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Devils Choke Possible Comeback in Horrific Third Period For a 6-3 Loss to Oilers

Nobody was good, but the Devils still had a chance to win.

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at New Jersey Devils
That’s not where the crease is.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

Brendan Smith took less than 25 seconds to blow the 0-0 game with his complete lack of speed in the neutral zone, forcing Luke Hughes to come across to cover the rush. Hughes was unable to work the puck away, and Ryan McLeod was wide open for a one-timer at the side of the net. 1-0, Oilers, 24 seconds into the game. Smith and Haula both went to cover the same man, leaving McLeod open.

The Edmonton Oilers would get a second goal before the New Jersey Devils got a second shot. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins followed up on a rebound from a point shot and made it a 2-0 game less than five and a half minutes into the game. Bahl took one man out of the play, but John Marino was in no-man’s land, allowing Nugent-Hopkins free access to the puck.

After falling behind in the shot count 7-1, the Devils slowly started working back. Both teams struggled to move the puck fluidly, leading to several icings, and the Devils got shots every now and then. But with under seven minutes to play in the period, Michael McLeod led a three-on-two rush. With Dawson Mercer trailing, McLeod dropped the puck behind him. Mercer took a moment, drove Nurse and McLeod to the crease, and ripped it to the far-side past Calvin Pickard. 2-1.

Simon Nemec took a holding penalty with 5:24 to play in the period. By that point, the Devils had the edge in the shot count, but the deadly Edmonton power play was taking the ice. Zach Hyman did kind of just fall when Nemec put his stick around him. The Oilers had one shot on the first sequence that did not make it all the way through, and Michael McLeod cleared the puck. The second unit of the penalty kill failed to get a clear at first, but Brendan Smith smacked the puck all the way down after blocking Leon Draisaitl’s shot. Curtis Lazar pushed it out one last time by disrupting Evan Bouchard up high: a great kill for the Devils.

Connor McDavid almost created a goal when he laid a beautiful pass down for Zach Hyman, but the one-timer went way wide. Then, Mattias Ekholm faked a shot from the point and gave it to a cutting Evan Bouchard, who went for the backhand, which went off the crossbar. The Oilers piled on Vitek, but the puck stayed out.

Second Period

The Devils continued their good play to begin the second period. After the Hischier line had a rush chance, they changed off for McLeod’s line. McLeod had the puck below the goal line, passing from behind the net to give Siegenthaler a one-timer chance. It went back to McLeod, who passed to Jonas at the point. He went to Nemec, who slid it right back. Siegenthaler shot through a screen and scored! Tie game.

Vitek Vanecek got very lucky when he sent a huge rebound to the high slot, giving the puck to Zach Hyman. Hyman shot off the crossbar, and Vitek turned to glove the loose puck behind him. Shortly after play resumed, Kevin Bahl was called for “holding” when he lifted a stick in front of the net. The penalty kill was an adventure, as the Devils went up high and allowed an in-zone three-on-one, which was somehow averted. The Oilers had a few shots saved by Vitek, and the Devils were able to kill the penalty.

After a terrible stretch of defense, in which the Oilers were practically shooting at will, the Devils got a break when Timo Meier was able to come away from a neutral zone clog with the puck. He drove up the middle, passed wide, and followed the rebound of the centering shot-pass from Dawson Mercer to poke it into the net! A 3-2 lead for the Devils at the end of the second period!

Third Period

The final period started slow, but Vitek Vanecek was spun around by his own rebound of a point shot and was beat on a second shot by Connor McDavid. Vanecek was facing the wrong way to stop the shot. 3-3, tie game. Vitek would let another through when Leon Draisaitl took a pass from Kevin Bahl and backhanded it over Vitek’s shoulder. 4-3, Oilers. And then Adam Erne came and scored on a two-on-two, driving wide on Vanecek and baiting him into giving the net for the forehand pull and shot. 5-3. In just over a minute, the Devils went from a one-goal lead to a two-goal deficit. And they looked like they were skating in mud after.

With over 13 minutes to play, Sam Gagner took a stick to the mouth as both teams converged by the boards and went down to the ice, staying down as the officials blew play dead. The officiating crew held a discussion after and awarded a double-minor for high sticking to no one in particular, and then reviewed the play. After said review, the penalty was taken off the board, as it was an Oilers stick that hit Gagner.

Vitek could not stop anything. He gave up the sixth goal of the night to Ryan McLeod after a dump-in took a bad bounce off the boards and led to Luke Hughes scrambling for it. McLeod drove wide on Vanecek and Marino, and Vanecek had to dive to try to stay with it. He couldn’t catch it. 6-3.

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

Sick of Watching The Devils Give Up Goals

I don’t know how Dave Rogalski has a job. I don’t care who he’s connected to, or how close he is with other members of the organization. Vitek Vanecek was looking the wrong way on the game-tying goal. He slid out of the crease for the first nail in the coffin, and couldn’t keep up with a slow skate across the slot for the final hammer. After coming into the game and somewhat shakily stabilizing the Devils, following Akira Schmid’s unfortunate start, Vitek looked reminiscent of Jon Gillies with his movement in the crease during the third period collapse. Yet again, Vitek had a .750 high-danger save percentage and a .778 medium-danger save percentage. If it’s not a point shot, there’s a really good chance it’s going in.

At this point, I think Tom Fitzgerald needs to acquire a goalie by New Year’s. They can’t wait until the deadline. A new goalie coach would be a good idea, too.

But it’s not just Vitek and Schmid being stiff and slow in their crease. The defense had their share of mistakes in just the first period when both Brendan Smith and John Marino lost their man, leading to goals against. Then, after the Devils took the lead, it was like they couldn’t get the Oilers out of the offensive zone. I would say that the only defensemen that looked good tonight were Jonas Siegenthaler and Simon Nemec. Bahl was alright. Hughes, Smith, and Marino left a lot to be desired.

Poor Top Six Showing

Once Vitek coughed up the lead and then some in the span of a minute, it was on the forwards to respond. They never did. The Bratt-Hischier-Palat line had its worst game yet as a unit, outshot 3-7 and letting up a goal. This led to Jesper Bratt and Ondrej Palat not getting a whole lot of ice time in the third period. Nico Hischier just did not make enough of an impact in his own right, though he had a couple of good chances in front that he didn’t seem to handle very cleanly. He actually had a higher ixG than Jack Hughes, as Nico had 0.38 on one shot and three attempts, while Jack only had 0.23 ixG on three shots and five attempts.

I have no idea what is wrong with Jack Hughes at even strength right now. He has been getting so much of his production from the power play that the fact the referees decided to swallow their whistles for the entire game made it so he would have to make something happen at even strength. But instead of looking like the dynamic playmaker from last season, he looks like the guy from two years ago that still needed to get a lot stronger. Right now, it just seems like the opposition can bottle up the middle of the ice and pretty much bar him from the scoring areas. At this point, I think he might need to be split from Toffoli, as they seem to have little puck movement chemistry in transition.

The bright spots tonight up front were in Dawson Mercer and Timo Meier, as they contributed two of the three goals — though they were on with McLeod for two goals against, and were outshot as a line, 6-3. They ended up not playing much with Alex Holtz, which I would have viewed as a mistake had the line with McLeod not been integral to the comeback. But Meier was limited to under 13 minutes of ice time, and Mercer only played a couple minutes more. Perhaps Lindy should have played his goal scorers more down the stretch.

That said, I’m still holding this much more against Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid than I am Lindy Ruff. The Devils did come back, but Vitek completely broke down at the beginning of the third period. I don’t think Lindy told Vitek to look the wrong way for the puck, or to dive anytime he had to move across the crease. The first thing that Tom Fitzgerald needs to do is get a goalie that stays upright in the crease and has some semblance of rebound control. Then, we can see how much the “system” is contributing to the problem.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? How annoyed were you? Did you watch to the end? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.