Things have gone well for the New Jersey Devils this season. Very well, in fact. However, things have not been perfect. With 15 regular season games remaining in the season, its important to pick up on trends, be honest with your self-assessment of your own play, figure out what the problem(s) are, and come up with a plan to correct any issues that pop up over the course of the season.
For the most part, the Devils have done a good job throughout the season of doing exactly that and making those adjustments. But one area where they have continued to get burned throughout the season is their tendency to surrender a goal late in a period, often in the final seconds of a period. If you’re like me and you watch every game, you have noticed this throughout the season. With this issue resurfacing yet again last night against Tampa Bay, enough was enough where I can see a blip has indeed become a trend, which has in turn become a regular occurrence.
With Nikita Kucherov’s late second period goal last night, the Devils have now surrendered 14 goals within the final minute of a period this season. Even if I want to be generous and not count empty net goals the Devils gave up when trying to mount a comeback, that only accounts for three of those goals.
Of course, giving up goals in general is bad and not recommended if you want to win hockey games. One could argue that it doesn’t necessarily matter WHEN you’re giving up said goals, it matters that its happening at all. A goal given up in the 4th minute counts the same as a goal given up in the 7th minute, which counts the same as a goal given up with 1 second left on the clock. But I also believe in things like momentum and I don’t think its a coincidence the Devils have lost most of these games where they have gotten beaten before the buzzer. If you think this trend is annoying now, wait until it happens in a playoff game under that pressure cooker.
Let’s take a look at these goals and see if we can come up with a common theme between them other than the Devils collectively not playing until the final horn, which is the most glaring issue that I see. The good news is that I have video and we can watch all of these plays. The bad news is that I have video and we can watch all of these plays.
Goal #1: 10/15/22 - 19:59 mark of 2nd period - Dylan Larkin goal (4-on-4) to make it 4-2 - Detroit wins 5-2
On a 4-on-4 with roughly 13 seconds remaining, Nico Hischier gains the zone and gets a step on his guy but sails the sharp-angle chance wide of the cage leading to a chance the other way. Dylan Larkin collects the loose puck at the blue line, gains the zone, drops it for Andrew Copp who feeds Filip Hronek for a relatively clean look as Jonas Siegenthaler is a step behind getting over. Vitek Vanecek makes the stop but loses his stick in the process and the puck goes into the corner. Copp wins the race to the loose puck and feeds it across the middle of the ice past Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich to Larkin from point-blank range. Larkin beats Siegenthaler who was leaning the wrong way and beats a stickless Vanecek high blocker side.
My takeaway: Vanecek losing his stick can be chalked up as bad luck, but I’m not sure why both Hischier and Sharangovich were both there along the boards. We’ve seen from time to time the Devils overload and overcommit and this appears to be one of those situations. In a 4-on-4 situation, that’s way too much open ice unaccounted for. Copp finds the open man and Larkin is too good where he’s going to bury that chance more often than not.
Goal #2: 12/1/22 - 19:50 mark of 3rd period - Mikael Granlund goal (6-on-5) to tie game at 3-3 - Nashville wins 4-3 in OT
Nashville is in desperation mode down a goal and with the goaltender pulled for an extra skater. Matt Duchene gains the zone and fires towards the net but the shot is blocked away behind Vanecek. Duchene beats Ryan Graves to the loose puck and feeds it up along the boards. Hischier is there to get a stick on it but just barely chips it and Ryan Johansen controls it. He sends it back to the point for a Filip Forsberg shot. Vanecek makes the initial stop despite Mikael Granlund getting a tip in front, but Granlund is right there on the doorstep for the rebound as he slipped in behind John Marino and ties the game.
My takeaway: I’m not sure why in a 6-on-5 situation the Devils left such a big shooting lane for a shot from the point like that instead of not having some traffic in front to cut down on those lanes. To me, this is one of those goals if the Devils just make a play here or there, they can probably sit on the puck and hold on for the win. If Hischier can control the puck along the boards, if Graves can win a footrace, if the Devils get someone in front to block it, if Vanecek isn’t a split second too late to cover up the loose puck, etc. Instead, they lose the lead late in regulation and only come away with one point instead of two.
Goal #3: 12/9/22 - 19:51 mark of 1st period - Anders Lee goal to take a 2-1 lead - NY Islanders win 6-4
The Islanders collect the puck in the defensive zone and Brock Nelson sprints towards the offensive end. Nelson picks up a head of steam, gains the zone, and drops the puck for Anders Lee, who has Jonas Siegenthaler in pursuit on the backcheck. Lee creates some separation by drifting towards the boards before throwing the puck towards the net. Vanecek makes the initial save, the rebound squirts past Siegenthaler, and Lee collects and cycles back to the blueline. Scott Mayfield feeds it cross ice to Alex Romanov, who finds Lee with the one-touch pass. Nobody on the Devils picks up the Islanders captain with how quickly New York is moving the puck at this moment and Lee makes the Devils pay.
My takeaway: This looks to me like a simple defensive breakdown. Romanov makes a nice play to find an open Lee and Erik Haula is out of position to account for him. I’m also not sure where Michael McLeod is on this play as he appeared to be ready to intercept a potential return pass from Romanov to Mayfield that never came. This might be the ultimate revisionist history take, but if Scott Mayfield beats you cleanly from the blueline, you tip your cap and move on.
Goal #4: 12/13/22 - 19:57 mark of second period - Roope Hintz goal to take a 2-1 lead
Goal #5: 12/13/22 - 19:48 mark of third period - Mason Marchment empty net goal - Dallas wins 4-1
Here’s the only game on our list where the Devils gave up multiple goals in the final minute of two different periods, and it was very nearly three, as Esa Lindell scored an empty netter with 1:09 remaining in the third. I’m not going to dive deep on the empty-net goal as those will happen from time to time when you’re in comeback mode, and a competitive 2-1 game turned into a 4-1 loss as a result of two late empty net goals against.
As for the Hintz goal.....Nils Lundkvist chips the puck past Tomas Tatar, who is bearing down on him on the forecheck, and gets it in deep. Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton are both below the goal line battling with Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson for control of the puck. Robertson does enough to keep the play alive to chip it to Pavelski, and Pavelski leaves it for Robertson who makes a nifty play kicking the puck to his stick as he gets loose from a falling Siegenthaler. The rest of the Devils start converging towards Robertson who finds a wide open Miro Heiskanen. Heiskanen rings it off the crossbar and Hintz is there in front to clean up the second chance opportunity and beat Akira Schmid.
My takeaway: The Devils lost a board battle in the closing seconds of the period when all they had to do was keep the puck tied up and run out the clock to get to the room tied 1-1. Both of their defensemen were caught below the goal line, one of the best playmakers in the league came away with the puck and found an open man in part because the Devils overloaded, and they got beat.
Goal #6: 12/17/22 - 19:20 mark of second period - Sam Reinhart goal makes it 3-1 Florida - Florida wins 4-2
This might be the one goal where I could give the Devils somewhat of a pass, as a lot of this was created by Nico Hischier being without his stick. As you may recall, this is the game where Hischier accidentally injured Sasha Barkov during a faceoff late in the first period. Florida made it a point from that moment on to give Hischier the business every time he touched the ice, and this was no exception. Carter Verhaeghe appeared to slash or lift Hischier’s stick up in the air along the boards, effectively removing the Devils captain from the play. Hamilton picked up the loose puck but did not have a great clearing attempt along the boards as Eetu Luostarinen was bearing down on the forecheck. As Hischier was without a stick, Verhaeghe corrals the puck but loses it in traffic and the puck yet again slides pass a helpless Hischier. Luostarinen regains controls of it, feeds it back for Ekblad who fires it towards net, and Sam Reinhart is in front to redirect it past Akira Schmid.
My takeaway: There’s a lot here, but I keep coming back to Hischier being without his stick and a potential uncalled slashing penalty costing the Devils a goal. It didn’t appear to me that any Devil was egregiously out of position other than one of their players was without a stick and in a compromised position. If you were going to assign blame on this one, it should go to Dougie Hamilton who needs to get the puck out of the defensive zone when he has the opportunity there. He ultimately failed to do so and the Devils get burned late again.
Goal #7: 1/5/23 - 19:17 mark of third period - Robert Thomas empty net goal to make it 5-3 St. Louis - Blues win 5-3
The Devils had their chances late with the extra skater to tie it as Erik Haula had an open net look late but couldn’t bury it. Jack Hughes fed towards the front of the net and couldn’t connect with Haula again. The puck trickled past Sharangovich and Alex Holtz to the neutral zone as Robert Thomas collects it, he makes a move to get past a sprawling Damon Severson, and easily buries the empty netter.
My takeaway: It’s an empty net goal. With a little better puck luck, its 4-4 and this probably never happens.
Goal #8: 1/16/23 - 19:56 mark of first period - Erik Karlsson power play goal for a 2-1 San Jose lead - Devils win 4-3 in the shootout
San Jose is on the power play late in the first period. Ryan Graves beats Logan Couture for the loose puck behind the net and chips it towards Dawson Mercer who flips it out. The problem is that Mercer doesn’t get enough of it and Erik Karlsson is right there on the blueline to regain possession. Karlsson feeds Tomas Hertl in the circle. Hertl sends it cross ice for Timo Meier, who feeds Karlsson at the top of the key as hes drifting. Karlsson takes his time and fires through a mass of bodies in front to beat Vanecek.
My takeaway: It’s pretty obvious the failed Mercer clear led to this goal against so I don’t have much more to add. I don’t think Mercer forgot he was on the penalty kill and was worried about an icing. I think he failed to execute in that particular spot and maybe didn’t want to risk a delay of game penalty for a puck over the glass. It’s unfortunate but it is what it is. Fortunately, this didn’t cost the Devils the game as Jack Hughes scored with 10 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. New Jersey ultimately won in the shootout.
Goal #9: 1/26/23 - 19:52 mark of third period - Tanner Jeannot empty net goal as the Predators win 6-4
Our last empty net goal.....so far. There are 15 games remaining after all, plus postseason.
Goal #10: 2/6/23 - 19:33 mark of second period - Curtis Lazar goal to pull Canucks to within 1 and make it 4-3 NJ - Devils win 5-4 in overtime
The Devils failed to score on a 2-on-1 as Ondrej Palat either couldn’t handle the feed cleanly from Jesper Bratt and/or tried to make one pass too many as he ran out of space. Vancouver recovers the puck and comes back in transition. Conor Garland feeds Riley Stillman who gains the offensive zone and breezes past Damon Severson. From below the goal line, Stillman finds an open Curtis Lazar in front and he beats Vanecek.
My takeaway: Clearly, this goal never happens had they finished the 2-on-1 the other way. Also, the Devils clearly saw this, said never again, and decided to make the Lazar trade as a result.
In all seriousness, this looks to me like a blown assignment by Jonas Siegenthaler or miscommunication between him and Severson that they were both below the goal line, as the only other Devil back was Jack Hughes who was covering Garland.
Goal #11: 2/14/23 - 19:58 mark of first period - Johnny Gaudreau power play goal ties game at 1 - Devils win 3-2
Columbus has control of the puck in the offensive zone late in the power play and late in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau makes a move to get wide of Dawson Mercer and throws the puck towards the net but its deflected back towards the blue line. Patrik Laine retrieves the puck and skates around Jesper Boqvist who is in pursuit. Laine gets into a shooting lane and fires towards the net. Vanecek makes the stop but with the puck loose on the rebound Gaudreau gets a step on Siegenthaler and scores.
My takeaway: It happens, unfortunately. The Devils were on the penalty kill and I don’t really see anything that they could’ve done better here other than Vanecek not allowing the rebound in the first place. Easier said than done though with one of the best snipers in the league bearing down on you, and Gaudreau was there to clean up the garbage in front. Fortunately, Ryan Graves broke the tie late in regulation to give the Devils the win.
Goal #12: 3/1/23 - 19:46 mark of first period - Nathan MacKinnon goal cuts Devils lead to 3-1 - Devils win 7-5
Colorado digs the puck out along the boards and sends it back towards Bowen Byram who is waiting at the blueline. Byram drops it for Artturi Lehkonen who sends it to Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche do a really good job here with quick puck movement as MacKinnon finds Val Nichushkin at the top of the key. Nichushkin sends it back to MacKinnon at the top of the circle and he buries the one-timer.
My takeaway: I have no idea what Michael McLeod is doing on this play other than getting spun in circles by MacKinnon and Nichushkin. Colorado kept the Devils off-balance with quick puck movement, the Devils lost MacKinnon in coverage, and one of the best players in the league beat Vanecek clean from distance. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come with the goaltender struggling.
(Wait, I’m told this is a sign of things to come.....that Vanecek is struggling, and the Devils might have a goaltender controversy on their hands? With the playoffs around the corner? That’s not ideal if you ask me.)
Goal #13: 3/9/23 - 19:50 mark of first period - Trevor van Riemsdyk goal gives Washington a 1-0 lead - Devils win 3-2 in shootout
New Capital Craig Smith gains the offensive zone and finds Anthony Mantha with space. Jesper Bratt does a nice job on the backcheck and forces Mantha to send the puck back up along the boards. Rasmus Sandin takes it from there and sends it cross ice to Trevor van Riemsdyk who has all sorts of space to make a move to get into a shooting lane and get a shot off. Niklas Backstrom boxes out John Marino to control the rebound and tries a turnaround shot that is blocked away. TvR gains control of it and fires it towards the net again, where it hits Marino’s leg and redirects in past Akira Schmid.
My takeaway: An unlucky goal in the sense that it went off of Marino and in. But Washington also created that opportunity by keeping the play alive in the offensive zone several times and keeping possession of the puck. Mantha made a good decision with Bratt bearing down on him, Backstrom got position on Marino on the initial shot by van Riemsdyk, and the Capitals finally burned the Devils by staying with it and getting pucks on net.
Goal #14: 3/14/23 - 19:59 mark of second period - Nikita Kucherov goal gives Lightning a 4-1 lead - Tampa Bay defeats New Jersey 4-1
Ian Cole has the puck behind Andrei Vasilevskiy’s net and skates away from a pursuing Jack Hughes. Cole passes off the boards to Nikita Kucherov in the neutral zone as time is winding down on the period. Kucherov gains the offensive zone with about four seconds left, drops the puck towards Point, who retreats towards the corner. Point sends it back to Kucherov who is all alone in front and beats Vanecek with just under a second left in the period.
My takeaway: There’s a lot here and almost none of it is good. Cole appeared to catch the Devils in a partial line change as Ondrej Palat was coming on (presumably for Timo Meier) and nobody was within 30 feet of Kucherov when he took the pass in the neutral zone. The Devils weren’t outnumbered when the Lightning gained the offensive zone. Siegenthaler went to cover Point, Kucherov got a step on Palat with nobody else left in front to pick him up, and both Hamilton and Bratt seemed to be covering Cole as he drove to the net away from the play.
Also, Tampa might’ve been offsides on the Kucherov goal as Point appeared to beat him into the offensive zone. I don’t know if Ruff decided it was close enough where it wasn’t worth the challenge or if the Devils were playing so poorly at that point where they deliberately didn’t challenge to send a message to the team. I’m assuming if that was the case, that message is “You’re playing so poorly, you don’t deserve to get bailed out. Fight back.” Either way, the Devils stunk last night and this goal annoyed me to the point that I scrapped what I had planned for this week to write 4000+ words on this topic instead.
Can we take anything away from this?
After rewatching all of these goals, here are my takeaways from this exercise.
- Yes, the Devils give up a lot of last minute, and in some cases, last second goals. I don’t know how many when compared to the rest of the league, and I don’t care to do the research to find out. I’m sure there are plenty of bad teams approaching that many goals against in a similar situation, if not exceeding it. The problem with that is that the Devils are a Top 5 defensive team in terms of goals allowed. They are heading for the playoffs. Other teams have worse goaltending, worse bluelines, and worse players in general. When roughly 7.5-8% of the goals you’ve surrendered in totality on the season are of the stomach-punch, backbreaking variety where nobody feels good going to the locker room, that’s a problem. In a lot of cases, these late goals against negated a lot of good this team did leading up to that point.
- If there is a recurring theme from a personnel standpoint, its that most of these goals came at the expense of Vitek Vanecek, the Jonas Siegenthaler-Dougie Hamilton defensive pairing, and whatever line Nico Hischier was on at the time. But I don’t think what we are talking about here is strictly a personnel issue. After all, we’re talking about the Devils top defensive pairing, their #1 goaltender, and their best defensive forward. They play heavy minutes for a reason as they’re often being tasked with protecting leads, so of course they’re going to give up goals from time to time. And when some of these goals are being scored by elite-level players making world-class plays, the players on the ice are simply going to look bad as a result. That comes with the territory.
- If there is a systemic issue to point to, its that the Devils tendency to overload defensively will burn them from time to time. This is nothing new though. It’s an issue that John has written about in the past and a byproduct of how they play at 5-on-5 where the Devils try to pressure other teams into mistakes, so I don’t have much more to add there.
- It will sound cliche, but to me, the biggest thing out of all of this is that this comes down to execution, or lack thereof. It comes down to the little things that don’t appear on a scoresheet. Can you win a puck battle along the boards to take control of the puck? When you have the opportunity to clear the puck from the zone, can you execute? Can you get to a loose puck to deny teams second and third chances? Can the goaltender make a clean stop? For almost all of these goals, someone failed somewhere along the way, which is another reason I don’t want to blame specific players, but rather, the team as a whole. They all have had a hand in this at one time or another.
- Yes, some of this is puck luck and there’s not much you can do about it other than stick to the process that has worked for you all season. The puck will sometimes take bad caroms, bounce just out of reach of the defensemen or goaltender, or will go in off of somebody’s torso. It happens and that’s the stuff you really can’t control.
- Lastly, for the stuff you can control....can the Devils play to the horn and play to the final whistle? Periods aren’t 19:30 or 19:50. They’re 20 minutes. There’s something to be said about playing to the clock and playing to the scoreboard. There’s a reason why you generally don’t see NFL teams with a lead throw Hail Marys late in games when all they need to do is run out the clock and get out of there with a win. Hockey is similar in that respect and it comes back to what I said about execution. Can you make the simple plays in those situations to secure the win? This all falls under that “learning how to win” umbrella that the Devils are still in the process of figuring out. They’ve shown they can close out games, but they need to do a better job of closing out periods and not make things harder on themselves.
That’s how I see it. Perhaps you see things differently. You’ve heard from me though, so now, I want to hear from you. What’s your takeaway on all of these late goals surrendered, other than its really bad and the Devils should stop doing it? Please feel free to leave a comment and thanks for reading.