Now that was a gut-check win for the New Jersey Devils.
With the reigning, defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Vegas Golden Knights, in town, the Devils were looking at a tall task at getting back in the win column. Although Vegas is equally hampered by injuries, the sum of their championship parts was still largely in the lineup against a somewhat demoralized Devils team.
In Santeri Hatakka’s Devils debut, New Jersey kept their foot on the gas in a back-and-forth battle with the Golden Knights on Monday.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 6-5 overtime win over the Golden Knights.
The visiting team opened the scoring once again on Monday night as Pavel Dorofeyev cashed in on an odd-man rush that gave Vegas a 1-0 lead in the first period. However, the Devils didn’t sit back on their heels and continued to push the puck up ice toward Vegas’ end of the ice. As a result, captain Nico Hischier tied things up, and Curtis Lazar netted the go-ahead goal to make it a 2-1 game before the first intermission. The Devils picked up in the second where they left off in the first. Tyler Toffoli scored twice in the second period, however, it wasn’t enough to fend off Vegas’ four-goal onslaught, two on the stick of Jonathan Marchessault, one then one from Nicolas Roy and Chandler Stephenson. Yet, Lazar scored his second goal of the game in the third period and was able to send the Devils to overtime.
The Devils dominated the puck in 3-on-3 free hockey and Toffoli eventually ended the game by scoring a hat-trick, game-winning goal. Vitek Vanecek secured the victory making 27 saves.
Despite the Devils giving up the first goal of the game for the 32nd time in 45 games this season, it was encouraging to see New Jersey remain inflated.
The Devils started well again, much like they did against the Dallas Stars. Similar to Saturday’s script, the visiting team got on the board first when Dorofeyev beat Vanecek off the rush to give Vegas the first lead.
Instead of deflating like they did against Dallas, the Devils kept the pressure on and it eventually paid off.
The Devils’ current first line started Monday night’s tilt really well. They seemingly controlled the play every time they were on the ice. As a result, Hischier eventually beat Vegas goaltender Logan Thompson, a goal assisted by Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt.
— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNHL) January 23, 2024
Even more encouraging was seeing the Devils’ depth come through to help New Jersey take the lead. It was a fantastic shift, and first period as a whole, for the Devils’ third line. Lazar cashed in on an excellent setup by Erik Haula with Nathan Bastian receiving the secondary assist.
The Lazar-Haula-Bastian line finished the first period with a 97.07 XGF% at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Far Below Expected
When your team gains a quick two-goal lead, you need your goaltender to make a save. Unfortunately, the recurring theme for the Devils this season has been their inability to receive one.
Toffoli added to the Devils’ lead early in the second period. However, the Golden Knights rallied back scoring four straight goals on Vanecek who ended the second period with a -2.64 goals saved above expected (GSAx) by the end of 40 minutes. He finished the game with -1.82 GSAx.
Granted, the Devils didn’t exactly play flawlessly in front of Vanecek. However, the Devils’ goaltender’s inability to bail New Jersey out at all completely diminishes any potential of building momentum. In fact, Vanecek allowed three straight goals on three consecutive shots, two by Marchessault and one by Stephenson en route to the Golden Knights regaining the lead.
Sure, the defense hasn’t been great. Three out of five goals had about a 25% chance of going in according to MoneyPuck. However, two out of the five goals had a 7.4% chance or less to find the back of the net. If the low-danger goals are saved, the Devils escape with a lead.
There’s a reason why Vanecek is at the bottom of the league in GSAx. That was evident on Monday.
An Elite Offense
When you look at the Devils’ lineup on Monday, it’s absent two of their best players in Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton. However, despite the absences, the Devils’ offense is still filled with elite talent, especially on offense.
It may not have shown on the scoresheet, but Jesper Bratt had one of the most impressive offensive games he’s had all season. The Swedish forward collected just one assist in the 6-5 victory, however, put 10 shots on goal and that doesn’t count the handful of posts he hit, two of them coming in overtime. Bratt led the Devils with a 78.13 CF% and ranked fourth with a 71.41 xGF%. He also helped lead his line with a positive 5-0 scoring chance differential.
Bratt is just a third of the Devils’ best line on Monday. The line of Meier-Hischier-Bratt may have only collected three points in total. However, they were dominant on the puck all night playing in Vegas’ end far more than their own. The trip accrued an astounding 80.00 CF%, an excellent 64.91 xGF%, and a superb positive 13-6 scoring chance differential against the defending champs.
Meier especially stood out looking the most comfortable he has all season. The Swiss power forward skated as freely as he has all season, controlled the puck well on the end of his stick, won puck battles, finished checks, and created scoring chances all night. Even head coach Lindy Ruff took notice of Meier’s dominance after the Devils’ victory.
“That’s exactly what I thought,” Ruff responded to New Jersey Hockey Now about Meier’s dominance. “He skated as free as I’ve seen him to skate. He’s coming, he is coming. He’s battled through two sets of injuries. Now, skating is the one most important thing.”
TOFFOLI WITH THE HATTY 🎩
Devils take this one in OT pic.twitter.com/sLpnMDcDgZ
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) January 23, 2024
And of course, Toffoli’s hat-trick. Toffoli had been in a bit of a drought with just one goal in his past seven games. However, his hat trick on Monday propelled New Jersey to victory. He’s now scored four goals in his last two games. He’s the Devils’ leading goal scorer and first in New Jersey to reach 20. The Devils needed his elite shot when it mattered most, especially in overtime when he scored the game-winner.
- Santeri Hatakka finished as a plus-3 in his Devils debut.
- Luke Hughes led the Devils in time on ice, skating in 26:16.