The New Jersey Devils played their final road game of the season last night against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The game resulted in a 6-3 loss for the visiting team, who were unable to come back from a bad start after giving up two goals on five shots. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team rallied late in the last few minutes of the third period scoring two goals, but it was not enough to earn a win away from Prudential Center, as the team finished the 2021-22 campaign with a road record of 11-26-4. While there were plenty of negatives to take away from the game including poor puck management, there was at least one positive thanks to the play of Jimmy Vesey.
Vesey Has Good Showing Coming Off Injury
Before we get into the negatives of last night’s performance, let’s focus on the positive. Vesey returned to the lineup after sustaining an injury on April 5 against the New York Rangers. He played a familiar role on the fourth line alongside Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian scoring the Devils’ final goal of the game with under five minutes left in the third. He was also utilized on the penalty kill playing 1:40 and had three takeaways. The Massachusetts native will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season and it was good to see him have a good outing ahead of the Devils’ season finale.
“I thought that Jimmy’s game for the most part was good for a first game back,” said coach Ruff. “Obviously scored a late goal getting to the front of the net and getting his own rebound, so it was good to see him get back in the lineup.”
Snake Bitten By a Bad Start
When a team is down by three goals in the first 12:53 of the game against the top team in the division, mounting a comeback is almost impossible. The Devils were slow out the gate and every little mistake resulted in the lamp going off behind goaltender Andrew Hammond. The team slowly warmed up to the task but it was too little too late against the ninth highest-scoring team in the league.
“We had a lot of different breakdowns, but if you look at some of the puck play and management it hurt us on a couple of goals,” said Coach Ruff.
Fans heard more of the same when it came to the team’s poor puck management and play away from the puck. They were a step behind their opponent and simply did not look ready to go when the puck dropped to begin play.
Holtz Plays Top Minutes
The Devils recalled forward Alexander Holtz on Wednesday from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League (AHL). The team wanted to see what he could do and set him for success last night playing him on the top line alongside fellow Swedes Jesper Bratt and Jesper Boqvist. He played 16:03, which was the third-highest among forwards, and registered one shot, one hit, and one takeaway. He was on the ice for two of Carolina’s goals and while he did not look lost on the ice, the speed of the game seemed to be too much for him at times. After the game, Devils reporter Catherine Bogart asked Ruff what he thought of Holtz’s pace of play.
“We wanted to really give him a good look and get him into the flow of the game,” said coach Ruff. “When you look at some of the guys he played against, their top lines, you realize the pace you have to play with.”
It appears that the game at this level moves a little too quickly for him, which is something we saw in his previous call-ups this season. He is 20 years old and will no doubt be working on his speed during the offseason as he will look to make the Devils’ roster out of training camp this fall.
Ty Smith Continues to Struggle
If there is one player on the Devils roster who wants to put this season behind him, it is young defenseman Ty Smith. The 5-foot-11 blueliner has consistently struggled to find the success he had in his rookie campaign. Last night he was paired with Nikita Okhotiuk and made a costly mistake leading to the Hurricanes’ third goal. It was an error that immediately led to the puck getting past Hammond, extending their opponent’s lead. As the Carolina players celebrated, Smith hit his stick into the boards on the way to the bench.
It has been a trying year for the Alberta native who was drafted 17th overall in 2018. Fans have seen him scratched a handful of times this season as a result of his play, and with Kevin Bahl, Reilly Walsh, and Okhotiuk looking to jump into the NHL next season, there is no doubt that he will have to fight for his spot in the lineup.
Gameday Notes and Observations
- Fabian Zetterlund continues to impress at the NHL level. He got the scoring started for his team in the first period and finished the game with a team-leading six shots on goal.
- The Devils’ power play went 0-for-2 only getting one shot on Carolina goaltender Antti Raanta. However, New Jersey’s penalty-killing unit had a solid night going a perfect 3-for-3. Pavel Zacha was the forward who logged the most minutes shorthanded playing 2:25.
- Coach Ruff decided to pull goaltender Andrew Hammond utilizing backup Jon Gillies for the final 12:28 of the game. The team announced that Mackenzie Blackwood would be starting this afternoon, and fans could have seen the final performances of Hammond and Gillies in a Devils uniform as they are both set to be unrestricted free agents in the offseason.
The Devils will wrap up the 2021-22 campaign tonight against the Detroit Red Wings at Prudential Center. Fan Fest will begin at 4:00 P.M. on Championship Plaza which will include an on-site DJ, Corn Hole, Jenga, and the Devils mini rink. General manager Tom Fitzgerald will join Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador during the pregame broadcast which will begin at 6:30 on MSG Networks.
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.