The New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights both got out to sluggish starts, until the Knights broke through with the first scoring chance of the game about two and a half minutes in when Keegan Kolesar got behind the Devils’ defense on a bad transition. However, Kevin Bahl made an excellent play with his stick, completely breaking up the chance with one hand.
A few shifts later, the top line got going for the Devils. Jesper Bratt held off a defender on his back in the neutral zone, sending it to the far blueline for Nico Hischier, who took the zone with three Knights in front of him. He turned his back until Palat came by along the boards, and Palat threw a changeup at Logan Thompson that hit the back of the net! 1-0, Devils.
Pally tally gets us going! pic.twitter.com/mdVYi1zbwE— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 25, 2023
The Knights did come back at the Devils for several offensive shifts as the first period approached its halfway point. However, Vitek Vanecek seemed poised to continue his run of excellent play, as he stayed in great position against the Vegas attack. By just a little past the halfway point, he already had 10 saves.
Nico Hischier had a chance to extend the lead a few minutes later. He had tried to set up Palat for a one-timer, but Palat had to settle it. He passed back, and Nico redirected it somewhat weaker than he likely wanted to, allowing Logan Thompson to sprawl over for the low shot.
Logan Thompson made another excellent save late in the period when Damon Severson made an expert pass through traffic up ice, and Jesper Boqvist was set up for a rush chance at the blueline. He got Thompson to come out right, and his rebound went to the middle - to Jack Hughes - who just could not lift it as Thompson sprawled back for the second save.
After a few minutes of back-and-forth play, Nathan Bastian sent Keegan Kolezar into the boards. This brought a challenge from Brett Howden, as the referee raised his arm for a delayed penalty for boarding. Bastian got the sole minor penalty, with Bastian and Howden going at it for a pretty spirited fight. Fortunately, Kolesar seemed no worse for wear.
Yegor Sharangovich got a great chance early in the penalty kill, getting into a one-on-one with Logan Thompson, with a defender on his back. Yegor shielded the puck away, and got a slick shot on Thompson that was just saved away. The Knights settled in during the second minute of their power play, forcing Vitek Vanecek to be careful with them buzzing around - but they only shot wide.
Vanecek made what looked like a candidate for the save of the game a couple minutes after the penalty ended. Chandler Stevenson set up Michael Amadio with a drop pass after getting behind the Devils’ defense. Amadio got Vanecek sprawling back, but he was able to steer the five hole attempt wide of the goal.
The Devils seemed like they really started to dominate the Golden Knights as this period went on, but they would eventually be victimized by a counterattack and possession past the halfway point. Ben Hutton dragged the puck low in the zone and shot above Damon Severson on his knees into the top nearside corner. 1-1.
The Devils’ bad luck would continue. After Nico Hischier nearly batted a puck out of the air into the net, Vitek Vanecek let Jonathan Marchessault put the puck behind him on the rush as he was going to the goal line. Before it could be cleared away, William Karlsson put the Golden Knights up 2-1.
After a good rush by the Hischier line, Ondrej Palat boarded Alec Martinez with the puck in the corner. I don’t know what was going through his head. But with 1:37 left in the period, the Devils had yet another penalty to kill. Vitek Vanecek made his first save of the kill with just under a minute left in the period when Reilly Smith had a redirection at the side of the net.
Alec Martinez did not start on the bench with Vegas. The Devils killed the remaining 24 seconds of the penalty, and play returned to five-on-five. The Devils were extremely aggressive early on, with Hamilton and Severson pinching pretty heavily as fourth skaters low in the zone during offensive possessions. Dawson Mercer was set up by Boqvist at the front of the net four minutes in, and the puck went absolutely flying high off Thompson.
Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt had a display of some of the tightest puck movement to gain possession I have seen from this team. They just danced around the Knights, setting up a chance for Hamilton that made Thompson scramble for another save.
Ryan Graves made the worst pass in recent memory when he had the puck along the boards, somewhat near the benches. He weakly backhanded the puck around to Brendan Smith all the way behind the net, leading to William Karlsson cutting the pass off to set up Jonathan Marchessault for a golden opportunity to extend the lead. However, Vanecek came up big to keep the deficit to one.
When Brendan Smith was trying to handle the puck in the neutral zone a bit past the halfway point of the final period, he was stripped clean by Jack Eichel and took a hooking call. He didn’t even hook him well enough to stop the opportunity. With 9:34 to play, the Devils went to their third kill of the game.
The Devils were able to kill the first minute, with Vanecek making a rush save at the end of it when Stevenson set up Reilly Smith for a quick, low shot. The Devils did a great job of keeping the Knights to the periphery in the second minute, with a last attempt by Eichel coming from the point after a lot of work for a shooting lane — and it went well wide.
Jack Hughes had a chance off a turnover by Martinez to tie the game, but Thompson came up big yet again for the Knights with over four minutes to play. Thompson held his blocker up high, and was ready for the shot. With under two minutes to play, Vanecek got off for the extra attacker. Nico Hischier, the extra man, saved an empty netter with a minute and a half to play. Severson then came up with another block. Jack Hughes circled up and led the Devils through the zones from the defenseman’s spot, and the puck got over to Dougie Hamilton by the boards. Hamilton went for the seeing-eye deflection, but Brandon McNabb deflected it past Thompson! 2-2, with a bit over a minute to play.
With 26.7 to play, the Knights iced the puck. Hischier won the draw, and Severson hit Hamilton for the same kind of shot - this time gloved by Thompson with 20.9 to play. Hischier won the next draw, and Damon Severson’s one-timer just went wide, and the Knights were able to get it out of the zone. With that, the team accepted overtime.
Hischier, Hughes, and Severson took to the ice for overtime. Hischier won the draw, and they were rather careless with their passing as they allowed the Knights to gain possession and get a shot attempt off. Bratt changed on with Haula. Bratt took it up ice smoothly, and sent it back for Dougie Hamilton to take from the defensive zone. They eventually changed off as well, with Sharangovich and Hughes taking a shift — and they were joined by Severson. They controlled the puck, and Severson’s shot went wide. Sharangovich then took a shot off Thompson’s pad, and then drew their first power play of the game on a trip from Hutton with 2:19 to play!
Ruff called timeout and sent out Hischier, Hughes, Bratt, and Hamilton. They took the puck up the ice after an initial clearing. Hamilton sent a wrist shot through a maze with 1:40 to play, but it deflected high off Thompson’s shoulder. Jack Hughes then floated a shot for Hischier to deflect, but Nico could not get his blade on it. After a faceoff loss and clear, Jack Hughes took two Knights along the boards and set up a wide open one-timer for Dougie Hamilton as he got crunched. Dougie blasted the shot past Thompson! Devils win 3-2!
We repeat: Douglas the Destroyer. pic.twitter.com/XZ09AKrSDe— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 25, 2023
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Knights on Ice.
Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton
When the Devils first pulled Vitek Vanecek, they were having a rough time getting settled with the puck. As I noted earlier, Hischier and Severson both had to defend empty net attempts. But it was when Jack Hughes took the puck away and circled around everyone to create space for himself. From there, he led the Devils to gain the zone, allowing Bratt to set up the Hamilton game-tying goal.
Tonight was also Dougie Hamilton’s second straight overtime winner during a four-on-three overtime power play — and the second night in a row that each of Hughes and Hamilton had two points, only combining for goals scored by one or the other. Dougie is up to 13 goals and 29 assists in the Devils’ 47 games, while Jack Hughes broke the 60 point mark - 30/30 with his two assists tonight. Their chemistry this season has reached a new height, and I can only imagine what would happen if Hughes consistently played with good forward linemates. I mean, look at what he can do:
However Jack made this pass, we can only assume black magic and witchcraft was involved. pic.twitter.com/S0IVSV2LLG— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 25, 2023
The New Jersey Devils are 31-12-4. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games played. Vitek Vanecek has won in eight straight starts, including three straight overtime wins. Vanecek came up big on a few occasions tonight, bailing the Devils out of some poor turnovers in the third period to keep them alive in the game. This was his 20th win of the season, and it’s nice to have a goalie that consistently saves at an above average rate to give the offense a chance to prove they can win a game.
I think Ondrej Palat is beginning to acclimate to the top line. Their puck movement tonight was extraordinary, and the only thing that was uncharacteristic of Ondrej was his boarding penalty. He now has four points in his last five games, up to four goals and three assists in 15 games played. With that top line rolling, Ruff just needs to find a configuration for the other three lines at five-on-five — as the offense seemed a bit muddied from the Hughes line until Ruff put the lines in the blender in the third. Ultimately, the team played a better game than the Golden Knights did — and they probably shouldn’t have had to wait until overtime for a power play. Still, Vegas just could not outlast the Devils.
I also encourage everyone to enjoy this stretch. There is a lot of season left to go, but the Devils are threatening to go on the kind of run that can really solidify them a playoff spot. 8-1-1 in their last 10. The only better last ten record in the league belongs to Boston at 9-1-0 — as they reached 80 points tonight. The Devils are at 66, tied with the Hurricanes at the top of the Metro in points total with one more game played. With players like Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Dougie Hamilton, and Vitek Vanecek at the helm, this team is undeniably difficult to contain.
Dougie called game.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 25, 2023
Then gave 'em the stanky leg. pic.twitter.com/AihETKhcfP
What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you worried they would lose after the second period? How much hope did you have left by the time the game was tied? What do you think Ruff should do with Tatar and Haula? How many goals will Dougie score this season? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.