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!