Just about anything that could go wrong for the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night did.
The Devils gave up the routine first goal of the game, they lost a challenge for a high stick, they allowed the Carolina Hurricanes to score on the power play, they pulled Nico Daws for Vitek Vanecek, and head coach Lindy Ruff couldn’t even attend the third period after being struck in the face with a puck.
It was truly a night to forget.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Thursday.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before. The Hurricanes opened the scoring as the Devils’ continue to struggle to score first this season. A turned-over puck landed on the stick of Sebastian Aho who was sprung for a breakaway and scored. The second period was even worse for the Devils. Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Staal each potted a goal as the Devils struggled to even put pucks on net, let alone score.
Justin Dowling gave the Devils life by scoring early in the first period, however, they couldn’t score again until Jesper Bratt beat Antti Raanta with 1.4 seconds left on the clock in the third period, falling 3-2. Daws was pulled halfway through the second period after making nine saves on 12 shots. Vitek Vanecek made 11 saves on 11 shots in relief.
By now you know how the story goes. The Devils give up the first goal of the game and are forced to chase early on.
Turnovers were the culprit in this one as the Devils gave the puck away to the Hurricanes four times in the opening 20 minutes.
Two of those turnovers came from an unlikely candidate, Dawson Mercer. The 22-year-old forward’s first turnover directly resulted in a goal.
While skating the puck through the neutral zone, Mercer lost his handle on the puck as it trickled a little too far ahead of him. On a heads-up play, Jaccob Slavin sent the puck back through the neutral zone to Teuvo Teravainen who then found a streaking Aho. Already behind the Devils’ defense as Simon Nemec wasn’t anticipating the turnover, Aho beat Daws on the breakaway to give the Canes a 1-0 lead.
The Finnish connection strikes again 🇫🇮 pic.twitter.com/PnQUe1c4jb
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) January 26, 2024
In the closing moments of the first period, Mercer turned the puck over to the Hurricanes again, this time at the Devils’ end of the ice. Daws was able to bail him out, however, holding the Canes to a one-goal lead.
It’s unusual for Mercer as he’s typically responsible with the puck.
Can’t Score If You Don’t Shoot
Earlier this season, the Hurricanes reassigned Antti Raanta to the American Hockey League Chicago Wolves. At the time, the Finnish goaltender accrued an awfully low 3.61 goals-against average and .854 save percentage in 14 NHL games in Carolina’s net.
You’d never know Raanta struggled if Thursday night was the first time you watched him play.
The Devils did very little to make life difficult for Raanta. In fact, they didn’t even register a shot on goal through the first 11 minutes and 15 seconds of the second period.
The middle frame ended with New Jersey putting just five shots on net.
The Devils’ issue was in transitioning the puck. New Jersey struggled to move it passed the Hurricanes’ blue line and even if they did, they lost their puck battles in the offensive zone and struggled to set up the cycle.
Transitioning the puck hasn’t been as much of an issue this season as it was on Thursday. However, losing puck battles has, and that’s a big part of why they lacked offense against Carolina.
Daniil Misyul wouldn’t have reversed the Devils’ results in this one, but he’s known for winning puck battles. Perhaps he’ll get his chance next puck drop.
First as a Devil
Would you have believed if someone told you Justin Dowling was going to be the Devils’ best player on Thursday?
Well, he was.
The Devils recalled the 33-year-old journeyman as a result of absences from the lineup. He drew into his first NHL game since Feb. 9th, 2022 when he laced up the skates for the Vancouver Canucks.
Dowling looked like a player who never wanted to go back down to the American Hockey League. He was aggressive on the forecheck, won his puck battles, created scoring chances for his teammates, and even scored a goal of his own, his first as a Devil and first since Oct. 23rd, 2021.
This Justin: Dowling’s first as a Devil. pic.twitter.com/ycAcoA3fMh
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 26, 2024
The Calgary, Alberta native led all Devils skaters with a 71.43 CF%, accrued an excellent 87.23 xGF%, and an outstanding positive 5-0 scoring chance differential, all at 5-on-5 according to Natual Stat Trick.
If only the rest of the team had as much jump as Dowling against the Canes.