The New Jersey Devils kicked off the first leg of back-to-back games on Friday night facing the Ottawa Senators north of the border.
Nico Daws made his Devils season debut as the new half of New Jersey’s goaltending tandem in favor of Akira Schmid who is now with AHL Utica. Kevin Bahl skated in his 100th NHL game in Ottawa, the same city he spent his Junior career in with the 67’s.
Daws was impressive in his first NHL game since the 2021-22 season, helping the Devils secure a 6-2 victory over Ottawa.
Let’s dive into how the Devils dominated the Senators.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. The Senators took a 1-0 lead at the midway mark of the first period on the stick of Drake Batherson. However, the Devils struck back on the power play. For the first time in five games, Jack Hughes filled the net to tie the game at one, and later, Jesper Bratt gave New Jersey the lead with eight seconds remaining in the first period. It’s the first time New Jersey scored multiple power-play goals since Nov. 14th in Winnipeg vs. the Jets.
The Devils upped the pressure in the second period as Dawson Mercer drove the net and scored a filthy, unassisted goal. A snipe by Tyler Toffoli later gave New Jersey a three-goal lead. Jacob Bernard-Docker added one more goal for Ottawa in the third period. However, the Devils put forth a solid 60-minute effort, receiving goals from Brendan Smith and Luke Hughes in the third period, and cruised to a 6-2 victory. Daws made 25 stops on 27 shots against the Senators.
Daws Solid in Season Debut
You could definitely see why the Devils’ management was so quick to give Daws an opportunity after just three AHL games post-surgery.
The Devils goaltender posted a 1-2-0 record with the Utica Comets, however, that wasn’t a reflection of his play. Instead, his impressive 2.39 GAA and .929 SV% are more accurate to what we saw in his season debut on Friday.
Daws made several key saves for New Jersey en route to their 6-2 victory, including multiple breakaway chances for Ottawa and a pair of chances by Brady Tkachuk in a single shift.
The Devils didn’t force Daws to have to make too many saves. Regardless, he came up big on more than one occasion. He was square to shooters, controlled his rebounds, and the ones he didn’t he snatched up the rebound chance.
By no means are we writing Daws off as the starting goaltender already. However, it was an encouraging start for the 23-year-old and we got a glimpse of his potential. Daws was calm, cool, and collected all game and gave New Jersey’s crease a sense of stability.
Perhaps he can bottle up the momentum and run with it. Maybe the surgery he required helped unlock his full potential. Time will tell, but the Devils sure could use a goaltending savior right now.
25 & Counting
You’re probably sick of reading about this, but the Devils gave up the first goal of the game for the 25th time this season.
This is what head coach Lindy Ruff is talking about when he says the little details translate to big outcomes of the game.
An errant pass from Timo Meier forced Brendan Smith to chase the puck below the Devils’ goal line. That was just strike one. From behind Daws’ net, Smith attempted to clear the puck from the zone by wrapping it around the boards. However, Brady Tkachuk intercepted the rubber before it cleared the blue line. Strike two. As a result, Smith and John Marino were out of position and the Devils were changing their forwards. Tkachuk found Batherson in a high-danger area all alone, and the Sens forward waited Daws out and found twine to score the first goal of the game. Strike three.
The funny thing is that the Devils actually started the game strong and played well for the full duration of the opening 20 minutes. Unfortunately, any mistakes they make usually end up in the back of the net. Fortunately, their power play bailed them out of this one.
Devils Power Play Comes Back to Life
The Devils scored just twice in their last 26 power play opportunities in the last 10 games leading up to Friday.
Head coach Lindy Ruff explained after Wednesday’s tilt with the Columbus Blue Jackets that he felt it might be time to shake up the man-advantage personnel. However, after a tough, emotional practice on Thursday in Newark, Ruff kept his power play units together to give it another go, although they’re on a short leash.
“We spent a lot of time as a coaching group talking about power play this morning,” Ruff said. “And there’s a little bit of an issue when you come post-Christmas from three days off. I thought there was some rust in our playmaking ability. I really felt last night coming hot off the game that maybe we need to make one change or flip one guy out… But, we’re gonna stay with what we’ve got short term and short term is very short.”
You could say that the message was received after just the opening 20 minutes of Friday’s contest.
For the first time in a long time, New Jersey’s man advantage didn’t look stale. Instead, they moved their feet, handled the puck with authority, and made quick decisions leading to multiple goals in the first period. The first by Hughes and then later on the stick of Bratt, both assisted by Luke Hughes. Jack, Luke, and Bratt combined for six points in just the first period.
The key for New Jersey was getting Ottawa’s defenders out of position. Quick, crisp passes caused confusion for Ottawa in their own end of the ice and forced them out of position and Korpisalo couldn’t bail them out.
That’s the Devils’ power play we’re used to seeing. And, it’s the one New Jersey is going to need if they’re going to continue to collect points.
- Jesper Bratt (1g,3a), Jack Hughes (1g,2a), and Luke Hughes (2a) all recorded multi-point games.
- Brendan Smith’s third-period goal was his first since April 24th, 2022, and his first as a Devil.