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Devils Takeaways: Hurricanes Top Devils in OT Despite Vanecek Rebound Performance

Vitek Vanecek rebounds from Thursday’s inadequate performance, helping the Devils steal a point in overtime.

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New Jersey Devils
(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

It was certainly a shock to see Vitek Vanecek lead the New Jersey Devils to the ice for warmups Saturday night indicating he was their starting goaltender.

However, Vanecek had a strong rebound performance making quality saves all night for the Devils. It wasn’t just Vanecek that played well, however, as the Devils seemed more defensively structured with their new-look lineup that featured Jack Hughes on the wing and a shuffled-up bottom-six.

Although the effort was there, the Devils couldn’t quite get the job done collecting just one point in overtime.

Let’s dive into the Devils’ 1-0 OT loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, or at least on Saturday night, the Whalers.

Devils Recap

The Devils and Hurricanes engaged in a physical battle in Raliegh on Saturday night, grinding away through a scoreless 60-minute regulation. Before the two sides got to overtime, they beat each other up for a combined 54 hits, the Hurricanes edged the Devils 28-26. In overtime, it looked as though things could head to the shootout. However, at 3:40 into OT, Sebastian Aho batted in a rebound chance to send the Devils home with just one point.

Vanecek made 31 saves on 32 shots in the rebound performance.

Takeaways

Battle Tested

If Timo Meier isn’t going to score goals, then he’s going to have to make a difference some other way.

Before puck drop on Saturday, head coach Lindy Ruff was adamant that his wingers needed to play strong along the walls and win puck battles.

“Our wingers are going to have to win battles,” Ruff explained. “You win battles, or don’t let them win the battle, at least tie it, it’s going to give us a chance to break out of the zone… If we can win that support game coming back up ice, I mean, we’re not going to win them all, but we have to win more to beat this team.”

He’ll eventually have to start filling the net again, preferably sooner than later. However, this is how Meier can make a difference with his 220 lb frame, and he showed that on Saturday night.

Meier drove Pyotr Kochetkov’s net with Teuvo Teravainen pressuring early in the first period. Teravainen pulled Meier down to the ice and was called for interference just 1:06 into the first period. It didn’t take long for Ruff’s words to resonate with Meier.

The Devils couldn’t convert on the power play, and then Meier was called for an interference penalty about three minutes later. However, the Swiss forward kept up the intensity after he exited the box and continued to play a high-puck pressure game.

The Devils’ forward continued to win puck battles along the boards, forecheck well all night and forced the opposition into making some bad decisions with the puck. He even drew a handful of penalties.

It’s not the only thing the Devils are paying him $8.8 million a year to do, but they need this from Meier at the very least.

Big Game Bahler

When the Devils decided to let Ryan Graves walk in free agency last summer, it was because it appeared that Kevin Bahl was prepared to take the next step in his development.

Bahl hasn’t quite filled the shoes left by Graves this season which has contributed to a lot more pucks in the back of the Devils’ net. However, Saturday night was certainly a good one for Bahl. Perhaps it’s a game the 23-year-old defenseman can build on moving forward.

Standing at 6-foot-6, 230 lbs, Bahl doesn’t quite utilize his frame physically as one might think. However, in an intense battle with the Hurricanes on Saturday, Bahl broke out of his shell slightly. The Devils defenseman wasn’t afraid to use his size to his advantage by throwing hits and separating bodies from pucks. Most notably, Bahl helped the Devils retrieve the puck behind their own net, connecting on a reverse hit that sent Canes captain Jordan Staal down to the ice.

Physicality aside, it’s been a tough year for Bahl defensively this season. He seemingly has had difficulty with his positioning, finding himself out of it more often than not.

Bahl was more positionally sound on Saturday, however. He didn’t pinch out of position, leave his man open like he has previously, and make good stick-on-stick contact to negate scoring chances on the Devils’ end of the ice.

Bahl’s struggles this season have contributed to the Devils’ struggles on the backend. More games like this from the Devils’ defenseman will certainly help fix their issue of allowing goals.

Bounce-Back Performance by Vanecek

Regardless of whether or not you were shocked to see Vanecek lead the Devils out to the ice for warmups, this was an excellent bounce-back performance from the Czech goaltender.

Vanecek was awful on Thursday. He allowed -1.11 goals saved above expected against the Calgary Flames and even Ruff couldn’t hide the fact that the Devils’ goaltender struggled.

In fact, there have been far too many performances like that from Vanecek this season. That’s probably why general manager Tom Fitzgerald engaged in serious trade conversations with the Flames about goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

Yet, Vanecek was back out on the ice Saturday night to face the Hurricanes. What started as a questionable call to put Vanecek in net for the fourth straight game turned into Vanecek’s best start of the season. You might say it could be a turning point for the 27-year-old goaltender, however, consistency has not prevailed with Vanecek.

Regardless, Vanecek stopped all 30 shots through regulation and made 31 saves on 32 shots. According to MoneyPuck, Vanecek made 2.18 goals saved above expected.

He and Kochetkov traded big saves all night. It was the Hurricanes who had the last laugh in overtime, but Vanecek battled hard all night and responded well to an inadequate performance on Thursday.

“He played a great game for us,” Ruff explained. “Didn’t face a lot in the first, but he had to make some quality saves.”

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