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Devils Defense Falls Apart When it Matters Most in 6-3 Loss to Winnipeg Jets

Despicable ending to what could have been a good game.

New Jersey Devils v Winnipeg Jets
Kevin Bahl woke up too late in the third period.
Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

First Period

The Devils looked off to start the game, with poor puck movement from the back end, causing defensive issues and offensive inefficiency. Akira Schmid, making the start for the Devils, made a few big saves in the first five minutes. Brendan Smith stopped the Winnipeg attack for a moment by drawing a penalty in the defensive zone, but the Winnipeg Jets forced a defensive zone draw just 14 seconds into the Devils’ power play.

After the Devils got the puck back into the offensive zone, Tyler Toffoli took a couple shots — but only one was on goal. The Devils were the beneficiaries of a clearance going off a linesman, and Jesper Bratt stopped a clearance at the blueline with about 40 seconds left on the power play — but the Devils were unable to make Winnipeg pay.

The first line caused some havoc towards the halfway point of the period, as Jesper Bratt took a one-timer from the blueline that was kicked out by Connor Hellebuyck. John Marino got on the puck and shot from a sharp angle, but he shot it off a jumping Timo Meier. On the other end, Akira Schmid robbed Cole Perfetti with a stretch of his right pad ona tap-in attempt.

With eight minutes to play, Rasmus Kupari went down the tunnel for the Winnipeg Jets after he took a shot off his leg. With the Jets going 11/7 during the game, they were down to 10 forwards at this point. A couple minutes later, Brendan Smith and Curtis Lazar could not get a handle of an easy loose puck in the neutral zone, leaving Kevin Bahl alone to defend a two-on-one. Bahl did so to perfection, intercepting the puck and closing down on the puck carrier. The Jets repossessed the puck and worked it back high, but Akira Schmid made a smooth glove save to freeze play.

With four minutes to play, after a terrible defensive zone shift, Timo Meier went down in a heap by the boards as he worked the puck out of the defensive zone. He stayed on the bench. Shortly after, Dougie Hamilton took an interference penalty for shoving Mark Scheifele in the blue paint. After a lengthy defensive zone shift for the top penalty killing unit, Tomas Nosek reached out to deflect the puck out of the zone, allowing the team to change lines for the seocnd minute, which went much more smoothly for the Devils’ penalty killers than the first minute.

Second Period

The Winnipeg Jets had the advantage in the early minutes of the second period, though the game was largely played in tight space and along the boards. Eventually, though, the Jets would break the New Jersey Devils defense, and Akira Schmid was beaten as well. Kyle Connor scored just past the eight-minute mark, after Schmid had seen a shot go past him and hit the crossbar before kicking out a hard shot back out to Connor with traffic in front. 1-0, Jets.

Erik Haula created an awesome chance for Curtis Lazar when he took the puck away from the Jets off a pass from Hellebuyck behind the net. Lazar, though, did not shoot, and lost the puck trying to tuck it past Hellebuyck.

With 6:37 to play, Tyler Toffoli was called for roughing Nino Neiderreiter with a crosscheck after a check by the benches. Akira Schmid would quickly be beat by a fluttering puck off a deflected Cole Perfetti shot, which was also deflected by Alex Iaffalo in front. 2-0, Jets.

The Devils would head to a power play of their own as the referees tagged Dylan DeMelo for interference. They had good puck movement off the draw, keeping the puck away from the Winnipeg penalty killers. Ondrej Palat shaded towards the goal line with the puck before slipping it over to Timo Meier for a one-timer, beating Hellebuyck and bringing the Devils to within 1.

The Devils kept pressing. With the third line out with John Marino and Luke Hughes, the puck was won out of the corner and worked back to Hughes at the top of the zone. He skated it to the center of the blueline, shooting low. The puck came out to Curtis Lazar, whose rebound shot was kicked further out into the slot, where John Marino buried it to tie the game!

The offensive flow of the game got to their heads, though. Luke Hughes was caught on the wrong side with Dougie Hamilton after trying to get the puck from the boards, and Nikolaj Ehlers was able to sit wide-open at the side of the net for a tap-in. 3-2, Winnipeg, with under two minutes left in the period.

Third Period

Tyler Toffoli took the first shot of the period with a hard wrister from down low, but the rebound was cleared down for an icing. Winnipeg won the draw and immediately had an odd-man rush, but Schmid made two stops. Dougie Hamilton made Hellebuyck stay sharp on a long-range slap shot on the other end, and Winnipeg iced it again.

The Devils’ third line came strong on their shift, with Haula and Lazar taking a good few whacks at the puck at the edge of the crease. Then, as Lazar was going to the puck by the boards, Brenden Dillon hit him up high into them, getting called for a high-sticking penalty. Winnipeg cleared after an early Bratt shot at the goal, and the Devils took two tries to regain the zone fully — but Winnipeg got another clearance on the back of poor puck movement. The second unit was unable to get anything going themselves, and play returned to even strength.

After Ondrej Palat and Tyler Toffoli had sharp-angle shots that could have tied the game, Brendan Smith got away with a boarding on Vladimir Namestnikov. Nikolaj Ehlers came in to fight Smith. After the fight, they retroactively called the boarding on Smith to negate the two-minute cross-checking penalty on Ehlers. Just a couple minutes later, they called Curtis Lazar for a hooking penalty.

Kyle Connor backhanded the puck off the crossbar following a lengthy puck battle in the corner. Akira Schmid made two saves with the second power play unit out, freezing the puck off a Neal Pionk wrist shot. After the draw, Jonas Siegenthaler lost the puck, and Erik Haula could not get the puck out at the blueline when he had a chance — and Kyle Connor made it a two-goal game with a one-timer.

After a potential icing was waived off., Namestnikov put Kevin Bahl into the boards, and Morgan Barron scored after Namestikov worked it out to the front to make it 5-2, as Bahl made a beeline for Namestnikov.

Tyler Toffoli drew a cross-checking penalty from Josh Morrissey after he had hit Morrissey behind the net. With the second power play unit out, Dougie Hamilton ripped the puck off the crossbar with a one-timer from the point, and the puck came out to Dawson Mercer. Mercer whiffed once, and then roofed the second attempt at the puck. 5-3 with 5:43 to play.

With four minutes to play, Ondrej Palat got run over by Mark Scheifele in the neutral zone. Curtis Lazar jumped on Scheifele, and the referees had more decisions to make after the stoppage. Naturally, they gave the Jets a power play. On the kill, Kevin Bahl went in with the puck and tried to set up Dawson Mercer, but he got caught on the net and took it off the moorings.

Lindy Ruff pulled Schmid as soon as the Devils almost got it into the offensive zone, but they never really had possession. An easy empty netter. 6-3.

Mason Appleton was sent off with a misconduct for taking Kevin Bahl down with a headlock after Bahl finished his check on Namestnikov in the corner. The Devils went to the power play for the last 47 seconds.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

An Assortment of Criticisms and Some Praise

What is Ryan McGill, the top defensive assistant for the New Jersey Devils, teaching his defensemen to do in odd-man situations and on the penalty kill? When Luke Hughes was paired with Dougie Hamilton, did they have any conversations about needing to be careful of ensuring both sides of the net get covered, considering Luke’s liking for playing the right side?

The Devils, for what it’s worth, put forth a decent enough game in the offensive end to come out with two points. So why didn’t they? Once the fourth line was banished after just six minutes of even strength ice time, the Devils largely dominated the run of play. Tomas Nosek, Chris Tierney, and Nathan Bastian should never share the ice again after seeing two goals against in that limited ice time of theirs. But their mistakes should have been overcome, if not for the lapsed coverage from Hughes and Hamilton after Marino tied the game.

I will blame that more than I blame the referees for making up rules as they go along, with their retroactively calling a penalty on Brendan Smith to cancel a Devils power play. If Brendan Smith had not boarded someone right in front of the referee, I would feel differently. But he did, and if not for that dagger in the late second period, it would have been a one-goal game.

I think when the referees gave Winnipeg that power play, they pretty much sealed the game, though. Once it was a two-goal game, the Devils were too unfocused and fragile to keep their heads in the comeback. Between Kevin Bahl trying to take Namestnikov’s head off after he lost the puck to a hit in the corner (as the game turned from 4-2 to 5-2) and Curtis Lazar killing the comeback one last time for good measure with an unnecessary roughing penalty (not long after they got it back to 5-3), the Devils were clearly missing their leadership on the ice. Just eliminating isolated, simple mistakes — whether it be mistakes of positioning or discipline — would have been enough to get this game to overtime at the very least.

Ondrej Palat played very well, with a lot of responsibility for puck movement tonight. Jesper Bratt was largely neutralized by Winnipeg, though, and Tyler Toffoli was a mixed bag of offensive opportunity and a lack of discipline tonight. Timo Meier fought through an injury and had a nice goal, but could have been more impactful down the stretch. Unfortunately, I did not think day one of Top Six Alexander Holtz went all too well, as he did not do much of anything. But with Dawson Mercer on the board for a second out of three games, perhaps the winger situation will look better soon with Jack Hughes nearing a return.

Aside from their non-communication error, the Hughes-Hamilton pairing was outstanding at creating offense. But the shutdown pairing of Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino had the highest expected goals against, with Siegenthaler having a whopping 1.21 xGA at five-on-five, with two goals against. They were on the ice for plenty of offensive opportunities for the Devils, but Siegenthaler needs to do more of what he’s paid to do. Lastly, Brendan Smith was a black hole tonight. Even if he was not on the ice for a goal against, the team’s offense grinded to a halt with him out there. I do not think the pairing between him and Bahl will work.

So that’s that. It was a frustrating end to a pretty entertaining first 45 or so minutes. Even though there were dips and slow starts in the beginning, it was nothing compared to seeing their undisciplined, sloppy play in response to falling down two goals on the Lazar hooking penalty, after Brendan Smith’s retroactive boarding minor. Whatever hope I had from Schmid’s game went by the wayside, and the good things I saw at the start of the third mostly dissipated as the Devils fell flat a quarter-mile before the finish line.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of the game? What do you think is not clicking between McGill’s instruction and his defensemen? Why do they keep giving up so many odd-man rushes when they know they are down their best offensive players? What did you think about the lines tonight? What about individual performances? Schmid? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

And whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris — goodnight.