Newark — For the second night in a row, a player on the New Jersey Devils made their NHL debut.
This time, it was highly touted defense prospect Simon Nemec who was first on the ice for his solo rookie lap ahead of his first NHL game with the Devils taking on the San Jose Sharks.
That wasn’t the only wrinkle in Friday night’s game, however. Devils forward Timo Meier made his return to the lineup, just in time to face his former club for the first time.
On the other end of the ice, Mackenzie Blackwood (who did not start), Fabian Zetterlund, and Nikita Okhotiuk all made their returns to New Jersey for the first time as well.
Let’s dive into how the Sharks top the Devils 6-3 on Friday night.
Devils Quick Wrap
The Sharks and Devils exchanged first-period goals in the opening frame. Jacob MacDonald scored an easy tap-in all along at the top of New Jersey’s crease. However, the Devils negated San Jose’s lead as Dawson Mercer’s power-play goal tied the game at one. The second period didn’t go New Jersey’s way as the Sharks took a two-goal lead into the final frame. MacDonald scored his second goal of the game on a redirection from the point, and Anthony Duclair was opportunistic scoring off a Devils turnover. Jack Hughes and Ondrej Palat try to mount the comeback in the third, however, Duclair scores his second of the game, Mikael Granlund cashed in, and William Eklund hit the empty netter.
Akira Schmid made 12 saves on 18 shots.
You’ll Learn, Rook
The Sharks jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on Friday night.
Unfortunately, San Jose’s first goal came on Nemec’s first NHL shift. The Sharks won a puck battle in New Jersey’s end to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone.
As a result, Nemec followed Nico Sturm from the far wall through the slot and became tied up with the Sharks forward toward the left side of Schmid’s crease.
There’s just one problem, Sturm wasn’t his man. As a result, Macdonald sat all alone on the right side of the Devils’ net, received a pass from Mario Ferraro, and tapped the rubber in for the 1-0 lead.
It’s an unfortunate first NHL shift, but there will be many more ahead. He’ll learn.
🚨 Simon Nemec first NHL point alert! 🚨
— NHL (@NHL) December 2, 2023
Speaking of more ahead, Nemec soon after collected his first NHL point. The 19-year-old defenseman was placed on the second power-play unit by head coach Lindy Ruff. Nemec wasn’t afraid to wind up and rip a shot all night, and a blast from the point on the man advantage wound up in the back of the net after Mercer buried the rebound.
The rookie will be just fine.
Careless Middle Frame
The Devils’ second-period efforts were, in a word, awful.
New Jersey skated like a team that knew they were playing a lesser opponent and it showed. Throughout the majority of the middle frame, the Devils couldn’t connect on passes, mishandled the puck, and gave away far too many pucks.
As a result, the Sharks jumped on pucks and created scoring opportunities taking advantage of the Devils’ mistakes. They scored two goals in the process as a result of poor puck management.
A perfect example of the Devils’ poor play comes from their biggest critic, Jack Hughes. The star forward turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Mikael Granlund skated the puck into the offensive zone, and with Nemec out of position again, Duclair beat Schmid with a one-time shot.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) December 2, 2023
It was clear as day that the Devils possess more skill and are the better team between the two. However, head coach David Quinn had San Jose playing hard on every shift, whereas, the Devils were not.
The Sharks only put three shots on goal in the third period. However, two out of three found the back of the net.
Not on Akira
There’s a reason why Ruff went back to the well with Schmid in consecutive nights. Following a career-high 44-save performance against the Philadelphia Flyers, the 23-year-old goaltender earned another start, even if it was the very next day.
A few games back Ruff stated that New Jersey’s woes are a result of the Devils allowing too many high-danger opportunities. In fact, despite so many shots against in Philly, the Devils did an excellent job limiting those opportunities to low-danger, perimeter chances. As a result, Schmid was capable of making the necessary saves in order for New Jersey to secure two points.
That’s not what happened on Friday. The Devils’ poor puck management allowed the Sharks to take advantage on more than one occasion including the third period when John Marino mishandled the puck at San Jose’s blue line which led to a breakaway chance for Duclair. The 28-year-old forward scored his second of the game.
As Ruff indicated following the Devils’ win against the New York Islanders, a breakaway goal isn’t a bad goal for a goaltender to give up. It’s on the defense that allowed the chance to happen in the first place.
The Devils mismanaged the puck all night leaving Schmid out to dry. It doesn’t matter that the Sharks had so few shots. They cashed in on a lackadaisical effort in front of the Devils’ goaltending.
- The Sharks scored more than one goal in a game on the road this season for the first time against New Jersey. Friday was San Jose’s 11th road game of the season