It was the fictional character Dexter Morgan who said, “All you can ever believe in is now, this moment, because in a blink, everything can change“. In the moments after the puck dropped at Little Caesars Arena, the New Jersey Devils looked like they were ready to battle the Detroit Red Wings. They had the first nine shots on goal and won three of the first five faceoffs. After the first few minutes of the game, there was optimism the young team could stop the bleeding and finally get back into the win column.
Unfortunately, that would not be the case on this cold wintery night in Detroit. The Devils lost their fifth game in a row in the “blink” of four minutes in the second period. Dylan Larkin scored twice, completing his first career NHL hat trick, while Tyler Bertuzzi scored his first of the game for the Red Wings. The collapse of play in the second period became too costly and head coach Lindy Ruff’s team was unable to get back into the game, losing by a final score of 5-2. Here are four takeaways from the Devils’ latest loss.
Facing Detroit with a Depleted Roster
The odds were stacked against the Devils before they hit the ice last night. They were already missing a handful of players and things got worse when the club announced Jesper Bratt would be a late scratch due to a non-Covid illness. The team’s final lineup included a fourth line made up of only Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian. By the conclusion of the game, forward Jack Hughes saw 20:45 of ice time.
There was some confusion earlier in the day when fans thought both Reilly Walsh and Nikita Okhotiuk were recalled from the Utica Comets. At the conclusion of the morning skate, coach Ruff told the media that there were no call-ups from Utica. The Comets had to cancel games due to their own Covid-19 outbreak. New Jersey’s American Hockey League affiliate did not have any player available which meant the Devils had to make do with what they had.
The Devils’ Costly 2nd Period Collapse
It is frustrating for the players, coaches, and fans when a 60-minute game is decided in the span of a few minutes. Defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Ty Smith were on the ice for Larkin’s goal that gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead. The Devils were unable to clear the zone even though there were opportunities prior to Larkin jumping onto the ice.
Detroit’s third goal saw rookie Moritz Seider pull Devils players towards him allowing Bertuzzi to get the puck and shoot it into the back of New Jersey’s net. Larkin’s third and final goal of the night was because of a breakaway that never should have happened. Both Hamilton and Smith jumped into the play in Detroit’s zone leaving only Andreas Johnsson near the blueline. When Kyle Criscuolo passed the puck to Larkin both Devils defensemen were unable to catch up to Detroit’s captain.
It is normal to see the momentum swing back and forth as a game progresses. Some teams get a jolt of energy after a good penalty kill, while others just need one good shift by one line to get the whole bench fired up. The Devils losing a crucial game in a matter of four minutes is a killer for momentum and the team’s mentality. Coach Ruff and his players have addressed the media explaining that the team is losing because of self-inflicted wounds.
“We’re beating ourselves most of the time,” Devils defenseman Damon Severson said. “We play well in stretches and then we start shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s not fun right now.”
This is a different version of a quote that fans have heard time and time again. Individual mistakes lead to their opponent’s victory. Coach Ruff has consistently spoken to his team about puck management and their compete level, and for unknown reasons, the message has not been translating onto the ice.
The Penalty Kill Shined for New Jersey
If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know I like to pull positives when I can. Last night, the Devils’ penalty kill unit played a perfect game. The Red Wings had three power-play opportunities including a five-on-three that New Jersey successfully killed. Jimmy Vesey led all forwards with 2:45 of shorthanded ice time while Jonas Siegenthaler led all defensemen with 4:06 of ice time on the penalty kill.
Rookie Dawson Mercer only needed 19 seconds of penalty kill time to get up ice and score the Devils’ second goal of the game. Both Nick Leddy and Taro Hirose of the Red Wings were closing in on Mercer but he managed to quickly get one past the Detroit goaltender in what was a beautiful individual effort by the 20-year-old. It was the second time in as many games that the Devils were able to score a shorthanded goal.
Dawson Mercer Getting Recognition Around the League
Approaching last night’s game all eyes were on the rookies including Mercer and Red Wings stars Seider and Lucas Raymond. The two rookies in Detroit have become household names as they have been the top rookies in the league for most of the season. Mercer is an interesting case because it’s not until people see him play that they realize how talented he is.
To see him on the ice is to appreciate what he brings to the Devils. Mercer had a good night despite the final score. He was tied for the team lead in shots and gave his team a boost with his shorthanded goal. He was always in a good position around the net, looking to either shoot the puck or get it to an open teammate. Ahead of the game, the Newfoundland native spoke to the media, saying he wanted to play his part and do his best – mission accomplished.
What’s Next for the Devils?
The Devils have won one game in regulation this month. They have not won on the road since Nov. 20, 2021, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. During the Devils last home game at Prudential Center, the fans were very vocal about the changes they want the team to make and it seems like it’s only a matter of time until a change of some kind occurs. After the game, Lindy Ruff met with the media and took accountability for the team’s loss.
“The same things happen to our club over and over, ill-advised mistakes that turn into goals against,” said Ruff. “Careless decisions w/ the puck that turn into goals against… All that’s on me. That’s my responsibility. The way this team plays is my responsibility.”
The Devils will face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Prudential Center. If Bratt remains unavailable, it appears the team will have to again make do with a shortened bench. The Devils announced they will not hold a morning skate and fans can hope the team rests up as they take on the Penguins, who have won their last six games. As fans saw last night, the Devils can lose the game in the blink of an eye if they don’t play a full 60-minutes.
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Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.