Newark, N.J. — It’s about damn time. The New Jersey Devils scored the first goal of the game for the first time this season. More on that later. With their captain missing from the lineup, the Devils hosted the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. Justin Dowling was recalled from the Utica Comets, however, it was Chris Tierney who drew into the lineup with Nico Hischeir sidelined. Michael McLeod moved up to second-line center, while Tierney filled in on the fourth line.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 4-3 win.
New Jersey Devils Quick Wrap
Jesper Bratt went to work on the Wild on Sunday. The Devild forward chipped in two goals and an assist, collecting two points on the power play. Luke Hughes registered a multi-point game as well and he continues to distribute the puck well from the blue line. Erik Haula is scoring with authority lately and sniped another one on Sunday night. And Tyler Toffoli can’t stop scoring. The veteran forward scored his seventh goal in just over a week. Vitek Vanecek put on a strong performance making 31 saves on 34 shots. The Devils peppered Marc-Andre Fleury for 30 shots in 60 minutes.
Devils Score First for the First Time this Season
It took eight tries, but the Devils finally scored the first goal of a game this season.
New Jersey has been inconsistent in the first period. When they’re bad, they’re downright awful. However, even when they’re playing well, the puck still found the back of New Jersey’s net before the Devils could score themselves.
That finally ended against the Wild on Sunday. Just 15 seconds into the first period, New Jersey went to the power play. The Devils created eight chances on a strong-man advantage opportunity, however, Fleury and the Wild’s penalty kill was a little stronger.
Time expired on the power play, but the Devils were able to ride the wave of momentum. With the puck on his stick behind Minnesota’s net, McLeod sent the puck to the point for Kevin Bahl. In a pretty tic-tac-toe play, Bahl fed John Marino, and Marino quickly fed a streaking Jesper Bratt who gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
The Mad Bratter. pic.twitter.com/KfDG3cqtz3
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 29, 2023
As the last team in the NHL to not score first in a game, netting this one tonight was a weight lifted for the Devils.
“Yeah, it was (a relief) as a group,” Bratt explained. “We’ve obviously come back from a lot of games before and it felt good for us as a team and for our confidence to get the first one. We need to keep building on that.”
It Might be Time to Give Cal Foote a Look
The Devils will be without Colin Miller for a bit longer as he’s on injured reserve retroactive to October 19th. According to the Devils’ head coach, Miller, nor Tomas Nosek, will be ready to return anytime soon.
Unfortunately, Brendan Smith has been pretty brutal to start the regular season. The 34-year-old defenseman has committed turnovers, lost puck battles, and has taken unnecessary risks that lead to scoring chances.
Specifically, Smith has been beaten on the same play a couple of times this season. An opposing skater will flip a puck up the ice in an attempt to spring their team for a breakaway. With the puck bouncing on the ice, Smith opts to try and bat the puck out of the air, however, he has swung and missed multiple times.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 29, 2023
It happened again on Sunday and Pat Maroon made him pay, tying the game at one in the first period on a semi-breakaway. It’s not the first time a team has scored like this with Smith on the ice either. Maybe that’s what the playbook says on the Ontario native.
Regardless, it feels like it’s time to give Smith a rest. Cal Foote’s been on recall for a couple of weeks with New Jersey. At the very least, Foote showed defensive responsibility on the blue line and New Jersey could use a little more of that.
Unfortunately, Ruff disclosed after the Devils’ 4-3 victory that there’s no plan right now for Foote to draw in. In fact, Ruff defended Smith who was actually on the positive side of a 15-13 chance differential.
“You only remember the ones that go in the net,” Ruff began to explain. “(Smith) got on the wrong side of his player and ended up getting scored against. There’s probably 15 other chances inside the game that if we want to point to chances or the third goal of the game that they got, I can give you two or three individuals that need to be better on that play. Every one of those opportunities, the ones that don’t go in, nobody usually brings up. The one that does go in, you go ‘hmm, I don’t know what did you think of so-and-so on that play?’ Yeah, he didn’t play it very well. We’d love to have that play back. However, I thought his energy and intensity in the game, and some of his killing was real good. The play on that goal, it wasn’t good enough.”
The New Jersey Devils power play is absurd. They came into Sunday night’s contest with the No.1 ranked man advantage in the NHL, converting on 28.6% of opportunities.
On Sunday, the Devils were back at it scoring multiple power-play goals for the fifth time in eight games.
Jesper Bratt was a force to be reckoned with on Sunday. He was involved in all but one of New Jersey’s goals collecting two goals and an assist. Bratt helped complete an excellent passing play on the man advantage feeding Tyler Toffoli for a tap-in goal. He later sniped a goal on the receiving end of another great passing play on the man advantage.
Brattman is busy this Halloween weekend. pic.twitter.com/6OqbHOWxRO
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 29, 2023
Part of New Jersey’s special teams success has been the QBing ability of Luke Hughes. The Devils’ rookie defenseman has been able to distribute the puck with authority and thus is reeling in the points. In his last three games, Hughes collected five assists, three on the power play.
The Devils’ power play potted two more goals tonight to remain the best man advantage in the NHL.
“The power play scored a couple of great goals for us,” Ruff said. “(Those are) really nice plays.”
Continued: “I think our power play has matured so much. I think that some of the plays they’re making are unbelievable plays. It puts a smile on your face.”
- Jesper Bratt extended his point streak to seven games.
- Likewise, Luke Hughes’ point streak is at three games, collecting five assists in that span.