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Kyle Palmieri Dominates with 3-Point Night as Devils Lose 5-1 to Islanders

Anytime you can let up three goals to former Devils, you gotta do it.

New Jersey Devils v New York Islanders
I miss Palmieri often.
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

Nico Hischier had an early chance when the Devils’ top line turned play around toward the end of the opening shift, as Jesper Bratt took the offensive zone and threaded a pass across to give Nico a straight-on chance with Ilya Sorokin. Nico shot the puck wide, and the top line got off the ice soon after. A couple minutes later, a pass banked to Matt Martin in the high slot. Martin shot it off the crossbar.

The New York Islanders, looking for life early on as they try to seal up a Wild Card spot, were able to keep up with the New Jersey Devils as the teams looked relatively even from the outset of the game. Vitek Vanecek had the right idea with his rebound control as he sticked a few rebounds away from the net in the first five minutes. Nico Hischier got another chance — this time on goal — soon after when Bratt picked a pass off down low and set him up at the high slot. Hischier’s low shot was just barely stopped underneath Sorokin’s pad.

Kyle Palmieri made the Devils defense look completely foolish a couple minutes later. Ryan Graves fell head over heels as Palmieri got in, and John Marino did not pick up the trailing Pierre Engvall. Palmieri deked Vanecek out of position, and Marino did not pick up the low rebound, leaving it for Engvall to tap in. 1-0, Islanders.

Ilya Sorokin made a flurry of stops as Ondrej Palat and Dawson Mercer worked to create a few shots on goal from all angles. Sorokin showed early on that he would not give up anything easy — he was locked in. Sure enough, play slowed to a rough grind as the period went on. The Islanders tried to hit anyone they could set their sights on, and the Devils struggled to work around their defense. The game went to the first intermission with the Islanders still up one goal, as they also were winning the shot battle 10-8.

Second Period

Jack Hughes took his third penalty of the season when he hooked the hands of Ryan Pulock. The Devils got an early clear against the fourth-worst power play in the league. Kyle Palmieri forced Vanecek to make two saves at the side of the net before the Devils got another clear. Noah Dobson shot the puck off the post, and Erik Haula jabbed the puck past him. Haula scored on the backhand! 1-1, Devils tying on the shorthanded goal! To boot, they killed the remainder of the penalty and Hughes returned to the ice with Hischier and Sharangovich with him. However, they could not get anything going together.

Vitek Vanecek was all over his crease as he lost his stick on a rush chance by Brock Nelson’s line, but he was able to zip from side to side to stop the puck from beating him! Though, Pierre Engvall rang a shot off the post on the following shift.

Ryan Graves and John Marino had another terrible goal against when Kyle Palmieri circled the net with Ryan Graves as the only man back. Graves decided to stay in the low slot, going to his knees to weakly guard against a pass. Palmieri waited for everyone to join in to screen Vanecek and roofed a backhand goal as John Marino stood in no-man’s land at the side of the net.

At the end of two periods, the Devils still trailed by one, thanks to Ryan Graves and John Marino forgetting again how to play defense. Vitek Vanecek stood on his head for much of the period, but they just asked too much of him on that play by Palmieri. Vanecek had saved 25 of 27 shots by the end of this period.

Third Period

The Devils finally went to the power play when Scott Mayfield took a penalty for hooking Timo Meier. They were unable to convert on this opportunity, as Ilya Sorokin made another three saves. The second unit brought this pressure, with Palat, Haula, and Bratt seeing their shots saved by Sorokin. Yet again, the first unit was not able to get anything going — an unfortunate trend of late.

After the power play, the Devils continued to up the ante on the Islanders. Timo Meier made a big show of putting his weight into carrying the puck into the zone, whizzing the puck wide of goal but getting the Islanders on their heels. The Devils later got a couple shots on goal, but still nothing that Sorokin could not handle. The best of these was a puck that bounced to Palat, who was all alone in front — but Sorokin got the right pad out.

The Devils appeared to score when Dougie Hamilton blasted a shot on goal that was knocked in by Tomas Tatar. It was immediately waved off for a kicking motion, and the replay confirmed the forward kicking motion by Tatar. No goal. Later on, Erik Haula nearly tied the game on a rebound from a Timo Meier shot, but Sorokin sealed it up.

Jack Hughes had a chance to tie when Ondrej Palat beat two Islanders on a rush backhand pass across — but Hughes could not get a clean lift on it and Sorokin made the save. Hughes later sprung Bratt for a one-on-one, but Bratt was hauled down on the backhand to no call.

The Devils gave one more up to Kyle Palmieri with 4:35 to play. With John Marino again skating into no-man’s land behind the net, the puck was worked from the corner to Palmieri around the faceoff circle — and Palmieri put it right in. Palat played it right to Palmieri, and Bahl could not block the shot.

The Devils pulled Vanecek with under three minutes to play. Jack Hughes had a shot from the slot that was turned aside by Sorokin, and the Islanders iced it with two minutes to play. Jack just shot it right into him. Bo Horvat finished the game with an easy empty netter a minute later.

Ryan Pulock played the puck out of play with under a minute to play, and the Devils pulled Vanecek for the 6-on-4. Zach Parise scored another empty netter to make it 5-1 at the last second.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Check out Lighthouse Hockey.

No Defense

Earlier this season, the New Jersey Devils were able to rely on the pairing of Ryan Graves and John Marino to shut down the best lines in hockey. Before his injury, John Marino could skate stride-for-stride with Connor McDavid, shut down Sidney Crosby and Artemi Panarin, and put the defense on his back. Ryan Graves was able to supplement his defense with quick movement up and down the ice, with responsibility on one end and solid puck skills on the other.

We are a far cry from those days right now.

After being responsible for the first two goals given up, Lindy Ruff decided to break up the “shutdown” pairing. This proved difficult, as Brendan Smith was utterly allergic to allowing offensive puck movement and eventually had to be worked out of the lineup. With Severson at times playing with Marino or Hamilton in the third period (which worked pretty well), Bahl moved to play with Marino (which did not work). This left Siegenthaler and Graves as more odd men out for much of the period. The 11/7 lineup truly worked to perfection, as I’ll hit back on in a bit. But for now, take a look at the full replay of Graves falling on the first goal:

Regarding Graves and Marino, they just don’t look like they’re interested in playing active defense at this point. They seem to just hope that, by taking a weak position on the ice, the puck might just magically come to them. This was especially true of the first goal scored by Kyle Palmieri, in which Graves could have leveled Palmieri coming around the net but decided to play low slot goaltender instead. If it were Kevin Bahl in that spot, maybe the game would have remained tied. Even Palmieri was surprised nobody got to him.

The only defenseman who had a good night was...*checking notes*...Damon Severson. He was the only Devils defenseman who had a positive CF% and shots ratio, as he posted a 75.86 CF% (22-7) in 17:36 of 5v5 ice time, which amounted to a 6-2 shot ratio, as the Islanders successfully got in the lanes often. John Marino had a 50.00 CF%, but was not effective at preventing attempts from missing or not making their way to the net — as the Islanders got 13 of their 19 attempts on goal with Marino on the ice. Graves, similarly, had a 51.85 CF% but saw the Devils outshot 6-10. He played six fewer 5v5 minutes than Marino, though — and for good reason. Graves was absolutely hapless whenever the Islanders got into the offensive zone.

On the year, with the three against tonight, John Marino has joined Brendan Smith as the only Devils defensemen to see the team give up at least as many goals as they’ve scored at 5v5 this season at 33-33. I did a bit more digging on that during intermission. As it turns out, Marino only has positive results whenever Nico Hischier is on the ice. In our gamethread, I said the following about the Graves-Marino pairing:

With today’s game so far, the Graves/Marino pairing has a:

27-23 G ratio (54% GF)

32.88-29.77 xG ratio (52.48 xGF%)

Their results are highly center-dependent. With Nico, 33/6 has outscored opponents 13-5 (72.22%). With Jack, they’ve been outscored 5-9 (35.71%). (Fun additional note: Jack Hughes has outscored opponents 21-15 [58.33%] with Severson and 29-19 [60.42%] with Dougie).

With the third goal later on, which was scored with Kevin Bahl as his partner, Marino lowered his GF% to 41.66% (20-28) when Nico Hischier is not on the ice. Shutdown pairing and difficult assignments or not, that is unacceptable for a supposed second-pairing defenseman on a top playoff team. With how they’ve been playing, it seems clear to me that the Graves-Marino pairing will soon be only breaking even or underwater with their goals scored ratio. Considering how well the team has played across the board this year, that concerns me.

What’s the path forward? Well, to start, Brendan Smith can stay out of the lineup. He’s not helping — and that’s for sure. In the meantime, Kevin Bahl is going to need to start playing bigger minutes. Ryan Graves has proven to be unreliable at defending against big competition, which is disconcerting considering his size. But Bahl was more than willing to match the Islanders’ physicality tonight, and he largely stood alone in that. What happens between Severson and Marino is more complicated, but let me put it this way:

In 4:55 against Kyle Palmieri, John Marino saw 0.62 xGA (9.21 xGF%) and three goals against. In 4:10 against Kyle Palmieri, Damon Severson saw 0.01 xGA (0.00 xGF%). There seems to be less to the “competition” disparity at the moment than people are purporting — it’s been a long time since Lindy Ruff structured his defense enough to lay out hard matchups.

If we want to see them get back to that, Marino can’t be the guy on his pairing doing the pinching and backchecking anymore (as he was doing on the first two goals against) — he needs Luke Hughes in the playoffs. Or, if you trust Bahl to pinch and backcheck, give him a look in that role and let Graves play defense for Severson. What made Marino such a beast in the early stages of the year was when he could sit back in the middle and use his skating to cut down any chance he saw coming at him. He is never in those spots these days, and I think it’s an on-ice role issue.

No Forechecking or Consistency

The lack of Jesper Boqvist in this lineup has really harmed the bottom six’s ability to apply pressure on the forecheck. Since Boqvist is no longer on the third line, Lindy Ruff had to experiment by using Sharangovich and Meier up and down the lineup, with Sharangovich double-shifting in the bottom six and Meier playing between the Hischier and Haula lines. I think Ruff really played himself into a pickle with the 11/7 tonight.

For starters, Bratt-Hughes-Palat simply did not work tonight. They got outshot, outplayed — and Palat is just not enough of a people-pusher to make up for the other two’s lack of physicality. Palat is more suited as a peripheral player who can make some difference around the crease. By comparison, Erik Haula is much more apt to win a board battle, but is not to be relied upon in the scoring department (but it was nice to see him finish tonight!). By removing Boqvist from that 3C role, Ruff has pigeon-holed himself into the unsavory decision of Haula or Mercer for the third line. By removing Haula from Jack’s wing, that line now struggles to generate downward pressure on the defensive puck carriers, and they rely more on interceptions than takeaways for creating turnovers. Jack also played significant time with Dawson Mercer in place of Bratt, which was far more effective at controlling play but ultimately could not get enough rubber in Sorokin’s face.

Not having a fourth line to rely on for tempo or support was rough tonight. Wood and McLeod were not necessarily bad, but they brought no offense to the table and were ineffective at creating pressure on the forecheck. Scratching Jesper Boqvist for Brendan Smith is simply more of a mistake than Ruff has realized. Maybe he’ll see that in time for next game, but I have an unfortunate feeling that he might opt for the “physicality and veterans” approach again with the Rangers looming.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? How annoying was it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.