The Devils did not bring the best version of themselves to play the Islanders and got beat at home. However, there is still no reason to panic in the Garden State.
As the old saying goes, you can’t win em all. Even the best teams in the NHL, which this year includes the Devils, play poorly from time to time and lose games. The normally strong Devils defense was sloppy and the usually stellar goaltending was average. That being said, the Devils (mainly Jack Hughes) pushed back in the third period to make the game interesting. While the Devils are still comfortably in first place in the Metropolitan Division, last night showed that the Devils are far from perfect and have some room for improvement.
Something the Devils haven’t done much this year is back off of the opponent and allow them plenty of time and space to get off good shots from the middle of the ice. With the traffic in front of the net, Vanecek never saw the puck and the Islanders took the lead very late in the first period. The Devils are a fast team and don’t usually allow guys to be so wide open in middle of the defensive zone. Erik Haula lost track of Anders Lee on that play and Lee made the Devils pay. Haula watched the puck, lost his man, and ended up just standing by himself in front of his own goalie. Haula has been a good player for the Devils so far, even without scoring goals he’s made himself valuable, so this brain fart isn’t a huge deal but hopefully it’s something he doesn’t repeat in the future.
The third Islanders goal, first of the year for Casey Cizikas, was the result of a lack of back checking from Jesper Boqvist. The Islanders got a three on two rush, which Siegenthaler and Smith defended pretty well. However, due to Jesper Boqvist gliding back into the play, Cizikas was all alone in front to slap home the cross ice pass and there wasn’t much Vanecek could do to stop it. The Devils are known for playing fast, especially when rushing towards the opponents net, but that Cizikas goal shows the importance of playing fast when the other team is rushing towards your net too. Gliding back instead of skating back cost the Devils a goal.
Just a few seconds later, Oliver Wahlstrom extended the Islanders lead. Vanecek couldn’t control the rebound and John Marino was defending nobody as a wide open Wahlstrom ripped the puck into the net for the Islanders fourth goal. Marino has been spectacular all year so I can’t rip him too much right now, but he was just standing by himself off to the side of the net there, not really defending anything. Marino had kind of taken himself out of the play there. It was at this point that Lindy Ruff made a change in goal, replacing Vanecek with Akira Schmid. The 4-1 deficit was not all Vanecek’s fault, but he also didn’t look as sharp as he has in recent weeks and his teammates weren’t helping him out much, so pulling him made sense.
Trailing 6-3 with over 7 minutes remaining, Lindy Ruff decided to go “full send” as the youths say and pull his goalie. An unconventional move that almost paid off as Jack Hughes scored with 6:20 remaining in the game to bring the Devils to within two. The Devils played almost all of the last seven minutes of the game in the Islanders end, fired several shots, and hit the post twice in the last few minutes, but sadly could not manage to tie the game. The game was as close and exciting as it was at the end thanks almost entirely to Jack Hughes who not only scored a goal, but played almost all of the last 7 minutes, including the longest recorded shift in NHL history. Not only that, Hughes also made two saves defending an empty net to keep it a two goal game and keep the Devils hopes of a comeback alive. Hughes played over 26 minutes in total last night, had a goal and an assist, made two saves on the empty net, and was buzzing around the Islanders zone at the end doing just about everything possible to try and get the Devils another two goals. He is an absolute beast and the Devils are so lucky to have been able to draft him in 2019. Imagine if we had settled for Kakko? YIKES
The loss last night exposed some flaws in the Devils game when they aren’t at their absolute best. That being said, the loss doesn’t hurt too much in the grand scheme of the season. The Devils are still pretty comfortably in first in the division and are 7-2-1 in the last 10 games. Hopefully this serves as a bit of a wake up call and the Devils show up to MSG on Monday night focused and fully prepared to beat that poverty franchise from Manhattan once again. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.