- After defeating the Blackhawks in their first full game without Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, the Devils entered Tuesday night against the Avalanche with the opportunity to make a statement: this team is here to stay, with or without their star centers.
- The Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the first period against an Avalanche goaltender that had surrendered 22 goals in the last five games, putting themselves in a strong position to finish out the game strong and secure their eighth win on the season.
- Then, disaster. After a messy second period that saw the Devils narrowly avoid injuries to Luke Hughes and Timo Meier, they allowed the Avalanche to get under their skin and snuff them out 6-3.
After some painful commentary from the TNT talking heads, the game finally began at a brisk 10:30 EST. The Devils ran the same lines that carried them through the final two periods of the Blackhawks game, and they jumped out of the gates with a few shots on Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Miles Wood reintroduced himself to Vitek Vanecek by barreling into the goalie’s right pad, but luckily nobody was hurt on the play.
Minutes later, Tyler Toffoli got the Devils on the board. He forechecked deep into the offensive zone and put pressure on the defenseman, who made a panicked pass that ended up on John Marino’s stick. Marino made a beautiful slap-pass to Toffoli at the back door, who made no mistake on a sharp angle to beat a sprawling Georgiev. For a second, I wondered if I was watching the same team that started so sluggishly so many other games. They were clearly a step, sometimes two, ahead of the Avalanche, who struggled to answer the Devils’ passing early in the first.
Still, the Avalanche generated a few chances that Vanecek—who had a very good game against the Blackhawks—had to stay sharp to stonewall. Timo Meier and Kevin Bahl also contributed to the score remaining 1-0, blocking a pair of shots that could’ve turned into prime scoring chances. Bahl limped to the bench after a particularly hard slapshot he deflected in front of the net. It must’ve been just a stinger, though, as Bahl returned shortly after for special teams duty.
Curtis Lazar took a hooking penalty midway through the period, sending the penalty kill onto the ice for the first time against a dangerous offensive team. It wasn’t the strongest call—Lazar barely caught the Avalanche player’s wrist—but referees like to call any stick-on-hand contact, so it’s hard to complain. The Avalanche generated a few shots on the power play. That’s about it, though. The penalty killers cut off any scoring chances before they happened, and despite being outshot 7-3 through the first half period, New Jersey kept themselves in the driver’s seat.
Meier took a very similar penalty as Lazar in the final minutes of the first. Again, it wasn’t much, but I was more frustrated at this one. After the refs made it clear they would call any stick contact on the hands, why wrap your blade around the puck-carrier’s wrists (even if only for a second)?
Mikko Rantanen and the Avalanche made them pay. This penalty kill was a far cry from the success of the Devils’ first. Colorado had the run of the zone, cycling to and from the point as they pleased. Cale Makar found Rantanen on the back door, who deflected the puck past Vanecek to tie the game at one apiece. It was clear to me that this was another time Vanecek either didn’t read the play correctly or lost sight of the puck. He had a strong first period overall, and it’s hard to fault him when they’re a man down. Nevertheless.
Dawson Mercer drove the Avalanche net and created a nice scoring opportunity for himself, but he couldn’t capitalize. The Devils entered the second period tied 1-1.
I was disappointed at the tie game after one. The Devils have had such issues starting on time that I wanted them rewarded for playing hard at puck drop and earning the game’s first goal. But the two penalties sapped the momentum they’d built off Toffoli’s goal. As Colorado’s drive to win waxed, New Jersey’s waned, and the Avalanche got the better of them with their speed through the neutral and offensive zones and on the forecheck.
Once more, the Devils out-skated the Avalanche at the start of the second period, but a two-on-one went Colorado’s way. Bahl tried to break up the pass by sprawling on the ice—I thought he timed this well, even if it didn’t work in the end—but Miles Wood still ended up generating a shot on the play. Vanecek made the save. Crisis averted, right?
Wrong. Ross Colton entered the slot as the late man into the zone and wristed the rebound past Vanecek, putting the Avalanche up 2-1. The Devils would head to another power play just moments after the goal, yet they weren’t able to set up their cycle in the zone, leaving the league’s best power play scoreless after two opportunities with the extra man. Not only that, but Colorado managed a trio of shorthanded chances.
At this point, the Avalanche were simply out-skating the Devils. New Jersey is the poster child for “fast, attacking, supportive” hockey through the NHL. They met their Western Conference match in Colorado who, with a Stanley Cup under their belt, played the Devils game tonight and played it better.
Wood caught Jonas Siegenthaler with a nasty hit along the boards midway through the second. Though the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder, Wood laid the check at speed and drove Siegenthaler into the boards head-first. He was lucky he wasn’t called for boarding. Hamilton was not so lucky, as the refs banished him to the penalty box for roughing in response to Wood’s hit. Bahl also interfered with Nathan MacKinnon and put the Devils down 5-on-3.
John Marino stickhandled a 2-on-1 opportunity away early in the penalty, but a Siegenthaler-led penalty kill did much better this time to break up the Avalanche’s cycle, ending in the opposition taking a too-many-men penalty. 4-on-4 came next.
Then Colton tried to kill the Devils’ remaining Hughes brother. If the Wood hit was borderline boarding then this was textbook boarding. I don’t buy the commentator’s assertion that Hughes turned at the last second. More like he was putting on the brakes mere feet away from the boards, and Colton laid a dangerous hit that peewee players know not to commit. Hughes didn’t even have the puck. To make matters worse, Hughes headed down the tunnel after the play. Though he did return and this was likely concussion protocol, I can’t imagine the fury Devils fans would feel if yet another of their young stars was injured by the actions of an opposing player.
Colton turned right around to lay an arguably more dangerous cross-check to Meier’s face after the whistle. I was at a loss for words when he only received a minor for the boarding call. Yes, he got the misconduct in the end (for the crosscheck), but to me that smacked of Colton going, “Well, I’m already getting thrown out, I might as well sneak one more heinous act in before I go.” That was two major penalties. But in the name of game management, the refs gave him one. Why not take three major penalties? Or four? Why not commit so many majors, the refs can’t hope to see or call them all?
Nevertheless, the Devils walked away with just under seven minutes of power play time. Yes. Seven.
Anyway. Timo Meier enacted sweet, sweet vengeance just seconds later with a sneaky shot below Georgiev’s blocker, putting the Devils back on even footing at 2-2.
Timo gets one on the power play. pic.twitter.com/M2pWzoOqoO— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 8, 2023
It was short-lived. If there’s one thing you don’t want to do after scoring a goal like that after a penalty like that, it’s surrendering a half-baked goal to the league’s least-effective breakaway artist and part-time wrecking ball, Miles Wood. Bad turnover, bad goal by Vanecek (who tries the half-butterfly anymore?), and they nearly gave up another shorthanded goal less than a minute later. Holtz took a boneheaded penalty by flinging an Avalanche player’s stick away, once again annihilating any momentum the Devils were building.
4-on-4 was pitiful without Jack Hughes. Thankfully, Dougie Hamilton tied the game off a wrister through traffic once the power play resumed, re-tying the game at three. Meier screened Georgiev in front, which was the driving factor on the goal.
Professor Dougie continuing to teach 'em. pic.twitter.com/RPmyzuB7ri— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 8, 2023
Luke Hughes was grabbed for a penalty in the final two minutes of the second. They said it was hooking. While I’m a biased party, I thought it was one of the more hilarious chicken-wing stick-holds I’ve seen in recent memory. Not sure what Luke is supposed to do there. The Devils narrowly avoided surrendering another ill-timed goal here, and they entered the final period fortunate to be tied 3-3.
Yikes. This was an aggravating period of hockey to watch.
D. Hamilton recorded his 36th career regular-season goal with NJD, which tied K. Daneyko for 10th place all-time in franchise among defensemen. #NJDevils— NJDevilsPR (@NJDevilsPR) November 8, 2023
John Marino might’ve scored in the first three minutes of the third, but Drew O’Connor got his stick on the puck right as Marino released the shot, costing him the opportunity. MacKinnon rang a shot off the post in the Devils’ end of the ice, marking the seventh odd-man rush they’d surrendered by this point of the game.
Then the wheels came off the proverbial bus, and instead Devils fans had to book a one-way train ticket to the depths of despair.
Off a board battle outside the left circle, Chris Tierney fed Ryan Johansen with a beautiful pass in the slot, and Johansen rocketed a shot past Vanecek to put the Avalanche up 4-3. It’s too bad Tierney won’t get credit on the scoresheet for what should be his first point of the season. Tierney was very bad tonight. Eye-test, analytics. Either way, he was a big negative on the ice. When you’re playing fewer than eight minutes in a night, you don’t want to be very bad. I think most coaches would settle for average to mediocre from fourth-liners. I understand the Devils are hurting at forward with key injuries and depth injuries to people like Nosek. But why not give Nolan Foote or Graeme Clarke a look next? They can’t be any worse.
Nathan MacKinnon scored next. Like several rushes before, MacKinnon managed to slip behind the Devils’ defenders. He slid the puck beneath Vanecek’s pad for a backhand goal that killed what remained of the Devils’ hope. A long-range empty-netter from Mikko Rantanen finished them off, and they fell 6-3 in what was possibly the most frustrating watch of the season thus far.
Will Ross Colton Face Suspension?
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety handed out 22 suspensions last season. They’ve delivered six in just the first month this season, with three coming in at four games. Per Scouting the Refs, the George Parros-led department did not levy a single suspension for more than four games last season.
That does not mean that there are more offenses being committed this season than there were last. I believe it was Elliotte Friedman who theorized on 32 Thoughts earlier this season that somebody—perhaps Parros himself—in the department was given a polite memo asking them to, you know, do their jobs. Especially after the league’s most respected active veteran and star criticized player safety just before the season began.
Will Ross Colton face suspension for his hit on Hughes or the subsequent crosscheck on Meier? My thoughts: no, and yes. I imagine his ejection from the game will excuse him from one of the offenses—probably the boarding, which the talking heads at TNT already seemed to believe was “““borderline”””. I do expect he’ll face an additional game due to the egregious intent to injure from that crosscheck. But I’ve been proven very wrong on suspensions in the past.
Mike McLeod, First Line Center
With the coaching staff not trusting Mercer to take the responsibility of first-line center duties, Mike McLeod replaced Jack Hughes on the first line beside Bratt and Toffoli. Per Natural Stat Trick, McLeod did not have a great night from a possession standpoint, but not many Devils did. His line overall was a positive, he scored another point tonight (back before the game came off the rails), and he’s still a monster on the faceoff circle. I just wanted to give him some credit before I get really negative.
McLeod: 2 goals and 4 points in 6 games (counting tonight) sliding in for Nico Hischier. https://t.co/4HUsQnBPGJ— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) November 8, 2023
No More Excuses
Yes, it’s painful to play without Nico Hischier. Yes, if it’s painful without Hischier, it’s twice as bad without Hughes.
Hughes can win games by himself. That’s a given. With McDavid struggling (by his standards) through this early part of the season, Jack Hughes was the best hockey player in the world during that time. Hischier doesn’t have quite the same offensive game-breaking ability, but he’s a Selke runner-up, by God, the heir apparent to Patrice Bergeron as the NHL’s best two-way forward. They’re exactly the kind of players Stanley Cup contenders rely upon in championship-winning runs.
That’s why it’s important for them to learn how to win without them now, early in the season. The Devils had relatively good injury luck last season. Eleven players—including their most important pieces—played more than 76 games. But if they want to be like Tampa Bay, they’ll have to figure out how to win when their stars aren’t in the lineup.
I’d hoped that would begin tonight. Against the Blackhawks, it felt like the process was there. But the Blackhawks are a bad, bad team, and—despite their early-season woes—the Avalanche are still Stanley Cup contenders. This game was as sloppy as they come. Some of that was the Avalanche making questionable and outright dangerous plays. But that doesn’t excuse the number of odd-man rushes the Devils gave up, their inability to break up plays through the neutral zone, their struggles in net, and their defensive zone coverage.
They played embarrassingly in the third period. Forwards, defensemen, goaltending. When they needed to show some mental toughness and eke out a win against a superior opponent, they fell into bad habits and dumpstered their chances of winning.
It was all bad.
That’s it. That’s the recap.
Will Ross Colton be suspended? What do the Devils need to do to avoid all these odd-man rushes? How long before Juuse Saros wears red and black? Leave your comments below.