The third line of Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, and Jesper Boqvist had a lengthy shift early on that featured noticeable involvement from Kevin Bahl, paired with Damon Severson, as Bahl made a couple key pinches to prolong their possession. Erik Haula, of course, was the one usually with the puck on his stick in front of the net, so the Devils did not take the lead early. A couple minutes later, Jesper Bratt danced around the neutral zone and found Damon Severson on the far side for an entry. Severson thread a pass for Jack Hughes, cutting down the slot — but his shot was saved by Copley.
Of course, the Los Angeles Kings would take the lead on their first shot of the game when Anze Kopitar was behind the Devils’ defense for a long stretch pass to the far blue line. Kopitar slid his shot through Vitek Vanecek’s five hole, and the Kings took a 1-0 lead.
Jack Hughes got far too cute with the puck high in the zone trying to prolong an offensive zone possession, and as he reached for a loose puck it was poked past him into the neutral zone. This left Dougie Hamilton defending a two-on-one — he deflected the initial shot by Fiala. However, the rebound off Vanecek’s pad went right to Viktor Arvidsson, who scored with ease to give the Kings a 2-0 lead.
While the Devils largely lost their early momentum after the second goal, Nico Hischier did draw a tripping penalty from Quinton Byfield with just 16 second to play in the period. Thus, the Devils went for a late power play. Nico lost the draw, though, and the New Jersey Devils went into the first intermission down 2-0.
The Devils struggled to establish offensive zone possession, as their passes were simply not clean enough early on. After a few clears, the second unit came out for the last 40 seconds of the power play. Severson took the first shot with a one-timer, but Copley made the save. Mercer got one off from the side of the slot, which bounded high off Copley’s arm. With just a few seconds left, Hughes shot one over the post and out of play — a good look for the second unit + Hughes.
Fabian Zetterlund had a great chance six minutes in when a pass from Miles Wood bounced past McLeod on the rush. But Zetterlund was right there when the pass deflected off Copley, shooting off the glove — and the puck was frozen between Copley’s legs. So close.
The Devils took their first penalty of the game when Yegor Sharangovich was called for holding about halfway through the period. He had his stick knocked out of his hands, and decided to hold someone in the neutral zone in response. The Devils had an great kill, with multiple clears and a late save by Vanecek late on Rasmus Kupari on the rush, with three saves in total.
With 5:38 to play, Kevin Fiala was called for high-sticking. This time, the first wave did well to keep the puck away from Los Angeles. They got a couple shots off in the first minute, with Hischier spinning to a backhand by the side of the net. Copley covered. After the faceoff, Hughes went around the zone and found Hischier on the far side — his shot was kicked straight into the slot with Copley out of position. Bratt, however, could not spin the puck back to him and the Kings cleared. The second unit came on for about 30 seconds, but they could not get a shot off as Hughes forced a pass to Mercer in a double team in the slot. However, the continuation of their shifts would pay off, as Tomas Tatar backhanded a shot from the low slot into the top corner off a little shovel from Mercer! 2-1, with a bit over three minutes to play.
And with that...— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 24, 2023
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The untradeable Dawson Mercer struck like lightning just two and a half minutes into the period. Kevin Bahl slammed the puck around the boards for Tomas Tatar to recover on the other side, and he went right to Dawson Mercer for the quick one-timer, beating Copley! Tie game, with basically an entire period to play.
The game took a back-and-forth pace, with the physicality ramped up over the next several minutes. Kevin Bahl had some impressive shifts where he tossed around the Kings both around the boards and in open ice — possibly the most comfortable he’s looked all year. The Kings eventually started coming back at the Devils, which almost boiled over at one point when McLeod was confronted by three Kings when he poked at the puck with Copley covering.
The tight checking game finally resulted in a penalty when Gabriel Vilardi slashed Jonas Siegenthaler’s stick out of his hands alongside the boards, in pursuit of the puck. WIth 9:03 to play, the Devils went to the power play. The first unit struggled early, with the Kings taking it away continually in the first minute. The second unit came on fully with 45 seconds to utilize, and Tomas Tatar seemed to draw another penalty when he was hooked down gaining the zone — but to no call. As the penalty expired, John Marino picked a pass off when Erik Haula turned it over instead of taking a shot through a screen — and this saved a goal for the Devils.
Vitek Vanecek would cough a goal on a bad-looking play with just over four minutes to play. Kopitar passed across from his left, and Vancek could not stay on his feet as he moved across. The shot beat him above his head and arms: 3-2, Kings.
Ondrej Palat drew a tripping penalty with 3:14 to play. Gabriel Vilardi was the guilty party, and Drew Doughty was apoplectic over the call. The first unit was stuck on the boards, and the second unit came on, partially, in the second minute of the man advantage. For some reason, this still involved Miles Wood. Vitek Vanecek came off as the penalty expired, giving the six-on-five for the final minute of the game. The Devils were patient with the puck movement high in the zone as the crowd grew restless, but the Kings gave Jack Hughes too much time from the wall. He picked Nico Hischier’s stick blade with the redirection pass, and it beat Copley with 37 seconds to play! 3-3. Lindy Ruff called timeout to calm the game down in the final seconds, and the Devils ran out the clock in the corner when the Kings took the puck into the Devils’ defensive zone late.
Captain Clutch sends us to OT! pic.twitter.com/OAAUiJp6FW— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 24, 2023
Jack Hughes rang the first shot off the post, and forced Copley to make a save right after. Nico Hischier, on a rush, forced Copley to make his second save of the overtime with a backhand. With Fiala and Kopitar working back, Nico and Dougie worked together to get a takeaway by the Devils’ net. Hischier sprung Hughes ahead for a one-on-one, and Hughes’ head fake got him around Kopitar for another chance on Copley. He tried to force the five hole in tight, but Copley shut it down.
Dawson Mercer came on with under three minute to play. He was on a mission to score, fighting the puck away from two Kings immediately as he stepped onto the ice. Hughes then worked it back to Vanecek, diving to the ice to knock the loose puck back. Vanecek kept it moving to Hamilton, who stood from the wall and sent Mercer up the ice. Mercer took the zone, used Hughes as a decoy, and continued to stickhandle around the circle. He dropped it for Dougie, who found Mercer for the redirection as he cut to the net, giving the Devils a 4-3 win!
Dawson Mercer is Untouchable
If you’re fool enough to listen to NHL trade rumors on Twitter, you have surely heard that Dawson Mercer’s name is being floated by Mike Grier as an ideal return centerpiece for Timo Meier. Well, Dawson Mercer is currently on a five-game goal streak, with nine points (seven goals, two assists) in those games. He is now up to 38 points — 18 goals and 20 assists — in 58 games. Last season, he had 17 goals and 25 assists in 82 games. If Mercer continues to score at even a lessened pace from what he’s been at since joining the top line, he is going to blow past those numbers and possibly even beyond current whole-season pace of 53 points per 82 games. Scoring at a point per game pace for the rest of the season would put him past 60. If you watched him tonight, you would have a hard time convincing me he cannot do it.
Telling Devils fans that they should expect the team to offer up Mercer to a basement team for Timo Meier is an insult to their intelligence. After a game like this, I think it would even be an insult to the team to trade him. Results matter more than anything in hockey, but there’s no reason to trade a player who both brings results when trusted with ice time and is clearly a popular personality among his teammates. In 23 fewer games played, Dawson Mercer has outscored Timo Meier’s age-21 season (the 2017-18 Sharks, by the way, were still an offensively-focused playoff team). They are different players, sure. Meier brings a heavy volume of shots, but Mercer uses his skill to create goals at a much more efficient clip. He is opportunistic, skilled, durable: and it would be a mistake to trade him.
Clean it Up
Tonight was another night where the Devils fell victim to little breakdowns in their own end and in coverage. They clamped down for the most part as the game progressed, but their slippage easily could have spiraled into a multi-goal loss. As always, it is important to chip away at the lead in the second period. I was feeling by the time Tatar scored that if they didn’t score in the power play, the game was slipping fast. But Tatar shortly after those two minutes expired, and the comeback was on for the Devils.
For the most part, I was okay with the lines tonight. But I think having Haula and Boqvist on the same line just leaves too much to be desired in the way of finishing. Erik Haula led the team with 0.95 indiviudal expected goals (Mercer was second at 0.53), but this is simply not his year to score. This turned into a bad, bad turnover late in the game as he chose to make a risky pass rather than shoot for a screen. Boqvist has been excellent on the forecheck lately, but he still looks more like a prototypical fourth liner to me. If I were Ruff, I would run Boqvist-McLeod-Bastian as the fourth line next game, and get Zetterlund back to the third line to get more skill back with Palat.
It would just be nice to see this team get out to an early lead, hold to a lead for a whole game, and not have to win it in overtime. The dramatics are fun and all, but the Devils should be putting as much distance between them and opposing teams in-game as they’re trying to get in the standings between them and teams below them in the Metro. In reality, they dominated the chances tonight and should have been ahead from the first five minutes of the game. But the perception a game like this gives is that the Devils are getting lucky, even when they play a superior game to their opponents.
"We kept going. We deserved in the end to win."— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) February 24, 2023
️ Tatar: https://t.co/W6bz5cMo6s
️ Mercer: https://t.co/0Y7UTGAwwN
️ Siegenthaler: https://t.co/5MRHqru1kx
️ Ruff: https://t.co/1aIUGmdj34
️ Hischier: ⤵️#Sponsored | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/CBUiPvME6C
What did you think of tonight’s game? Do you think Dawson Mercer should be a permanent fixture of the top six? What weaknesses do you still see in this team? How did you feel about Vitek Vanecek tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris — goodnight.