It’s certainly a step in the right direction for Vitek Vanecek. A strong Vanecek performance propelled the New Jersey Devils to victory over Yegor Sharangovich and the Calgary Flames.
Calgary gained a bit of an offensive boost in Saturday’s contest, recalling talented prospect Matt Coronato from the AHL Calgary Wranglers. Head coach Lindy Ruff shook up the lines a bit, inserting Nathan Bastian into the lineup in favor of Brendan Smith, as well as swapping Alexander Holtz and Curtis Lazar.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 4-2 victory over the Flames.
*Read Calgary Hockey Now’s perspective on the Flames 4-2 loss.
Devils Quick Wrap
Vanecek almost pushed the Devils out of the first period unscathed. However, a shorthanded chance went in favor of Calgary as Sharangovich, of course, pounced on a turnover and scored a short-handed goal against his former club to give the Flames a 1-0 lead in the first period. New Jersey was more fortunate in the second period, however, receiving goals from Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt. The Devils carried a 2-1 lead into the third period and halfway through that lead was padded. Timo Meier redirected a pass by Holtz past Dustin Wolf, the eventual game-winning goal. Nazem Kadri attempted to lead the comeback scoring late in the final frame, however, Hischier scored his second goal of the night hitting the empty net.
Vanecek made 23 saves in one of his strongest performances of the season. Wolf stopped 26 pucks.
Vanecek Strong When Needed
In the opening frame, the Devils looked like a team that’s been on the road for a week. New Jersey was sluggish and was certainly outpaced by a fresher-looking Flames team.
After 20 minutes of play, the Flames brought a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. However, if it were not for Vanecek’s early, strong play, the Devils could have been chasing a larger deficit at the start of the second period.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames held onto the puck more often than New Jersey accruing 66.67 CF% in the first period. That translated to a 5-3 chance differential in favor of Calgary.
Part of what’s been hindering New Jersey this season has been their tendency to allow chances from inside and below the dots in their own zone. The Flames put together a number of those chances, namely one by former Devil Blake Coleman and another on an odd-man rush between Connor Zary and Nazem Kadri.
Thankfully, Vanecek was able to stand strong, for the most part, limiting the damage caused by poor defense by New Jersey and the Flames’ ability to take advantage. The Flames outshot the Devils 13-7 in the first 20 minutes of play.
The Devils didn’t need to rely on Vanecek much following the first period. New Jersey limited Calgary’s chances and controlled the puck outside of the defensive zone. However, when necessary, Vanecek made the saves New Jersey needed to secure a victory. It’s a step in the right direction for the Devils goaltender.
Leading by Example
There’s a reason Hischier wears a ‘C’ on his sweater. He says all the right things in the locker room and to the media. However, he also leads by example on the ice.
The Devils, trailing 1-0 in the second period, needed to swing momentum their way with the Flames in heavy pursuit of a 2-0 lead. Hischier controlled the puck below Calgary’s goal line and while fighting to maintain puck possession, fed Jesper Bratt for a scoring chance in the slot. Wolf made the save and the Flames began to move the puck up ice, but not before Luke Hughes would make an excellent play at the blue line to maintain the offensive zone. That allowed Bratt to feed Hischier in the right circle and the Devils captain beat the rookie goaltender to tie the game at one.
Soon after, Hischier created another scoring chance that was initially stopped by Wolf but later deposited by Bratt to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead.
In six games following Hischier’s return from injury, the Devils were 5-1 and it’s no coincidence. After Saturday’s tilt, they’re 6-1. Hischier’s scored four goals and nine points in seven games and is certainly helping propel the Devils back to their contender status.
In the second and third frames, the Devils locked things down defensively.
New Jersey practiced that puck pressure Ruff preaches so often and as a result, it helped the Dewvils capture two points. Last season, the Devils did an excellent job applying pressure on the forecheck, winning puck battles, and turning that pressure into offense. The Devils did just that on Saturday night.
Leading 2-1 in the third period, the Devils sent the puck deep into Calgary’s zone. Behind the net, Wolf handled the puck, however, due to the pressure of Dawson Mercer and Alexander Holtz along the wall, Wolf turned the puck over to Holtz who set up a scoring chance. Holtz’s pass bounced off Timo Meir and into the back of Calgary’s net.
More impressively, the Devils’ puck pressure application was evident in the defensive end. New Jersey forced the Flames to the perimeter for the majority of the final 40 minutes of play, closing gaps and driving the Flames to the outside which greatly limited their scoring chances.
Unable to overcome the pressure of the Devils, the Flames were only able to muster up a combined 12 shots on Vanecek in the second and third periods and he was only forced to make 23 saves in the contest. With the current state of New Jersey’s goaltending, this is the recipe for success.
- The Devils are 3/3 on their four-game road trip.
- Jesper Bratt extends his point streak to four games, Hischier to three games.