After a wild win against the Vancouver Canucks, in which all three Hughes brothers skated in the same game for the first time and the Devils blew a three-goal lead in the third period, New Jersey traveled to Seattle to take on the Kraken. Seattle came in losers of five in a row, so they were desperate for a win.
For New Jersey, Brendan Smith returned from his two-game suspension, and he once again lined up on the fourth line as opposed to his usual spot on defense. He took the place of Nathan Bastian. Otherwise it was pretty much the same lineup as the game against the Canucks.
Let’s get to it.
Because tonight’s game is the second half of an ESPN doubleheader and the first game is running late, tonight’s Devils game will have a 10:45pm ET puck drop. Our coverage will now start at 10:30pm on The Devils Hockey Network. https://t.co/HdMZ15iHiE— Matt Loughlin (@MattLoug) December 8, 2023
I’d love to be able to tell you what happened in the first 1:14 of this game, but I can’t because this is the second half of an ESPN doubleheader, and the front end, Stars vs. Capitals, went all the way to a shootout (the Stars won the shootout, huzzah). And so we joined the game already in action with 18:46 left on the clock. Just use your imagination for that first 1:14 I guess.
It was a pretty slow start to this one through the first six minutes or so, though we did see a few heavy hits from New Jersey in the early going. Uncharacteristic of this team but not entirely unwelcome.
A good rush from Jesper Bratt led to the first real chance for New Jersey, but it was one and done. As the first TV timeout hit, we saw a high-paced but relatively choppy game. No real Grade A opportunities for either side (which is certainly a pleasant surprise for the Devils).
Some more pressure and sustained zone time after the first break, but the Kraken did a good job filling lanes and making sure no chance became too dangerous. But with 9:31 left in the period, Seattle took a penalty to set up the first power play of the night. Vince Dunn got tagged for a holding call on Michael McLeod, so the league’s top power play went to work.
Alas, the power play looked pretty bad and settled for one very nonthreatening shot before leading to an odd-man rush for the Kraken as soon as Dunn left the box. Schmid made the stop, thankfully.
Final TV timeout of the period with 5:54 left, and the Devils had a mere four shots on goal. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it was another slow start for New Jersey. On the other side of the ice, the Devils gave up a couple of good scoring chances for the Kraken, but nothing catastrophic. Progress!
And out of stone cold nowhere, the Devils take the lead! John Marino stretched a pass to Nico Hischier at the offensive blueline, who delayed and sauced a pass across the zone back to Marino. Marino one-touched a hard shot-pass to the front of the net, where Ondrej Palat redirected it home to open the scoring with 2:46 left in the opening period.
Pally tally gets us going. pic.twitter.com/irLOBC8gya— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 8, 2023
Jared McCann almost whacked a puck out of midair and in, but Schmid was there for the stop. That would’ve been a wildly impressive and annoying goal.
Then with about a minute left, the Devils had some sustained O-zone pressure that led to Colin Miller blasting a shot off the post. Inches away from doubling the Devils’ lead.
The period ended with New Jersey leading 1-0, though Seattle held the shot advantage, 10-7. The Natural Stat Trick numbers tell us that the Devils collected 32.22% of the Expected Goals For at 5-on-5, so not a particularly quality first 20 minutes. Still, a lead is a lead. Onto the middle frame.
The second period began with old friend Adam Larsson ripping a slap shot on net that Schmid stops, but after that the next few minutes were all Devils. The Hughes line put in some good work, with Erik Haula and Tyler Toffoli nearly combining for a goal. The Dawson Mercer line was up next, and the Mercer-Timo Meier-Alexander Holtz trio kept the momentum going with a really good cycle. And while their shift didn’t result in a goal or really any high-quality chances, they threatened while they were out there. Overall a much, much better start to the period for New Jersey.
And after a decent start to the period, New Jersey once again commits a major blunder in their own zone that winds up in the back of their net. A turnover behind the net by John Marino led to a pass from Alex Wennberg to a wide open Tye Kartye in the slot, who wired a shot over the glove of Schmid to tie the game 1-1 with 12:48 left in the second period.
But just when the Kraken gained the momentum with the Kartye tally, Simon Nemec scored his first career goal! Bratt took a shift with McLeod and Smith and carried the puck around the net behind Grubauer. Bratt sent a terrific feed to a cutting Nemec who found himself unmarked in the slot, and he made no mistake for the first of his very young career to give the Devils the lead once more at the 9:08 mark of the second period.
Simon says score your first career NHL goal. pic.twitter.com/yiklHG2hYO— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 8, 2023
With just under 10 minutes left, Jared McCann found Wennberg streaking behind the New Jersey defense. Wennberg went in alone on Schmid, who made a great save stretching out the pad, keeping the Devils in front. Goal allowed to Kartye notwithstanding, Schmid has looked very good tonight.
With 8:42 left in the period, Haula tripped Matty Beniers to send the Kraken to their first power play of the night...but five seconds into the man advantage, Kailer Yamamoto slashes Marino’s stick into pieces, and thus ends the Seattle power play after five whole seconds.
Not a whole lot of action during the four-on-four, and the teams returned to full strength. Eeli Tolvanen gained the zone and wristed a shot on Schmid, who made the save for a stoppage of play with just under six minutes left in the period.
The period ended with the Devils and Kraken trading chances back and forth, though nothing too dangerous. New Jersey exited the second leading 2-1. Schmid played quite well through two, and Nemec’s first career goal was the highlight of the middle frame for the Devils. Shots were 12-7 in favor of Seattle in the second, with NST having the xGF% at 5-on-5 as 55.60% for New Jersey for the period. So definitely a better period for the Devils, though still some areas to clean up. Onto the final (maybe) 20 minutes.
The third period begins with a little back and forth between the two teams before Holtz gets sent into the Seattle zone on a one-on-one and fired a wrist shot into the glove of Grubauer a little over two minutes in. Early in the period at least, New Jersey seems to be focusing on defense-first hockey.
About five minutes in, Holtz got taken down in the neutral zone and looked like he might have taken a stick in the face as he was falling. No call though. Shortly after, Seattle gains the zone and gets a shot on net before New Jersey ices the puck. The Mercer line got pinned in the zone for a long time with the Kraken buzzing. Schmid and the defense bent but didn’t break though, and New Jersey weathered the storm.
With about 11:30 left in the period, Smith took a completely avoidable offensive zone tripping penalty. Smith just flung Devin Shore down to the ice on the forecheck, setting up Seattle’s second power play of the evening. Would the Kraken punish Smith for the lazy penalty?
They would not! Seattle more or less did whatever they wanted on the power play, but couldn’t find the equalizer. Schmid (and, if I’m being honest, a healthy amount of puck luck) shut the door on the Kraken to keep the Devils in front.
Usually teams play a bit more conservatively with a lead in the third period, but the Devils just completely parked the bus through 13 minutes of the period. New Jersey had one lonely shot on goal through the first 13 minutes of the third, and the only reason the game wasn’t tied (or worse) was from the aforementioned Schmid plus puck luck combo.
(During the following TV timeout, Jackson said a quick prayer to the hockey gods - praise be unto them - asking for no overtime).
Finally with 6:33 left in the third, New Jersey managed their second shot on goal of the frame. Hischier and Palat swopped into the zone on a partial two-on-one, and while the initial rush failed, Hischier set up Palat for a shot in close that Grubauer stopped.
And then, a major break! With 4:24 left in regulation, the Hischier line managed some cycle time in the offensive zone, which led to Palat drawing a tripping penalty on Brian Dumoulin. The Devils sent their power play over the boards, and a conversion would almost certainly ice the game. Would the Devils get it?
They would not, and they almost gave up a shorthanded equalizer. McCann led a two-on-one with Yanni Gourde, and the only Devils back was Toffoli...yikes. But McCann decided to take the shot himself and rang a snap shot off the iron! Crisis averted thanks to yet more puck luck.
Seattle pulled Grubauer with about 1:50 left in the third period, and upon a stoppage of play with 1:48 remaining, the Kraken used their timeout. Out of the timeout, New Jersey did a good job of keeping Seattle to the outside and clearing the zone a few times. Beniers wristed a shot on net that Schmid gloved with 33.6 remaining. McLeod won the ensuing faceoff, but the Devils couldn’t clear the zone. Eventually the puck worked it’s way back to Vince Dunn at the point with about 12 seconds left, and he blasted a shot off the post! One final mad scramble in front of the net followed but Schmid and the Devils stood their ground as the clock struck zero and the final horn sounded. New Jersey escaped Seattle with a 2-1 victory!
After Hours Observations
We’ll do this quick-hit style since it is past 1am as I write this.
First and foremost, what a bounce-back effort from Akira Schmid. After getting torched for five goals on 17 shots six days ago against the worst team in the league, Schmid put up the best effort a Devils goaltender has put up all season long. 37 saves on 38 shots would be phenomenal under any circumstances, but for a Devils team that has allowed goals against at an alarming rate, this performance was like rain in a desert. Per Natural Stat Trick, Schmid allowed his one goal on 3.44 Expected Goals Against, so this was an incredibly welcome sight. Don’t be surprised to see Schmid in the crease for the Devils’ next game.
Congratulations to Simon Nemec, who of course scored his first career goal tonight. He played 19:42 tonight, which is actually a step down from the ice time he got in his first two games. At 5-on-5 Nemec finished with a 48.33 xGF%, which doesn’t look good, but then you see that the entire team finished at 40.89 xGF% so Nemec actually carried play better than most of his teammates tonight. He continues to make rookie mistakes, but he’s already shown a knack for making very good plays both in the offensive zone and in transition. He has not looked out of place thus far.
The best line tonight was the Nico Hischier-Jesper Bratt-Ondrej Palat line. Hischier and Bratt finished in the 60’s in xGF% at 5-on-5, and Palat came in at a little over 57%. Palat scored a goal, Hischier assisted on said goal, and Bratt assisted on Nemec’s goal. Overall a solid night for the captain’s line.
New Jersey has now won five of their last six games. It hasn’t been pretty most of the time, but since Hischier returned to the lineup they’ve been getting the job done. The Devils now sit at 27 points, tied with Washington for fifth in the Metropolitan Division (though Washington has a game in hand). The Devils do have a better points percentage than Carolina though, who currently have 29 points but with two more games played than New Jersey. Perhaps it feels a little early in the season to be out of town scoreboard watching, but the Devils’ slow start to the campaign has sort of necessitated it.
Next Time Out
The Devils are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Calgary to take on the Flames. Puck drop is scheduled for 4pm ET that afternoon, much more manageable than 10:45pm on a Thursday.
How much of this game did you stay up for? Aside from the obvious (Schmid) who impressed you the most on the Devils? What do you want to see in the team’s next game against the Flames? As always, thanks for reading, and good night!