Last night, the New Jersey Devils played NHL hockey for the first time in five months. They treated a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Prudential Center with a 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. While the game was relatively slow in some parts, the Devils had a commendable showing that was spearheaded by a group of youngsters like Joe Blandisi, Nico Hischier, Will Butcher, and Mirco Mueller.
Nathan Walker opened the scoring 4:26 into the first period on a shorthanded opportunity. After capitalizing on a giveaway from Taylor Hall, he and Lars Eller went on an odd-man rush where Walker buried a rebound off starting goaltender Keith Kinkaid. The Devils scored three unanswered goals in the second period that started with Mirco Mueller, who buried a feed from Joe Blandisi after a swift face-off win.
Blandisi facilitated New Jersey’s go-ahead goal in the middle of the period. He came into the zone on an odd-man rush with Stefan Noesen, who connected with a pass from Blandisi and buried a snapshot past Vitek Vanecek. Kyle Palmieri made it 3-1 with 12 seconds left in the period after springing from the penalty box and catching a long pass out of the Devils zone. Although he was tied up, Palmieri managed to slip the puck past Vanecek. Capitalizing on yet another Capitals defensive breakdown, Nico Hischier scored a highlight-reel goal, when he stripped the puck from Kevin Elgestal and buried it under Vanecek’s pad, after a series of flashy dekes. In addition, the 2017 first overall pick registered three shots and had two takeaways, while doing 30 percent in the face-off dot.
Although New Jersey outshot (36-30), and fared better in the face-off dot (53 percent) than the Washington, they did go zero-for-seven on the power play. Having said that, the Capitals fared no better despite having as many attempts on the man-advantage. In addition to their hapless power play, the Devils racked up ten minor penalties with right wing Jimmy Hayes and defenseman Yaroslav Dyblenko respectively committing three and two each. It wasn’t the most disciplined effort to open the preseason with, but the Devils showed some encouraging signs in their five-on-five play. Both Devils goaltenders held their own, including Scott Wedgewood, who saved all 14 shots he faced.
The Devils best player was by far Kyle Palmieri. The right wing scored off a second period feed from Stefan Noesen, had two takeaways, and registered a game-high eight shots on goal. He seemed to gel really well with his line mates Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson, who generated several scoring chances throughout the game.
Leading the team with 19:47 of ice time, defenseman Will Butcher made an impressive preseason debut as well, despite registering no points. He did have two shots on goal, two takeaways, and had the second-most power play time among defensemen last night (5:27) outside of Damon Severson (5:47).
One of the better players for New Jersey last night was forward Joseph Blandisi. Despite spending a large portion of his time with the Devils on left wing last season, Coach Hynes tried Blandisi at center with Stefan Noesen and Jesper Bratt, who went an astounding 69 percent in the face-off dot. In addition to tallying a pair of assists, Blandisi was given a good look on the power play and made a strong case for himself moving forward.