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Western Road Trip Ends on Disappointing Note as Devils Run Out of Gas in 4-1 Loss in Edmonton

Not great, but not the worst game I’ve watched this year by a long shot.

NHL: DEC 10 Devils at Oilers Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First Period

The New Jersey Devils did a good job early on, stifling the Edmonton Oilers’ puck movement and keeping play towards the offensive end. Kevin Bahl showed off a bit more ability to backskate than he usually does, keeping a tight gap on Connor McDavid to force and offsides. The Devils were able to get the possession, forcing and icing and testing Calvin Pickard with a couple shots.

The Edmonton Oilers would then appear to be the first to strike four and a half minutes in, when Connor Brown got a greasy goal when Akira Schmid backhanded the puck into Colin Miller and Brown on the wall. Brown pushed it in front, and Luke Hughes appeared to knock into the net as Schmid fell on his back. But first, Lindy Ruff called for a challenge as Evander Kane sealed Akira Schmid off from returning to the crease when the puck was played to the side of the net. Thus, the goal was waved off.

The Devils had a chance to take the lead when Jesper Bratt led a three-on-one against Darnell Nurse. Bratt took the shot, and Pickard’s rebound went out to Nico Hischier, who just had his stick tied up enough to prevent him from scoring. On the other end, a minute later, Connor McDavid spun out of the rush with the puck, settling it up high before saucering the puck down low for a redirection, which was saved by Schmid.

After Kevin Bahl joined the forecheck, the Devils’ forwards did not play back enough to prevent a stretch pass to Leon Draisaitl at the far blueline. Draisaitl got it across to a cutting Evander Kane, who was shut down by Akira Schmid cutting down on the shot. However, Nico Hischier went to the penalty box for a slight “hook” of Kane’s arm. On the penalty kill, Draisaitl was set up for what seemed like a sure one-timer goal, but Akira Schmid zipped across to the post to save it! He could not cover it, though, and the Oilers kept on taking shots at the Devils, who blocked two attempts before Jonas Siegenthaler cleared the puck after blocking a McDavid one-timer with under 40 seconds left to kill. A wrist shot was deflected out of play with 13 seconds left. Michael McLeod took the puck down the ice to kill the remainder, getting a shot on goal frozen by Pickard’s glove as Hischier came out of the box.

Jack Hughes drew a tripping call when Darnell Nurse chopped his leg trying to disrupt their zone entry past the halfway point of the period. The Devils controlled the puck off Nugent-Hopkins’ faceoff win, and they started whipping the puck around for some shot attempts that did not get all the way through. After a zone re-entry, Bratt’s one-timer was kicked just past Jack Hughes. After Toffoli prevented a breakaway at the end of the first minute, the second unit came on. They were unbale to get anything going, and the game remained tied.

The Oilers went back to the kill with eight minutes to go in the period when Zach Hyman lifted the puck over the glass from the defensive zone for a delay of game penalty. The Devils had trouble getting this power play going, and they did not get into the offensive zone for a set up until there was 1:15 to go in the penalty. Instead of shooting, Hughes kept the puck moving too much, and the Oilers cleared it with 45 seconds left. The second unit came on, and Dawson Mercer was too far away from the boards to keep the puck in as it wrapped around the boars, forcing another rush up the ice with less than 20 seconds to work with. All told, the Devils did not have a shot attempt in the two minutes.

With under two minutes to play in the period, Michael McLeod was hurt by the boards in the defensive zone, and Nico Hischier had to come onto the ice to join his line late, after the Oilers’ top line established possession in the offensive zone. Connor McDavid got the puck in the circle, setting up Draisaitl for a shot, which Schmid knocked into the air and dove on with his glove to freeze. However, the Oilers worked the puck from high to low, and Derek Ryan smacked the puck from the side of the crease through Schmid after it was passed from behind the net, as Schmid did not seal the post enough. 1-0, Edmonton.

Second Period

Jonas Siegenthaler took a very foolish interference penalty when he took Warren Foegele down entering the offensive zone, when Foegele did not have the puck. A shot from the circle banked off Lazar’s stick and the post about a minute later, as the Oilers power play had already come onto the ice for a long six-on-five. The Devils touched up nearly two minutes into the period, and the Devils went to the kill. Nico Hischier got out to a two-on-one with Kevin Bahl, but his shot went high of the net. Bahl could not keep the puck low, and Akira Schmid had to face a quick transition leading to a scramble and a McDavid shot that almost squeezed through but hit off Schmid’s pad and the far post. The Oilers’ second unit came out for the final 30 seconds of the penalty.

After Timo Meier was just denied on a deflection chance, the Oilers came racing down to the other end. John Marino lost his man as Zach Hyman got to the crease. Nugent-Hopkins’ pass beat Luke Hughes and Zach Hyman appeared to have a goal as Schmid went into the net trying to keep it out — but the referee emphatically waved the goal off for Hyman pushing Schmid into the net. The game stayed at 1-0.

The referees gave Edmonton a gift of a power play when Curtis Lazar was called for tripping as he retrieved a dump-in. Draisaitl was kicked from the draw, but McDavid won it back. The Oilers got a quick goal with a point shot from Evan Bouchard.

Zach Hyman had a chance to bury the Devils as he snuck through for a breakaway with just over two minutes to play in the period. Schmid just made a pad save. On the other end, McDavid crosschecked McLeod into the boards, but no call was made. The Devils got a power play as Mattias Ekholm got tied up with Jack Hughes in the corner. Luke Hughes took an early slap shot that was gloved above the crossbar and frozen. Jack Hughes had a chance in front, driving down low in traffic, that was stopped and frozen by Pickard. In the final moments, Jack took a shot that deflected to Bratt at the side of the net, but he wasted the final five seconds when he skated it back to the point, unaware of the time remaining.

Third Period

The Devils were unable to make anything of their final 43 seconds of power play time, after sailing a shot way high on the rush and failing to establish possession. Kevin Bahl made a good play to stop a two-on-one after the penalty expired, and John Marino canceled Warren Foegele out of the play after a long stretch pass from Ekholm. The Devils got their top line on, and Nico Hischier deflected a Siegenthaler shot well wide of goal.

Derek Ryan made a pass across the crease to create what looked like a sure tap-in for James Hamblin. Hamblin stuffed the puck into the side of the net, getting on the chance just a tick too late. The Devils scrambled for a minute, but Timo Meier took away a drop pass from Connor McDavid and took it to the offensive end. His shot was sticked away, and Zach Hyman engaged with Akira Schmid behind the net in a puck battle. Evander Kane took his other lane away, and Connor McDavid had a tap-in goal at an empty net. 3-0, Oilers.

Just as the game seemed dead, the top line came back and made it a 3-1 game. Jesper Bratt dropped it for Palat to enter the zone, and the puck came out to Nico Hischier in the circle. Hischier played it down low, and Bratt tapped it in!

After Colin Miller was too slow to an icing, Jack Hughes caught the Oilers off guard and shot high on Pickard on the rush. It was turned up enough by Pickard, and the Devils went for a change after the Oilers pushed the puck out. Then, with 13 minutes to play, Luke Hughes baited Connor Brown into tripping him as Hughes skated to the Devils’ defensive goal line and turned back up the ice.

On the power play, the Devils got a couple shots from Tyler Toffoli, but had trouble moving the puck, allowing Pickard to be square to his shots. Dawson Mercer had a last second chance alone on Pickard, as he tried to drag it around — but Pickard poked it for a cover. With over eight minutes to play, Akira Schmid got across to turn a dangerous redirection chance from Foegele wide of the net.

Akira Schmid was pulled for an offensive zone draw with 4:05 to play. Jack Hughes got a shot on goal 20 seconds after the draw, which got through traffic and was smothered by Pickard. Tyler Toffoli dragged the puck around to the slot to set up Hughes with a backhand pass at the side of the net, but Jack could not lift the puck high enough, as Pickard made the stops. The Oilers worked it back up, and Kane sealed the game at 4-1.

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

Out of Gas

While the Devils had a chance to come back in this game, they just looked too slow in the third period. The Oilers abused them for this, sending stretch pass after stretch pass, while the Devils had trouble stringing short passes together. At five-on-five, the Oilers ended up with twice as many scoring chances with a 6-1 high-danger differential in the third period. As this was a back-to-back at the end of the western road trip, this was not necessarily surprising. But it was a bit disappointing that they weren’t able to stay sharp enough to tie the game.

Jack Hughes Needs to Trust His Linemates (Reunite Him with Mercer)

Yes, Jack Hughes is an electric playmaker and the face that he has the puck so often means that he’s going to turn the puck over sometimes. Yes, the risk comes with rewards. But sometimes, like when the team is absolutely gassed in the third period, Jack needs to pass the puck a bit earlier and try to play more away from the puck so the opposition can’t trap him into giving it away. His line really needs to be better at even strength. To that end, I think it’s yet again time to put Dawson Mercer on his wing. When Mercer or Bratt is on his wing, Jack seems much more willing to let his teammates create, which leads to good results for the line. Toffoli gets open for shots, but he doesn’t get the puck often enough to create plays with his passing like he did late in this one, on a play that I’m sure Jack feels he should have buried. But get us a Mercer-Hughes-Toffoli line again, and I think these problems balance out.

We Have One Nico, Why Not Two?

Akira Schmid had some high notes tonight. He was stone cold on breakaways, and he turned away numerous rush chances in the third period. But when he decided to fight the forecheck by keeping the puck behind the net, leading to a killer third goal against. And in the end, that third goal made it a subpar start for Schmid, who allowed three goals on 2.64 expected goals against. He had a workable .778 high-danger save percentage on nine such shots against, but allowing the point shot goal from Bouchard and giving the puck away for the third goal turned what could have been a dominant performance against a top offensive team into a game to a game that still has me wishing for Nico Daws, who was very strong in his return to play for Utica after an injury bothered his 2022-23 season. The Devils do have the roster space to accommodate a third goaltender.

As for the Nico we do have: Nico Hischier’s line with Jesper Bratt and Ondrej Palat was one of the only ones that looked good tonight, despite their two goals allowed, one of those being the product of Schmid’s mistake behind the net. But even then, they weren’t getting enough of their attempts of goal, with 13 going wide or being blocked. Still, it didn’t feel as pointless watching them, because they weren’t moving like they had cinderblocks tied to their skates.

Positive Notes

In just 3:28 together, the Holtz-Tierney-Mercer line had six shot attempts, one shot on goal, and had 0.18 xG, allowing no attempts by Edmonton in that time. That line ceased to exist when Holtz was elevated to Hughes’ line, which gave a big boost to its effectiveness compared to when Timo Meier played on the left wing. And in 6:03 against Connor McDavid, Michael McLeod’s line held Edmonton to an even attempts share at 4-4, with Edmonton getting three shots out of it. They could have done better, but they did their job enough to stop the Oilers’ top line from scoring.

Simon Nemec had a 18-1 attempts differential when matched up with Leon Draisaitl’s line in over 5 minutes of matchup time. Yes, Nemec was yet again the most effective defenseman on the ice for the Devils. In 15:28 of 5v5 time with Nemec, the Devils had a 72.22 CF% with a sky-high 29 shot attempts and 11-6 shot differential. They also outchanced the Oilers to a 1.14-0.52 xG differential. He also elevated his game with Luke Hughes. With Siegenthaler, the Devils only had 6 shot attempts in 7:37. With Hughes paired with Nemec, the Devils had 16 shot attempts in 6:01. Hughes-Nemec has played well enough in their time together to be a permanent pairing.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of this evening’s game? Are you disappointed? Or did you see this coming? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.