The best way to describe last night’s game is to compare it to the training montage in Miracle when Herb Brooks describes Jim Craig’s play as “better, not good, but better.” The New Jersey Devils suffered their fourth shootout loss of the season against the Ottawa Senators, who came into the Prudential Center with a two-game win streak.
The Devils came out flying and scored 35 seconds into the game, courtesy of Damon Severson. Nathan Bastian was the other goal scorer, with his second goal for the Devils on his 24th birthday. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team had the lead twice in the game, and both times the Senators took advantage of their opponent’s mistakes and tied the game. Here are three takeaways from the Devils’ loss.
Devils’ Improved Game
The Devils have had a pretty rough go of late. Last night, Ruff took to the podium and explained the positives from the game, along with acknowledging the mental mistakes that led to the Senators’ two goals.
“There were a lot of parts of our game I liked,” Ruff said. “From a defending standpoint and doing some good stuff in the offensive zone, we didn’t get rewarded. That’s probably a game that you have to win 2-1.”
New Jersey had a fair number of chances to put the game away before overtime. Most notably, in the first period, forward Pavel Zacha hit the post, and Jack Hughes hit the post in the third. Jimmy Vesey also had two great opportunities early in the third and was unable to put the puck in the net.
“I think we deserved a little better tonight,” Severson said after the game. “We played well compared to our last few. We worked hard, battled hard, and that’s a good team… The way we played, I definitely think maybe we deserved a little bit better. I just heard Nate [Bastian] say a few more shots on net would have been good to capitalize on opportunities. We did have some Grade A looks, but it did not go for us, unfortunately.”
Devils Looking to Roll Four Lines
The Devils’ coaching staff has been jumbling their lines since the return of Hughes. The line of Andreas Johnsson, Dawson Mercer, and Jesper Bratt was broken up as Ruff looks for consistency from his lineup, and the trio of Zacha, Nico Hischier, and Bratt was reunited and utilized as the first line. Incidentally, the first trio was on the ice for the Devils’ first goal and both of the Senators’ goals.
Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, and Johnsson had a combined eight shots on goal and did well, sustaining pressure in the offensive zone. Fans on Twitter were quick to notice that Michael McLeod and Vesey had more ice time than Bratt. The 5-foot-10 Swede attempted a pass in his defensive zone that was broken up by the Senators and led to Brady Tkachuk’s goal. To respond, I will say, we know Ruff is not afraid to hold his players accountable after a bad shift, and both McLeod and Vesey played around a minute on the penalty kill.
Both Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen have struggled this season, and the coaching staff will be looking to get them going. Hughes and Sharangovich will likely remain together, as they had success last season, and I would not be surprised to see another variation of lines over the next few days as the team tries to get back into the win column.
Devils Played a Disciplined Game
This season, we have seen the Devils shoot themselves in the foot by landing in the penalty box too many times. Last night, New Jersey gave their opponent only one power-play opportunity. Ryan Graves took a slashing penalty within the first minute of the game, but the penalty kill unit came up strong, and the Devils did not allow a shot on goal for the two minutes he was in the box.
The Devils will be back on the ice this afternoon at RWJBarnabas Hockey House at Prudential Center to prepare for Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. New Jersey will also debut their third jersey tomorrow, and it will be the first of 13 times fans will see them play in their newest uniform. The game will be televised by MSG+ as the Devils look to hand the Flyers their 10th consecutive loss.
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.