At the end of the first minute, with the top line out (after the fourth lines started the game), Jesper Bratt forechecked hard below the goal line, creating a turnover. Nico Hischier, on the other side of goal, sent it out front for an Ondrej Palat one-timer, which was saved by Ilya Sorokin. Later, the third line of Curtis Lazar, Michael McLeod, and Alex Holtz had a terrible defensive shift, opening up the middle of the ice and allowing the New York Islanders a dangerous chance in front. Vanecek made the save, and the Devils iced the puck.
Dawson Mercer was called for interference less than five minutes into the period when J.G. Pageau flopped like he got hit by a sniper in the chest in the neutral zone in pursuit of a loose puck. Bo Horvat scored on the power play early on with a one-timer. 1-0, Islanders. Casey Cizikas was called for holding Tyler Toffoli behind the play shortly after play resumed.
On the power play, Nico Hischier had a one-timer down low from Toffoli, which was padded out to Jesper Bratt, who sailed the rebound. The Devils had one shot from Dougie Hamilton at the very end of the power play, but had very little going, otherwise. Halfway through the period, Jack Hughes was tripped by multiple Islanders at once, which got no call.
Just after, Michael McLeod got off to a two-on-one with Alex Holtz. Holtz drove down on Noah Dobson with a man on his back, and McLeod ripped a shot past Ilya Sorokin! 1-1 game with nine and a half minutes to play in the period.
After the teams started trading dangerous hits that were going uncalled, the referees did call a little slash on the stick on a Mat Barzal loose-puck partial-break that resulted in a backhander going off the crossbar. Dougie Hamilton went to the box. Michael McLeod gave his stick to John Marino, whose stick broke early on. McLeod went and got another after Barzal stickhandled right around him. After a stoppage for offsides, the Devils cleared off the draw win by Lazar. Kyle Palmieri had a netside wrist shot with 30 seconds left, but Kevin Bahl deflected it high out of play. After the Devils killed the penalty, the teams traded offensive zone shifts before the period expired at 1-1.
John Marino took the puck through all three zones, got to the middle of the offensive zone, and drop passed the puck for Jack Hughes, but turned it over instead. The Islanders came hard down the ice in their counterattack, and Vitek Vanecek had to make a big save. After a stoppage, Alex Holtz had a rush chance where he shot high, but Sorokin came out and made the stop. Near the end of the fourth minute, Chris Tierney centered the puck for Nathan Bastian in front, but Sorokin batted the pass away.
After a bad shift in the defensive end, where Vanecek was scrambling trying to get in front of shots, Tyler Toffoli got the puck by the blueline. With an Islander on his back, he chipped the puck off the wall for a zipping Jack Hughes, who slipped a pass in tight space to Dawson Mercer. Mercer, all alone, roofed the puck on Sorokin! 2-1, Devils.
Top dawg goes top cheese. pic.twitter.com/kXCne51Q93— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 29, 2023
A few minutes later, Mat Barzal went cherrypicking and received a long pass from Anders Lee. Barzal stickhandled in tight and beat Vanecek’s glove cleanly. 2-2. Just a minute later, Vitek gave up a weak goal when Cal Clutterbuck tapped a puck from the slot past Vitek. 3-2, Islanders. And a few minutes later, J.G. Pageau scored with ease on a redirection as Vitek flung his stick trying to get across. 4-2. Akira Schmid came in for the final 27 minutes. It was a whirlwind of bad defense and beyond atrocious goaltending.
The Devils got a power play for the final two minutes, after Schmid made a couple of normal saves on ordinary shots. Kyle Palmieri went to the box for slashing Luke Hughes. The power play looked awful, and Dougie Hamilton came on for the final 20 seconds of the period. He took the offensive zone and was tripped, but no call was made. The period expired with the Devils down two.
Dougie Hamilton did not start the period on the bench, and Brendan Smith returned to his defensive role. The period got off to a slow start, with the Islanders packing the neutral zone. The Devils got their first chance when Mercer set up Hughes for a quick rush backhand, and Brendan Smith kept up the pressure as the third man in the zone. Mercer got to a loose puck in the corner and sent it back across for Jack, who ripped it and scored! 4-3 game.
Jack brings us within 1. pic.twitter.com/RxUYSLzI9g— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 29, 2023
After the Devils had a few chances turned aside by Sorokin, the Devils went to the penalty kill with 10 minutes to play when Jesper Bratt knocked into Scott Mayfield at the blueline on an offsides. Mayfield had put Bratt offsides. The referees called a makeup hooking on Barzal less than a minute into the power play, after the Devils did a good job on their first possession to force the puck out. 20 seconds into four-on-four, Jack Hughes was tripped — and a tripping penalty was finally called on the Islanders. Holmstrom went to the box.
Before Jesper Bratt’s penalty expired, Jack Hughes blasted a one-timer on Sorokin. It trickled to the crease, and Nico Hischier put it home! Tie game, and back to four-on-four for 26 seconds.
Bratt came out of the box, and the Devils took the offensive zone. A shot from Toffoli was turned aside. A one-timer from Bratt was blocked and cleared. The second power play went to waste. Then, at even strength, Alex Holtz was taken down from behind and tripped into the boards, but Brendan Smith was called for a “trip” when he appeared to get something of a slew foot from behind. At the very least, he was upended on the play. Fortunately, the Devils were on their game for this kill. Chris Tierney was upended behind the net at the end of the kill, though, forcing Schmid to face down a five-on-three rush for a last-second save.
After Brendan Smith stepped up for two big hits in the neutral zone on Anders Lee, they dropped the gloves and each got five for fighting. The Devils and Islanders traded some conservative attacks before Michael McLeod came speeding in to take the space below the goal line with just over 30 seconds to play. He worked it back to Kevin Bahl. Bahl surveyed and shot towards the slot, and it deflected down low! Curtis Lazar banged away with Holtz at the side, and it got through! A Devils lead with 22 seconds to play! And John Marino worked the puck out of the zone one last time to seal the victory!
The New Jersey Devils got off to a good start. They left the first period in a tie game, and took the lead early in the second. They were getting lots of pressure on the Islanders, and Ilya Sorokin looked bound to be beaten for more goals. Then Mat Barzal got a nice cherrypicking goal, and Vitek Vanecek completely fell apart by the seams. Personally, I have had enough. I know fans have had enough. At a certain point, it’s not just defensive coverage. It’s the goalie. Vitek needs to get it together soon, or Tom Fitzgerald needs to have his team move on. I don’t want to be watching an .880 goalie around Christmas. This team can’t keep playing in front of one.
But...The Defense Needs to Play Defense
Apparently, John Marino thinks that it’s not his job to cover the net. Just look at the J.G. Pageau goal below.
Clearly, Ondrej Palat is not staying with his man, and Marino needs to stay by the net. I have no problem with the defenders jumping up in transition or in the offensive end, but they NEED to stay closer to the net in the defensive zone. They don’t take anyone out of the play and too often play as if they only need to play peripherally to take the puck away. They’re not forwards. But...
Brendan Smith Was Impactful As Both a Forward and a Defenseman in the Third Period
Brendan Smith continued to play well as a fourth line winger today, which was great to see. His line did have some trouble creating offense, but I thought that Smith was doing everything he could — Bastian seemed like the weak link on the line to me. It was in the third period, though, when Smith made his most impact tonight. Back among the defensemen due to Dougie Hamilton’s sudden absence, Smith did a great job of staying in position on the back end. Then, he made a huge play to take the rebound of Jack Hughes’ backhand, leading to Dawson Mercer setting up the third Devils goal. Then, after the game was tied, Smith stepped up for a perfect hit on Anders Lee to prevent a counterattack. When Lee came for him on the other side of the ice, Smith dropped him again and dropped the gloves. By rule, he should have earned a power play due to Lee’s instigation, but I’ll give him the credit for stunning the Islanders late with his hits, leading to their captain finishing a losing effort in the locker room.
The Jack and Nico Show
A week ago, this is a 4-2 loss. Having Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier made this a winnable game, and win they did. It’s been awhile since I have seen Jack Hughes skate with so much hell-bent conviction, but he was determined to get the game tied. And while Nico Hischier was not getting the same results at even strength, he was working for it. Every now and then he shed checks while protecting the puck like a running back barreling over a linebacker. His downhill game helped disrupt the Islanders’ possession play, and he was rewarded with Jack Hughes’ rebound on the power play.
Coming into the game, Akira Schmid had the tough task of playing behind a deflated team at the end of the second. He was able to make his stops as asked, and the Devils went to intermission down two. He finished with nine stops in 26:55, with one of those being a high-danger save. Akira Schmid needs to start the next game. He did not face as tough shots as Vanecek did, but he was much more calm in his movements in general. Hopefully this is a continuation of Schmid regaining his form, as he is up to an .897 save percentage compared to Vanecek’s .879. The Devils need a hot goalie soon.
McLeod and Lazar
Tonight was a fruitful night for Michael McLeod and Curtis Lazar. Both had a goal and an assist, as Lazar caused a turnover leading to McLeod’s first goal, while McLeod took the offensive zone and set up Bahl, leading to Lazar’s game-winning goal. This was huge, especially their first shift together looked pretty bad, and I was preparing for a rough bottom six game. They really proved me wrong. Both players broke a pointless streak — McLeod had gone six games, with Lazar going three games between points (his last producing night being his multi-point night in Pittsburgh). Against a gritty team like the Islanders, it was really nice to see grit win the night for the Devils (after Jack and Nico worked to tie it).
Per Lindy Ruff in the postgame presser, Dougie Hamilton missed the third period with an upper-body injury. He hit the ice hard after being taken down in front of the referees at the end of the second period. Before going out, Hamilton had a team-high 83.33 CF% (just above Luke Hughes’ 82.50), allowing just four shot attempts but losing coverage on a goal against for a 1-1 goals ratio.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you expecting a loss? Or did you believe? Who had the best night? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.