Now that’s a game Vitek Vanecek and the New Jersey Devils can hang their hat on.
Vanecek was back in net for the Devils after Nico Daws started three games in a row. The 27-year-old netminder turned in a quality performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets following a lengthy hiatus from game action.
In their fourth and final meeting of the season, the Devils took the season series against Columbus.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 4-1 victory over the Blue Jackets.
It didn’t take very long for Columbus to open the scoring. Just over four minutes into the first period, Cole Sillinger scored on the Blue Jackets’ first shot of the game. However, the Devils rallied with a big second period, receiving goals from John Marino, Alexander Holtz, Nico Hischier, and Nathan Bastian. The Blue Jackets thought they scored in the third after Sillinger seemingly deflected home his second goal of the game. However, the Devils won an offside challenge that maintained their three-goal lead. That was all this one needed as Vitek Vanecek secured the victory in a 28-save performance.
The most impressive thing about Colin Miller is his boom of a shot. It’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t see it in a Devils uniform at the peak of his prime. He’s on record touching 105.5 MPH during the hardest shot in the AHL All-Star Skills Competition in Utica.
He then proceeded to break out with the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season scoring 10 goals and 41 points.
The point is that Miller wasn’t exactly acquired with the belief that he was a defensive stalwart. However, in the wake of so many injuries, and the most recent to Brendan Smith, Miller’s services have been needed on the penalty kill.
New Jersey was forced to play short a man twice in the first period. Miller hit the ice on the latter of the two disadvantages and was actually quite impressive. He positioned himself well in shooting lanes and had an active stick in pursuit of the puck.
He stood out on the penalty kill most when he intercepted a pass from the blue line to the low circle, skated the puck in transition to the offensive zone, and put a puck on Merzlikins shorthanded all in the same sequence.
The Devils are without two of their best penalty killers in Smith and Jonas Siegenthaler. Miller stepping up in this instance was big for a sputtering special teams.
Best Foote Forward
The tale of the tape in this game was New Jersey’s depth coming through. And by depth, I mean they reached wayyyy down into Utica for reinforcements.
One of the handful of defensemen plucked from Utica is Foote. The former first-round selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning is playing in his first season in the Devils’ system since signing with New Jersey this summer. The large, 6-foot-4, 225 lb defenseman has mostly played in a defensive defenseman role this season.
However, leading up the his draft year, Foote was described as a “gifted two-way defenseman” which alluded to the thought that he could handle the puck.
Although that was true at the junior level, that side of his game hasn’t quite made itself present in the NHL. However, we got a small sample of that on Friday when Foote threaded a needle to Holtz.
After the Devils tied the game at one in the second period, New Jersey kept the pressure on in the offensive zone. Foote received a pass from Holtz from the far wall, displayed great patience, and fed Holtz streaking to the crease with a tape-to-tape pass for the easy tap-in.
Holtz puts it home. pic.twitter.com/V6AyJljdyY
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 20, 2024
Foote’s excellent patience helped the Devils claim their first lead of the game and was the second of four goals scored in the second period.
The depth certainly came through in this one and it started with Foote.
Yes, you read that right. Vanecek buoyed the Devils to a 4-1 victory by making the saves he was supposed to make and then some.
According to MoneyPuck, the Blue Jackets were expected to score 2.78 goals in all situations on Friday night. However, Vanecek was quite strong in the 28-save performance. By the end of the 60-minute tilt, the Czech goaltender made 1.78 saves above expected.
Maybe it was the eight days off of game action between starts that helped Vanecek have a more refreshed approach in this one. Whatever it was, well see Daws against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. However, perhaps this is further proof for head coach Lindy Ruff that this season Vanecek performs his best with a backup goaltender’s workload.