- Now on a three-game losing streak, the Devils entered the night behind in the Metropolitan Division, rapidly losing ground to the teams in front.
- Once again, they surrendered the first goal of the period. The newly-formed Mercer - McLeod - Meier line tied the game at one, however, before the end of the first.
- Despite moments in the second and third periods where the Devils looked vulnerable, they eventually eked out a 3-2 win off the strength of Timo Meier’s unassisted goals.
Not too much happened in the first few minutes, other than Brendan Smith laying a reasonable body check on Red Wings youngster Simon Edvinsson. Notably, Lindy Ruff threw the Devils’ lines in the blender once more, shaking up the forward corps and giving the defenseman new pairings that consisted of Siegenthaler - Nemec, Bahl - Smith, and Luke Hughes - Marino.
But of course, the Devils surrendered the first goal of the night off a set play from the Red Wings. Alex DeBrincat caught a pass from the point near the left faceoff circle and sent the puck to Patrik Kane, who waited at the back door. Kane easily snapped the shot past Vanecek to put the Red Wings up 1-0. Everyone saw this goal coming from a mile away. As soon as DeBrincat caught that pass with Kane at the far circle, a goal seemed inevitable. The defenders decided to watch the puck instead of pressuring DeBrincat or covering Kane. And Vanecek was Vanecek. Yes, that pass should never have found a free Patrick Kane. But Vanecek needed to move laterally way faster, especially when Kane had set up on that circle for several seconds before he ever received the pass. It was a full team non-effort. Notably, three Devils players decided to cover Jake Walman on the boards instead of the middle of the ice.
Alex DeBrincat to Patrick Kane.— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) December 24, 2023
That is all. pic.twitter.com/LOpsYfg32v
Timo Meier and Mike McLeod came right back to record the Devils’ first scoring chance of the night, but Michael Hutchinson—unlike Vanecek—anticipated the pass and made the stop with his leg pads. Meier showed good poise (outwaiting the diving defender) and speed on this play, which gave me some early hope that Meier’s injury was hampering him less than before.
The Devils also took the first penalty of the game. It occurred during a scramble in front, and Curtis Lazar had to trip Walman just to prevent him from banging in the loose puck. Vanecek had been scrambling all over the goal mouth. Early returns on the new defense pairings were negative.
The penalty killers did a great job early to prevent the Red Wings from setting up fully in the offensive zone. Vanecek did make a solid pad save on David Perron to keep the deficit at just one. Penalty killed.
Happily, the clock struck Timo Time just past the halfway mark of the period. Dawson Mercer sent a backhand into Hutchinson’s pads that Toffoli took a couple whacks at. Meier stepped into the slot, collected the loose puck, and took a shot that slipped through Hutchinson’s body. After that first goal, I groaned and just thought “Here we go again.” But they did well to pressure the Red Wings after killing their penalty. Credit where credit is due, they clawed their way back into this one.
Well, well, well. Would you look at the time... pic.twitter.com/BwQbVT17DN— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 24, 2023
McLeod then made a nice defensive play behind the net to prevent a wraparound attempt from ever registering as a shot. I think that’s the style the Devils should adopt: play like you’re an adult league team whose goalie is stuck in traffic; just stop the puck from reaching the net at all costs.
The Devils closed out the first period with a handful of shots that Hutchinson turned aside. After twenty minutes of play, the score remained tied at 1-1. I actually felt optimistic heading into the second period.
Meier had a very positive first period. He created two scoring chances and finished one, and he also laid a solid hit in the Red Wings’ zone. Meier used his footspeed—which we’ve all noticed has been lacking in recent games, potentially due to his undisclosed injury he sustained against the Jets—to generate one of the chances. Natural Stat Trick backed up the eye test: Meier had 75% Corsi-for and 100% of the expected goals through the period, and his line with Mercer and McLeod was dominant in possession and scoring chances.
One last thing to note in the first period: the Devils made a point of finishing their checks. They laid some hard hits on puck carriers, which resulted in turnovers more than once. This is an example of good physicality. They used their physical play to sustain their momentum, even when they were down by a goal and had to suffer through a penalty kill.
Jeff Petry tripped Nico Hischier in the first minute. His stick wedged between the referee and Hischier, which sent Hischier to the ice. But after conferring, the referees decided that it was due to their error and the trip should not count. Therefore the Devils would wait for their power play once again. I won’t harp on this too much, but—as Ken Daneyko said—aren’t the referees part of the play? Pucks bounce off referees, and sometimes those bounces directly contribute to goals. You can’t have it both ways, guys. Figure it out.
Sure enough, they’d call Lucas Raymond and the Red Wings for an interference call on Simon Nemec. I don’t think that gets called under most other situations, but we’ll take it as a make-up.
The Devils set up their cycle on the power play early but couldn’t maintain that pressure through their entire man advantage. In the dying seconds of the power play, Meier skated the puck into the left faceoff circle and shot into Hutchinson’s pads. The puck bounced up on the goalie and at first it looked like one of Palat or Mercer would find it behind the goalie, but no dice. The puck settled in Hutchinson’s pads.
They did go immediately back to the power play as Edvinsson went right to the box for holding against McLeod. I’ll be honest, I thought this power play was a gift from the referees. I didn’t see much there. The Devils’ power play unit went to work right away with a few chances, but the Red Wings came right back with a two-on-one that Vanecek had to make a blocker save on. At the other end, Hischier fanned on a one-timer. The Red Wings successfully killed both penalties. I thought the power plays looked decent. They had their looks, but the puck bounced on a one-timer or a pass ended up just a few inches past someone’s wheelhouse. So many almosts.
As Bryce noted on the broadcast, there was a basketball game earlier in the day that could have contributed to the bouncing pucks.
Despite the tie score, the Devils seemed like the better team. They had better chances. More power plays. More shots. And then the Red Wings scored off a failed breakout, and everything changed. John Marino’s breakout pass failed to connect. The Red Wings counterattacked from the neutral zone, then a failed shot bounced to Shayne Gostisbehere, who walloped the puck past Vanecek. The Devils fell behind 2-1.
Just minutes later, the Red Wings took their third penalty—a high stick—and the Devils headed to the power play again. Bratt got an early chance off a quick rush before Ben Chiarot steamrolled him with a borderline check from behind. Bratt exchanged a few blows with Chiarot, and they both headed to the box for offsetting roughing penalties. Their power play was a mess, frankly. Bratt’s earlier chance was the best it would get. Nobody can say that they didn’t have more than their fair share of opportunities to get back into the game.
Two Detroit players collided with each other, which put the Red Wings shorthanded on their bench through the final minutes of the period. Despite all their power play opportunities, the Devils couldn’t score in the second. They headed to the third period down 2-1.
Mercer and Meier jumped out to an early third-period scoring chance, but when Meier lost the puck in traffic, no Devils players were in position to support the attack. Minutes later, the Devils narrowly avoided scoring when Hutchinson bobbled the puck and nobody got their stick on to hammer the rebound home.
Thankfully, the hands of the clock had wound back around and struck Timo Time for the second time in the night. McLeod parked himself in front of the net. Meier streaked in from the left and snapped a low shot on the goalie, who allowed the puck to ricochet through his equipment and into the net. Tie game, 2-2.
Just moments later, Vanecek swiped wildly at a bouncing shot with his pad, falling in the process. It was perhaps the panic of seeing his goalie falling over in net that led Erik Haula to hook Andrew Copp, preventing him from collecting the rebound. Unfortunately the refs called Haula for the hook, and the Devils headed to the penalty kill. The penalty kill did well to prevent the Red Wings from getting any dangerous shots. Then Nate Bastian bumped Raymond, on the rush, into Vanecek. I understand that the Devils players may want new goaltending, but killing your own goalie is probably inadvisable. Still, I appreciate the sentiment, Nate. Nevertheless, the referees took Raymond for an interference penalty. To Bastian’s chagrin, no doubt, Vanecek survived the assassination attempt and remained in the game.
The ensuing power play hammered Hutchinson with shots, but the career third-stringer stymied them and kept the score tied at 2-2. The Red Wings killed their fourth penalty of the game.
Once more, the Devils had a pair of scoring chances in the offensive. A Jack Hughes shot got stopped before it reached Hutchinson, and the puck sat clear in the slot for a half-second. Nobody reached it before the Red Wings could clear. At the other end, Curtis Lazar blocked a stinger.
Then the Devils got one. In the offensive zone, Bratt walked the blue line and, without any great options, put the puck on net. It deflected off Tyler Toffoli’s knee pad and deflected past Hutchinson, giving them the lead for the first time on the night.
Toff goes right to the top of the nice list. pic.twitter.com/dvavqQyP7L— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 24, 2023
Naturally, a Red Wings player ran into Palat in the slot. Palat headed to the box for interference. The Devils penalty killers spent the early part of the man disadvantage in the Red Wings own zone. But with just twenty seconds left in the penalty, Larkin shot from the slot. The puck rocketed off the far post—right onto Perron’s stick at the back door. Vanecek scrambled. He wouldn’t make it in time. Perron wristed the shot . . . which careened off the post. The penalty killers and Hischier worked the puck out of the zone and out of danger. That would prove fortuitous, as in the process of making zero saves, Vanecek lost his stick. They got really, really lucky. We can all thank the right post and crossbar tonight.
With the goalie pulled, Dawson Mercer intercepted the puck in the offensive zone—and just barely missed the net with his shot through traffic. The Red Wings maintained offensive pressure in the final minutes of the period. Erik Haula made one final, crucial block at the blue line in the last few seconds, ensuring a Devils 3-2 victory.
The Clock Struck Timo Time Twice
Timo Meier has been much-maligned this season. The Devils paid a pretty penny to acquire him last year. He struggled to score in the playoffs, and he’s struggled to score this year—with the additional context that, possibly, he’s playing through an injury.
Tonight, he was one of the best players on the ice. He played the fifth-most out of the forward corps, after the four centers. He recorded the most shots on the team with five, and he laid a heavy hit in the first period. He was fast and created more than one scoring chance with his speed.
Most importantly, though, he scored. Meier is paid to score. And tonight it all came together for him with a pair of unassisted goals. His performance was the one they needed: not because he’s Timo Meier, but because they needed someone to step up and lead the team to victory in lieu of Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier.
This team cannot be the Hughes and Hischier show alone.
Tonight, it didn’t need to be.
Get the puck on the net
The Devils put the puck on net tonight. It paid off.
This happened more than once without payoff, but the one time it did is the scenario I’ll highlight: the Tyler Toffoli goal. Really, the goal was Bratt’s. It bounced off Toffoli’s equipment and past Hutchinson, but the decision to shoot was Bratt’s and the lion’s share of the credit should go to him.
This team is hyper-skilled offensively. It leads them to get too cute with the puck. You all know exactly the kind of play I’m talking about: the no-look backhand passes, the spin-o-ramas, batting the puck out of mid-air. Those plays work an awful lot for the Devils, but when they don’t work it often ends up in their own net.
Bratt walked the blue line and found no real passing options. He could’ve forced a pass. He could’ve skated down the middle—and probably would’ve gotten stripped of the puck. Instead, he shot. Sometimes the simple play is the one you need to make. The simple plays won the Devils the game.
I didn’t want to make this its own section, so I’ll stick it here real quick: Vanecek had an accidental good game. He did not look controlled in net. He wasn’t ready for passes. His rebounds were horrendous. He barely made saves on several simple shots and bobbled others he should’ve frozen. In several situations, had the Red Wings player been just about a foot closer to the net, they could’ve netted at least two rebound goals. I’m glad he saved 22/24. A few of those shots were not easy. But his performance—even in the win—only lessened my confidence in him as a solution through the remainder of the season.
But he got the win. So it doesn’t matter in the end. At least not for tonight.
(One last aside: There’s a joke to be made about how even a broken clock strikes Timo Time twice, but seeing as how I genuinely believe in him, I’m not going to make that joke. I’m just going to record it as an option should I ever stop believing in him.)
Did the Devils deserve this win, or do you think they got lucky? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Happy holidays all, onward.