Preseason: Devils Down Caps, 4-1

The Devils remained undefeated this preseason, defeating the Washington Capitals 4-1 in Newark tonight.

Let’s get to this.

First, some personnel updates. Ty Smith remains out with an undisclosed injury as he has not played in a preseason game this year and will remain out “for a number of days” according to Lindy Ruff and quoted in an article by Sam Kasan.

Jesper Bratt was sick with a non-COVID-related illness also per Kasan. He was in the lineup tonight versus Washington and did play.

Kasan also reported that the Devils have loaned Chase Stillman back to his Ontario Hockey League team, the Sudbury Wolves. Nate Schnarr has been loaned to the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League while Brian Flynn and Robbie Russo were placed on waivers, cleared and assigned to Utica. This happened Sunday.

In addition, the Devils claimed defenseman Mason Geertsen off of waivers from the New York Rangers on Sunday. A big blue liner at 6-feet, 4-inches and 227-pounds, he will add toughness and a gritty element to the Devils’ lineup as per Kasan. The 26-year-old Geertsen was slated to be assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL by the Rangers. He has played in 297 career AHL games with Hartford, the Colorado Eagles, San Antonio Rampage and Lake Erie Monsters.

He was originally drafted in the fourth-round – 93rd overall – by the Colorado Avalanche in 2013. He previously played in the Western Hockey League for the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Vancouver Giants.

With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the business at hand.

In goal, the Devils started Mackenzie Blackwood. He played the first two periods and made 15 saves on 16 shots against for a .938 save percentage. This included making one save on two power play shots and getting all 14 he saw at even strength.

Scott Wedgewood came in for the Devils for the third period. He was equal to all five shots peppered on him – it was a relatively easy night for Devils goaltending. Wedgwood continued his shutout streak from the second two periods of the Islander game on Saturday.

The Caps finished with a total of 21 shots on goal.

For the Capitals, Vitek Vanecek played the whole game and saw 25 Devils shots. He turned aside 22 of them for a .880 save percentage. He let in two goals on four power play shots, got the lone shorthanded shot the Devils sent his way and saved 19-of-20 at even strength. Zach Fucale backed him up while Ilya Samsonov is sidelined with a lower body injury.

The Devils got on the board on the power play at the 19:00 mark of the first. Dawson Mercer streaked up the right side in the Capitals’ zone. Janne Kuokkanen hit him with a pass in the middle as he was cutting towards net. Mercer got the shot off and a trailing Alexander Holtz potted the loose puck to give the Devils the 1-0 lead.

Early in the second period, Michael McLeod made it 2-0 at the 2:39 mark. It saw McLeod drive towards the net and drop the puck for Kuokkanen trailing in the slot. Kuokkanen kind of flubbed his shot but was able to hit McLeod with a pass from his knees. McLeod snapped the puck by Vanecek to double up the Devils lead. Kevin Bahl had the secondary assist.

Washington would get on the board with less than a minute to go in the second (at the 19:18 mark) when, on the power play, Connor McMichael beat Bahl to the outside, taking a sharp angle shot which beat Blackwood to make it 2-1. Garrett Pilon (primary) and Hendrix Lapierre (secondary) had the assists.

That late goal made it 2-1 heading into the second intermission.

In the third, Pavel Zacha would make it 3-1 when the Devils were on the power play. Bratt worked along the near half wall to Dougie Hamilton (who was wearing an “A” tonight) at the point. Zacha was camped out at the top of the far faceoff circle and calling for the puck. Hamilton distributed to him and Zacha took the pass, hesitating with a little toe drag, freezing Vanecek and shooting back against the grain. He scored just under the crossbar as Zacha was showing a new aggressiveness in terms of shooting.

That goal came at eth 5:59 mark of the third.

Jimmy Vesey would add an empty net goal with ten seconds to go (Washington had pulled Vanecek with about two minutes left in regulation) from McLeod and Tomas Tatar to ice the game at 4-1.

The Devils ended the game 2-for-5 on a seemingly vastly improved power play. The Capitals were 1-for-3.

The Devils would end the game winning 60-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The Devils were edged in hits 17-16, had less blocked shots at 15 to five and had more giveaways as a team at eight to the Caps’ six.

Mercer led the Devils with two giveaways while Zacha led in shots with five. Ryan Graves and Vesey led in hits with three. Blocks were led by Mercer, Hamilton Graves, PK Subban and Christian Jaros who each had one. Zacha led in takeaways with two.

Kuokkanen (two assists) led in points for the Devils. Hamilton led in time on ice with 22:59 while Nico Hischier led the forwards with 19:23 of TOI. McLeod led in faceoff percentage with a 90-percent clip. Hischier and Zacha led in power play ice time with 4:42.

Next up, the Devils will travel across the Hudson River to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers on Wednesday. That game will be shown on MSG+ and we will have a postgame recap for you right here then. See you Wednesday!

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!