The New Jersey Devils returned to the ice last night to host the Arizona Coyotes at Prudential Center. Around 10,000 fans filled the seats, and the Devils took the warm-up in their custom Hispanic Heritage Night jersey; a first for the organization and part of their Hockey is for Everyone initiative.
It was all Devils to start. Captain Nico Hischier scored the first goal a little over six minutes into the first period, and it took the Coyotes 19 minutes to get a shot on Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood. Arizona struggled all game to put the puck on net, but the number of shots was irrelevant in the end, as they scored four goals on 17 shots. Here are three takeaways from the Devils’ 4-1 loss.
Devils Power Play Finally Shows Life
Let’s start with the only positive from last night. Hischier gave the Devils a 1-0 lead when he scored on his team’s first power-play opportunity. It was his second goal on the man advantage this season and eighth overall. It was the team’s third power-play goal in their last four games, and they might finally be clicking on special teams.
The power play has been an area of concern for most of the season, and fans have sometimes voiced their displeasure with assistant coach Mark Recchi at Prudential Center. The Devils rank 29th in the league with a 15.4 power-play percentage. The addition of Nathan Bastian near the front of the net has had positive results, but they remain without Dougie Hamilton, who quarterbacks the man advantage and leads the team with seven power-play points.
Devils Second-Period Collapse Proves Costly
At the start of the second period, the Devils had a one-goal advantage and 12 shots on goal, while the Coyotes had one shot on goal and gave up a power-play marker. Six minutes into the period, the Coyotes scored on their third shot of the game, courtesy of Dysin Mayo’s snapshot. Arizona took a 2-1 lead at 11:32, and then Travis Boyd scored on a deflection to give his team a 3-1 advantage.
As my colleague Patrick Brown pointed out, the Coyotes have struggled in the second period this season, being outscored 49-17. New Jersey had 15 shots on goal in the middle frame but could not put the puck past Karel Vejmelka, whose eventual 35-save performance earned him the first star of the game.
“He’s just got a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger,” Jakob Chychrun said after the game. “He’s very calm in the net, and he’s been really key for us this year. I think he’s just kind of soaking it all in and so happy to see his success. He works at keeping it up, and we’re going to need him to continue to play that way.”
After the game, Hischier, Blackwood, and Ryan Graves spent time fielding questions and showing their disappointment with how the night unfolded. They acknowledged their young team must learn how to play with a lead and that it was a frustrating game.
What Will the Devils Do With Blackwood?
After last night’s performance, it’s hard not to put the loss on Blackwood. It’s never a good look to give up three goals on seven shots, even if those goals can be described as weird or flukey. After their second-period slip-up, many thought Blackwood would be pulled in the third in favor of Jon Gillies. During the post-game presser, head coach Lindy Ruff was asked if he had considered pulling his starting goaltender to change momentum.
“Well I wanted to see him fight back, and I did have a discussion with my goalie coach to see if he could fight through that,” said Ruff. “You know it was a game where there weren’t a lot of shots, so it is really hard to evaluate. I thought he made a couple of good saves on their power play in the third period that gave us a chance to get back in the game.”
The players understand last night’s loss was on them and their inability to properly manage the game. It is an area they need to improve upon, especially with a big weekend ahead with back-to-back games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings. The Devils will report to practice Thursday afternoon to try and prepare for the challenges that await.
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.