The Devils took two points from the Penguins before dropping a shootout to the Blue Jackets. All in all, a successful weekend for New Jersey
The Devils started the weekend with their first road game of the season in Pittsburgh in Sidney Crosby’s season debut. I was not optimistic heading into this game, but the Devils showed up, shut down the Pens and came out with the win in regulation. Anytime you can pick up two points in the standings while keeping a division rival from gaining any, that is cause for celebration.
Jesper Bratt has rightfully been the subject of much criticism to this point in the season. However, he was able to get some of that weight off his back when he scored on a penalty shot late in the third period to give the Devils the lead for good. Especially with Jack Hughes out for another five weeks, at best, the Devils need the rest of their forwards to create more offense. Bratt is no exception as he has been a key piece of the Devils offense since he came into the NHL on opening night in 2017. If the Devils have any hope of remaining competitive without our most dynamic offensive player for hopefully only five more weeks, Bratt needs to chip in more offensively and this was a good start in a big situation.
I can’t go any further in this without mentioning Johnathan Bernier. When he was signed over the summer, many Devils fans, myself included, thought of his as a backup or a 1B behind Mackenzie Blackwood. We haven’t seen Blackwood play yet this season but so far, Bernier is playing like a number one that isn’t ready to give up the net anytime soon. Bernier stopped 33 of 35 Penguin shots and included some jaw dropping saves like this…
If we can have this Johnathan Bernier or Mackenzie Blackwood at the top his game between the pipes every night, the Devils will not be an easy team for anyone to beat.
Before we could get too high off the win in Pittsburgh though, the Devils came home and couldn’t close out Columbus. Jonas Korpisalo and his Blue Jacket teammates forced the Devils to skate off the Prudential Center ice with just one point, despite holding a 3-2 lead in the third period. A lot of blame for this loss is going towards Ty Smith, who’s giveaway led to Columbus tying the game late in the third period. He had options, yet chose to throw the puck up the middle to no one in particular. Boone Jenner picked off the puck and tied the game for the Blue Jackets. This should not have happened and shows that Ty Smith still has not reached his potential of NHL superstar defenseman.
As bad as that turnover was, and it was bad, the Devils had ample chances to put the game away after this goal happened. These chances included a 40 second five on three power play with under 4 minutes to go in regulation time. As the usual arrangement on Devils power plays, they failed to score. This is part of a long running and highly concerning trend of the Devils being unable to capitalize with the man advantage. The Devils have just three power play goals in 18 chances this season, a success rate of only 16.6%. Last season, the power play was successful on only 14.1% of their opportunities. Both of these are noticeably lower than the NHL average of about 20%. Especially late in close games, you need to find away to do damage on the power play and the Devils could not do that. In my mind, that five on three late in the third period is why the Devils lost to Columbus. In my opinion, assistant coach Mark Recchi, who is responsible for the power play, should be sitting on a very hot seat while Lindy Ruff and the front office discuss other potential assistant coaches on the market.
Back on the positive front so far in this still young season, Dawson Mercer is a stud. Just seven games into his NHL career and he has five points (3G 2A) and he is all over the ice on every shift he plays. He brings an energy and aggressiveness to this team that has been sorely lacking in recent years. That was shown in the Columbus game when he hit Patrik Laine hard into the boards and was constantly harassing Jackets goalie Jonas Korpisalo visibly frustrating him. Mercer also scored in the game and drew one of the penalties that gave the Devils a chance to win late in the third. Early indications are that the Devils got a steal when they drafted Mercer 18th overall in 2020.
Dougie Hamilton is everything we hoped he would be when the Devils made him a insanely wealthy man in July. Not only can Dougie lock down the defensive zone, but he can produce offensive opportunities from the back end better than many forwards can from their position. A perfect example of this is the Columbus game where Hamilton had TEN shots on goal by himself. For reference, no one else in the game had more than six. Hamilton creates scoring opportunities better than any defenseman the Devils have had for a long time.
Andreas Johnsson is seemingly reverting back to the player he was when he was a Maple Leaf. During his 2018-2019 season in Toronto, Johnsson had 20 goals and 23 assists in 73 games. He was nowhere near that in his first season as a Devil last year, contributing only 5 goals and 6 assists in 50 games. This season, Johnsson already has 4 goals and 2 assists in only 7 games. If he can be closer to 40 points than he is to tn points by seasons end, that could be huge for the Devils scoring depth and go along way towards helping this team remain competitive into March and April.
Jimmy Vesey was brought in as a professional tryout this summer, made the team, and is now playing some of the bst hockey of his professional career. His second goal of the year was a short handed goal against the Penguins on Saturday and he seems to have a found a home in the Devils bottom six and on the penalty kill. While he is not the elite scorer and point producer many people thought he would be when he came out of college as a free agent, he is proving himself to be a reliable bottom six forward right now.
All in all, this was a very satisfying weekend that ended on a sour note. The deflating end to the Columbus game should not over shadow the Devils picking up three out of a possible four points against division rivals. Now we move on to a three game California trip against three very beatable teams. At the Ducks on Tuesday night, then at the Kings and Sharks on Friday and Saturday nights respectively. I sincerely believe the Devils are better than all three of these teams and can win all three games. Just up to them to prove me right. Let’s go Devils!
(Follow me on Twitter @Patboooooth)