New Jersey Devils
Jimmy Vesey and the New Jersey Devils took three out of a possible four points against two of the NHL’s best teams. Can they bring that momentum into Week 7? (image from Kim Klement?USA TODAY Sports)

New Jersey Devils Recap: Week 6

The ’21-’22 season for the New Jersey Devils continues to be a rollercoaster. Just when it seemed like the season was starting to go downhill, this week, the Devils took three out of four points against two of the top tops in the NHL. This year’s team continues to play hard and battle back when down, which is such a nice change considering how non-competitive they were most nights in recent years. New Jersey still sits among teams in the middle of the pack, and with a busy week ahead, it’s imperative they stay there as we get closer and closer to the return of Jack Hughes.

The Games

11/20/21: @ Tampa Bay Lightning [5-3 W]

This was honestly one of my favorite Devils games in the past three seasons. Entering Amalie arena on a three-game skid, it seemed destined for the Devils to get smacked by the Lightning and their blitzkrieg offense. In fact, New Jersey was outplayed for most of the 60 minutes, but ultimately found a way to win thanks to timely goals and saves.

Even without Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay can score with ease. The Devils could not sustain any offensive pressure in the first period, mainly because they took three different minor penalties. Jan Rutta opened the scoring at 5:49 with an uncontested shot that beat Mackenzie Blackwood under the glove and over the left pad. It was a sloppy play from P.K. Subban and Joonas Siegenthaler, which may be expected of your defensive third pairing, but the two have been solid so far this season. The pair has a combined +/- rating of +1.

After a couple of penalties weren’t taken advantage of by either team, Yegor Sharangovich scored his first goal of the season at 13:56. I could literally see the monkey jump off his back as he took a pass by Alexander Holtz and quickly turned around in the slot to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy and tie the game 1-1. Janne Kuokkanen provided a hard forecheck that forced Victor Hedman to turn it over in his own corner. Holtz and Sharangovich did the rest. This was the only shot of four for the New Jersey Devils that hit the back of the net in the first.

Damon Severson took a penalty late in the period, and Tampa capitalized. Former Devil Pat Maroon put home a rebound at 18:15. It felt like a backbreaker, because the Devils were out-chanced all period long yet could have very well made it to intermission tied.

Hedman would make it 3-1 in the second after a beautiful, delayed give-and-go play exposed the rookie, Alexander Holtz, and his defensive ability. Holtz got caught puck watching, and you cannot do that when Hedman is on the ice. He is a five-time All-Star for a reason. He made a pass and made a cut mimicking one of a basketball player backdoor and had all the time in the world to snipe one by Blackwood short side. Down by two in Tampa Bay – surely this game was over, right?

Wrong. Who else saw four unanswered, third period goals coming? Not me. Dawson Mercer kicked things off just 1:12 in with a backhand tuck around Vasilevskiy as he came too far out of his crease. Mercer is currently third in rookie scoring this season with 12 points – one behind Moritz Seider and eight behind Lucas Raymond, both of the Detroit Red Wings.

This is where the game took a turn. Mackenzie Blackwood generated a huge shift in momentum with two huge saves about a minute apart. First, he robbed Pat Marron after Dougie Hamilton turned the puck over in his own zone. Maroon tried dragging the puck to his backhand, but Blackwood stayed with him the whole way, and all Maroon could do was put it right into the glove. Blackwood made his best save of the season on a 2-on-0, snatching Alex Killorn’s one-timer as he had Mathieu Joseph with him. The two even got creative with a pair of back-and-forth passes, but Blackwood sprawled over to his right and got his glove up just in time to keep the game 3-2.

Ninety seconds later, Jimmy Vesey scored a highlight reel goal thanks to a jaw-dropping pass by Subban from his own zone. I’m not sure how the Lightning allowed Vesey to get behind them, but he did, and once he collected Subban’s long pass in stride, he made a move the backhand and roofed the puck just under the crossbar to tie the game at three. Sharangovich would score again four minutes later, and suddenly the Devils found themselves leading. The play was almost identical to his first goal of the game, only this time his shot slid under Vasilevskiy’s right pad.

Brayden Point had a chance to tie it with a penalty shot, but he hit the crossbar and the puck stayed out. Tomas Tatar put the icing on the cake with an empty netter, and New Jersey ended Tampa’s six-game point streak at home. New Jersey completely owned the third period after looking bland through the first 40 minutes.

11/24/21: vs. Minnesota Wild [2-3 L/SO]

Just as you have games that you win when you shouldn’t have, the tide gets flipped on you. New Jersey utterly dominated Minnesota in every form on Wednesday, but luck was not on their side. Minnesota struggled to make it to the arena on time, because of a traffic jam in the area, so things got off to a strange start. Puck drop was delayed a half hour.

Ryan Hartman scored first on a deflection in the slot at 12:10 of the first period. It was his tenth of the year, and like a couple of the goals the Devils allowed in Tampa earlier in the week, the defense just seemed to back up way too far, allowing Dmitry Kulikov to get a puck through without anyone contesting him. Then, Nico Sturm scored a shorthanded goal on a sloppy play by the Devils at the Minnesota blue line. Blackwood nearly recreated his save on Alex Killorn, but the puck hit his trapper and twirled in the net instead.

This is where the ridiculousness started happening. The Devils hit the post, I think, five times in the final 40 minutes. Cam Talbot saved 40 of 42 on the night, but he got plenty of help from the iron bars. Severson and Hamilton each rang a post twice, and I’m pretty sure Subban got one, too. No goals were scored in the second, but Pavel Zacha potted his eighth of the season after Tatar and Nico Hischier made nice, strong plays behind the net.

As the clock wound down, the Devils were doing everything right, but still couldn’t score. They let a 5-on-3 powerplay go by the wayside late in the third. Still, with the goalie pulled, Yegor Sharangovich scored another to make it 2-2 with about a minute left. Hischier and Jesper Bratt were credited with assists 10 and nine, respectfully.

Both teams had plenty of chances to win it in overtime; Hamilton hit the post again in the extra frame. Kirill Kaprizov got loose in the slot, but Blackwood made a save with his mask. After the five minutes were up, the game went to a shootout.

The New Jersey Devils are so hard to watch in shootouts. I don’t think the team has had a guy that can consistently score in them since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk were on the team, like, 10 years ago. Hamilton, Bratt, and Sharangovich went 0/3, while Kevin Fiala scored for Minnesota.

Storylines

Jack Hughes returned to practice with the team this week. He appeared in two on-ice sessions for a short amount of time while in a non-contact jersey. Head coach Lindy Ruff said this was an expected part of Jack’s rehab process. Still, the hope is that he returns in early December. I’m getting antsy about him being back in the lineup.

The Devils dropped their first alternate uniform in team history on Tuesday. Martin Brodeur played a large role in the design. This marks the first time the Devils will ever wear a black jersey. The five stripes on the arm represent the five numbers hanging in the rafters. The team will wear the alternates 13 times this year – an ode to their captain Nico Hischier who wears #13. New Jersey will wear their new jerseys for the first time on December 18 when they host Detroit. Here, take a look:

The Utica Comets finally lost their first game of the season Wednesday. They hold the new AHL record for wins to start a season with 13. Alex Holtz scored his sixth goal of the season, as he was sent back down after producing two points in six NHL games. He’s on pace to have a spectacular AHL season, but I would expect him to be back up with the big boys soon.

Nathan Bastian is back. The Devils claimed him off waivers from the Seattle Kraken on the morning of Thanksgiving. Bastian was taken by Seattle in the expansion draft, but he struggled to find a larger role with the team. He put up just a goal and an assist in 12 games with the Kraken. I don’t think he’ll be in the lineup every night, but this should be a nice boost to Michael McLeod’s confidence. The two have played together dating back to juniors, and McLeod’s analytics skyrocket when playing along Bastian. The Devils need McLeod to continue to win 60% of his faceoffs, and the points will come. Still, it’s nice to have a familiar face back on the team. Bastian is still only 23, so maybe he can break out and offer something more than third/fourth line minutes.

Three Stars

  1. Who else but Yegor Sharangovich? The dude finally has his confidence back by putting up three goals and an assist in two games. The New Jersey Devils are going to need him to heat up. Once, Hughes is back, Sharangovich should be right on his side, and if they are both playing well, that means New Jersey has three lines that can beat you offensively.
  2. Nico Hischier does everything so well. Along with three assists this week, Hischier won 70.6% of his faceoffs against the Wild. He also recorded a game-high 31 shifts in that one, and he took a team-high 26 in Tampa Bay.
  3. Jimmy Vesey brought some underappreciated value to the team this week. He scored a beautiful goal, but he also put in 5:04 of total ice time on the penalty kill. As a team, the Devils killed off seven of the eight powerplay chances they allowed, so it’s easy to say Vesey played a big role in preventing goals.

Standings Update

I’d say taking three points in two games against teams that are better than you is a successful week. More importantly, New Jersey took both points against the Eastern Conference opponent. The Devils are still in sixth in the Metro, as things continue change around the middle. Pittsburgh is on a four-game win streak, while the Islanders have lost seven straight. As of right now, the Devils best chances of making the playoffs are through the wild card. They sit just two points back of Columbus and Pittsburgh and are seven points back of the Rangers, who are in third place in the Metro. With an 8-5-4 record, the New Jersey Devils are right where they want to be. They have games in hand against teams ahead of them, and a successful Week 7 should make a jump in the standings.

The Week Ahead

The Devils have four games this upcoming week – three against Western Conference teams. Two games will be at home, and two will be on the road. The Devils will travel to Tennessee to play the Nashville Predators Friday. They play Philadelphia on Sunday, San Jose on Tuesday, and Minnesota again on Thursday. All four games will be a good test, as New Jersey is within one point of three of the opponents and has already proved to play Minnesota well. I would expect at least five points in these four games, but I don’t want to sit here and predict every game.

Read the New Jersey Devils recap from week five here.

Read the New Jersey Devils season preview here.

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