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All-Around Effort Delivers New Jersey Devils 4-1 Win Over Columbus Blue Jackets

Vitek Vanecek let in the first shot but played an excellent game after, stopping 28 of 29.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets
Vitek was locked in after letting one by.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

The New Jersey Devils had an early grade-A chance when Tyler Toffoli had Elvis Merzlikins a bit out of position on the rush, but Toffoli missed with the shot. Nico Hischier kept the puck moving for Simon Nemec, but no Devils were in front for a rebound or deflection, and the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to avert danger. The following minutes were mostly dry for both sides, as Alex Holtz had a chance to beat Jake Bean for a breakaway but was wrapped up from behind. Then, out of the blue, Cole Sillinger rifled a shot off the iron and in, off a feed from Yegor Chinakov. 1-0, Blue Jackets. Vitek Vanecek let in his first of the night.

Erik Haula was then called for interference for getting in the way of Kirill Marchenko in the Blue Jackets’ offensive end. The Devils won the faceoff and could not get it down cleanly, but eventually cleared and changed after a pass from the boards to the middle went awry. Chris Tierney deflected a pass for a one-timer on his shift, allowing the Devils to clear the zone and get a change. With 32 seconds left on the kill, Ivan Provorov was called for interference.

At four-on-four, Dawson Mercer lost the draw after McLeod was kicked out of the dot. Fantilli was ridden off from his rush by Nemec. McLeod took it the other way, but lost it right before the Devils went to the power play. Meier tried to center it for Mercer after the Devils took the puck back, but Erik Gudbranson deflected the pass. The first unit came out after a short mismashed shift, and Tyler Toffoli could not get a pass to him under control at the blueline, forcing the Devils to recollect. Nemec’s one-timer was blocked by Adam Boqvist, and Erik Haula sent a shot over the net. After the penalty, John Marino got the puck in the defensive zone and passed it right to Jack Roslovic, forcing Vanecek to make a sharp save one-on-one. Second shot of the night, but a save for Vitek.

Damon Severson stood up Tyler Toffoli with a clean takeaway, but Toffoli backchecked hard to prevent a chance against. McLeod then missed a wide open net on a rebound on a rush for the Devils. A couple minutes later, John Marino got beat in the neutral zone leading to an interference call being assessed to Tyler Toffoli, who was coming back to cover after a pass missed him at the point earlier in the shift, as he got his stick in Sillinger’s legs.

The Devils cleared off the draw. John Marino failed to clear from behind the net, bouncing the puck into the slot. Fortunately, the Jackets were unable to settle it for a shot, and Marino blocked a longer-range shot. Colin Miller intercepted a pass in the defensive end after a Columbus re-entry, taking it all the way down the ice for a shot off the side of the net. He kept the puck off the rebound, passing it back down the boards for Nathan Bastian, who circled for a shot high on Merzlikins, which looked like it almost got through. The Devils got an offensive zone draw and killed the rest of the penalty. The Jackets kept the pressure up for a moment, and the Devils took it the other way after averting a scoring chance. Provorov blocked a Hischier shot on the rush with Bratt cutting to the net, and Nemec sailed a shot over the net.

The Devils drew a holding call when Peeke was called for taking Toffoli down and trying to hold him down. Meier missed a shot and shot a one-timer off Merzlikins’ mask. Nico Hischier kept possession for the Devils when Luke Hughes broke his stick, but the passing play wasn’t there and the Devils turned it over, re-entering after a clearance. Tyler Toffoli missed wide with a great chance, and he wound up for a slap shot that rang around the boards and out, forcing the Devils to change. Nemec took a shot that deflected out of play.

The shots were 10-5, Devils in the first period.

Second Period

Early in the period, after a shot from Bratt was blocked, Simon Nemec raced to the slot to collect the loose puck. John Marino got the puck from Nemec, rifled it, and scored! Tie game, and the team jumped up at the slumping Marino getting his shot!

Then, the Jackets almost scored when a shot hit off the post and got behind Vitek. Vitek tried to seal it, but the Jackets pushed him out of the crease and he poked the puck to the corner. In the chaos, Jack Roslovic tripped Kevin Bahl — but the Devils kept the puck moving and set up a huge chance in front of the net for Timo Meier, but Merzlikins didn’t cough up a rebound.

The power play was a bit too slow. The first unit’s shift ended with a sharp angle shot from Timo Meier, and the Jackets got the puck after a battle by the boards for the puck. The second unit did not have much luck either, and the power play went to waste. After the power play ended, Alex Holtz got into the Columbus defensive zone and spun for a centering shot at Bastian, but he got neither a bounce nor a redirection.

Cole Sillinger had a chance to retake the lead for Columbus when he got the puck all alone after the Devils overloaded too much and left the netfront empty. Vanecek made the initial save, but he had to flop back to cover the puck. The Devils kept at it though, turning back Columbus until, a few minutes later, Cal Foote got the puck and made a perfect pass for Alex Holtz to redirect into the net! 2-1 lead!

Past the halfway point in the period, Kevin Bahl tripped Boone Jenner, who was skating behind him. They called it. The Devils won the draw and cleared the puck. They got another clearance down the ice near the end of the first minute after forcing the Jackets into a lengthy cycle. Nate Bastian blocked a shot from Boqvist and later took the puck to the offensive zone, where he shot was blocked by Boqvist. Bastian was able to get the puck back, though, and set up Nemec — but his shot went high. Going the other way, Fantilli rang a shot off the inside of the iron.

After a defensive zone draw, Dawson Mercer blocked a shot up high to Nico Hischier. Hischier took it up the middle with Meier on his left and Mercer on his right. Nico’s pass to Meier didn’t get anywhere, and the puck was deflected back to him. Meier drove to the net, and Nico’s shot from above the high slot hit the top corner! 3-1 lead for the Devils!

The Devils’ third line finally got their physical play to pay off when their forecheck led to a turnover to Kevin Bahl. With Bastian still by the net, Bahl played it right to him for a deflection goal! 4-1 lead with over five minutes left in the period! Later, Timo Meier had a takeaway on his backhand on the forecheck when the Jackets missed on a pass, but his shot was saved by Merzlikins.

Third Period

Simon Nemec drew a high sticking call in the corner less than a minute into the period. On the power play, his one-timer was blocked wide of the lane. The second unit, on first, had trouble re-entering and had to backcheck to block a shorthanded chance. Luke Hughes, coming on, pushed Danforth off a rush chance, but got beat in the corner. Vitek came way out of the net in a sprawl to keep the puck out. The Devils finally got the puck down for Merzlikins to cover a shot with 33 seconds left in the advantage.

After the penalty expired, Vitek made a huge save on Kirill Marchenko on a rebound chance that bounced up in the air, as Marchenko kicked the puck to his stick for a shot in front of the crease. On the other end, Erik Haula was leveled as he set up a shot from a sharp angle that was frozen by Merzlikins.

Past the halfway point of the final frame, Vitek was all over the place, keeping the puck out of the net with a great deal of luck. On one such play, he went down to his side with the net open, and the puck was sent from the crease to the point. The point shot deflected off the side of the net as Vitek tried to dive across.

Tyler Toffoli was sprung on a high flip from Jesper Bratt for a breakaway. His shot was saved by Merzlikins. Vitek continued to make saves in his end, and the Blue Jackets looked rather frustrated with the game by the final minutes. Yet, Ivan Provorov had his shot deflected by Cole Sillinger to make it a two-goal game with just over two minutes to play. 4-2, and it looked like the Jackets had a chance to think about pulling the goalie. But first, Lindy Ruff challenged the goal for offsides.

As the replay showed, Johnny Gaudreau was about half a foot over the blueline, and the clock was reset to 2:45. Back to 4-1. After Cal Foote blocked a shot, Max Willman was sent ahead, drawing Gudbranson to the boards. As he did so, he dropped the puck to the middle for Alex Holtz, who came in with a head of steam but could not tuck the shot in. The Devils wound the clock down effectively from there, with the bottom six taking the bulk of the ice time, sealing the Devils’ win at 4-1.

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

Structure and Trust

After Alex Holtz’s benching in the brutal loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Lindy Ruff had to face questions for why he was limiting ice time for a goal scorer in a game that they needed goals. His answer, while a bit overly abrasive, pointed to him taking issue with a play Holtz made in the defensive zone, leading to a breakdown and a scoring chance. This is one of many examples of Holtz not having the trust of the head coach: especially in tight games, where defensive mistakes can be killer. Of course, benching only one player only goes so far in stopping careless turnovers for scoring chances. While he made up for it, Marino had a rather terrible one in the first period. Thankfully, the Devils got solid defense early on from Cal Foote, who made an impact early and often. So it wasn’t like the Devils were facing down scoring chance after scoring chance — the mistakes were few but glaring in that first period.

Back to Holtz — he ended up playing 13:04 tonight. Much of this ice time came in the third period, as the Devils were trying to seal the win with a three-goal lead, but Holtz had far more looks tonight — a step in the right direction. His line with Tierney and Willman dominated the Jackets, outshooting them eight to one with an 82.45 xGF%. Ruff has to be happy that he was able to get his top six forwards more rest in that final period, and hopefully the fourth line’s success can carry into tomorrow night. Most of the team played a strong structural game, and the fourth line did a great job of setting the tone.

Best of all, the Devils were able to trust their goalie tonight. Vitek made 28 saves and skated off with 1.65 goals saved above expected. He stopped seven of seven high danger shots, and he settled in big-time during the second period, keeping the Devils in it long enough for their offensive outburst. As Vitek settled in, I think the Devils became less jumpy with the puck in their own zone.

Stopping Slumps

John Marino had some bad, bad plays in the second period. This was not really anything new, as he has been slumping for quite awhile — he was one of the Devils I named as having a bad slump in the second quarter on Monday. But Marino turned it around, big time, as the game progressed. He scored the game-tying goal, and while slightly outshot when on the ice, he was able to limit the chances against and had a 68.99 xGF% at five-on-five. The Devils only let up two high-danger chances with Marino on the ice, and Simon Nemec was heavily involved in the offense when paired with Marino. I had my doubts and reservations with the righty-righty top pair, but they were great in the second period.

Tyler Toffoli, meanwhile, seems locked in his slump — and the team tried to get him set up for a goal in the third to no avail. Lindy even noted in his post-game that Toffoli would have had a goal if this game was earlier in the season. With how rough the Mercer-McLeod-Meier line played, I think a winger switch is in order for tomorrow night against the Stars. The M-M-M line had a 27.59 CF% and was outshot 7-4, outscored 1-0, and outchanced 10-4. Meier was able to get in for some chances and got involved physically, but this was a terrible game for McLeod. When Mercer and Meier were on the ice with Nico, this led to a goal for the Devils, as Mercer blocked a shot to Nico (Dawson was robbed of an assist there), and Meier drew defenders away from Nico and screened Elvis for the goal. I think one or both should stay up there tomorrow night. M-M-M does not seem as effective as when McLeod has played with other wingers, including Bratt, Toffoli, and Holtz. There’s more work to be done, and this is a time I do not mind Ruff tinkering with the lines. Still, I doubt it happens right away on the back end of a back-to-back.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils can get a rare B2B win tomorrow? Do you think they did a good enough job of spreading the minutes? How did you feel about Marino and Holtz’s goals? What about Vitek? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading. Have a good night.