end, but Bratt and Hughes hung with Meier and Hertl well and forced the puck back down to their offensive end. Ondrej Palat took it away from the Sharks, an Dougie Hamilton forced Reimer to freeze play.
With 3:26 to play, Ruff called timeout and McLeod won a defensive zone draw. After Jack Hughes was held going to the net, he fought Karlsson for it and got the puck to Bratt for a rush at Reimer. With Karlsson on his back, he did not even get a shot on goal.
After Tomas Tatar turned the puck over for what felt like the hundredth time of the game, Eyssimont set up a give and go and dug at Vanecek after it was covered. Tatar flung off his gloves and tried to wail on Eyssimont, wrestling him to the ice. Both players went off for two minutes.
The Devils had plenty of chances, including wide open chances for Jack Hughes and Damon Severson, but they failed to capitalize. Play went to a shootout.
Nick Bonino went first for San Jose. He lost the handle and went backwards for a backhand, getting nothing.
Tomas Tatar went first for the Devils. He delayed, kicked, and scored! 1-0
Logan Couture went next — straight in with a low shot. Vanecek kept it out.
Jesper Bratt went up to seal the deal. He went wide, as usual, and tried to flick a five-hole backhand. He just missed on the pad.
Alexander Barabonov went last for San Jose. He put on a fantastic move, but Vitek turned and reached across with his stick to make the save! Devils win!
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Fear the Fin.
Not Ready to Play (in the First Period)
The New Jersey Devils suffered from an incredibly inconsistent effort today. After Graves scored in the opening minute, the Devils had just a couple more chances before going nearly 15 minutes without a shot, just prior to the pause of the first period. Ultimately, they won. That’s what matters. They had 33 shots in the second and third period, combined. Instead of a shootout win, this would have been an easy regulation win if they were as ready to play in the first period as the rest of the game.
You could see the jubilation emanating from Vitek Vanecek when Jack Hughes tied the game, as well as when he sealed the victory with his third shootout save. Yes, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes led the way offensively, as they always do. But the Devils would not have won today if not for Vitek Vanecek bailing the team out time and time again. On his 29 regulation and overtime saves, Vanecek saved .52 goals above expected - so the Sharks did not make it easy on them. What shots he did see seemed to be, on average, particularly tough. But Vitek Vanecek is a winner.
Nico and Jack Lead the Way
Jack Hughes did not seem like he was having his best game early on, but he still finished with a goal on seven shots in 25:46 of ice time. Nico Hischier was more efficient, with a goal and an assist on Graves’ goal in 18:30 of ice time. Hischier is now up to 20 goals and 23 assists in 43 games, while Jack got his 29th goal in the team’s 44th game. I still believe both will cross the 40-goal mark this season, but Jack Hughes is starting to make me wonder if he can reach 60, whether in this season or another.
What is the Point of a 12th Forward?
Nolan Foote played 3:07 today. With Fabian Zetterlund, who has proven to be effective when put in the top six, riding the pine, I ask — what goes through Ruff’s mind when he chooses who gets to play in that last lineup slot? I’m sure Nolan Foote, himself, has enough to offer that he shouldn’t only be playing three minutes in a game where Tomas Tatar told Matt Loughlin that they were particularly tired due to the fact they had less than 48 hours from their back-to-back.
What were you thinking during this wild finish? Did you think the Devils would comeback late? How did you feel about Timo Meier’s ability on the other side? What did you think of Vanecek’s performance? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.