Defense was hard to come by in the first few minutes, as the New Jersey Devils had 7 shots in the first four or so minutes of the game, with the St. Louis Blues also sitting at 5 before the five-minute mark. After that point, however, both teams seemed to commit more diligently to blocking shots, and their offenses slowed down for a few minutes accordingly.
Tyler Tucker was hit in the face by a shot from Dawson Mercer, which cut him under the eye and left his face rather bloody. He continued to stay in the play until the puck was out of his zone, and he went down the tunnel for stitches when his shift ended. The Blues took the driver’s seat a few minutes later, and Mackenzie Blackwood had his 10th save by the 11th minute of the game. One shot from Justin Faulk nearly beat him, with the puck going just glancing off him enough to miss the net.
Tomas Tatar set up a great chance in front when he deked through the St. Louis Blues and sent the puck on net. Nate Bastian, at the front of the net, missed on the rebound and the puck came back out to Jesper Boqvist. Boqvist did cutback with the puck, which opened up a lane for him. But, Boqvist passed to Tatar behind him for a one-timer, which was blocked out of the zone.
Jordan Kyrou had a point-blank chance with space after a Justin Faulk point shot rebounded off Blackwood’s glove. Kyrou sailed the shot, and Dawson Mercer pushed the puck down the ice despite disruptions to dump it behind the Blues net. Him and Boqvist pressured the Blues into taking an icing. However, the Blues would take the lead on the following shift. Dougie Hamilton was hurt by a shot that hit him in the hand, and a pass went right by him from Ivan Barbashev to Pavel Buchnevich at the other side of the net. 1-0, Blues.
The Devils would come up with one of the more creative plays in the offensive zone to tie the game that I’ve seen them pull off. Tomas Tatar got a case of the spins, and kept spinning away for space, almost working himself into trouble before just passing off to Severson on a backpedal as Tatar was about to be hit with the puck. Severson kept going backwards with the puck until the lane opened to Dawson Mercer, with the pass cutting down the slot. Mercer got Binnington to go down to stop Jesper Boqvist at the netfront, and Mercer lifted the rebound over Binnington! 1-1.
Mercdawg on the doorstep pic.twitter.com/iDKuvNCbcr— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 17, 2023
A minute after Blackwood made a big rebound save on Brayden Schenn, the Devils continued to leave him out to dry. Michael McLeod could barely move around the net and the Blues just worked around him when he failed to collect a pass from the corner. Blackwood made an initial save, but the Blues took the lead when Alexey Toropchenko finished the loose puck amidst chaos. Less than two minutes later, Jordan Kyrou expanded the Blues lead to 3-1 when Robert Thomas won a board battle out to Brayden Schenn along the goal line, who worked the puck to Kyrou up high for the shot.
Erik Haula finally got one back for all of his chances when Fabian Zetterlund ran through Thomas along the boards to create a turnover with Sharangovich in support. Zetterlund got the puck in the corner and backhanded it out to Haula, who went across the net and beat Binnington on the forehand! 3-2, just eight and a half minutes into the period.
After the Devils had a power play when Torey Krug took slashing and unsportsmanlike calls a bit past eight minutes into the period, Nico Hischier went to the box for holding to negate much of the second half of those two minutes. Nico had a chance on the power play earlier, but could not get the finish. When the Blues went to the power play, the Devils did a great job of keeping them out of the scoring areas and only let the Blues get a single shot on Blackwood.
The New Jersey Devils dominated possession for the first several minutes of the final period. With the Blues just working to hold onto their lead, the Devils regularly turned St. Louis zone exits and breakouts into counterattacks. Their difficulty in finishing a straight-up shot continued, though at one point in the early stages Nico Hischier almost scored when his pass across to Bratt on the rush nearly deflected into the net from pretty high in the zone — but Binnington stretched his pad out to save it.
Jordan Kyrou was just about to extend the lead to 4-2 when he beat Blackwood with a five hole shot. Jonas Siegenthaler, however, whipped the puck away from the goal line as it threatened to cross it. Shortly after, Miles Wood took an illegal check to the head penalty as he was providing late physicality to Sammy Blais on a finished board play. The Devils went to the penalty kill with under nine minutes to play.
ARE YOU TOO GOOD FOR YOUR HOME??? pic.twitter.com/PPJ67fKoiB— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 17, 2023
Blackwood saved the first shot and froze the puck. Dawson Mercer cleared the puck down the ice off the following draw, and Robert Thomas regained the zone for the Blues. The Devils overcommitted, with Haula going out of the zone trying to take it away. The Blues worked it back down low, and Brayden Schenn finished a rebound from Jordan Kyrou, right through Ryan Graves’ legs. 4-2.
With 3:20 to play, Jesper Bratt took a minor penalty for tripping in front of the Devils’ net as he dove to the ice to take away space from Ivan Barbashev. On this kill, Blackwood made a save off the draw but had to fall backwards with Graves and Marino helping to seal up the rebound chance. Eventually, Blackwood covered the puck with his glove. As the two minutes went on, the Blues continued to pass around between Faulk, Krug, and Thomas. They tried to set up Buchnevich with a cross-ice pass late in the two minutes that just missed him.
With Bratt out of the box, Blackwood got off the ice. The Devils crashed the net for a rebound after Erik Haula’s centering pass, with Dawson Mercer right there at the front of the net looking for another goal. Binnington covered it. Bratt intercepted a pass in the neutral zone after the next draw, and his shot was blocked down. Dougie Hamilton had to block an empty-net shot, and Palat got one last shot off with six seconds left that was saved by Binnington. Devils lose, 4-2.
The Team Needs Jack
It cannot get much more obvious than this. While some of the Devils’ lines looked like they were able to get some offensive pressure during this game, it never felt like the team threatened to score nearly as much as the St. Louis Blues did as the game wore on. In reality, the teams had nearly identical shots, attempts, and expected goals. But the Blues’ top players, such as Kyrou, Thomas, Schenn, and O’Reilly appeared to be far more on their game than Nico, Bratt, and Dougie looked tonight.
And maybe this is a “Nico’s line isn’t doing enough problem.” Personally, I hate when Ruff trots out Bratt-Nico-Palat. It simply has not worked, and the line looked much better when Tomas Tatar took Palat’s spot in the third period. They still did not score, but Palat seemed to be a fine fit for Mercer’s line. I hope that Ruff just keeps the lines like that from the get-go on Saturday. Tatar is much more active off the puck than Palat is, from my point of view, and that works better with Hischier and Bratt’s styles than Palat’s positional, supportive manner of play does.
Fabian Zetterlund picked up his fourth point in five games since being reinserted into the lineup semi-permanently on February 6. His work tonight impressed me, as I thought his forechecking and physicality took more of a focus than it had been for long stretches this year. Creating that Haula goal, he absolutely manhandled the Blues below the goal line: his playmaking has really taken off this year. He is up to 14 assists and five goals in 41 games — and I don’t expect his shot to be so snakebitten for long. I hope Ruff keeps him there for Jack’s return (hopefully on Saturday), since he is showing he can still be a physical top six option in the immediate future that gets results on the ice.
What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about Blackwood and the team defense? What needs to happen to get Nico’s line going? Will Jack come back on Saturday? How did you feel about Kevin Bahl tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.