Sunday News Roundup

So we’re still a few days away from the start of the Devils’ 2021-22 schedule and there are some news items to get to that I figured I would put together in one post for the week.

To begin with, Sam Kasan is reporting on the Devils’ official site (and it has been further confirmed by a tweet from the IIHF) that Devils captain Nico Hischier has been named as one of the first three provisional players for the Swiss Olympic team.

Kasan said tha that “[t]he International Ice Hockey Federation, National Hockey League and NHL Players Association asked all participating countries to provide a list of three initial players to be selected for the men’s Olympic national team roster.”

Hischier joins the Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi and the San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier as the players named by Team Switzerland for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Hischier told Kasan that he’s “really pumped. Growing up you watch the Olympic Games. It’s something special. It’s something I haven’t experienced in my career. It’s still a little ahead. I’m trying not to focus on that instead of the season. I’ll just take it day-by-day, but when the time comes and I go over there, it’s a dream come true. I always wanted to experience that. It’s pretty cool.”

Kasan mentioned that Hischier has been able to represent Switzerland in the World Championships, the World Juniors and the World Under-18 Championships.

But you can tell by Kasan’s quote that this really means a lot to Nico and many of the players who will represent their countries in Beijing.

We, as fans, sometimes worry that, with NHL players in the Olympics, those from our team will get injured playing in a tournament that may or may not mean anything to us. To the players, this is one of the pinnacles of their careers and a chance to bring an Olympic medal home to their countries.

Good luck to Nico in February!

In other, more sobering news, there has been movement on the Mackenzie Blackwood vaccination saga.

Kasan is reporting via the Devils’ website that the goaltender tested negative for COVID-19 on Sunday and is now leaning towards getting the vaccine.

Blackwood was one of the final holdouts in the league to not get vaccinated.

Blackwood told Kasan that he is “probably going to be getting the shot in the next couple of weeks. It’s nice that {current test) came back negative and I’m back with the team, and business as usual.”

Kasan reported that Blackwood had been in quarantine since Thursday – but that that had no “bearing on his decision to get the vaccine.”

Blackwood told Kasan: “That has absojutely nothing to do with that choice. I talked with my family and friends. Don’t think this (COVID scare) changed my mind. It’s a separate event.”

Kasan said that when Blackwood was pulled out of the preseason game on Thursday against the Islanders, it was because of an inconclusive test.

Blackwood elaborated to Kasan, saying “I was getting ready for the game. I was told my test came back inconclusive and I just went home and waited to see what happened. I felt normal so I figured nothing was going on. Last time was a little different.”

Kasan mentioned that Blackwood had had COVID this past January. In addition, the goalie had heel surgery in the off-season as Kasan said that he had “been dealing with a lack of strength and mobility in the heel, as well as some discomfort.”

Blackwood did get in two preseason games according to Kasan. He played a period against the Islanders on October 2 in Bridgeport, Connecticut and two periods against the Capitals on October 4 at Prudential Center. Both games were wins for the Devils.

Kasan reports that he was scheduled to play the whole game on Thursday – the game was canceled due to a power outage at the Prudential Center – before he was pulled from the lineup. Blackwood said that he is treating practice as a game to make up for the “absence of a full game.”

Hopefully, Blackwood does decide to get the vaccination. Obviously, it is not perfect, you can still get sick even when fully vaccinated. NHL players are in close contact with each other on a daily basis and things are bound to happen.

But being vaccinated is a step towards protecting himself. If he is unvaccinated, he is very likely to get sick versus very less likely if he is fully vaccingated. The last thing we (selfishly) as fans need is for Blackwood to get on a hot streak and have it all come to a halt because a COVID test comes back negative and he needs to quarantine, or worse yet, is actually sick again.

Preseason: Devils Prevail in Washington

And just like that, the 2021-22 NHL season has gotten underway for the Devils.

First off, I am fully aware of the Mackenzie Blackwood situation. I wanted to reserve comment until someone with some sources identified him, It seems Blackwood beat us to the punch and outed himself. I will see what I want to say (if anything) and will talk about it at a later time.

Instead, we will talk about tonight’s preseason tilt between the Devils and the Washington Capitals in DC.

In goal, we got our first look at at Jonathan Bernier in net. He got the start and played the first two periods. Nico Daws played the third for the Devils. Bernier made 13 saves on 17 shots against (including 12-of-13 at even strength, 0-for-2 on the power play and 1-for-2 shorthanded) for a .765 save percentage.

Daws stopped all ten shots he faced – all at even strength.

For the Caps, Zach Fucale got the start and played the first two periods. He stopped 12-for-15 total (9-for-12 at even strength, 2-for-2 on the power play, 1-for-1 shorthanded) for an .800 save percentage.

Ilya Samsonov relieved him in the third and stopped 6-of-8 total (6-of-7 at 5-on-5 and let in the only power play shot he faced) for a .750 save percentage.

Jack Hughes was wearing an “A” tonight as a sign that management is starting to see potential in his leadership abilities, even if it is a preseason game.

Yegor Sharangovich picked up right where he left off, scoring the first goal of the preseason for the Devils 5:49 into the game. It came when Sharangovich cut in behind the Washington defense, taking a pass from Alexander Holtz and burying it over Fucale’s glove. That made it 1-0 Devils. Nikita Okhotiuk had the secondary assist.

In what would become a tit-for-tat tend throughout the night, the Caps immediately responded with John Carlson scoring at the 9:01 mark to tie the game at one apiece. It came with the Capitals shorthanded and saw Carlson poke the puck away from Nico Hischier just inside his own blueline and was off to the races. He skated in on a 2-on-1 and shot just under the crossbar, beating Bernier shorthanded to tie the game at one heading into the second period.

In the second, Jack Hughes gave the Devils back the lead just 45 seconds in. This came when Hughes picked off an own-zone D-to-D pass by Michal Kempny near the near faceoff dot. He cut in front and beat Fucale just under the crossbar to make it 2-1 Devils. That goal, like the Carlson goal, was unassisted.

But Washington would tie things again at the 3:15 mark. Carlson, this time on the power play, blasted a bomb from the point, with Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding him from the halfwall. The puck hit the post and bounced in off of Bernier’s backside to make it 2-2. Anthony Mantha had the secondary assist – cross ice to Kuznetsov.

But midway through, the Devils would again take the lead. Holtz, at the 12:33 mark, broke into the Washington zone on a 2-on-1. He took the shot himself, absolutely snapping it by Fucale to give the Devils back the 3-2 lead. Damon Severson had the primary assist while Sharangovich helped out with the secondary.

That lead lasted less than 30 seconds, however, as at 13:00, TJ Oshie was sprung behind the Devils’ defense by Hendrix Lapierre and shot under the catching glove of Bernier, beating him to make ti 3-3. Kempny had the secondary assist.

The Caps would take their first lead of the night when Mike Vecchione scored a power play goal with less than a minute to go in the second. Connor McMichael lost the puck on the entry and Lapierre picked it up after it was lost in a scramble in the slot. Vecchione got it and shot, beating Bernier to make it 4-3 Caps. Note that McMichael actually did not get credit for an assist here.

The Caps took the 4-3 lead into the third but it was not to last for them.

Dawson Mercer scored 5:35 into the frame from Andreas Johnsson (complete with new Anglicized last name). Mercer cut near the halfwall on the near side to the top of the near faceoff circle. He then powered towards the goal, shooting from an off angle and scoring – tying the game at four apiece.

This set up the dramatic (as dramatic as a preseason game can actually get) finish. With a little less than two minutes to go in regulation, Hischier gave the Devils the late 5-4 lead.

The Devils won a faceoff deep in the Washington end. Damon Severson ended up with the puck, finding Hischier down low. He kind of drifted unmarked towards the goal mouth and scored what was actually a very fast power play goal. A 4-on-4 had just expired with Nolan Foote coming out of the box and the Devils were on the man advantage for what amounted to three seconds before Hischier scored the goal.

Washington would pull Samsonov for the extra attacker, but time would simply expire on them.

The two teams did a quick shootout practice session, which Holtz “won” for New Jersey.

Holtz, with a goal and an assist and Sharangovich, with a goal and an assist, each tied for the team lead with two points each.

Sharangovich led in shots with four, hits were led by Mark Jankowski, Foote, Severson and Okhotiuk with two each. Jonas Siegenthaler led in blocked shots with three while Hughes had two takeaways, leading there. Kevin Bahl, Christian Jaros, Hughes, Foote and Jankowski each had the distinction of leading in giveaways with one each.

Teamwise, the Devils were outshot, 27-23, only won 34-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were 1-for-5 on the power play, had 18 team hits (just as many as the Capitals), 13 blocks to Washington’s eight and six giveaways to the Caps’ seven.

Next up, the Devils will face the rival New York Rangers on Friday, October 1 at 7 PM at Prudential Center. See you then!