Ahead of last night’s game, Nico Hischier took the podium in a backwards red baseball cap and a matching Adidas t-shit to speak to the media. He was asked what his team needs to do to beat the Minnesota Wild.
“We have a game plan, especially in our defensive zone,” said Hischier with a sly grin. “Our defense is a big part of it, and we need to be more detailed than we were against the [San Jose] Sharks. We know they are a competitive team. We need to do all the little things right to give ourselves a chance to win the game. If not, it is going to be tough, but I have a good feeling we will be ready, and I think everyone came here to compete.”
Of course, not everything goes to plan, and last night’s game is a prime example. The New Jersey Devils’ comeback efforts fell short and they lost 5-2. Both Ryan Graves and Tomas Tatar scored for the Devils, and defenseman Dougie Hamilton finished the game with two points for 14 points in 18 games this season. Here are some takeaways from the Devils’ loss.
A Tough Night for the Devils’ Defense
The Wild scored two goals in the opening period. Unfortunately, Graves was unable to win a one-on-one battle against Kirill Kaprizov who scored Minnesota’s first goal. Less than five minutes later, Rem Pitlick got the puck away from Graves and roofed it past goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood. Head coach Lindy Ruff was not happy with Graves’s performance and benched him for the remainder of the first period.
“Getting flat-out beat one-on-one. That’s your responsibility to make that play,” said Ruff. “You look at that first goal, the way they went by us. Another goal, same thing. The defense had a tough night. Our defense is better than that. Our defense had as tough a night as I’ve seen them.”
Devils Inconsistency Becoming a Concern
The Devils have not been consistent this season, and it’s becoming an issue. The team won three games in a row at the beginning of November, but overall, it’s been difficult for the young team to put two wins together. Ruff has talked about his team’s compete level for a few games now, and last night it was missing.
“Everyone could look in the mirror tonight. Personally, I could do that,” Graves told the media. “I can think of a few plays tonight that weren’t good enough. We need to compete a little bit more.”
Ruff has talked about puck management, winning battles, and doing the little things right in order to win a game. The Wild were too much to handle in this game, and the Devils defense could match their speed.
Devils Penalty Kill Shined in Lackluster Performance
However, the Devil did well on the penalty kill, ranked 21st in the league with an 80.6 percent success rate. The Wild were 0-4 on the power play, and the Devils have only allowed one power-play goal in their last five games. Forwards Jimmy Vesey and Michael McLeod were on the ice along with Damon Severson and Graves. McLeod plays a crucial role in the faceoff circle, and last night, he won 74 percent of his faceoffs. The 23-year-old center finished the game with 14:22 of ice time, and 5:28 of that was on the penalty kill. After the game, Graves was asked what was working for the penalty kill.
“It is something that has been a point of emphasis all year,” said Graves. “It is something we continue to work at, and is a positive from the game.”
Ruff’s team will need to put this game behind them as they prepare to face the Winnipeg Jets tonight at Canada Life Centre. The last time the Devils played the Jets was on Nov. 5, 2019, when New Jersey walked away with two points in a shootout victory. It is crucial for the Devils to start earning points as they get further into the season.
“It’s always nice when you have a game really quickly after a poor game,” said Graves after last night’s loss. “You can wash it under the rug. Tomorrow’s a new game and it’s important for us. There’s times in the year where wins are necessary. Once you get out of reach, it’s hard to get back into it. These are big games for us and we need to make sure we get points.”
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.