The New Jersey Devils obliterated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 8-1. Sometimes, the score speaks for itself. I can forgive you if you just want to leave it at that. A win by seven goals is typically a sign of utter domination by one team. And it was. The Devils dominated the dubious Blue Jacket squad. The Devils crushed Columbus. The Devils lowered the boom on the loser and busted-up Blue Jackets. The Devils dropped the deck on them. If they could, they would have defenestrated them. This was a game where one team was very good, one team was absolutely awful, and the result was exactly what you would expect. 8-1 Devils win. Onto the next one.
Of course, I have more to write. After several seasons of Columbus laying waste to the New Jersey Devils, this season of Devils-Blue Jackets games have been cathartic to watch. The Mischief Afternoon beating of Columbus was fantastic. Seeing Ryan Graves edge Columbus with a last-second heartbreaker on Valentine’s Day was lovely. Being at the Rock for the biggest win yet over Columbus this season was just icing on the proverbial birthday cake. And after who’s-that-defenseman Billy Sweezey tried to pummel Nico Hischier because he cannot play NHL hockey and Hischier can, I wanted even more than 8-1. Alas, it was still a glorious win.
It also could have been even larger. Hischier, Timo Meier, and The Big Deal, Jack Hughes all missed wide open nets for scores. The post was hit twice in the second period. Adam Boqvist denied a perfect night for the Devils’ power play. The opening score was actually by Tomas Tatar, except his goal was disallowed after an offside challenge by Columbus - which was won because Tatar was just over the blueline before the puck was. The point is that the Devils could have set a team record for most goals in a game. Instead, they will have to settle for the eight spot. Which is still impressive on its own. Consider the performers:
Jack Hughes went from having an outside chance to breaking Patrik Elias’ single season scoring record to having a real good one. He had two lovely goals and two lovely assists to bring him up to 95 points. The first goal, in particular, should be the answer to anyone who questions his shot. The other three points continue to prove how he handles plays so well. The Big Deal is very much a big deal and it is time for the few haters and losers to just accept it at this point. Hughes could not be stopped by Columbus.
Timo Meier was involved for both power play goals for the Devils; the set up to Hughes in the second period and finishing the dime the Big Deal fed him near the end of the second period. He got ice time by the end of the game after the Sweezey Incident because he was slotted for a bottom six role and that bottom six played out the game at forward. He somehow missed twice at an empty net on Jon Gillies’ blindside to deny himself the hat trick. No matter, two goals for 40 in his own season, nine as a Devil, and an assist to add to the point total.
Nico Hischier battled back after Sweezey’s tenth shot at him in the endboards in the third period and presumably received a lot of attaboys and support from his teammates. He also created Tatar’s actual goal that counted and was a part of that super-pretty PPG Hughes scored on. Hischier also could not be stopped.
Tomas Tatar resembled Timo Meier on the move he did legitimately score on early in the second period. It did a lot to help relieve any concern about this hockey game being competitive. Tatar would also be someone the Blue Jackets could not legally stop.
John Marino and Ryan Graves had fantastic nights. Graves had legitimate scoring chances and dropped an absolute hammer as a trailer for the eighth goal. Marino had three assists, flying around like he was Marek Zidlicky only with way better discipline and defensive acumen.
Brendan Smith was a late add to the lineup as Jonas Siegenthaler was held out. Smith was awesome and had a couple of good shots himself. As much as I and many of the People Who Matter wanted Hughes or Meier to get a hat trick, I would have been the most hyped and elated if Smith scored in this game. Given how bad Michael Hutchinson and Jon Gillies were, it was very possible.
And the BMW line was crushing it in the run of play with Michael McLeod playing with a ton of bounce in his step. The only downside from that line was that each member took an avoidable penalty. McLeod slashed Josh Dunne’s stick into pieces; Miles Wood shoved Adam Boqvist down and into Hutchinson after the goalie froze the puck; and Yegor Sharangovich cleared a puck over the glass. Other than those calls, they more than handled the game even when it was well under control after the Sweezey minor penalty. Even Miles Wood played a far smarter game than most of the Blue Jackets skaters.
Each penalty was killed with aplomb. The penalty killing units were absolutely awesome. They out-shot Columbus’ power plays collectively at 5-4. They also out-scored them, 1-0, thanks to Damon Severson ripping a wrister past Gillies as a trailer on attack.
All this and a legitimately good wrist shot by Erik Haula in the third period - hard to believe given his missed golden chances earlier in the season - contributed to this rout. This destruction of a truly terrible Columbus team. The PP was good. The PK was perfect. Vitek Vanecek was nearly perfect. No one, as far as I am aware, got hurt on the Devils. A runaway victory for the teams’ 50th of the season - another milestone achieved in a season full of them. I loved watching this game. I hope you did too.
The Game Highlights: It is all good! Go watch it at NHL.com.
About the Goal Against: As you can tell by the score, this was not a shutout. Maybe it should have been. Here is how Joona Luoto - yes, the Joona Luoto - scored his first ever NHL goal.
Eric Robinson played Luoto in the zone. He tries to chip it ahead, but the puck bounced off Ryan Graves’ shin. Sean Kuraly streaks in from the neutral zone to pick up the loose puck ahead of Jesper Bratt. Kuraly goes to the net and seemingly contacted Vitek Vanecek, who goes down. The puck is still in the crease. Vanecek tries to close his legs over the puck to force a freeze. Luoto crashed in and jammed his stick in between Vanecek’s legs. This knocked the puck over the line. Then Vanecek fell deeper into the net and the mass of bodies took the net off its moorings. That led to the whistle.
Vanecek was shaken up from the play. The trainer came out to check on him. Vanecek was skating about in the corner and assured the trainer he was good to go. Meanwhile, the referees were conferencing about something. Then it was announced that they called no goal on the ice, but would review the play if the puck went in over the line before the net was dislodged. And so we waited.
Mind you, I was in the arena but I had no benefit of replay. Not until the official announced a puck went over the line and so Columbus scored. Amid the booing, the giant screen showed Luoto poking the puck over the line before the net was fully crashed into.
Lindy Ruff challenged this play for goaltender interference. I can understand the frustration from this challenge failing. And, hey, it was 3-0 at the time and the Devils already killed three penalties with seeming ease. I could see it being worth the risk. From what I saw on the big screen, while Kuraly was a reason why Vanecek was down, Vanecek was still in a position to make a play on the puck. He was not impeded at that point. Luoto jamming his stick in - while not cool to watch since I presume he got more than just a puck - was an otherwise legal play. He did not keep Vanecek from making a stop by hitting his pads or skates or anything like that.
This is all to say that this review and subsequent failed challenge, while unfortunate, had some logic to it. Given that the Devils won by seven goals, I do not care much about it. It is telling that this, of all plays, was the only one that broke through Vanecek. Your mileage may vary.
Columbus Stunk: I know the team is far from 100% and they went shorthanded as Johnny Gaudreau left the game early due to illness. He did not play enough to be booed off the ice anyway. Still, the Devils out-attempted the Blue Jackets 54-28 in 5-on-5, out-shot them 26-13 in 5-on-5 and 36-17, and out-xGF’ed them 4.37 to 1.91 in all situations. This was a dance. The Devils styled and profiled all over, around, and somehow under the Blue Jackets, who filled their pants, wet themselves, and got spun in a fetal position on the dance floor. This was just an embarrassing performance from all involved of the visitors.
Michael Hutchinson and Jon Gillies were awful, awful, awful. Hutchinson’s reflexes were not quick enough to deal with the shots the Devils were creating. Nor was he quick enough in the crease to react to the plays. After Haula sent Hutchinson packing with his goal, it got worse. Timo Meier scored on Gillies’ first shot against in the game. After a clipping call (not tripping as I thought) on Kevin Bahl, Damon Severson scored on the second shot he faced in the game for the shorty. After a save on Jack Hughes (go figure, a post-to-post robbery was his first save), he gave up a goal to Graves. That’s three goals against on four shots and Gillies was the relief. Abysmal.
Likewise, the defense was heinous. Billy Sweezey’s moment of the game before trying to hurt Hischier was getting posterized by Jesper Bratt one-on-one. Alas, Bratt skied the shot. Marcus Bjork was heinous and his two minor penalties were punished. Being given a misconduct helped Columbus’ blueline in that they did not have to see him suffer. Sweezey and Bjork took all the calls for Columbus. But I do want to note that Andrew Peeke and Gavin Bayruther were also hideously bad tonight. The only positive from the defense was Adam Boqvist saving a goal to deny the Devils going 3-for-3 on the power play. That was it. Jesper would have made a better defense than any of these guys.
And with just 17 shots on net total, the forwards were just ghastly. They could not forecheck or slow down the Devils in the neutral zone. Their backchecking was questionable at best. Even when Gaudreau was playing, he was a non-factor. The silky hands of Kent Johnson were not on display. Kirill Marchenko may have well not played at all. Their depth is wrecked, but the regulars on their top six were just ghosts this evening.
This Columbus team definitely has a bid for finishing last this season. Full credit to the Devils for not showing any mercy on them.
The Milestones in Progress: Plenty of stretch goals and milestone markers remain in play with three games left in the season. Here is a quick summary:
- Milestone Achieved: The Devils win was their 50th of the season. They are the second Devils team ever to get to 50 wins in a season. They are also second all time in points with 108. They are one win and three points away from the franchise records.
- As mentioned, The Big Deal had a huge four-point night. Hughes has jumped past Taylor Hall’s Hart season, Zach Parise’s best season ever, and Kirk Muller’s 94-point season in 1987-88. He is one point away from tying Patrik Elias’ record of 96 points, which he did in 82 games in 2000-01. Hughes has played 75 games and can play a maximum of 78. I say he does it.
- With a pair of goals, Timo Meier is up to nine goals with the Devils. Now one remaining to tie Ilya Kovalchuk when the Devils traded for him. Clearly, the trade is working out.
- Nico Hischier had a pair of apples to bring him up to 77 points. Three more points until 80 and three games, left. It could happen.
- Tatar’s first goal was wiped out due to offside. The second he put past Hutchinson did count on a great move to the middle. He is now at 18 goals. He needs two to get to 20.
- Milestone Achieved: Jesper Bratt picked up a secondary assist tonight on Meier’s power play goal. That was his 70th point of the season.
- With the 16-save performance, Vitek Vanecek is now up to 91% for an overall save percentage this season. I am not sure if he will play much in the next three games and will make enough stops to bring him up to 91.5%, but it is a run of good form this week.
Weirdly enough, in an 8-1 game, Dougie Hamilton ended up pointless. He did hit a crossbar in the second period. Alas, that may keep him away from Stevens’ record. One goal will tie him with Barry Beck’s record. We shall see if he does it.
The Out of Town Scoreboard: The Devils did not just win tonight. They got some help. Consider what else happened:
- Nashville shutout Carolina, 3-0! The Hurricanes have a game in hand on the Devils, but they are now just holding onto first place by one point. Carolina controls their destiny and will use this game in hand next week, but the first place hope - if you have it - is there.
- St. Louis beat Our Hated Rivals, 3-2 in overtime. While regulation would have been better, the Devils are up on Manhattan by four points. With both teams having three games left to play - or a maximum of six points left - the Devils are in a great position to mathematically lock up home ice before the final game. It will depend on a combination of results, but a loss by Our Hated Rivals almost all but seals it.
- Quinnipiac beat Michigan in the NCAA Frozen Four Semifinals, 5-2. Seamus Casey scored a sick-nasty goal in the first period to make it 1-1. Luke Hughes set up an Adam Fantilli goal that made it 2-2 in the second period. But Quinnipiac pulled away in the third period thanks to Sam Lipkin and Zach Metsa. Michigan’s season is over. This means Luke Hughes can sign a contract.
- While it does not impact the standings, Boston’s Charlie McAvoy left the game against Toronto early after a collision with Patrice Bergeron. It is not serious, but Boston head coach Jim Montgomery has ruled him out of Saturday’s game with the Devils. McAvoy’s an important player; this may make an unlikely night in Boston a little more likely to end with a result for the Devils.
- Buffalo beat Detroit in a shootout, 7-6. This means Buffalo could technically have something to play for next Tuesday, but I still doubt it. They are five points back of the Islanders and all three of Florida, the Islanders, and Pittsburgh won - and in regulation. Buffalo may have games in hand but that alone will not be enough.
One Last Thought: There was metal on the lower concourse playing outside the Fire Lounge in the first intermission. Specifically by Toms River band, NecroGarden. And more heavy music during the second intermission. It was pretty cool and the crowd around it grew and grew. There is a vibrant set of music scenes in the New Jersey and greater NYC area. The organization should do more of this (and maybe tell some people about it ahead of the games). More please, Devils.
Your Take: The Devils slammed and jammed Columbus, 8-1. How great were Jack Hughes’ four points? Or Meier’s goals? Or seeing Jon Gillies get torched for three goals just after entering the game? Or anything else from the Devils in this one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the victory in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along with @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter, and thank you for reading.