“The message was clear. We’ve got to come out and win a game today.”
The New Jersey Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, 4-2. Head coach Lindy Ruff held an intense practice on Monday, and it paid off as nine skaters earned a point in the team’s first victory of the season.
Ruff now ranks fifth in all-time wins in the NHL with his 783rd, surpassing Al Arbour. The 62-year-old is on the hot seat after a tough 1-2-0 start. Last night was a step in the right direction, but he is by no means off the hook, especially if the Devils can’t build off of Tuesday’s victory.
Devils Set the Stage
Tuesday marked the first appearance of the Devils’ third jersey, which meant “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance echoed throughout Prudential Center before the players took the ice. Entering the contest, Dawson Mercer had a team-leading 11 shots, while Jack Hughes was still searching for his first point of the season.
Ondrej Palat – Nico Hischier – Alexander Holtz
Yegor Sharangovich – Hughes – Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood – Erik Haula – Mercer
Tomas Tatar – Michael McLeod – Nathan Bastian
Jonas Siegenthaler – Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves – John Marino
Brendan Smith – Damon Severson
Palat Starts the Comeback
Palat started New Jersey’s comeback early in the second period after he buried a rebound behind Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz. That was Palat’s first in a Devils uniform and become the first of four unanswered goals his team scored. The 31-year-old signed a five-year, $30 million contract in July, and last night, he showed why general manager Tom Fitzgerald made him a top priority this summer. After the game, Ruff was asked if that was Palat’s best performance as a Devil, and the simple answer was yes.
“You know it takes time to know your teammates and play with them. But if you look at some of the down-low plays he made, where he was handling the puck and keeping the opposition on their back, that’s the guy we saw a lot of,” Ruff said. “The guy who’s been very successful from the top of the circles down.”
Smith Continues to Shine
During Brendan Smith’s introductory media availability this summer, he talked about what his role was expected to be: “For myself, I can fill that area of maybe a physical veteran defenseman with a little bit of a voice and maybe help these guys grow in an area to take the next step.”
It has only been three games, but he has delivered on all fronts; he leads the team with eight hits and three blocked shots. On Tuesday, he dropped the gloves with Ducks forward Max Comtois. Immediately afterward, Hughes skated over to give him a fist bump. The fight got fans back into the game and gave the team a much-needed boost. Nico Hischier scored the Devils’ second goal of the game about a minute later.
Smith has taken four penalties in the past three games, including for roughing, interference, and fighting. He has played with a physical edge, and the team has not given up a goal with Smith in the penalty box. He has provided energy for his team, and last night was the first time this season the Devils out-hit their opponent.
Blackwood Makes Key Saves
Blackwood finished the game with a .900 save percentage, making 18 saves on 20 shots. It was the bounce-back performance that both he and the team needed, especially in the second period. After the game, Hischier addressed the media and said that on the bench, the guys were talking about the huge saves their goaltender was making and called the Thunder Bay native outstanding.
Ruff agreed that the netminder made key saves at key moments.
“There were a couple of times we had a little bit of fatigue in the offensive zone, and all of a sudden, they ended up on a breakaway, and Mackenzie [Blackwood] did a great job on it,” said Ruff. “One other breakdown that he made a really big save was on a breakout when Severson went back and mishandled. That would have made the game 3-0. You look at big saves to give us an opportunity to get back in the game. He gave us those saves.”
- It took all of 14 minutes for the “Fire Lindy!” chants to begin at Prudential Center. Eventually, the team got the crowd of a little over 10,000 back on their side as they celebrated the win.
- Jakob Silfverberg scored on back-to-back shots in the first period, giving Anaheim an early 2-0 lead. Blackwood allowed two goals on the first four shots but was perfect for the rest of the night.
- New Jersey’s penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4 against the Ducks. Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian were utilized the most among forwards, playing over three minutes shorthanded. After the game, Ruff confirmed that the plan was again to use the two of them on the penalty kill.
- Jesper Bratt continues to have an outstanding start to the 2022-23 season. He collected two assists last night and now has five points in three games.
- Besides Alexander Holtz, who played 5:55, the rest of the top six earned at least a point in the victory. Hughes, Hischier, and Bratt each finished with two points.
New Jersey is scheduled to have a noon practice on Wednesday and will face the New York Islanders Thursday night at UBS Arena. The Islanders have a 2-1-0 record under head coach Lane Lambert and most recently beat the San Jose Sharks 5-2. Check back tomorrow for a gameday preview, breaking down everything you need to know ahead of puck drop.