The New Jersey Devils, coming off their win last night, had Akira Schmid in net due to Mackenzie Blackwood’s injury yesterday. This also coincided with the return of Ondrej Palat to the lineup, and the removal of Fabian Zetterlund by Lindy Ruff (more on that later). The Devils and St. Louis Blues failed to register a shot on goal for the first five minutes, and Schmid finally saw the puck when the Blues had a dangerous chance in front just past that mark.
A few shifts later, Tomas Tatar had Jack Hughes trailing on a rush opportunity, but Tatar’s pass was too in the reach of Colton Parayko, and the Devils had to regroup. Erik Haula possessed the puck with Tatar going to the net and Hughes shading out to the dot for a one-timer. That one-timer was gloved by Jordan Binnington. Binnington, a few minutes later, got just enough of a forehand chip shot on a short breakaway for Tomas Tatar, who had a defender draped on his back.
Jordan Kyrou got behind the Devils defense on a simple entry a couple minutes after the halfway point. With Hamilton trailing, Kyrou was right in front for a redirection of a Pavel Buchnevich turnaround pass from around the blueline. Schmid was unable to stay with it, and the Devils went down 1-0 to St. Louis.
To Dougie Hamilton’s credit, he later boxed out Brayden Schenn as Akira Schmid was diving across the net to get on a loose puck. The referee did not blow the play, dead however, and the Devils still had to scramble around the net after the Blues worked out the rebound from the crease. The Devils survived, though, and continued to press offensively. The most convincing line was clearly Tatar, Hughes, and Haula - as they were the only line that I noticed have more than one scoring chance.
Ivan Barbashev went off for hooking Erik Haula. The power play got off to a fast and furious start, getting three shots on goal out of four attempts in the first 21 seconds. Off the draw, Hughes worked the puck low to Hischier, whose shot rebounded to Tatar - and his shot rebounded to Bratt. Bratt’s shot hit a body, but the Devils clearly had an idea of getting in close to Binnington rather than bomb away - like when they had their two power play goals last night. On the second wave, Palat had a rather rough turnover leading to a shorthanded rush - but he then set up Miles Wood for a chance at the side of the net that Wood flubbed the handle on.
After a run of solid team play in the opening minutes of the period, the Hughes line finally capitalized. After Haula worked the puck around the net and back to Severson at the point, Severson centered himself and blasted a low shot that left a loose puck for Jack Hughes to pull and pot into the net - 1-1.
Seen here is 2x All-Star Jack Hughes doing All-Star things. pic.twitter.com/UwseWT9guc— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 6, 2023
Several minutes later, Jack decided he was going to score again. Tatar forced a turnover with good positioning in front, deflecting a bad pass for Jack Hughes to shoot from the faceoff circle. Justin Faulk blocked it. No matter: Hughes took the puck back and drifted left and whipped the puck through Tatar’s screen and past Binnington! 2-1, Devils.
Despite controlling play throughout the period, the Devils failed to convert on further scoring chances. On one chance, Bratt, Hischier, and Sharangovich had a three-on-one off a breakout turnover, and they surrounded Binnington in a manner similar to the way they were set up around him during the power play. They tried to go around the horn, but Sharangovich was late getting his stick out for a redirection and the pass from Hischier went by him. The Blues would eventually tie the game when Barbashev cut from the top of the faceoff circle and sniped past Schmid to make it 2-2 with three and a half minutes to play.
With only 38.5 to play, Dougie Hamilton went to the box for whacking the stick out of Nikita Alexandrov’s hands. It was a rather dumb penalty for a veteran such as Hamilton to take. Nonetheless, the Devils were able to manage their penalty killing duties at the end of the period, going into the second intermission tied.
Still on the penalty kill, the Devils did a good job of holding the Blues at bay - as Schmid only had to make a couple saves. Haula had set up Dawson Mercer for a clean breakaway, but Mercer was too indecisive and ran out of room. While the Devils killed the rest of the penalty, they would still be burned by this missed opportunity. After Dougie fanned on the puck up high during a zone entry and could not take away the passing lane, Brandon Saad received a pass in the slot and ripped it past Schmid. 3-2. Kevin Bahl looked rather poor in addition to Dougie’s miss up high.
Noel Acciari gave the Devils a power play when he interfered with Brendan Smith behind the net, with Smith hurting his wrist on the play. The Devils received a two-minute power play. On the power play, the Blues looked more opportunistic than the Devils, with the first unit looking absolutely hapless after being asked to regain the zone following a clear. Miles Wood took a slap shot in the midsection when screening Binnington at the end of the two minutes.
Dougie Hamilton took another bad penalty when he went too slow into the boards in the offensive zone and high sticked Acciari who cut in front of him for a loose puck. Sharangovich almost took the puck away high but the puck bounced back to the Blues, who worked the puck down to Schenn on the goal line. His pass across to Robert Thomas was perfectly whistled into the top of the net, putting the Blues up two.
Rem Pitlick took out Miles Wood’s leg and was called for tripping with just under nine minutes to play. Hischier won the draw, but the Devils’ passing was poor, and the Devils gave up an odd-man rush against. But wait! Justin Fault slashed the stick out of Nico’s hands behind the play, and the Devils got 1:45 of 5-on-3 time. The Devils won the draw, and Alex Holtz nearly scored after nearly failing to corral a pass at the netside. He later shot over the net with a minute left on the five-on-three. The Devils kept going, and Dougie took a slap shot low that deflected high from Nico Hischier! 4-3, with 1:07 left on the power play.
The Devils gained the zone with 45 seconds left in the power play. They worked mostly around the boards with the first unit, but they seemed too tired to pull off quick puck movement - and Brandon Saad had a nice backhand chance in a one-on-one with Hamilton late before the penalty expired.
With 6:30 to play, the Devils had to tie it at even strength. Tomas Tatar and Hughes both had chances a couple minutes after the power play that Binnington just stuck with to keep the Blues ahead. The Devils seemed a bit tired at this point, but Nico Hischier broke into the scoring areas again with under 2:30 to play, but his wicked wrister was gloved by Binnington.
After the stoppage, Schmid stayed on the bench and the Devils begun their sixth man attack. Hamilton got the first of these shots - which was saved by Binnington. The Devils started moving the puck beautifully around, and Erik Haula missed a wide open chance at the side of the net with Binnington down, and then missed Hamilton with a pass back to the point. The Devils got in the zone again, but were quickly expunged and defeated with an ENG. 5-3 was the final score.
The Opposition Opinion: Go check out St. Louis Game Time.
I Never Want to See Haula on the Six-on-Five Unit Again
I don’t think I need to explain why this is an issue. Dawson Mercer, Tomas Tatar, and Yegor Sharangovich are all far more effective, currently, than Erik Haula at finishing scoring chances around the net. Haula has two goals in 39 games. It’s insane to me that he’s seeing ice time in these situations. He can be a good off-the-puck player at even strength and a fantastic penalty killer, but for the love of all that is good in this world - Lindy Ruff needs to let Yegor and Dawson play these situations.
Severson With Two in a Row
Damon Severson has had a tough season, but I am always watching him for a step up in times of need. In the absence of John Marino, he has averaged 26:02 of ice time in his last seven games. And after breaking his 12-game pointless drought with an assist last night in Detroit, he picked up another one tonight on Hughes’ second goal. This is only Severson’s seventh point of the season, and the second time he had points in consecutive games. Last season, he had six two-point games. I’m not saying this to rag on Severson: quite the contrary. He has made that same play dozens of times this season, where he drags the puck back to the center point for a low shot aimed for tips and rebounds - and nobody (usually on the second power play unit) picks up the loose pucks from these plays. Tonight, he got rewarded.
Defensive Deficiencies Despite a 2:1 Shot Ratio
The Devils outshot the Blues 38 to 19 tonight (25-12 at five-on-five), so you should expect that the defensive pairings each played well. In 17 five-on-five minutes, Severson saw the Devils give up zero goals while the team outshot St. Louis 15-6, with Graves being his partner for most of the game. Dougie Hamilton, in 18:54 of even five-on-five time, only saw the Devils put seven shots on goal, while they gave up a horrific, unfathomable three goals on five shots. But these plays seemed to stem from miscues by Dougie, Siegenthaler, and Bahl. Siegenthaler and Hamilton really need to clean up as the top pairing. Dougie had the nice assist, but he did not have the speed on defense to back it up tonight.
Bottom Six Centers
Jesper Boqvist played tonight, despite it being the game where Palat returned to the lineup. This meant that Fabian Zetterlund sat in the press box while Dawson Mercer plays wing for Jesper Boqvist. Fabian Zetterlund should be playing wing for Dawson Mercer (or anyone really). The point is: why is Boqvist still centering a line? I do not care if he forechecks well and kills penalties - the team has plenty of penalty killers. His line, inevitably, turns into an offensive black hole. The bottom six actually managed to get outshot tonight. McLeod, still playing a third line role, saw his line get outshot six to two, with two goals allowed on a 20.57 xGF%. The fourth line of Sharangovich, Boqvist, and Mercer was outshot four to one, and they had a horrific 7.70 xGF% - as they created as statistically close to zero offense as they could have possibly aspired to.
I don’t care if it’s Haula, Mercer, or Sharangovich moving to center - I just believe the guy with 14 points (and almost half a point per game in his career of 47 games) should be in over the guy with four points. McLeod could then play fourth line minutes and not have games where he gets absolutely tanked such as this one.
Hughes and Hischier’s Torrid Goalscoring
The top six, by comparison, outshot the Blues 20-2. It is mildly enraging that I am writing that in a loss recap. Nonetheless, the Blues had no answers for Hughes, who walked all over them and repeatedly took their lunch money when backchecking throughout the game. He now has 24 goals and 46 points in 39 games - on track for 50 goals and 97 points. He also has 17 goals in the last 19 games. Jack Hughes is one of the best centers in the league right now.
It certainly helps to have Nico Hischier taking any matchup, as well. He has a five game goal streak himself, with eight points in his last six games after he had hit a bit of a rough patch, points-wise. Of his last 11 points (in 14 games), eight are goals. So, both of the Devils have been shooting with pronounced confidence. But, in my view, the rest of the team is not doing enough to support their offensive effort right now. Until that changes, these games will continue to feel like crap shoots.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about Akira Schmid’s performance? What about Hughes and Hischier? What of the defense? Do you think Ruff’s lineup decisions are holding the team back? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.