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Dominant Overtime Drives Devils to 2-1 Victory Over Bruins

The Bruins entered the Prudential Center down a top defenseman and a top six forward. The Devils took advantage, hanging with an excellent team until they could sweep the Bruins from the ice in overtime off Jack Hughes’ snap shot.

NHL: Boston Bruins at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Key Takeaways

  • After a successful 3-1 western road trip, the Devils returned home to face one of the NHL’s top teams in the Boston Bruins, who had suffered injuries to Charlie McAvoy and Pavel Zacha.
  • Yet again, the Devils were outplayed through the first period, but they hung on to eventually tie the game at one early in the third period. Dawson Mercer tied the game in the third, sending them to overtime.
  • The Hughes-led three-on-three units dominated the Bruins in overtime, leading to Jesper Bratt connecting with Jack Hughes, who snapped a shot through Swayman to propel the Devils to a 2-1 victory.

Essential Links: The NHL.com Boxscore | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The Game Thread | The Game Preview | The Game Highlights via NHL.com

Period 1

Despite missing Zacha and McAvoy, the Bruins leapt out of the gates and peppered Vitek Vanecek with shots early in the first period. The maligned Devils netminder was equal to the task, however, stopping five in just the first three minutes.

The Devils went to the first power play just before the midway mark of the first period, but while they cycled the puck and sustained some offensive pressure, Tyler Toffoli had the sole dangerous chance with the man advantage, but the Devils were unable to convert and headed to the second half of the period tied 0-0.

The Bruins got away with a too-many-men penalty in the final seven minutes of the period, but the refs were largely whistles away through the first period. Though the Devils brought themselves back even insofar as shots, the Bruins struck first in the final two minutes of the first period. Vanecek made the first save but, in a trend that has cost the Devils heavily in recent games, was unable to corral the rebound. Morgan Geekie—fresh off his promotion to the top six in Zacha’s absence—banged in the rebound to propel the Bruins to the 1-0 lead at the end of the first. Geekie evaded Miller in front for the rebound, but a high shot to the chest and shoulder is one you’d hope Vanecek would smother.

According to the broadcast, the Devils allowed the first goal of the game for the twentieth time this season, ranking the most in the NHL. They’ve only scored first seven times. They headed to the first intermission down 1-0 to the Bruins. The Devils were solidly out-possessed and out-chanced this period, rating only 30% of the expected goals and 44% of the scoring chances.

2nd Period

After Meier got off a clean shot that Swayman turned aside with the pad, John Marino tripped Charlie Coyle to send the Devils to the penalty kill within the first two minutes of the period. Nemec showed some early poise in skating the puck out of the defensive zone, and the Bruins were unable to fully set up in the offensive zone with the man advantage. The Devils killed their first penalty of the game and looked pretty good doing so, preventing a single shot from reaching Vanecek. Colin Miller took a hard shot off the shin during the penalty to help the special teams unit keep the score at 1-0.

Meier and Palat came back with a pair of shots on Swayman, but the Bruins goaltender never flinched and made the stops. Jesper Bratt flew through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone to take a sharp shot on Swayman, but unlike Vanecek, Swayman did not allow any rebounds and stifled the chance. Miller then turned over the puck to James van Riemsdyk, who sent his shot just barely wide of Vanecek. The Devils had been hemmed into their own zone more than a few times by the halfway point of the game, again bringing into question their team defensive acumen and ability to transition from the defensive to offensive zone.

They have several of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, but if they—as a team—can’t work the puck out of their own zone, then they can’t activate any offensive pressure. The goaltender, at least, 99% of the time cannot assist in the breakout, so this is an ongoing issue outside of the man in net.

The Devils picked up the pace after the ten-minute mark of the second, yet Boston again had the better chances, which forced Vanecek to make an admittedly difficult stop off a one-timer in the slot. One of the best chances the Devils had all period came from Mike McLeod saucering a pass to Erik Haula in the slot—but Haula’s shot was a floater, and the challenging Swayman gloved it easily.

Against one of the better goalies in the league, the Devils never lived up to their true level of offensive skill. Swayman saw every shot; the net-front was clear. He challenged aggressively at the top of the blue line; he rarely had to move side-to-side. He rarely had to worry about anything but the first stop; his defense (or his own covering) had him covered.

The best chance the Devils had all period was off a shot that Swayman didn’t immediately smother, leading to a scramble in front that eventually—in the neutral zone recovery—led to another power play going the Devils’ way. The ensuing power play once again looked good. They retained offensive pressure and possession, and Mercer had a great shot that Swayman had to leap shoulder-first to stop, but again the Bruins killed one of the (ostensibly) best power play units in the league.

In the final minutes of the period, David Pastrnak got a mini-breakaway on Vanecek but worked himself out of space, crashing into the goaltender and sending the puck into the corner instead of the net. Vanecek sort of made this save. The puck never actually impacted any part of his equipment, but he’d put himself in position enough that Pastrnak didn’t have anywhere to go.

Though the Devils had outshot the Bruins through two periods, the Bruins were in control of the game heading into the third period. A scoreless second period meant the Devils headed to the final period down 1-0.

3rd Period

The Devils finally began turning things around in the third period. They were aggressive. They put pressure on Swayman, forcing him to move side-to-side and give up rebounds. And they tied it at one goal apiece in the first three minutes of the period. Mercer passed to Miller on the point, who took a heavy slapshot that Swayman redirected up high into the corner. Haula collected the bouncing puck, sent it into the front, and Mercer batted the puck past a sprawling Swayman to get the Devils on the board for the first time on the night.

It was only in the third period that the Devils began forcing Swayman to make difficult saves. They were rewarded for their efforts with several prime scoring chances that just barely ended up hitting a pad, or a stick, or deflecting away from the back of the net. The Bruins came back with their own interception in the neutral zone, but Vanecek turned aside the opportunity to keep the game tied halfway through the third. With 9:41 remaining in the game, the Devils were outshooting the Bruins 27-20. Still, the first ten minutes were the first time I felt the Devils were actually in control of the game and not on their back foot (feets?).

Palat then executed a beautiful chip-in interception that sprung Hischier and Meier for a two-on-one rush. Hischier made a nice saucer pass that met Meier’s stick, but the power forward wasn’t able to pull the trigger. The play died.

At the other end, the Bruins responded in kind with a trio of chances on Vanecek. Vanecek kept with the puck down low and one save with his blocker and two with his leg pads, ensuring the game remained tied at one. Meier had another short breakaway chance just minutes later that he sent off the shoulder of Swayman. On another chance, Swayman shoved Bratt out of the way, enabling him to see the puck through the once-screen and make a glove save in the dying minutes of the period.

After the Swayman shove, the game started to get chippy. Some pushing, shoving. Etc. Helmets hitting the ice. Finally. It only took forty minutes for the Devils to get their heads into the game. Once they did, their effort took them to overtime against the Eastern Conference’s best team.

Overtime

The Bruins won possession off the faceoff, but Jack Hughes retook possession off a stick check in the neutral zone. Luke broke the puck into the offensive zone and fed his brother for a chance, but Swayman made the pad save. Hischier danced around the offensive zone for a bit, and Jack jumped back onto the ice to take another shot, but Swayman again stymied them. Swayman ended up on the ice when Poitras and Swayman got tangled in the crease, but Meier hesitated just a second long enough and the goaltender was able to recover.

After another stoppage, Bratt skated end-to-end, evaded his man, and fed Jack Hughes—who snapped a quick shot just under the glove of Jeremy Swayman. The Devils won in overtime 2-1.

A twenty-minute comeback

Though the Devils out-shot their Eastern Conference opponents through most of the game, it didn’t feel like they were in the driver’s seat until the third period. It seemed like Swayman and the Bruins would win this game 1-0 after the first two periods, even though the Devils had had their chances and they were one shot away from tying.

It’s a slight break from the analytics, which tell a slightly different story. According to Natural Stat Trick, after a very bad first period in xGF%, the Devils took it to the Bruins through both the second and third periods before dominating in overtime. We’ve talked a lot about what kind of team they could be if they played a full sixty minutes. Depending on your perspective (and which stats you’re looking at), the Devils either showed up for between twenty and forty minutes and beat one of the NHL’s elite teams, out-chancing and out-performing them enough that they walked (or skated) away with a 2-1 victory.

Outside the third period and a few scrambles in front of both Vanecek and Swayman, this was a quieter game than Devils fans were used to. Both teams were competing, there wasn’t an excess of odd-man rushes against or in favor of the Devils, and overall it was a closely fought game. Against the Bruins, I think every New Jersey fan can walk away pleased with this win. They weren’t always in control, but their goaltending and defense were solid enough that their sublime three-on-three units could secure the victory in overtime.

Goaltending bought them the chance to win

Vanecek played very well tonight. It shouldn’t change anybody’s mind—not the least Tom Fitzgerald’s—about the overarching need this team has in net. Nevertheless, Vanecek gave them a chance to win, and that should be celebrated. We should all root for a scenario in which Vanecek and Schmid are good enough to handle the net for the rest of the season; it saves Fitzgerald from having to make a move out of desperation.

Heat map via Natural Stat Trick

Both teams’ shots came from similar places on the ice: right in front of the net, as well as from the right point. Which is to say, this game was a goalie duel between Swayman and Vanecek, and Vanecek eventually came out on top (though Swayman arguably had a few tougher saves to make). The Devils registered thirteen high-danger scoring chances; the Bruins notched nine. The real difference came in overtime: the Hughes-led three-on-three units claimed 100% of the expected goals, 83% of the scoring chances, and 88% of the Corsi-for.

Crucially, however, they had to get to overtime to dominate overtime. Weeks past, the Devils have wasted excellent performances from both Vanecek and Schmid, made all the more frustrating when good goaltending was slightly rarer than it is now. Vanecek gave them a good performance. The Devils took advantage to eke out two points. Those are the kinds of games they have to win. Let’s all feel happy, if only for the night.

Meier Needs to Execute

I’ve been pretty lenient on Meier. Last season, when it took him a while to come up to speed (if he ever did at all), I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes it takes players more often than you’d expect to feel comfortable with a new team. They have to move homes, across state lines and sometimes countries, and mesh with a brand new locker room, new coaches, and new organization. Anybody who has changed hockey teams, especially mid-season, can appreciate the difficulty. And I hemmed and hawed with Meier, writing that even when he wasn’t scoring he still contributed physically on the ice. Hey, even in my preseason predictions I expected Meier to start slow (as he has historically with the Sharks).

Meier did not have a bad game. On the contrary, he registered the most shots on the team with six, was solidly positive in Corsi-for with 55%, was on the ice for eleven scoring chances for, and held one of the highest expected goals percentages on the team. And yet. And yet.

Tonight, I would’ve liked him to score. There! I said it. All the scoring chances and positive advanced numbers and expected goals don’t really matter in the end. Meier was lucky that Mercer whacked the puck in off a mad scramble in front. Meier was lucky that Vanecek had a stellar game. Meier was lucky that Hughes and Hughes and Hischier and Bratt are so crazily good in overtime that nobody doubted they could win. Otherwise, he’d bear a lot more heat tonight.

As it stands, he had two or three real opportunities to score tonight. One might’ve made all the difference: the chance when Swayman and Poitras fell over each other in net and Meier had the puck in the high slot. He hesitated—and chose to pass instead. On a night when he shot more than any other Devil, he passed the one opportunity he definitively should’ve shot.

Much like Hamilton, I expect that Meier will one day help the Devils win a Stanley Cup over the lifetime of his eight-year deal. But they need him to execute on his scoring chances. The above graph is from a few games ago—and I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment in their caption—but Meier needs to rediscover his scoring touch. He’s a great player. I’d like to see that player suit up for the Devils.

Your Thoughts

Phew! The Devils beat a very good team, and they didn’t look bad in the beating either. They next play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday the 16th. What did you think of Vanecek tonight? Should Fitzgerald ride out the season with our goaltenders and address the defense, or do we definitely need a long-term solution in net now? What did you like to see in their performance against the Bruins? Do you agree with me picking on Meier tonight, or am I off-base (especially since he didn’t actually have a bad game)? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.