Devils Limp into All-Star Break; Clobbered by Maple Leafs

The Devils completed their home-and-home back-to-back with the Toronto Maple Leafs with the New Jersey portion of the two games and, while last night was the two points that got away from the Devils, tonight was the two points that never were.

The Devils found themselves down 4-0 after one period of play and the Leafs never looked back, defeating New Jersey 7-1 at Prudential Center.

Roster-wise, the Devils again sat Mason Geertsen, Marian Studenic and Christian Jaros, going with the same lineup as last night except who started in goal.

Jon Gillies was back between the pipes for the first two periods for New Jersey. He stopped 22-of-28 Toronto shots for a .786 save percentage tonight while also helping to stymy the Leafs’ special teams. He stopped their lone shorthanded shot and both of their power play chances. The Leafs were 0-for-2 on the man advantage. At five-on-five, he got 19 of Toronto’s 25 shots.

Akira Schmid came on in relief in the third period to play the final 20 minutes and let in one goal, making seven saves on eight shots for an .875 save percentage. All of those shot attempts and the goal came at even strength as Schmid did not face the Leafs’ power play unit.

The Maple Leafs were back to Jack Campbell, who got pulled in last night’s game but fared much better tonight. He made 31 saves on 32 total Devils shots for a .969 save percentage. He turned aside the Devils lone shorthanded chance and all four of their power play shots – the Devils went 0-for-3 on the power play as a team. At even strength, Campbell was equal to 26 of the Devils’ 27 shots.

This is largely a quick and dirty recap of the game as it’s now late as I write this and, having witnessed this travesty live, do not wish to subject myself to even more nightmare fuel.

The Devils did wear Chinese Lunar New Year jerseys during warmups as well as make a pretty cool presentation during the first intermission. A traditional dragon dance made its way around the rink with a group of musicians playing music on Chinese instruments. Mascot NJ Devil wore one of the warmup jerseys with his name written in Chinese characters on the back for the entire game and all in-game graphics on the big board showing Devils player names were presented transliterated into Chinese characters.

Also, head coach Lindy Ruff missed his second game behind the bench while mourning the loss of his father Leeson.

The game got out of hand early for the Devils as the Leafs accumulated a 4-0 lead before the end of the first period.

It began 2:13 into the contest when Pierre Engvall cut off Gillies playing the puck behind the Devils net and forced a turnover on the forecheck.

He was able to quickly center to Jason Spezza in the slot and Spezza scored to make it 1-0 Maple Leafs. It was a miscue by the Devils that ended up in the back of the net. A sign of things to come no doubt. It was also Spezza’s second goal in two nights against the Devils.

And speaking of multiple goals against the Devils in two nights. Auston Matthews, who had a hat trick against New Jersey in Toronto on Monday, would notch his fourth in two nights with 8:39 gone by in the first period.

The Devils were unable to clear their zone as the Leafs kept the puck in. A hard around on the boards led to Michael Bunting winning a board battle along the far half wall and Mitchell Marner picking it up as support.

Marner passed to Matthews, who was drifting into the high slot and was all alone. He took the pass, set and sniped a shot top shelf past Gillies to make it 2-0 Maple Leafs.

Goal number three came less than 30 seconds later when Justin Holl’s breakout pass is tipped by Ilya Mikheyev into the Devils zone. It went into the far corner and Mikheyev chased it in, recovering it, turning around and passing to David Kampf, who was drifting all alone to the top of the far faceoff circle. He had enough time and space to set and shoot and beat Gillies to make it 3-0 Toronto.

Goal number four came with about 5:29 to go in the first period when Marner and Matthews teamed up again.

This time, the Leafs’ forecheck forced a turnover behind the New Jersey net that Matthews grabbed, making a backhand pass to Marner in the slot. Marner walked in on Gillies and scored his 13th goal of the year to make it 4-0 Leafs going into the first intermission.

The onslaught did not let up in the second period.

The Leafs made it 5-0 8:25 into the middle period when Kampf forced a Jack Hughes breakout attempt to pop up into the air. Marner gloved it down and broke in with Michael Bunting on a partial 2-on-1 with Ryan Graves the lone Devils back. Marner and Bunting played give-and-got and Bunting scored to up the score to 5-0 and the rout was officially on.

And still the Leafs were not done.

At the 15:12 mark of the second, Wayne Simmonds stole the puck just inside the Devils blue line. He made a slick move around the Devils defense and dished to Engvall, who scored to make it 6-0 Maple Leafs.

The Leafs had put up a touchdown on the Devils with 20 minutes still to play.

The Devils would finally get on the board 3:31 into the third period.

Jesper Bratt intercepted a Toronto dump in and made a quick breakout pass to Yegor Sharangovich. Sharangovich made a rink-wide pass to Hughes. Hughes then skated into the Toronto zone and fired a shot past Campbell to score the only Devils goal of the night.

Of course, the Leafs got that one back about 2:30 later with 5:57 gone by in the third.

The Devils had won control of the puck behind their own net. Damon Severson pushed it up to Janne Kuokkanen, whose clearing attempt was grabbed by Marner. Marner took a shot from the top of the near faceoff circle past Schmid (who had taken over the Devils crease for the third period). This gave Toronto the extra point and made it 7-1, which went down as our final.

The Devils were outshot 36 to 32 and won 45-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Dawson Mercer and Pavel Zacha each took up the slack in the faceoff circle, winning 50-percent of their personal draws, although I believe Zacha spent time on the wing.

In terms of total team penalty minutes, the Leafs racked up six while New Jersey had four. The Devils outhit the Leafs 12 to nine. Toronto had 12 blocked shots to the Devils’ six while in team giveaways, the Devils finished with ten and the Maple Leafs had six.

Ty Smith led all Devils skaters with 21:45 logged (which includes 1:51 on the power play and nine seconds shorthanded). Also, amongst defensemen, Jonas Siegenthaler led the blue liners in PK time with 2:15 out of his 19:20 of total TOI. Severson led in power play time with 2:26 out of his 20:32 of total time.

Hughes led the forwards with 18:51 of total ice time (which included 2:35 of PP time and nine seconds of PK time). Nico Hischier led the forwards in special teams time in both power play time (2:37 logged) and shorthanded time (1:45 logged) among his 16:34 of total ice time.

Jimmy Vesey led the Devils in shots on goal with five. Nate Bastian led in hits with three. Andreas Johnsson, Hischier, Kuokkanen, Colton White, Severson and PK Subban each logged one blocked shot to lead in that category. Hughes led in personal giveaways with five while Vesey and Bratt each had one takeaway to lead the Devils in personal takeaways.

And with that horror show over for the Devils, the team will move on into the All-Star break.

Jack Hughes will represent the team this Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas for the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game.

We will have coverage of the All-Star Weekend later this week as well as the Devils’ return to action on Monday, February 7 when the Devils travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators to begin the home stretch. That game is at 7 PM next Monday and will air on MSG+.

In the meantime, congratulations to Alexander Holtz, who Catherine Bogart of the “Inside the Devils Blog” is reporting was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for January 2022.

The announcement was made yesterday by the American Hockey League.

According to Bogart, Holtz compiled five goals and eight assists totaling 13 points over the month over ten games for the Utica Comets.

She said that he has 11 goals and 12 assists (23 points) over 21 games in the AHL in 2021-22 total.

He has also played seven games at the NHL level, where he has logged two assists. Bogart noted that his last game in the National Hockey League came on January 4 of this year against the Boston Bruins.

Day Two of 2022 WJC Action

The second day of action at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was played today in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta featuring another four matchups.

The first game scheduled gave us a Group A contest between Austria and Finland at Rogers Place.

This one was all Finland as they took the victory 7-1.

Finland jumped out to the early 1-0 lead when Ville Koivunen scored 3:29 into the game from Brad Lambert and Samuel Helenius. With 18:02 gone by in the first, Helenius would add his own with a helper from Koivunen.

Things were manageable for Austria by the end of the first period with the Finns only up by a score of 2-0.

But the Finns would keep adding on little by little. At the 4:11 mark of the second period, Kasper Simontaival scored from Joel Maatta and Karri Aho to make it 3-0.

Austria would get their chance to get on the board on the power play following Simontaival’s goal.

Immediately after the goal was scored, Maatta and Austria’s Marco Kasper were sent off for matching roughing minors. About a minute into the four-on-four, Finland’s Helenius was called for a hold to put Austria on the 4-on-3 man advantage beginning at 5:17.

Just 22 seconds into the 4-on-3, Martin Urbanek broke Finland’s shutout when he scored from Luca Auer and Lucas Thaler. It was now 3-1 Finland.

But that was where Austria’s comeback ended.

The Finns got that goal back when Kalle Vaisanen scored from Aho and Sami Paivarinta at the 6:34 mark of the second to make it 4-1.

Finland would add three more in the third beginning when Koivunen scored his second from Lambert and Aleksi Heimosalmi 8:40 into the final frame to make it 5-1.

At 10:25 gone by, Topi Niemela scored from Maata and Petteri Nurmi to make it 6-1.

Lambert added one more of his own at 14:13 unassisted to cap things off at 7-1.

In goal for Austria, Sebastian Wraneschitz was bombarded and largely held his own despite what the score showed, making 41 saves on 48 Finnish shots. Meanwhile, Finland’s Juha Jatkola got very little work, facing just nine Austrian shots and making eight saves.

Clearly the rink was very lopsided in favor of the Finns in terms of shots.

Finland will get a little stiffer test in their next game when they face Czechia on December 29. Things will also get tougher for Austria as they face the Canadians tomorrow.

Next we move to Group B and the WP Centrium in Red Deer where Russia was looking to get things in order against Switzerland.

This game was a little closer with the Russians coming away with the 4-2 win.

The majority of the scoring came in the first period, beginning 7:21 in when Danila Yurov scored for the Russians from Nikita Chibrikov.

A flurry of goals were added towards the end of the period when Dmitri Zlodeyev scored at the 15:42 mark for Russia from Ivan Didkovsky and then Pavel Tyutnev scored at 17:39 of the first. Tyutnev got assists from Yegor Savikov and Yurov.

The Swiss got on the board just prior to the end of the first when Attilio Biasca scored from Dario Sidler and Joshua Fahrni to make it 3-1 before the first intermission.

As much activity as there was in the first period, the second featured very little. Only a Biasca tripping minor, called at the 4:14 mark made it to the scoresheet.

The third frame would see Russia pad out their lead when phenom Matvei Michkov scored at the 11:57 mark from Semyon Demidov and Marat Khusnutdinov to make it 4-1.

The Swiss would cut that lead in half when Fabian Ritzmann scored with 2:15 remaining in the game from Dario Allenspach and Maximilian Streule. Russian head coach Sergei Zubov used his coach’s challenge to ask for a review of the Swiss being offside prior to the goal.

Replay upheld the call on the ice of good goal and the Russians would finish the game on the penalty kill, receiving a delay of game for an unsuccessful challenge.

The Swiss would pull goaltender Kevin Pasche for a 6-on-4 with about a minute to go in regulation, but the Russians held on for the 4-2 win.

In goal, the Russians went back to Yegor Guskov, who played last night in relief. He made 16 saves on 18 Swiss shots against. For Switzerland, Pasche made 28 saves on 32 Russian shots against him in another pretty one-sided game shots-wise.

Shakir Mukhamadullin played 19:40 of total ice time in the game and was an even plus/minus.

Switzerland will next play against the United States on Wednesday while Russia’s next game comes on Thursday against Slovakia.

We then moved back to Edmonton for a game between the Germans and the Czechs in what would go down as a thriller with an overtime finish.

The Czechs were without some key injuries and defenseman Michal Hradek, who was suspended for a cross check in the game against Canada on Sunday. Germany was able to take advantage of this and orchestrated a bit of an upset by winning 2-1 in OT.

After a scoreless first period, the second saw Germany take the 1-0 lead early in the period when Alexander Blank scored 4:29 in. Maciej Rutkowski and Luca Munzenberger had the assists on the goal.

Then, as these games so often do, penalties reared their ugly head and would play a role in the Czechs coming back into the game.

At the 14:55 mark, Germany’s Justin Volek was called for tripping. This put Czechia on the power play. About 30 seconds into the man advantage for the Czechs, at the 15:28 mark of the second, Germany’s Adrian Klein and Czechia’s Tomas Chlubna were assessed matching minors for roughing. This would put the Czechs on a 4-on-3 power play for about 30 seconds, as noted.

It only took twenty of those seconds for the Czechs to convert.

At 15:49 gone by, Jan Mysak scored his first of the tournament, on the power play from David Spacek and Pavel Novak to tie the game up at one each.

And that was it for scoring in regulation.

When time ran out on the third period with no change in the score, we were off to OT.

This was over quickly. Just 1:20 into bonus hockey, Blank raced up the left-wing boards and scored on Czech goaltender Jan Bednar to give the Germans the 2-1 upset win. Arkadiusz Dziambor and Danjo Leonhardt had the assists.

This was considered an upset due to the top-heavy nature of Group A with the Finns and Canadians. Germany and Czechia will be fighting for the number three and four spots in the Group and this went a long way in deciding that at this point in the tournament.

German goalie Florian Bugl made an astounding 39 saves on 40 Czech shots against while Bednar (who went in place of Devils prospect Jakub Malek) made a still-impressive 30 saves on 32 German shots against.

The Czechs will now try to regroup against Finland on Wednesday while Germany will face the Canadians on Wednesday as well. Steep climbs for both Czechia and Germany, but, again, the nature of Group A in this year’s tournament.

And from there, we moved back to the Centrium in Red Deer and Group B action between Sweden and Slovakia.

This game gave us our first shutout of the tournament as Sweden’s Jesper Wallstedt took home the 3-0 win over the Slovaks.

The first goal of the game came for the Swedes on the power play. Just 6:08 into the game, Slovakia’s Jakub Demek was called for tripping which put the Swedes on the man advantage.

Less than twenty seconds into the power play, Theodor Niederbach scored from William Eklund and Helge Grans to make it 1-0.

Sweden would notch their second goal in the second period. At the 6:50 gone by mark of the second, Albert Sjoberg scored from Joel Nystrom to double up the Swedish lead at 2-0.

Sweden faced some adversity early in the third period when Simon Edvinsson was called for

tripping 41 seconds into the frame. They killed that one off and then Leo Loof was called for a game misconduct plus a five-minute major for an illegal check to the head and neck.

This penalty cost the Swedes Loof for the rest of the game (and possibly more) plus Sjoberg, who served the five-minute major. The Loof penalty occurred at the 7:31 mark of the third.

In the midst of killing off the Loof penalty, Sweden’s Elias Stenman shot the puck over the glass and was given a two-minute minor for delay of game. This gave Slovakia a two-man advantage for about a minute as the penalty occurred at 11:21 and the Loof major being served by Sjoberg was set to expire at 12:31.

Amazingly, although the Slovaks pulled goalitender Simon Latkoczy to be up three men for about ten seconds, they still could not solve Wallstedt.

Slovakia continued to pull Latkoczy but were unable to break through. Instead, the Swedes would notch their third of the night into the empty net when Daniel Ljungman scored from Stenman with 2:15 left in regulation to ice the game.

That gave us our final of 3-0 as Wallstedt was equal to all 48 Slovak shots he saw – no small feat, especially, since as pointed out by TSN color commentator Craig Button as simulcast on the NHL Network, he mostly spent the second half of the game mostly facing the Slovak power play.

Latkoczy stopped 24 of the 26 Swedish shots he saw. Sweden added a 27th shot with Ljungman’s empty netter at the end of the third – Ljungman’s second empty net goal of the tournament so far.

Alexander Holtz finished the game with an even plus/minus rating and six shots on goal in 15:21 of total ice time.

Sweden will play their next game on Wednesday against the USA while Slovakia will also play on Wednesday against Russia in their next game.

On tap for tomorrow, Tuesday, December 28, just two games: one from Group A and one from Group B. In the early game, the Americans will play Switzerland at the Red Deer Centrium in Group B. Later that evening, Canada will face Austria at Rogers Place in Edmonton in a Group A clash.

Until then, we will see you on Tuesday night for World Junior coverage. At the moment, the Devils’ game at Buffalo on Wednesday is still going on as scheduled and we will see you then as well.