- After outlasting the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in a very strange game that saw Jack Hughes reinjured, the Devils hosted the 24-11-3 Vancouver Canucks at home in New Jersey.
- Despite successfully securing a 0-0 tie through the first twenty minutes, it turns out you have to score more goals than you allow to win hockey games. The Devils surrendered three at the start of the second period, and they were never able to climb out of the grave they’d dug themselves.
- Though they fought hard in the third period and made a valiant comeback attempt, they ultimately lost 6-4.
- Essential Links: The NHL.com Boxscore | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The Game Thread | The Game Preview, by Jackson | The Game Highlights via NHL.com
The second edition of the Hughes bowl (or at least 2⁄3 of it) began with a near-costly turnover from Jonas Siegenthaler, which luckily did not end up hurting the Devils. Then of course the Devils were scored on first, as Brock Boeser capitalized on a rebound off Nico Daws’ left pad. However, Lindy Ruff challenged the play for goaltender interference—which turned out to be a good call, as J.T. Miller had backed his way into Daws and made enough contact to prevent him from crossing the crease to make a save. While the goal was called back, I didn’t like the start from the Devils, who theoretically surrendered the first goal once again—an epidemic for their 2023/2024 season. The Canucks followed up their non-goal with several more shots that Daws saved.
Siegenthaler missed a bouncing puck that careened into the middle of the slot, which Daws then also stopped off the partial breakaway. The former defensive stalwart made a couple more questionable plays from there: he committed a 100% unforced icing when he was perhaps five or six feet from the red line, then interfered with Ilya Mikheyev away from the play. I’ve defended the idea of keeping Siegenthaler in hopes he recovers his past form, but I’m not going to deny the fact that he’s been incredibly bad this year. Unforced errors, strange decisions with the puck, even stranger ones without the puck. I have no idea what happened to him.
Erik Haula made a big block on the penalty kill, and the Devils killed the penalty to Siegenthaler while stifling the Quinn Hughes-led Vancouver power play. Daws shut down two big scoring chances in front of the net. After the penalty, Dawson Mercer sprang the other way for a partial breakaway on Thatcher Demko, who stopped the deke with his leg pads.
Vancouver sustained heavy offensive pressure into the second half of the period. Daws met them head-on, saving 14/14 on the night just after the halfway mark of the first. Ruff had continually thrown the forward lines into the blender as he searched for a combination with chemistry in the absence of Palat, Hughes, and Meier. The broadcast at this point noted that the Devils were 0-0. I could probably go on a 1,000-word tangent on why playing for 0-0 is worthless, but I’d be preaching to the choir.
Nevertheless, while Nemec was excellent through the first period, the true difference-maker was Nico Daws, who saved 17/17 through twenty minutes. The Devils only mustered five shots. After such an awful period, the Devils were lucky to head to the first period tied 0-0.
Here’s the shot heatmap from Natural Stat Trick. I think it speaks for itself.
The second period started with a goal: Elias Pettersson tipped a shot from the point past Daws, putting the Canucks ahead 1-0. Playing for 0-0 to readjust tactically in the second sure did work out for the Devils. They looked just as bad to start this period as they did the last one. Daws once more made two difficult saves after Luke Hughes turned the puck over on a behind-the-net breakout.
The Devils were hemmed into their zone for practically the entire first four minutes of the second, which led to J.T. Miller scoring right after Pettersson’s goal. It bounced off Miller’s instep and bounced past Daws, giving the Canucks a 2-0 lead. The referees didn’t overturn the goal on a kick. I didn’t see a kicking motion from Miller, who was in the process of making a hockey stop in front of the net.
The Canucks scored a third time after Pettersson saucered a pass to Miller faceoff circle to faceoff circle. Miller completed the one-timer, and Daws was unable to make it across to stop the cross-crease slap shot. The Canucks took a 3-0 lead.
Colin Miller ended the shutout just before the halfway point of the second, earning his first goal as a Devil. The goal came off a faceoff that Miller collected and sent toward the net, beating Demko glove-side. Canucks fans shouldn’t blame Demko for that one. I would’ve fallen asleep if I were him too.
Miller’s first as a Devil. pic.twitter.com/Whx1Fmkc6P— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 7, 2024
The Canucks should’ve scored again, but Daws was there again to keep the Devils in the game. He stretched cross-crease to stop a shot that I don’t think anybody would’ve blamed him for had it gone in. Still, he made the stop. The shots were 30-12 for the Canucks at this point of the game with five minutes left in the period.
Then, Erik Haula brought the game back within one. Jesper Bratt and Haula entered the zone, turned into the inside, and Bratt found with a sharp pass. Haula wristed the shot over Demko to make it 3-2.
It didn’t matter. Just eleven seconds later, Conor Garland on a singular effort darted behind the Devils’ net and scored a wraparound goal, making it 4-2. I do think Marino could’ve done more than jab his stick at Garland. McLeod followed Garland behind the net; Bahl covered the man in front; Marino was on the left side and could’ve intercepted Garland, potentially. There were four Devils beneath the slot and only 2 Canucks (one of them being the late man to the front). Regardless, I won’t lay the lion’s share of the blame on Marino’s feet.
It was a bad goal by Daws. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but I would’ve probably torched Vanecek for having the same game Daws had tonight (i.e. stellar early play but still giving up five and a very preventable goal). Still, Daws earned himself slightly more leeway up to this point. Not excusing the goal—there’s a reason why wraparounds are scored so infrequently in the NHL, and it’s because it’s about the easiest save an NHL goalie can make—but the game might’ve been 6-2 by this point were it not for his efforts. He made 28 saves on 32 shots in just forty minutes. I’m willing to cut him some slack—just for tonight.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that this goal was perhaps the dagger to the Devils’ heart. Had Daws made just one more save—and an easy one at that—they might’ve walked home with two points.
Last second magic from Garland pic.twitter.com/RtUIeOQfnL— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 7, 2024
Just for a different perspective, MoneyPuck doesn’t entirely agree with me giving him credit: they record that after two periods, Daws had saved -1.41 goals above expected, so it’s possibly a learned perspective after watching the worst goaltending in the league for half a season.
Checking in on Graeme Clarke after two periods: he’d played 6:16 after forty minutes of hockey.
The third period also began with a goal: on the rush, Boeser sent a backhand pass to Pettersson on the far side of the ice for another cross-crease goal. The Devils had seventeen minutes left to come back from a 5-2 deficit. They went to their first power play minutes later, giving them at least a fighting chance at climbing that long ladder back.
Tyler Toffoli made an incredible move in tight on Demko and nearly beat him on the deke, but Demko was equal to the task and made a great desperation save. Daws had to make a couple saves of his own on the Devils’ power play, and ultimately the man advantage did not convert.
Nemec later broke up a two-on-one with his stick, preventing a dangerous opportunity from ever reaching Daws. Then Colin Miller took matters into his own hands again, wristing a clean shot past Demko. Holtz began this play by protecting the puck on a difficult zone entry. Even though he didn’t get the assist (which went to Smith and Tierney), Holtz deserved the second-most credit after Miller. It was also Miller’s first multigoal game of his career.
Miller clappers are things we love to see. pic.twitter.com/NAMbl3qNAZ— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 7, 2024
Smith followed up on Miller’s goal with one of his own: a heavy slapshot from the point that bolted through traffic and past Demko, bringing the Devils within one goal.
Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet called a timeout to settle his troops, which did work out for them. Ruff should try that sometime. Holtz and Nemec combined for a scoring opportunity shortly after, but the puck never made it to the net and instead careened out of play. With 3:31 remaining in the game, the Devils headed to the power play for the second time.
On that power play, the referees decided not to call a blatant trip on Luke Hughes on the breakout. He was completely upended—it was almost a knee-on-knee hit—that sent him flying.
With the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, the power play had a few decent looks, but nothing that truly tested Demko. Dakota Joshua then scored the empty net goal that officially sunk the Devils 6-4.
We’re going to do a bunch of rapid-fire thoughts tonight. Here they are:
- The Devils still need a goalie. Daws was good early then mediocre late, but he also surrendered a very preventable goal that might’ve been the difference. Daws might serve as a fine backup. Schmid might also be an acceptable backup. But the Devils don’t have someone they can trust. For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, it’s not enough.
I defended Daws earlier in the article and I don’t think anybody should say he played catastrophically—overall—tonight. But he still surrendered five goals on 3.4 expected, per MoneyPuck. They shouldn’t be relying on a 23 year old fresh off hip surgery. But that’s where we are.
- I didn’t think about the referees tonight until the egregious miss on Hughes. I’d like to see referees hold press availability after the game. It’d keep them accountable in-game if they’re thinking about how they’re going to justify later calls or non-calls. Unfortunately, they call (and manage) the game exactly how the NHL wants; that combined with the referees’ union means that this will likely never happen, or at least not for a long time.
- Tonight showcased the other side of the coin: when you’re a team that’s known for their comebacks, sometimes the comeback falls short. You don’t want to enter the third period down every game.
- Graeme Clarke only played 9:32 tonight, about three minutes per period. In the second half of a back-to-back where you’re missing some of your top guys, you can’t completely gas your already-tired top forwards. Clarke was fresh, since he didn’t play last night. I would’ve liked to see him more in the first and second period.
#NJDevils basically played with 10 forwards for most of the first period.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) January 7, 2024
Graeme Clarke and Chris Tierney had 2:10 and 3:04 time on ice respectively.
Brendan Smith played 3:32, :54 of which were on the PK.
That's why we're seeing so many different forward line combos.
- The Canucks owned the middle of the ice, while the Devils were pushed to the outside. Three goals on Demko were rockets from the right point. They rarely worked themselves into the prime scoring chances of the ice like the slot.
- Siegenthaler only played 9:41 before leaving with an injury. He was on the ice for three shots for and 22 against.
- Mercer, Miller, Bratt, and Smith were the four Devils with positive possession numbers tonight. I didn’t think much of Mercer’s game tonight, but the other three were the best players on the ice for the Devils.
- Hischier did not have a bad game. Hischier did not have a good game. The Devils are undoubtedly much worse without him than with him, but Hischier needs to start having good games more regularly.
Can Daws be a difference-maker, or is he just too young and too inexperienced? Was this loss due to injuries, coaching, or bad luck? Here’s your chance to weigh in in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading. Onward.