Jack Hughes had the first dangerous shot on goal of the game for the New Jersey Devils when Jesper Bratt had a neutral zone takeaway on the second shift of the game. Bratt stuttered in a partial two-on-one and set up Hughes on the far side, but Ilya Samsonov stuffed the shot with the pad. The Devils kept it moving, and Timo Meier shot it from a sharp angle into Samsonov’s glove. By the time John Marino had a point blank chance a few minutes later, the Devils had each of the first six shots on goal.
Vitek Vanecek made his first save of the game nearly eight minutes into the game, when Auston Matthews had a shot on goal from the high slot, and then another one-timer from closer. TJ Brodie, on the other end, took a tripping penalty when he took down Nico Hischier, sending the Devils to a power play in the first ten minutes of the game.
The first unit of the power play had a couple good chances. One was from Timo Meier, who uncorked a slap shot that was blocked, and another was from Nico Hischier batting the puck at the side of the net. The second unit did not have much time to work with, and play returned to even strength without a goal.
The Devils continued to dominate possession, though. Whenever the Toronto Maple Leafs did get puck possession, the Devils were sure to get in front of their shot attempts. Miles Wood made a chance for himself at one point as he used his speed to get into a one-on-one with Samsonov, but he could not find the five hole as he cut across. William Nylander got Vanecek to kick out a tantalizing rebound, but Hamilton got in the way of the rebound shot to guard against a goal. Seigenthaler later took a tripping penalty on Kampf in the neutral zone, giving Toronto a power play with 1:21 to kill in the period.
The Devils won the first draw and cleared the puck two thirds of the way down the ice. The Leafs quickly brought it back. Dawson Mercer had a great display at the end of his shift to force the puck out of the zone, getting off for McLeod, who took it down the ice to kill the rest of the period. The game went to first intermission 0-0, but the Devils led the shot battle 15-4.
After the Devils killed the rest of the penalty, the Devils and Leafs had a few minutes of back and forth play. Vanecek quickly saw as much action in these minutes as he saw in the whole first period, but he was up to task and got help from the crossbar at one point. However, the Devils never got going after the first few minutes. With the Leafs continuing to dominate possession, Calle Jarnkrok took the lead for Toronto off a pass from Marner. Jarnkrok had the whole net in front. 1-0, Toronto.
The Devils struggled to get anything going throughout the period. Vitek Vanecek kept it a one-goal game, though, as he had 12 saves in the period through its first 14 minutes. While the Hughes line was the only line creating chances for the Devils, the problem with that was Samsonov had Jack’s number the whole time. He had multiple rush chances during the period, but could not convert.
With four or so minutes to play, Ruff changed Meier and Tatar within the top six. Meier joined Nico Hischier’s line. As the Devils continued to pressure, it would take a rebound, a whiff, and a screen for Samsonov to lose track of the puck. Siegenthaler passed up the lines to Jesper Boqvist, who gained the zone for the Devils and shot high on Samsonov with Palat cutting down the middle. Palat whiffed on the rebound, but Haula shot it around him and above Samsonov’s pad! 1-1 tie game with three minutes to play!
Haula-bout the rebound. pic.twitter.com/vmfpfKOy3p— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 8, 2023
With Ondrej Palat taking Miles Wood’s spot on the fourth line, as Wood went down earlier after taking a elbow to the face earlier in the period, Pontus Holmberg got his stick in Palat’s face as he went for a rebound. Palat left the ice quickly after the trainers came out, and the referees called a four-minute double minor on Holmberg. This was affirmed on a penalty review.
Nico won the draw, and Jesper Bratt rang their only shot attempt off the post on a one-timer pass from Jack Hughes. The Devils went to intermission with over three and a half minutes of power play time to work with.
The Devils’ first unit had a rather poor minute and a half, failing to get chances. The second unit, with Boqvist on in place of Palat, only saw one shot attempt from Boqvist get blocked. In the final minute, Dougie Hamilton was set up for a point shot through traffic, but it went wide and the Leafs cleared.
Ondrej Palat took the ice again when play returned to even strength, delivering a hit behind the net. John Marino had his stick slashed in half, and the Devils returned to the power play just four minutes into the period. Jack Hughes took an early shot this time that was gloved by Samsonov. The Leafs cleared off the next draw.
Timo Meier lost the handle of the puck in the neutral zone, and he got pickpocketed with Mitch Marner on his back. Marner deked Vanecek to the left, and snuck the puck past to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead on a shorthanded goal.
With a minute left in the power play, the Devils sent the second unit out. Damon Severson had to dive across to block a shot on a two-on-one. The Devils moved it back up with seconds remaining on the power play, and Ondrej Palat made a nifty move in front for a backhand shot, rebound, and forehand goal off the feed from Mercer! 2-2!
Pally with a tally, Ondrej power play. pic.twitter.com/d6YZHpQmeN— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 8, 2023
The Devils continued to work. After Damon Severson dove to the ice to break up another chance when Morgan Reilly tried and failed to step around him, the Devils put the pressure on Toronto again. Ondrej Palat centered the puck from up the wall, and Erik Haula tipped it through a tight window for his second goal and third point of the game! 3-2!
Haula at yo boy. He’s got two tonight. pic.twitter.com/pXQIoFVVKf— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 8, 2023
After Jesper Bratt failed to finish a breakaway created by a great Damon Severson pass, the Maple Leafs would fight their way back to a tie. With Severson covering the initial rush by Kampf, Kampf left the puck back for Michael Bunting, who finished the opportunity. 3-3.
Of course, Timo Meier would take a high sticking minor penalty after the draw. With 3:52 to play, Toronto went to their second power play of the game. McLeod lost the draw, but Erik Haula got to the puck and cleared it. Marner tried to center the puck from behind the net to Bunting, but the puck was cleared again. Auston Matthews, though, would strike on the rush and put the Leafs up 4-3 with 2:53 to play. The Devils looked hapless with the empty net, and lost 4-3.
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Put Your Stick Down
I was going to put in a section about how much I love watching Timo Meier, but as I began to type it he was involved in one of the team’s ugliest shorthanded goals against this season. That put the Devils down in the early stages of the third. After the third line retied the game and took the lead, Meier took one of the most incomprehensible penalties I have seen this year. With the puck being caught in the air by Alex Kerfoot, Meier had his stick pointed straight up, and he whacked Kerfoot’s helmet with it.
I know the one drawback to Timo Meier’s game is the penalties, but this was an awful way to get acquainted with that.
It is all the more unfortunate that this was the home crowd’s introduction to Meier. He was stripped for a shorthanded goal, and he took the penalty that lost the game. Not great. It was pretty telling, too, when he was not out there for the majority of the empty net time. Lindy Ruff, to his credit, was willing to hold him accountable for that mistake. For what it’s worth, though, mistakes are just that. He was still fun to watch the rest of the time, and next game should be an improvement.
The Haula and Palat Show
Erik Haula had one of his best games of the year tonight, but it should be no surprise. He has been excellent as a third line center lately, creating chances with regularity for teammates and being a key defensive cog. Ondrej Palat, on the other hand, has been a bit up-and-down. They both walked away with three points tonight. Haula is now scoring at over a half-point per game with his seven goals and 25 assists. Palat, who had a goal and primary assist after coming back from losing teeth at the end of the second, is up to eight goals and 11 assists in 31 games played. It would be really tough to break up that line right now, and I hope they continue to build chemistry as the Devils approach the playoffs.
Where Things Stand
I was very unhappy with the loss. The Leafs were down O’Reilly and Tavares, and yet the Devils could not get one of their top lines to finish their chances. Bratt not finishing his breakaway was extremely frustrating, while Jack Hughes still has not found his scoring touch since coming back from an injury. And on the note of injuries — Miles Wood seems to be hurt and I am unsure if he will return for the next game. That may give Yegor Sharangovich a chance to rejoin the lineup as Curtis Lazar continues to deal with immigration and has not practiced with the team yet.
On the defensive side, I was really happy with the third pairing tonight, game-tying goal in the third aside. Bahl was a bit slow defending the rush, and this led Severson to leave his position in a rather aggressive move. But Severson was aggressive defensively — and extremely so — all night. It’s not often that noticing a defenseman in his own end is a good thing, but Severson made three successful diving plays and imposed his will on the puck even when it looked like he was going to give it up at times. That was how he created the breakaway for Bratt: he took back a puck he lost and his second attempt was clean and crisp up the ice. It just didn’t lead to a goal, which almost surely would have delivered the Devils to a victory down the line.
Another thing that could have given them the win, though, would have been a consistent 60-minute effort from the team. Losing so much momentum in the second period was tough to claw back from, and if they put the pedal to the metal throughout I have trouble believing Samsonov would not have completely cracked under the pressure. I mean, the Devils really slowed down at even strength after the first period, which, again, I find unacceptable considering how many top players Toronto was missing tonight.
What did you think of tonight’s game? What did you think of Timo’s home debut? What did you think of Vanecek? Are Bahl and Severson our most trustworthy pairing right now? Will Jack Hughes find his scoring touch soon? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.