Newark, N.J. — The New Jersey Devils split-squad preseason games on Monday saw half the team play at home against the Philadelphia Flyers and the other half in Montreal against the Canadiens. New Jersey won both games, 6-0 at home and 4-2 on the road.
The Devils opened the scoring with three quick goals in the first five minutes of the first period. Jesper Bratt gained the offensive zone and fed Ondrej Palat for the tap-in goal just over a minute into the period. About two minutes later, Bratt provided another primary assist. This time in the slot to Erik Haula with the net wide open for a goal. And just under the five-minute mark, Tyce Thompson added the field goal, scoring the Devils’ third goal cleaning up a rebound at the top of the crease.
New Jersey’s fourth goal of the game came after the first five minutes into the first period. However, not by much. At 5:50, Timo Meier found a streaking Alexander Holtz in the slot. The 21-year-old sniper beat Flyers goaltender Cal Petersen’s blocker side to make it a 4-0 game.
Quickly into the second period, Philadelphia’s Sean Walker received a penalty for delay of game. On a broken play in which Nico Hischier retrieved the puck on the power play, the Devils captain fed Meier for New Jersey’s fifth goal.
Just over halfway into the third period, Michael McLeod topped off a strong game forcing a turnover in the neutral zone and scoring on a breakaway to make it a 6-0 game.
Vitek Vanecek started on home ice Monday night. As per Lindy Ruff’s plan, he played in the first two periods of the game. He wasn’t tested often making 11/11 saves in the first 40 minutes of play. However, he was strong in tracking pucks when called upon. Erik Kallgreen played the final 20 minutes of the game.
Montreal Quick Wrap
It’s hard to be in two places at once. Here’s a quick wrap on what went down in Canada.
The Devils also took on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Monday night. Jack Hughes led the way with three points, scoring in the second and assisting on goals by Simon Nemec and Dawson Mercer. Joe Gambardella got the Devils on the board first, tying the game at one in the first period.
Like Vanecek, Akira Schmid was only scheduled to play two periods against the Canadiens. Schmid stopped 13 of 15 shots faced. Keith Kinkaid started the third period stopping all seven shots he faced before exiting with an injury.
Santeri Hatakka is a Player
The Devils acquired Santeri Hatakka as an additional piece in the Meier deal. Over the summer at New Jersey’s Development Camp, the Devils got their first look at the former San Jose defenseman.
Hatakka made an impression on Fitzgerald over the summer as a player who was better than he anticipated.
“I just texted my brother and asked, ‘Why did you give us this guy?’” Fitzgerald explained to New Jersey Hockey Now in July. “He looks good!”
Hatakka isn’t going to wow you with his skill. Instead, he’s a steady stay-at-home defenseman who does all the little things consistently right. He provides good stick-on-stick defense, keeps his opposition to perimeter chances, and retrieves pucks well to help clear the defensive zone.
“Solid,” Ruff said of Hatakka’s game on Monday night. “I thought he played a solid defensive game. He really didn’t give up too much. I thought he moved the puck well and kept the game in front of him.”
Hatakka is a dark horse candidate to compete for NHL minutes according to the Devils head coach. Even if that means he starts the year in the American Hockey League and receives a call-up later in the season.
Michael McLeod is Raising his Game
It’s only been a couple of scrimmages and one preseason game. However, McLeod continually looks like one of the Devils’ best forwards this September.
The level of competition has been turned up to 11 between training camp and now preseason games. McLeod has met that level of intensity every time he steps on the ice. The former Devils first-round pick isn’t the offensive threat he was in the Ontario Hockey League. Yet, there’s something developing in McLeod where he might be able to provide a little more offense than he has in years past. He showed a little bit of flare on his breakaway goal tonight.
“It just seems like when he’s on the ice, he’s got the puck,” Ruff said. “He went through a lot of traffic. He scored a heck of a goal. There were a lot of really good things he did again. He skated well, he should have a lot of confidence with the way he finished the year, how he played in the playoffs, and the big goal he scored against the (New York) Rangers. He made a great move on the breakaway on the goal he scored.”
Regardless, McLeod is one of the hardest workers on the ice for New Jersey. He was a defensive monster raising his game in the playoffs last season. It appears that momentum has carried over into the preseason.
The 25-year-old forward can be seen all over the ice in constant pursuit of the puck. He’s unafraid to utilize his body when necessary, often pushing puck carries off the rubber. It’s been encouraging to see him curate his defensive play into offense for the Devils.
Oh, and he won 13/17 faceoffs, a whopping 76.5% win rate.
Constant Puck Pressure is an Organizational Religion
It doesn’t look like much has changed for the Devils and their system. The message has been clear since the beginning of the 2022-23 season.
Constant puck pressure.
The encouraging thing about the Devils system is that it appears that no matter what level of the organization you play in, that’s the type of hockey they’re playing.
The usual suspects that know the system continue to play the Devils’ style of hockey. However, seeing the line of Josh Filmon, Ryan Schmelzer, and Brian Halonen play the same way proves that the organization is aligned in its beliefs.
- Kevin Bahl continues to look strong in all three zones of the ice. Poised and confident.
- The one line that remained intact during the Devils split-squad games was Meier-Hischier-Holtz. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t. Again, Holtz did score and the line continues to play well together.
- Hughes and Bratt collected three points each tonight. Not a big deal.