Newark — The Detroit Red Wings came to Newark on the second leg of a back-to-back. On Friday, the Wings were in a chippy tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers. This almost certainly had to be the game the New Jersey Devils would turn things around to end a three-game skid, right?
Head coach Lindy Ruff was rightfully angry following New Jersey’s loss on Thursday night. Fortunately, he and the Devils got back on track while hosting Detroit on the eve of Christmas Eve, better known as Festivus.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 3-2 victory over the Red Wings.
Another quick strike by the opposition saw the Red Wings score first against the Devils on Saturday. Alex DeBrincat connected with his buddy Patrick Kane for his fourth goal of the season just over four minutes into the first period to give Detroit a 1-0 lead. However, the Devils were able to swing the momentum back their way and Timo Meier scored in his second straight game to tie the game. The middle frame was low-event. The Red Wings scored the lone goal as a loose puck wound up on Shayne Gostisbehere’s stick and the Detroit defenseman scored on a howitzer. Scoring his second goal of the game, however, Meier evened the odds 2:46 into the third period. The Devils kept up the pressure and Tyler Toffoli gave New Jersey their first lead in the latter half of the final frame. Toffoli’s 14th goal of the season was the eventual game-winner.
Vanecek made 22 saves securing the victory for the Devils. Michael Hutchinson stopped 33 pucks in his season debut.
23 & Counting
On December 23rd, the Devils gave up the game’s first goal for the 23rd time this season. Coincidence? The date is, maybe. However, giving up the game’s first goal so consistently is not.
The Devils’ defense is just not gelling. On any given night, at least one defenseman is making a detrimental mistake on their end of the ice that results in a goal for the opposition. Why is that happening so often?
Positioning. Or, lack of it.
This isn’t the first time the Devils rookie has done this, and it probably won’t be the last. But, Simon Nemec, unfortunately, found himself pinching too high in the offensive zone on Detroit’s first goal.
DeBrincat to Kane 👀pic.twitter.com/t6NCL0r9PY
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights & News (@HockeyDaily365) December 24, 2023
The Devils’ rookie defenseman shifting too high left John Marino all by himself to defend three Red Wings skaters. As a result, DeBrincat found Kane on Vanecek’s back door for an easy tap-in.
Head coach Lindy Ruff explained on Saturday morning ahead of their tilt with Detroit that he’d like to see the Devils put forth a complete, 60-minute effort. Even if the first period did get better for New Jersey after Detroit opened the scoring, they already put themselves behind in the first five minutes.
Timo Stocks 📈
For the second game in a row, Meier lit the lamp.
The Devils’ highest-paid forward expressed displeasure with his game having been kept off the scoresheet for nine straight games before Thursday night.
“I’m hard on myself,” Meier explained Thursday morning. “I have high expectations. We have high expectations as a team. Definitely not happy with my play, but you’ve got to learn from it. Sometimes those situations can make you better as a player, make you stronger.”
Since then, Meier has scored goals in consecutive games. He finished Thursday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers with a goal, although the advanced analytics suggest it was a rough game for Meier.
On Saturday, he cashed in again, twice, and was a bit stronger in the contest.
Well, well, well. Would you look at the time… pic.twitter.com/BwQbVT17DN
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 24, 2023
It appears what’s working for Meier is he’s keeping his game simple. As one of the bigger bodies on New Jersey, he’s planting himself at the top of the crease in the offensive zone, causing a bit of chaos, and cashing in on rebound chances.
In all honesty, his game against Edmonton wasn’t all that great but he cashed in on an opportunity. His game against Detroit was much better and the results followed.
As San Jose Hockey Now’s Sheng Peng told us back in October, Meier is a volume shooter. When he starts putting pucks on net, results follow. The Devils’ power forward finished Saturday night’s contest with a team-leading five shots on goal.
Devils Power Play Stocks 📉
One of the things that buoyed the beginning of the season for New Jersey was the power play. The Devils converted on the man advantage seemingly at will. Despite their sloppy defensive play and goaltending, it was helping them collect points for a while. From the get-go of the 2023-24 season, the Devils owned the No.1 man advantage in the NHL.
However, the power play has cooled off since then and although they sit No.2 overall behind the New York Rangers in power play percentage, things haven’t been clicking.
Entering Saturday, the Devils were 3/21 over their previous nine games.
In four opportunities against the Red Wings, New Jersey couldn’t find the back of the net against the 20th-ranked penalty kill in the NHL.
“You knew it was gonna come eventually,” Ruff explained. “(The power play) struggled. I thought some of our puck decisions and where we put it weren’t good. I thought the later one, the shots Toffoli got, we put a couple of righties (out there) and tried to switch things up a little bit, it was better. But some of our decisions with the puck weren’t the right decisions. I think when you start to struggle a little bit, you press a little bit. We weren’t getting much done (on the man advantage). On the other side, the penalty killing, I thought it was real good.”
On a positive note, the penalty killing was, in fact, really good. Detroit had three chances on the man advantage and the Devils limited their chances to just four over six minutes. When the Devils needed a save, Vanecek provided.
The Devils’ win at home broke a three-game skid dating back to Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. It was just the boost the Devils and their fans needed heading into the holiday break. New Jersey hopes to swing that momentum to Dec. 28th when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets when the break concludes.