The New York Islanders came with the pressure early against the Devils, and Akira Schmid had to do some dangerous puckhandling to the side of the net to deter the Islander forecheck. The Devils were able to move it back up the ice and seemed to settle in by the third shift. The top line had a great chance nearly three minutes into the game, with Jesper Bratt tipping a point shot at Sorokin, which rebounded out and let to a wrister from Tyler Toffoli that was blocked.
Then, right after Nate Bastian tried to bank a puck off Sorokin, the Islanders chipped it out to Colin Miller, who played it a bit too softly and let the puck hop his stick. Mat Barzal, off to the races, got a breakaway and avoided Miller’s high-sticking and hooking attempts. With time and space, he beat Akira Schmid on the glove side. 1-0, Islanders, and a bad look for Colin Miller.
Max Willman had a close look where he could have tied the game, as he baited Romanov into covering the two-on-one pass option in Clarke and nearly wrapped the puck around a sprawling Sorokin. No dice, and the Devils would have to settle for an offensive zone faceoff after an icing.
Simon Nemec made a nice pass through two Islanders to the neutral zone and poked the puck away at the side of the net after a counterattack on his shift seven or so minutes into the period, giving a good showing of his ability to read the opposing offense and get into the right spot.
The Devils would continue to have a bad time, though. Ryan Pulock drove in toward the circles, passing low to the goal line. Brock Nelson got the centering feed from Pierre Engvall and smacked the puck past Schmid. 2-0, Islanders. But at the halfway point of the period, John Marino got a pass from Kevin Bahl on the blueline and ripped the puck past Sorokin, who was unable to get across fast enough! 2-1, halfway through the period. Tyler Toffoli got the secondary assist after guiding the puck back to the point after Jack Hughes made a great play to gain possession.
Simon Nemec made a play to avoid giving up the puck to the forecheck, hopping to the side as he slid the puck up the ice, but he took a hit to his hip after he got the pass off. He got off the ice for John Marino, but the play could have been worse, as he hopped at least partially out of the way.
The Devils went to the power play with under six minutes to play in the period, and the Hughes brothers looked nice and fluid at first — but a couple of weak passes led to a clearance for the Islanders. Luke Hughes got the sole shot of the power play on a wrist shot from the point that was not screened well enough or tipped.
The Islanders then got a power play of their own when Kevin Bahl took a crosschecking minor against Anders Lee, who was battling for position to deflect and screen shots. Michael McLeod took to the penalty kill with John Marino, Daniil Misyul, and Tomas Nosek. The Islanders had a chance to score early, as a shot got through the crease, and Schmid was able to keep the loose puck off balance long enough for Nosek to get it cleaned up. It was a scary moment, though, with the net wide open for a tap-in.
Tyler Toffoli had to take a crosscheck in the back in the neutral zone from William DuFour, who had taken the earlier slashing call. Toffoli was visibly annoyed, but the Devils got a power play out of it. After a weak first minute, Jack Hughes got a feed from his brother, Luke, at the point. Hughes calmly whipped a pass across for a one-timer off Jesper Bratt’s stick, and he tied the game! 2-2.
After Bo Horvat whiffed on a potential one-timer with space to shoot at, the Devils countered with speed, with Bratt stretching the puck ahead to Toffoli and getting it back after Toffoli got deep into the zone. Bratt zipped in and ripped a low shot through Sorokin to take the lead! 3-2, Devils.
Pitter patter here comes Bratter. pic.twitter.com/sHJJTPfy59— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 3, 2023
Unfortunately, the lead would not last long. Jack Hughes played a bad puck to the point, which chipped high over Simon Nemec’s stick. Nemec tried to bat it, instead of glove it down, and Pierre Engvall was able to catch up to the pack and smack it past Schmid. 3-3.
After some quiet, gritty hockey for a good stretch, John Marino made a fantastic play to take the lead back. He came flying into the offensive zone, beating the Islanders down low and trying to slip the puck through for a one-timer. But it bounced off the defender’s skate and past Sorokin! This was really fun to watch: it might have been the fastest I’ve seen Marino move. 4-3, Devils — and Marino came close to making it a hat trick with a slot wrister that went out of play after Sorokin saved it high mere moments after his goal.
Marino's goal on the score sheet. Lazar's goal in spirit. pic.twitter.com/P0ulUfvTr5— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 3, 2023
The Devils continued to break the Islanders and Sorokin down, and the fifth goal was something else. Tyler Toffoli waited, waited, and sent it back to Simon Nemec, who went down to one knee to one-touch it back to Bratt. Bratt slipped it across, and Jack Hughes ripped it home! Ilya Sorokin had no chance. 5-3, Devils. The Devils almost made it six when Tyler Toffoli left a puck on the goal line after breaking down Sorokin. The Islanders collapsed around the net to prevent Bratt from putting the puck into the partially open goal, and the Devils’ lead stayed at two.
Brock Nelson took a crosschecking penalty when the two teams were battling for the puck by the boards. After the whistle, Nathan Bastian almost got into it with him after the whistle, but the linesmen did not allow a fight to take place. On the power play, the Devils’ best chance came when Jack Hughes dragged the puck into a hard wrist shot that ricocheted off the iron. Overall, it still left something to be desired.
Former Devils prospect Ken Appleby took over in net for the Islanders in the third. It would only take 11 seconds for the Islanders to tighten the game to a one-goal differential. John Marino was rocked in the corner, and Barzal got the puck out in front of the goal. Barzal ripped it past Schmid to make it a 5-4 game.
The top line came out just before four minutes had passed in the period, and Jack Hughes made a great play at the blueline to keep it alive in tight space, keeping it moving to John Marino. Marino moved it low, and the Devils worked into a cycle. The puck moved around to Bahl, who fed Marino across the blueline. Marino saw Jesper Bratt in the high slot, got the puck right to him, and Bratt scored his third goal of the night! A preseason hat trick and a 6-4 lead for the New Jersey Devils.
It’s a Bratt trick, people! pic.twitter.com/zNczQrkMc2— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 3, 2023
The referees let an extra crosscheck from Scott Mayfield go when he had Jack Hughes down on the ice in front of him. The crowd was not happy, but the Devils did not respond and the referees let play continue.
Nate Bastian took a holding penalty for grabbing the arm of Ruslan Ishakov with over six minutes to play. Brock Nelson rang a shot off the iron, and the Islanders cycled well to create a netfront shot for Oliver Wahlstrom. Schmid stayed strong, though, and the Islanders had to regroup from their own end. In all, the Islanders had just one shot saved by Schmid, from Wahlstrom’s stick.
Sebastian Aho shot the puck from the point, after the Islanders worked it out of the corner. Aho’s shot went through a few guys and was redirected by Anders Lee past Schmid. 6-5, with three and a half to play. The Devils worked hard to keep the Islanders off the puck, but the Islanders were able to pull Appleby with two minutes to play.
With the open net, Ruff had the top line plus Miller and Misyul holding the fort. Colin Miller kept the puck tight to the boards, and things started to get physical as this shift went on. Akira Schmid made a huge save on Wahlstrom, keeping the rebound from being batted home with his stick. The puck was hit out to Brock Nelson, who shot high and was denied by the glove of Schmid.
Timeout was called with 44.6 to play. The Devils sent out McLeod, Marino, Bahl, Bastian, and Nosek. McLeod lost the draw to Horvat, and Barzal played it to Pulock at the point. Pulock’s shot went wide after a deflection from Lee. This would end up as the Islanders’ last chance, as McLeod and Bastian pressured the puck until it was in the neutral zone, and the clock ran down to zero.
Tyler Toffoli is Legit
While his arrival was celebrated by every Devils fan I know, Tyler Toffoli’s career year in Calgary came at age 30. It was at least something of a question whether Toffoli would be able to repeat his 73-point production in New Jersey with less of an offensive focus on him and presumably less ice time. Then, considering he only scored 50 points in one other season (2015-16), it would be at least somewhat unusual for Toffoli to become such an offensive producer at his age and sustain it over multiple seasons.
Watching him play — and this was the first time I was able to watch him on a television and not just catch up with the highlights — I saw a player that affects the game at all levels, and someone who has obvious precision and skill with the puck. He looked like he was no stranger on a line with Hughes and Bratt, and his decision-making was on point. If Toffoli spends a good chunk or the whole year on that line, I don’t just think he can match his production from last year: I think he can improve on it. He looks that good.
3RD is Still a Question Mark
Coming into the preseason, I assumed that Colin Miller would win the third-pairing slot on the right side, given his lengthy history of solid defense in the NHL. I assumed that if anyone else was going to start there, it must have been because Simon Nemec made it impossible to deny him for another year. While I noticed that many fans who had watched the two were not so enthusiastic about them, and I understood why tonight.
Colin Miller started the game off poorly with his misplay at the blueline. It was hard to watch, considering how much time he had to play the puck. And while he did not have any gaffes for the rest of the game, his pairing with Misyul led to little of substance offensively and continued to suffer defensively. As for Nemec, his attempt to bat the puck was more of a mistake in judgement than a gaffe. But considering his age, those types of mistakes will keep him in the AHL, especially since him and Hughes were outscored 2-1 at 5v5. Even if he looked great on the tic-tac-toe goal, I think Nemec is making it harder on himself by not committing to safer plays of the puck.
I am at the point that I think we are looking at Brendan Smith in the starting lineup on opening night, slotting on Luke Hughes’ (or Kevin Bahl’s) right side. I do not think this is necessarily a total statement against Miller, as Smith has had the benefit of playing a full year in Ruff’s system. Perhaps with some more time, Miller will feel more comfortable with their wide-open, fast-paced hockey. I certainly do not think Miller is at risk of losing his roster spot. But Nemec needed to have an outstanding camp to get that spot, and I do not think this game was at that level. He definitely continued to show his potential and skill, though.
I do not have many thoughts on Max Willman or Justin Dowling. They were pretty much invisible after Willman’s early chance. Graeme Clarke was disappointing. I remember him being strong last camp. Maybe he gets another game, maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know — but he did not do himself any favors tonight. Daniil Misyul was a workable cog in the defense. They didn’t give up any goals with him on, at least, but his pairing with Colin Miller did not have any noteworthy advantage over the opposition.
Tomas Nosek was...alright. He did not really do much with the puck, and he was out there for some penalty killing. I think Tyce Thompson and Curtis Lazar looked great, and their line with Chris Tierney outshot the Islanders 6-1 on a 15-3 attempts differential. Lazar seemed to be their ringleader, but I noticed Tyce’s energy as well.
I really wanted to see John Marino score a hat trick. It would have made my day. He came close — and it would be great to see him unlock some more offense. He has great legs and can generate a lot of straightaway speed, so it shouldn’t be too surprising when he does something like his second goal of the night. Him and Bahl can be a great pairing, if that’s the way the defense ends up shaking out.
Akira Schmid had a bad night. Even on tough shots, you cannot give up five goals on 20 shots. I do not think Schmid will be the starter to begin the year, but this may be for the best. He will have to earn more ice time with strong performances, and it’s best to get these lessons out of the way in October rather than in the spring.
Lastly, I thought the Islanders showed why they can be a dangerous team tonight. Yes, it is preseason. But Brock Nelson, Bo Horvat, and Mat Barzal are not going anywhere. Anders Lee, Pierre Engvall, and Oliver Wahlstrom can contribute. Then add in Pageau and Palmieri, and the Islanders really do not have a terrible forwards group. They played outside of their own game tonight, but they clearly have the shooters to win through more precise opportunism.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Were you particularly pleased by anyone? Displeased? Disappointed? Who do you think survives to the next game? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.