This was a game the New Jersey Devils certainly deserved to win.
A couple of careless errors here and there which we will address later. However, the Devils dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning, especially at even strength on Thursday night.
However, the Devils couldn’t overcome some of their mistakes and lacked timely saves, dropping a crucial point in overtime.
Let’s dive into the Devils’4-3 OT loss to the Lightning.
Dawson Mercer got the party started on Thursday night, driving the net with the puck on his stick, collecting his own rebound, and scoring on the secondary chance. However, a pair of goals by Luke Glendening, one at even strength, the other shorthanded, gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead after the opening 20 minutes. Brayden Point made the Devils pay on a delayed penalty. As the sixth man on the ice, Point snuck into the slot, and with all Devils defenders puck-watching, the Lightning forward took Nikita Kucherov’s pass and scored blocker side. Just under four minutes into the third period, Nathan Bastian forced a turnover in the neutral zone. A fortunate bounce sprung the Devils for a breakaway and he tied the game at three.
Regulation wasn’t enough for this one and the Devils & Lightning went to overtime. Taylor Raddysh converted in the extra period securing the win for Tampa Bay.
Vitek Vanecek made 16 saves on 20 shots in the loss.
Dawson Mercer is a Top Six Forward
Mercer’s versatility allows head coach Lindy Ruff to move him up and down the lineup as he pleases.
Mercer’s defensive abilities have often seen him put in a checking role and more often than not in the bottom six. However, in the absence of Jack Hughes, the third-year pro is in an elevated role on the first line with Erik Haula and Nico Hischier.
Although he’s been finding the scoresheet plenty of late, Mercer’s first-period goal reminded everyone why Mercer is certainly a top-six forward, even when the Devils are completely healthy.
Just doing dawg things. pic.twitter.com/b64l501s5e
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 12, 2024
Credit where it’s due, Haula left Mercer an excellent drop pass to pick up. However, Mercer’s ability to drive the net with the puck on his stick, protect the rubber from defenders, and beat Vasilevskiy by banking the rebound off his back and in the net was very Jack-esque.
Mercer did get off to a bit of a slow start this season, however, he’s put himself back on track and is on pace to match his 27-goal output from the 2022-23 season.
Costly Rookie Error
Where do we even start with this one? Probably with Luke Hughes, right?
Rookie mistakes are going to happen. However, Luke’s latest was quite egregious. It’s Hughes’ job to QB the first power play unit. When the puck is below the Devils’ goal line, he’s the one who starts the rush up ice.
Well, in an attempt to transition the puck from the Devils’ end to Tampa’s, Luke carelessly mishandled the puck in a high-danger area, blew a tire trying to recover, and handed Glendening his second goal that allowed the Lightning to take a 2-1 lead in the first period.
Luke Glendening grabs the turnover and slots his second of the first period! ✌️ pic.twitter.com/iLbOH0DgcY
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 12, 2024
You might say it’s a Luke-on-Luke crime, however, Hughes did it to himself. Had Hughes not committed the costly turnover, the Devils might have walked away with two points in this one.
The 20-year-old rookie defenseman has shown flashes of brilliance this season. He even had really strong moments in this game. However, he’s also shown he makes some egregious errors as he showed on multiple breakout attempts on Thursday. It’s fair to believe fellow rookie defenseman Simon Nemec, who assumed Hughes’ PP1 duties, might be outplaying Hughes at this point.
Lindy Ruff explained even Jack still has some learning to do despite being an NHL superstar. As a rookie, Luke does as well.
New Year, Same Issue
The Devils couldn’t fully mount the comeback on Thursday. They secured a crucial point that separated them from the Washington Capitals for now, however, that second point would have been huge.
The fact of the matter is until the Devils upgrade their goaltending, they’re going to continue to fork over points.
Look, no one is claiming the Devils are a defensive marvel. We already addressed the Luke turnover, and the Devils didn’t exactly lock down Raddysh on his overtime winner. However, every once in a while a team is going to need a save that steals a game.
Vanecek simply cannot provide that for the Devils.
The analytics support that the Devils should have won this game. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Devils accrued a 63.41 CF%, 72.67 xGF%, and a positive 24-14 scoring chance differential.
Vanecek finished the night with -1.72 goals saved above expected as opposed to Vasilevskiy’s 0.15.
The Devils are officially halfway through their season by the time Monday rolls around. How much longer can they let this go on?
- Nathan Bastian scored his second goal of the season in his 200th NHL game.