clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preventable Mistakes, Goaltending Sink Devils 5-2 Against Bruins

The Devils last outplayed an injured Bruins squad and defeated them 2-1 in early December. Tonight, healthier and rested, the Bruins took their vengeance.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Key Takeaways

  • After struggling through mid-December, the Devils entered the night with a string of three victories hanging from their belts and the opportunity to prove themselves against a contender they’d beaten once before this season.
  • They actually started strong for once. Unfortunately, they became the bizzarro world versions of themselves: they got progressively colder after the first ten minutes, eventually surrendering four unanswered in the second period.
  • After surrendering four unanswered goals in the second period, the Devils ended 2023 with a whimper as they lost 4-2 to the Boston Bruins.

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

Period 1

Both teams’ goalies dueled it out with excellent saves to start the game. Vanecek, interestingly enough, has played well against Boston, so I was curious to see if that form would hold up just a few weeks after his 2-1 victory against them in December.

Power plays have been harder to come by for the Devils lately. Call it bad luck, call it getting outskated, call it the referees managing the game against one of the best man advantage units in the league, I was relieved when they grabbed Kevin Shattenkirk for high-sticking on Erik Haula in the first minutes of the period.

We’re all very aware of the Devils’ woes starting games. Through 34 games this season, the Devils have scored first just nine times. And when they’ve gotten power plays recently, they’ve struggled to execute passes against aggressive penalty kill units. So I was, again, relieved when they executed a perfect passing play early in the first period to score first for the tenth time this year. Full credit to the Devils on the ice: it was an impressive goal. Especially against the second-rated penalty kill unit in the league. Off the faceoff, Jack passed to Luke, who passed back to Jack, who worked it along the boards and down to Toffoli, who made one last short pass to Hischier in front. Hischier one-timed a quick shot that beat Ullmark cleanly to give the Devils a 1-0 lead off the power play.

True to his earlier form, Vanecek turned aside several Grade-A and Grade-B chances to keep the Devils lead intact. He made an absolutely massive, period-saving stop on David Pastrnak, who had the puck on his stick mere feet from the crease. Pastrnak scores on most of those chances. But Vanecek made the stop. Minutes later, after losing his stick, Vanecek made another game-saving stop. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Presumably, a video is worth more. Go watch the replay below to see Vanecek stretch across the crease to stonewall John Beecher from the slot.

Boston hemmed the Devils into their own zone during the run of play that Vanecek lost his stick. Vanecek made several saves, but he also got help from Simon Nemec, who batted a floating back clear of the goal line. They survived a near sixty second onslaught. Just barely—but we’ve seen this team capitulate under such storms, so they did well to weather it tonight.

Pastrnak headed to the box for a trip, and the Devils power play went back to work with a few minutes left in the period. This man advantage was not as sharp. Jack almost surrendered a two-on-one that could’ve proven disastrous had Luke not been in position to collect the puck and prevent the odd man rush from developing. Once they finally settled the puck in the offensive zone, they worked the puck to Toffoli in the bumper slot for a one-timer, but Ullmark made the save before the buzzer ran out.

The first period was an inverse of what we normally see. Rather than starting cold and heating up as the game continued, they jumped out to the early lead before growing colder in the second half of the period. Nevertheless, they deserved to retain the 1-0 lead heading into the second, even if there were a few shaky moments.

(I have come from the future to right past wrongs: things were, at this point in time, not in fact all right. The Devils end-of-period woes only got worse from here. He did not yet know it, but this was the best it would get all night.)

Period 2

The Devils weren’t able to convert on the final thirty seconds of Pastrnak’s penalty to start the second. It didn’t matter. Just ninety seconds into the period, Luke Hughes scored off a seemingly innocuous play. He’d skated into the zone as his linemates changed. He was defended by at least three Bruins. But his wrister came almost as a complete surprise for Ullmark, and Hughes roofed it to put the Devils out to a very pretty 2-0 lead early in the period.

They followed up the goal with a minute of offensive pressure. Ullmark stood tall in the net, however, keeping the Bruins in the game. As one play died, Ullmark gave a hard whack to the small of Toffoli’s back. Toffoli grimaced and was slow to make it off the ice; he walked down the tunnel in obvious pain. He later returned to the game.

Minutes later, Vanecek undid some of his earlier stellar work. Marchand stripped the puck from the Devils’ netminder as the latter skated behind the net to play the puck, and Marchand found Jake DeBrusk on the far circle. DeBrusk walked in on net, out-deked Vanecek, and backhanded the puck across the goal line to make it a one-goal game. The turnover was bad, but the lack of coverage on DeBrusk was worse. When one person makes an error, it does not guarantee a goal will go against you. When two people make an error, we see goals like DeBrusk’s.

Brendan Smith later attempted his best Jack Hughes impression by spinning on the blue line with the puck. Unsurprisingly, this did not work out, though it didn’t result in a legitimate scoring chance. The Bruins followed up their goal with sustained pressure. But Vanecek and the Devils lucked out, as several scorers wound up missing the net entirely with what otherwise would’ve been Grade-A scoring opportunities.

Eventually they broke through. Once again the Devils found themselves unable to break out of the defensive zone, leaving the Bruins to cycle the puck. The puck directed toward the net past Vanecek from the point. Marino got a brief touch on the puck with his stick, almost clearing it, but Vanecek turned and the puck bounced off his left pad just out of Marino’s reach. Pastrnak was gifted one of the easier goals he’ll get this year: a simple sweep-in with the stick.

When it rains it pours, as Kevin Bahl would go to the penalty box shortly after the Bruins’ second goal. The Bruins executed good crisp cycling on the power play, but at first it looked like the Devils would escape. Then Pastrnak scored again. They’d worked the puck out of the zone, which left Hischier to bat the puck back into the Bruins’ zone at the red line. But Jesper Bratt, the forechecker, decided to go for an ill-advised change instead of fully executing the forecheck. That left the Bruins to have a free transition through the neutral zone and enabled Pastrnak to get in behind the defenders. Pastrnak made the same deke DeBrusk did just on the other side. 3-2 Bruins.

A minute later, it became 4-2 Bruins. Shattenkirk took a fairly normal looking shot from the right faceoff circle that found its way through traffic and Vanecek. Vanecek saw it. He was in position to make the safe. He just wasn’t able to, even though everything was there for him to make the stop.

Time of the Bruins’ second goal: 12:51.

Time of the Bruins’ fourth goal: 17:14.

Time my hopes and dreams died: 17:15.

Here’s what I wrote at the end of the first period:

Nevertheless, they deserved to retain the 1-0 lead heading into the second, even if there were a few shaky moments.

Well, the Devils deserved the 4-2 deficit heading into the third because of the shaky moments.

Period 3

By the third period, Jack had reached the point where he tried to do everything himself—which almost worked in the first minutes. The Devils came out with a bit more hustle in their step than last period, but it just wasn’t enough. The Bruins buckled down defensively. They got sticks in lanes, put the body on Devils players in the corners, and frustrated the offense at every turn. All the things that the Devils couldn’t do earlier.

Luke Hughes had a clean opportunity off a rebound, but his stick failed him and the shot only reached Ullmark at half its intended velocity. They may have been skating hard all over the ice, but all that effort never really resulted in a dangerous offensive chance. Then Bahl took a high-sticking penalty with four minutes left.

On the power play, the Bruins got a hard shot toward Vanecek, who mis-gloved the puck. Had Marchand not stickhandled one too many times, that could’ve easily resulted in another goal—either off Marchand’s stick or via the Bruin sitting on the back door. But it didn’t matter that Marchand couldn’t score: Shattenkirk got one more to ice the Devils 5-2.

Puck (mis)management

Here’s how I think the Bruins’ goals break down, in terms of fault:

  • First goal: 55% defensive zone coverage, 45% Vanecek for the turnover
  • Second goal: a weird one, but Marino and Vanecek share equal parts. One of them should’ve had that.
  • Third goal: 80% defensive coverage, 20% Vanecek for getting beat on the same exact move that DeBrusk got him with earlier (and a move that Vanecek gets beat on all the time)
  • Fourth goal: 100% Vanecek
  • Fifth goal: 70% defensive coverage, 30% Vanecek I’m begging you please just learn how to butterfly slide cross-crease and make some sort of effort, for the love of God.

I’m interested in seeing everyone’s breakdowns in the comments. This is just my opinion. Regardless of the actual percentage values, everyone here has seen this trend just by watching the games. It’s the poor defensive coverage. And it’s the goaltending. A team can survive one. It can’t survive both.

We’ll get to the net problems in the next section, but I’ll devote some time to puck mismanagement here. The Bruins are one of those teams that will make you pay for the mistakes you make, and almost every apparent mistake the Devils made tonight ended up in their net. As much as Marino and Siegenthaler have taken steps back this year, I don’t want to put all of the defensive coverage mistakes on the defense right now.

I don’t know if Jesper Bratt was called to the bench or decided to make that quick change off his own initiative on the penalty kill, but that play serves as the best example for a team that isn’t synchronized with their decision-making. That, combined with the turnovers, penalties, and inability to break out of the defensive zone contributed to their loss tonight.

Languishing in net

Last night, Daws stonewalled the Senators. That had a real impact on the momentum in the game. The Devils were allowed to build their lead, like they were in the first period tonight, instead of defending their lead.

Realistically, this game should’ve been over after Luke Hughes’ goal. Which isn’t to say the Bruins wouldn’t have fought back to tie it, or that the score wouldn’t’ve ended something like 3-2 or 5-3. But that kind of dagger gave the Devils the opportunity to dig a grave that the Bruins would never have climbed out of. But they just dug the grave too shallow.

Momentum is intangible. Some advanced stats attempt to measure it, but it’s one side of the game we can’t fully distill into a number or a statistic. This section is not to talk up Daws, who may or may not be a solution himself, but to establish the idea that if the Devils are going to continue lapsing defensively as a team, then they need to bolster the one other area of the ice that can cover up those defensive lapses. They need a goaltender who can give them the opportunity to retain and build momentum, instead of worrying—even at 2-0—that it’s all going to slip away like water through cupped hands.

Quick Stats & Thoughts

  • The only period the Devils led in Corsi was the third. You might feel differently, but at no point during the third did I feel like the Devils were fully pressing the Bruins and were generating dangerous scoring chances.
  • The Bruins painted the center of the ice with scoring chances and shots. While the Devils also had net-front opportunities, you can see how free the Bruins were down the middle.
Heat map, per Natural Stat Trick
  • Daneyko said the game was over after the Bruins’ fourth goal, but I disagree. It was over after their second; the Devils just didn’t realize it yet.
  • Beyond the eye test, the Palat - Hischier - Haula line really did not work, posting negatives in Corsi, expected goals, and scoring chance share.
  • The Devils have relied on Meier a lot in the past few games and they missed his presence in the third. Hopefully the three days off are enough for him to recover from whatever kept him out.

Your Thoughts

Well this one ended up in a really unfun spot, but the Bruins are a very good team. I’m less concerned with the loss and more with the manner of their defeat. Do you agree, or should we move past this one and feel optimistic about 2024? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Onward.

P.S. I know the photo isn’t from this game, but it was too perfect to not use.