The New Jersey Devils seemed like they were getting the better of their first few shifts against the Washington Capitals, taking a majority of possession time and cycling at ease in the offensive zone. Th Capitals did get a good chance two and a half minutes in, when Martin Fehervary shot from the wall off Akira Schmid — and the puck rebounded way out, but was blocked well before it reached the net. For all the time they had the puck, they had a goose egg in the shots column until around six minutes into the game. Dawson Mercer centered a puck for Erik Haula, cutting down the middle on the rush. Haula was stoned at the mouth of the crease by rookie 27-year old goaltender Hunter Shepard, who got his pad on the redirection.
Anthony Mantha broke the scoring open with a slick wrist shot low to the right of Akira Schmid, who might have gotten caught waiting for a pass across. 1-0, Capitals. It was one that I think Schmid would want back.
Through 10 minutes, the Devils only had the one shot on goal. Their possessions became more and more fleeting, with more of an apparent focus on making individual plays than passing into open space at times. Dawson Mercer created their next chance, over 13 minutes in, when he jumped to catch a puck at the blueline and created a netfront scramble for Holtz and Haula. This led to a lengthy possession for that line, with Luke Hughes aiding their puck movement — but there was too much movement and not enough shooting.
After another long offensive zone shift with no shots — this time for the top line — Akira Schmid gave up another soft goal under his pad when Dylan Strome got a pass across on the rush, was tripped, and whacked the puck underneath Schmid’s pass, as he got himself out of position on the pass. 2-0, Capitals.
Sonny Milano made it 3-0 with a sharp-angle shot, just below the faceoff dot, into the top corner on the rush with two and a half minutes to play. This was a good shot, but this was another one that Schmid needed to stop.
After that goal, Michael McLeod was injured by a high hit into the boards from Tom Wilson, but no penalty was called. McLeod stayed on the ice, but was visibly hurt — and play got a bit chippy, but did not lead to any scrums. After one period, the Devils were down 3-0, down in shots 8-2, but had only allowed 0.67 xGA.
Vitek Vanecek started the second period. The Devils seemed more committed to getting shots on goal early, with shots coming from Timo Meier, Luke Hughes, and Jack Hughes on the same shift. By two and a half minutes in, the Devils had five shots on goal in the period. By four and a half minutes in, the shots were even at 10.
Leading up to that tenth shot, Luke Hughes went deep into the offensive zone, taking the puck away from Tom Wilson on the forecheck. He worked it back out, and a point shot was blocked, leading to a shot attempt from Jack Hughes that came back out to Tyler Toffoli, who roofed a wrist shot! 3-1.
He just wont stop scoring goals. pic.twitter.com/oo4zKVJjkC— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 26, 2023
Their eleventh shot would be similarly fruitful. Guess who set this one up? Tyler Toffoli took the puck towards the net with a head of steam, passing right to Jack Hughes. From near the wall in the corner, Jack picked his spot with a perfect pass across to Timo Meier, who scored his first of the year at the side of the crease! 3-2.
Their twelfth shot of the game? It was a doozy to get to. The Hughes line, which seemed like it was on for a third straight shift, fought the Capitals back into their own end again, changing off for a fresh Hischier line. They worked into their cycle, with Ondrej Palat taking a one-timer at a soft pass from Bratt behind the net. It was blocked as Nico Hischier was spun away from his netfront spot. After a wide shot from Bratt, Nico fought through Tom Wilson, back to the puck with Shepard down, and he chipped it top shelf! Tie game, just six and a half minutes into the period!
Cap bringing us all the way back. pic.twitter.com/ACLOqnrCNh— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 26, 2023
Timo Meier had a chance to take the lead when he intercepted a pass at the blueline, shooting off the pad on the breakaway. But the Hughes line would take possession. Luke Hughes made a beautiful play to shoot a backhand across his body, through Timo’s legs, off the pad and to Toffoli’s stick. Tyler Toffoli took his second goal of the night, and gave the Devils the lead with a shot through the five hole! 4-3, Devils.
Tyler the Creator (of goals…so many goals). pic.twitter.com/jaVQOw5UYW— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 26, 2023
Nathan Bastian took the first penalty of the game for hooking, about 10 and a half minutes into the period. The penalty kill stayed in the defensive end for a long-time, but hardly gave up shot attempts. Most importantly, they covered the pass to Ovechkin. Vitek Vanecek had to make one big save late, and the Devils caught Bastian coming out of the box. Bastian took a low wrist shot, spun off the backcheck, got his own rebound and got hit by a leaping T.J. Oshie, up high, on the second shot. Of course, no call for the illegal hit.
They would later call a penalty on the Capitals, with Sonny Milano going to the box for hooking. The fourth line was out with Luke Hughes, and Jack came onto the ice as the extra skater. They had 50 seconds of possession time, per the broadcast, and took a couple shots at the goal through traffic, but the Capitals touched up with 3:32 to play in the period.
After a T.V. timeout, the first unit took to the ice. Nico Hischier had a quick one-timer from the side of the slot, but it was deflected high and away by John Carlson’s stick. After they retook possession, this unit had a lot of trouble getting another good shot attempt. The seocnd unit came on for a few seconds at the end, but this was a wasted power play.
Vitek Vanecek had to make a big save on an Anthony Mantha one-timer, courtesy of Ovechkin creating from behind the net. Then, with just seconds remaining in the period, Nico Hischier got his stick caught in Ovechkin’s leg, turning him around and bringing a tripping call upon the Devils. Erik Haula cleared off the draw, ending the period and killing 11 seconds off the Washington power play.
Jonas Siegenthaler committed the cardinal sin of defensemen to start the period, getting caught on the entry, out of position, failing to stop the pass across from Kuznetsov to Strome and crashing into Vitek Vanecek as the Capitals tied the game at 4-4.
Things would get worse. Luke Hughes was shaken up by a Rasmus Sandin hip check attempt, which caught more of his skate than his body and made him crash into the boards, and Trevor Van Riemsdyk held Nico Hischier by the boards as play went the other way. Connor McMichael scored on a backhand, getting the pass on the two-on-one, as his shot trickled through Vitek Vanecek. 5-4, Capitals.
Sonny Milano would make it a 6-4 game, as the Capitals broke the Devils down, with John Marino drifting from behind the net as his man, Sonny Milano, redirected a pass past Vanecek. Lindy Ruff, however, quickly called a challenge for offsides, and it turned out to be a clear-as-day offsides that the linesman missed. Back to 5-4.
Back on the ice nearly six minutes into the period, Luke Hughes had a couple shot attempts from the point that nearly led to a Timo Meier goal, but the puck went wide from Timo’s deflection. Dawson Mercer hurt their second comeback effort with a hook of Milano’s hands, sending the Devils to the penalty kill with 13 and a half minutes to play. This penalty kill got the puck out of the zone early but dealt with the cycle for awhile, until Ovechkin took a low shot that came out to the slot. The puck was cleared away. After the end of the power play, the puck was sent from the corner to Ovechkin in the far circle, but Vitek quickly whipped the goalie stick to bat the pass away.
The Devils’ comeback was ultimately doomed. They put inconsistent pressure on the Capitals — mostly from Jack Hughes — and pulled Vitek Vanecek with over two minutes to play. Jack was ultimately crunched into the boards by Martin Ferhevary as he tried to catch up to a loose puck, and Dougie Hamilton got caught trying to pick the puck away from Alex Ovechkin at the blueline. 6-4, Capitals with a minute and a half to play.
Ruff called timeout after the goal and pulled Vitek immediately off the draw. The Devils, however, were slow, and could not connect their passes. Nico Hischier got the first good shot of the six-on-five with...20 seconds left in the game, as Nico Hischier was denied from the edge of the circle. And there you have the issue in this game: forcing bad passes and waiting too long for shot lanes in the offensive zone.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Japers’ Rink.
Goalies Need to Make More Stops
The Devils would have won tonight if their goalies played to an average standard. Combined, they faced a total of 1.91 xGA and gave up five goals. Akira Schmid gave up three goals on 0.66 xGA, with only one high-danger shot faced (a goal), while Vitek stopped 14 of 16, with three saves on five high-danger shots. In abstract, some of the goals can happen every now and then, but only Dylan Strome’s second goal seemed truly unstoppable. Why?
Every defenseman was on for a goal against tonight, and all made mistakes in the defensive end. Breakout plays seemed, at times, lackadaisical and predictable. On one particular goal against (Mantha’s), Jonas Siegenthaler had the puck at the top of the defensive zone and held onto it too long, as Haula was too close to him and he had no forward pass option. Instead of just chipping the puck out, he was stripped, and Schmid gave up his first. Siegenthaler later got caught right off the third period opening draw, crashing into Schmid as another two-on-one was scored for Dylan Strome’s second goal of the game. Aside from Jonas, Dougie Hamilton was unable to prevent a two-on-one pass across, as he went diving down before the game-winning goal. Both Marino and Bahl let the pass get through them on Strome’s first goal. It was a weak night from them. Lindy Ruff was angry about these lapses after the game, and rightly so. He gave this answer to a question about possibly shuffling the defense:
Defense is a commitment. By individuals. It’s not about shuffling. If you don’t make a commitment, it doesn’t matter where I shuffle them to. The only way that you that, uh, you can really eliminate poor defensive players is if I shuffle them off out of the lineup. We need a bigger commitment if we’re going to give up a two-on-one for the game-winning goal on a nothing play. And I know we had two bodies down, but when we have two bodies down, we can’t be giving what we gave up.
Hopefully, Lindy follows through on his inclination to shuffle someone out of the lineup on Friday. They cannot drift through games like they tried to tonight.
A Tale of Three Offenses
The Devils had three different types of offense this game. In the first period, they had plenty of time carrying the puck, but only managed two shots. They had no urgency with the puck and got burned. In the second period, they flew all over the ice, tripling their first period shot count in just a few short minutes. Here, they had their outburst of scoring and put the Capitals completely on their heels at five-on-five.
“This loss is on us. We've got to find a way to have better starts, especially at home.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 26, 2023
Meier ⤵️#NJDevils | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/C4bEBaQHc0
My issue was the third period, most of all. I could tell that the team was increasingly tired, which was understandable on the back-to-back. But it felt that, as this period went on, that individuals were trying too hard to create plays on their own. An issue was that only Jack Hughes had enough in his legs to pull this off (even though the Caps also played last night). Everyone else on the team struggled to keep possession, and the team only managed six third period shots. This team is at its best when more than one skater gets moving in the offensive zone, but there was no apparent team approach to offense for much of the late third.
And another problem? The original bottom six configuration accounted for a 2-5 shot margin, with the Haula line being outshot 2-4, and the fourth line being outshot 0-1. If the team can only score when Jack Hughes is on the ice, and can only connect passes with him on the ice, these third period performances will continue.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Have you been surprised by the defensive performances? Are you concerned about the goaltending? What needs to happen to make the team more consistent? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.