Just a few days removed from their first road win of the season, the New Jersey Devils followed it up with another one and extended their win streak to two against the Winnipeg Jets. Whatever held the Devils back, and had them blow a four-goal lead on their opening-night matchup against the Jets was nowhere to be found. A shootout win had the Devils skating out of Winnipeg with two points.
Don’t let the final score fool you, this was far from Jersey’s best game. A low scoring 2-1 affair ended with the win, but there were plenty of close calls with defeat. “An ugly win is better than a pretty loss,” was what my high school football coach used to say. Okay, I didn’t play football in high school, but he was my driver’s education teacher, and the sentiment remains the same.
The First 40 Minutes
Listening to the radio broadcast last night, Chico Resch explained it best. The Devils won the first period of last night’s game. Nico Hischier scored his second goal in as many games to put the Devils up ahead 1-0. Taylor Hall kept his point streak going with the primary assist, while Sami Vatanen kept his name on the scoring sheet as well with an assist on the same goal.
In the second period, Winnipeg was able to even things up courtesy of Andrew Copp. Throughout the entire night, shots remained even with the final shot total being in Winnipeg’s favor 33-31. New Jersey held the slight shot advantage in the first and third periods, with Winnipeg being the shot favorites in the second period and overtime.
With the score tied at 1-1 after three periods, the game found itself headed to overtime. The Devils had been 0-4 in the extra frame this season. The Jets were a different story, sporting a perfect 5-0 overtime record. That included an overtime win versus the Vegas Golden Knights immediately before the Devils came to town.
From the Devils’ standpoint, overtime was dreadful. Winnipeg held a four to one-shot advantage over New Jersey in the five minutes. This included a shot immediately off the opening face-off saved by Mackenzie Blackwood and swatted away (but not out of the zone) by P.K. Subban.
The Devils’ best scoring chance of the 3-on-3 overtime came as Nico Hischier entered the zone, only to have any potential pass to Hall impossible. Hall lost his stick on the play, grabbing one off the bench after it was too late. The Jets took a penalty late in overtime. Winnipeg purposely avoided touching the puck and it was iced behind their net to keep the clock running.
While it may have been too early to tell, the Devils’ lack of success in winning shootouts this season was beginning to remind me of the infamous 2013-2014 season. They already had three losses in the skills competition at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, and Philadelphia Flyers. With one shootout loss in the season against the Jets already in the books, New Jersey was hoping for a different result.
Luckily for the Devils, they reversed their fortunes with a shootout win. But it was who scored that raised a few eyebrows. Nikita Gusev and Jesper Boqvist got the puck passed Connor Hellebyuck to seal the win. Both skaters had been questionably kept out of the lineup by head coach John Hynes in previous games. Having them as the games deciding factors was a bit of sweet irony.
Much criticized Kevin Rooney had a decent night. He’s been improving his presence on the face-off circle, where the Devils struggled on Tuesday. Against Winnipeg last night, the Devils only won 34% of their face-offs.
Room For Improvement
Mackenzie Blackwood bailed the Devils out by only allowing one goal. He finished the night with a 0.970 save percentage and was named the game’s first star. Still, on the season, his save percentage is below the all-important 0.900 mark, currently sitting at 0.891.
Blackwood couldn’t have been better in net, and the Devils only won because of him. They struggled in a few key areas, aside from the already mentioned face-off circle. The fact they only put up 32 shots against a terrible Winnipeg defense that has been allowing upwards of 50 on some nights might be a cause for concern.
The Devils continue their Western Canadian road trip on Thursday when they visit the Calgary Flames. The puck drops at 9:00 p.m. Wednesday will be an off day for the team.