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Home Road Trip New Jersey Devils Kick Off California Road Trip with 7-2 Demolition Of San Jose Sharks

New Jersey Devils Kick Off California Road Trip with 7-2 Demolition Of San Jose Sharks

by Staff

It has been a miserable past couple of weeks for the New Jersey Devils. The team has lost huge game after huge game, potentially seeing their season slip away permanently. But for one night at least, the Devils gave both themselves and their fans something to feel good about, as they got their California road trip off to a great start with a 7-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

I’m under no illusion that the team is magically fixed as a result of this game. Against a terrible team, this is a result we should expect, not be pleasantly surprised by. But if New Jersey just so happens to squeak into the playoffs after all, maybe this is the game we look back on as the start of the turnaround. Who knows.

Onto the game:

First Period

About a minute into the game, the San Jose came tantalizingly close to scoring. On a 3-on-2 rush, Filip Zadina fired a sharp-angle shot on Nico Daws who made the save, then Zadina took his own rebound and went around the other side of the net for the wraparound attempt. The referee pointed at the net to signal “Goal”, the red light went on…but the puck never made it past Daws. Play continued after that odd sequence with the Devils narrowly avoiding disaster.

With 16:24 left in the period, Brendan Smith got whacked in the face with a puck, forcing the officials to stop play. Smith got looked at on the bench but stayed in the game.

Off the following faceoff, the Hischier line rushed the puck up the ice, and a nice passing sequence between Hischier, John Marino, and Jesper Bratt set up a nice look for Bratt on a one-timer, but Mackenzie Blackwood slid to his left to make the save.

With 14:37 left, Henry Thrun interfered with Tyler Toffoli in the neutral zone, giving New Jersey their first power play of the game. If ever there was a good penalty to take, this was it, as Toffoli probably had himself a breakaway if Thrun didn’t get in his way.

We all know how embarrassingly bad the Devils’ power play has been since the turn of the new year, so my hopes weren’t high for this man advantage. And of course, New Jersey failed to score once again on the power play, but to be fair I really can’t be upset at this man advantage. The Devils’ first PP unit stayed on for the entire two minutes because they just dominated possession and kept the puck in the offensive zone the entire time. New Jersey put six shots on goal during the power play, but Blackwood turned them all aside. It was a legitimately great power play, with everything but the goal.

After an unlucky bounce at the offensive blueline, former Devil Fabian Zetterlund lugged the puck up the ice, hounded the entire way by a couple of New Jersey defenders. Zetterlund managed to shovel a shot on net, but Daws made the save to halt play.

With about four minutes left, Alexander Barabanov threw a dangerous hit on Simon Nemec, boarding him from behind and sending Nemec face-first into the boards. I am truly bewildered how there was no call on that play, but more importantly Nemec got back up and seemed to be relatively fine after the hit.

Following the TV timeout with about three minutes left, Kaapo Kahkonen replaced Blackwood in net. We did not get word immediately as to why, only that Blackwood went down the tunnel at the break. We later found out he injured himself and could not continue.

And of course, with 1:43 left in the period, the Devils conceded the opening goal of the game. Hischier launched a puck from the defensive zone right into Kevin Bahl’s back for some reason, and the Sharks pounced on the turnover and gained the zone right back. Nico Sturm found himself alone on Daws’ backdoor, and he tapped in Barabanov’s feed to put San Jose up 1-0. For the 43rd time in 59 games, New Jersey allowed the first goal of the game. It is truly remarkable how this team continues to demoralize both themselves and their fanbase.

Following the goal the Shark controlled play and almost scored again all the way through the end of the period, but thankfully they did not extend their lead. The opening frame ended with New Jersey leading in shots, 13-12. The Devils controlled play for some stretches, but the Sharks dominated the period according to Natural Stat Trick, with a 5-on-5 xGF% of 74.93%. Against arguably the worst team in the league in a game the Devils absolutely NEEDED to have, New Jersey put together a dismal first period. Again.

Second Period

The second period began with the Devils generating a couple of opportunities off the rush, but they failed to record a shot on goal on either chance. Multiple times Devils players passed up opportunities to shoot and instead passed to a teammate which killed the play.

About three minutes into the period, New Jersey suffered a huge defensive lapse, leaving Barabanov all alone in front. Barabanov fired the puck into Daws’ pads and New Jersey escaped a 2-0 hole thanks to their goaltender. Then a few seconds later, with about three and a half minutes played, Bratt gained the zone off a stretch pass, feathered a pass to a cutting Timo Meier, and Meier hooked a sweet backhand pass across the crease to Bratt all alone on the backdoor who buried the puck to tie the game!

Man did the Devils need that one.

And then on the very next shift, Jack Hughes got his stick in the way of a defenseman to defenseman pass, then collected the puck in the neutral zone and raced toward net on a breakaway. Hughes went for the five-hole and beat Kahkonen to give the Devils a 2-1 lead in the blink of an eye!

Immediately following the goal, though, New Jersey continued to break down defensively, but Daws turned aside each chance. Bryce Salvador and Ken Daneyko seemed utterly disgusted at what they were seeing (particularly Daneyko), and while they had plenty of praise for Daws, they lamented the fact that Daws had to make a ton of tough saves in the first place.

With 9:39 left in the period, Hischier carried the puck into the zone and tried to dance around Devils ex-pat Nikita Okhotiuk. He couldn’t get around him, but that’s because Okhotiuk held him on the play, setting up New Jersey’s second power play of the evening.

On the power play, New Jersey almost gave up a 2-on-1 chance, but the Sharks couldn’t get a shot on net on the play. The Devils held a lot of possession on the man advantage, and in the dying seconds of the PP, Ondrej Palat sauced a pass to Meier on Kahkonen’s flank, and Meier wired a one-timer past Kahkonen and scored…except San Jose challenged for offsides and they were successful, wiping the Meier tally off the board. The game remained 2-1. The Sharks killed off the remaining 30 seconds of the power play, dropping the Devils to 0-for-2 on the PP.

Shortly after the failed power play, Hischier gained the zone and slid a pass to Bahl at the top of the circle. Bahl wound up and absolutely blasted a slap shot past Kahkonen to extend the Devils’ lead to 3-1 for real this time!

The goal was Bahl’s first of the season. That one felt cathartic, as Bahl put every ounce of energy he had into that shot.

With about six minutes left in the period, Alexander Holtz was called for a hook while forechecking, sending New Jersey to their first penalty kill of the game. The Devils did a good job of keeping San Jose to the outside, and Hischier even got a decent shorthanded look on net, and New Jersey was able to kill off the Holtz minor.

With about 30 seconds left in the period, Erik Haula broke in all alone on Kahkonen on a 2-on-1 from the blueline in, but Kahkonen stopped him. The period ended shortly thereafter. Overall it was a much, much better period for New Jersey. Scoring three unanswered goals is always a good thing, and per NST the Devils controlled play to the tune of a 5-on-5 xGF% of 51.78%. Obviously not domination, but being on the plus side of 50% is a step in the right direction.

Third Period

With 17:19 left in the period, Colin Miller collected a pass at the blueline from Hischier. Miller walked the line and wristed a shot on net and past Kahkonen for a 4-1 Devils lead! Meier provided a nice screen in front to help facilitate that long range tally.

Then about two minutes later, Palat collected the puck off an offensive zone faceoff and dished a pass to Smith at the point. Smith ripped a one-timer low along the ice and it beat Kahkonen from distance to extend the lead to 5-1!

It looked like Kahkonen was screened by his own team and never saw that shot. A fortuitous break for New Jersey.

Then about three minutes after that, the rout was officially on as Jack Hughes fed Dawson Mercer just to the side of the slot for a one-timer. Mercer didn’t miss, as he beat Kahkonen up high to push the lead to 6-1!

Exactly one minute after that, Bratt sent a pass all the way from the defensive zone to Hischier just outside the Sharks’ blueline. Hischier gained the zone and snapped a shot past Kahkonen to give New Jersey a 7-1 lead!

Hischier was rocked by Okhotiuk as he let the shot go, but thankfully the captain appeared none the worse for wear.

With 7:27 left, Justin Bailey wristed a shot toward the net, and the puck pinballed off a body in front and past Daws to cut the lead to 7-2. That was a tough break for Daws, who up to that point was having an excellent night. That goal doesn’t change that, but it makes the final stats look a little worse.

The game ended with not much in the way of action after that, as each team was content to salt away the rest of the contest. It was not a good start for New Jersey (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), but it was a tremendous ending. A win is a win, at this point it doesn’t matter how the Devils get it. All that matters is the two points.

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 Summary

The Stars Came To Play

The big boys really stepped up for New Jersey tonight:

Nico Hischier: 1 goal, 4 points

Jack Hughes: 1 goal, 3 points

Jesper Bratt: 1 goal, 2 points

Timo Meier: 2 assists, and a nice goal wiped off the board thanks to an offsides challenge

If the Devils want any chance of a getting into the playoffs down the stretch this season, they’ll need their stars to be stars. Yes, this was a game against the lowly Sharks, but if anything the hope is that this game serves as a confidence builder for these players.

Daws Bounces Back

Nico Daws had played well to start the 2024 calendar year, then really struggled in his last few outings. It makes sense though, as Lindy Ruff has rode Daws into the ground, clearly not trusting Akira Schmid or anyone else he has at his disposal.

Again, it’s one game against a terrible team, but it was nice to see Daws put up some good numbers tonight. Daws made 29 saves on 31 shots, good for a .935% Save Percentage. According to Natural Stat Trick, Daws also saved 1.36 Goals Above Expected. After some lackluster outings, it was nice to see Daws get back on track.

Next Time Out

The Devils continue their California road trip on Friday when they take on the Anaheim Ducks. Puck drop is slated for 10:00pm.

Your Take

What did you make of tonight’s game? How good did it feel to finally experience an easy win? What do you expect next time out? As always, thanks for reading!

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