Newark, NJ — The New Jersey Devils remained battered and bruised against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. Key forwards Nico Hischier and Timo Meier remain absent from the Devils’ lineup. In fact, head coach Lindy Ruff even went a little unconventional during this Black Friday Matinée.
Brendan Smith, who has been a hot topic of conversation in New Jersey, lined up as a forward on the fourth line alongside Chris Tierney and Nathan Bastian. It’s not Smith’s first time, however. The veteran NHLer has played forward before in his time with the New York Rangers.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 2-1 loss to the Blue Jackets.
Devils Quick Wrap
The Devils and Blue Jackets traded goals in the opening frame. New Jersey came out looking like their closed-door meeting on Thanksgiving didn’t amount to much as Boone Jenner scored first to give Columbus a 1-0 lead. However, a forced turnover in the Blue Jackets’ end of the ice turned into Alexander Holtz evening the score, but not for long as Eric Robinson regained Columbus’ lead on an Eric Robinson breakaway. That’s all it took for this one as the game ended 2-1 in regulation. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 38 pucks for Columbus while Akira Schmid 26 pucks on 28 shots.
Tough Game for Dougie Hamilton
18 games into the season, the Devils continue to struggle by giving up the first goal of the game.
After a closed-door meeting on Thanksgiving in which the Devils conducted some soul-searching and took a hard look in the mirror, New Jersey’s first period didn’t look much different than what we’re used to this season.
Columbus controlled the majority of the play in the opening frame, out-shooting New Jersey 11-7. That translated to 10 scoring chances for the Blue Jackets as opposed to the Devils’ six. Two of those chances wound up in the back of the net, both while Dougie Hamilton was on the ice.
Jonas Siegenthaler covered Johnny Gaudreau who skated the puck into a high-danger area midway through the first period. However, Hamilton followed Gaudreau as well, losing Jenner in the process and he stood freely at the top of Schmid’s crease for an easy tap-in goal.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) November 24, 2023
The Devils pushed back scoring a goal of their own. However, Hamilton later lost his man with the Blue Jackets regaining the puck in their own zone. As a result, Robinson slipped behind Hamilton and was sprung for a breakaway. He beat Schmid to help Columbus regain their first-period lead.
Hamilton by no means was signed to New Jersey for his defensive prowess. However, these were certainly preventable goals. Hamilton simply missed both of his assignments in the opening frame which saw New Jersey down in the first 20 minutes. They’ll need their highest-paid defenseman to be a lot sharper than he’s been this season.
A Bit Snake Bitten
The Devils certainly didn’t start great on Friday, but they got better in the middle frame and on. In fact, the Devils generated 21 straight shots before Columbus eventually put one back on net.
In the second period, the Devils took over at 5-on-5 in terms of chances. New Jersey created 11 scoring chances as opposed to Columbus’ five, three of those coming in high-danger zones.
Now, the Devils are certainly the better of the two teams. But, they should probably be creating a few more high-danger chances per period than just three.
Regardless, Merzlikins was equal to the task negating any chances the Devils threw at him, although, all three high-danger opportunities came from Hughes and the first line.
The Devils lost Curtis Lazar in the first period. Therefore, New Jersey was down to 11 forwards, forcing Ruff to mix up the lines. Still, none of the lines after the first line were able to generate scoring chances outside of Holtz’s first-period goal.
So, the first line is generating, but struggling to find twine. The rest aren’t finding twine as a result of struggling to generate.
Still, the Devils put together five high-danger scoring chances in the third period and still couldn’t score. They were more unlucky than they were good in the final 40 minutes, although they could stand to generate more offense in between the middle six.
Lacking Net-Front Presence
Without Meier, the Devils are lacking a presence at the top of the opposition’s crease.
The Devils were able to establish a healthy amount of scoring chances against the Blue Jackets in the final 40 minutes of play. Merzlikins was strong on Friday tracking pucks, however, he certainly lacked rebound control.
In the third period alone, New Jersey generated three to four scoring chances in which Merzlikins left a hefty rebound. However, with a lack of Devils bodies occupying the slot and Columbus’ crease, New Jersey was unable to cash in on any rebounds. Instead, Columbus did a good job boxing out the Devils and clearing the puck from danger.
Desperation crept in during the final minutes of play. Schmid went to the bench and Ruff deployed an extra attacker. Yet, even with the extra man on the ice and Erik Haula screening Merzlikins, secondary scoring chances alluded New Jersey.
“We just didn’t get to those second opportunities,” Ruff said. “We got pucks through, it hit the post, bounced (around) but that second opportunity wasn’t there for us today.”