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Devils Takeaways: Top Line Dominates in 7-2 Victory, No Friends in Timo Meier’s Return

Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt combine for eight points in the Devils’ 7-2 victory over the Sharks.

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New Jersey Devils
Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

Led by captain Nico Hischier, the New Jersey Devils completed their 20th comeback victory of the season.

Head coach Lindy Ruff opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks. Tomas Nosek was the odd man out while both Brendan Smith and Colin Miller stayed in the lineup among the seven defensemen.

In Timo Meier’s return to the SAP Center, he and the first line put on an offensive clinic en route to collecting two points.

Let’s dive into the Devils’ 7-2 victory over the Sharks.

Devils Recap

The Sharks opened the scoring in the first period after Nico Sturm drove the net and deflected a puck over the Devils’ goalline. However, the Devils rallied for a three-goal second period on goals by Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, and Kevin Bahl. In the third period, the Devils quadrupled downed on their lead with goals from Colin Miller, Brendan Smith, Dawson Mercer, and Hischier. Justin Bailey netted a late tally for the Sharks.

Nico Daws collected his eighth win of the season making 29 saves on 31 shots.

Sharks goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood started the game making 13/13 saves, however, left due to injury in the first period. Kaapo Kahkonen made 24 saves in relief.

Takeaways

Puck’s Down, No Friends

By no means is there a rivalry between the Devils and the Sharks. And Tuesday night’s tilt wasn’t necessarily a physical battle. However, maybe that’s what made the few jibs and jabs so noticeable.

Obviously, one of the big storylines coming into Tuesday was the number of former Devils now on the Sharks and Timo Meier’s return to San Jose. Now wearing teal and black are Mackenzie Blackwood, Fabian Zetterlund, and Nikita Okhotiuk.

Early in the first period, Alexander Holtz chased down a loose puck near the Devils’ blueline. Okhotiuk met Holtz to the puck and laid a big check on his former teammate both on the Devils and with the Utica Comets.

Later, Zetterlund was sprung for a semi-breakaway that was turned aside by Daws to keep the game scoreless halfway through the first period. After the whistle, Devils defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler apparently lingered a little too close for too long near Zetterlund, and the former Devils forward gave Siegenthaler a significant shove.

The Sharks certainly outmatched the Devils in the hits department with the former Devils at the centerfold of the physicality. It helped San Jose leave the first period with a 1-0 lead.

A Mighty Return

The Devils are hoping the return to San Jose will get Meier going more consistently.

After the Devils escaped the first period down just one goal, the second period started with more applied pressure by the Sharks. However, the Devils were able to begin an odd-man rush going toward San Jose’s end of the ice between Bratt and Meier. After Meier received a pass from Bratt, Meier returned the puck on the backhand to the Devils’ All-Star and into the back of the net to tie the game at one.

Later in the middle frame, the Devils headed to the power play after Okhotiuk was called for a hold. Meier scored on the man advantage, however, a coaching challenge proved the puck entered the zone offside.

Regardless, Meier did all the right things you want a power forward to do on the power play. The Devils’ power forward hung out in the slot, filtered in and out of net-front presence to cause distraction, and ultimately didn’t hesitate to shoot when he had the chance. Again, it didn’t count because of the offside, but it’s a good sign of things potentially com.

Meier later added a secondary assist, his second point of the night, on a goal by Colin Miller. Obviously, adding to the lead is ideal, yet, it was Meier’s rush into the zone that was most impressive. The Swiss forward gained the zone with speed, brushed off a hit from a Sharks defender, ensured he got the puck deep in the zone, and immediately made his way to the top of Kahkonen’s crease to screen the Sharks goaltender on Miller’s goal.

There’s little doubt that Meier’s former team is one of the weakest, if not the weakest team in the NHL. However, this is a game that displayed all of the tools the Devils were buying when they acquired him.

First Line Supremacy

We can’t talk about Meier and not mention the rest of his line.

Ruff opted to put Meier on the top line with Hischier and Bratt on Tuesday and it paid dividends. The trio of forwards combined for eight points, four from the Devils’ captain who netted two goals and an assist. Bratt chipped in a goal and an assist and Meier a pair of helpers.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the top-line trio accrued an elite 64.13 xGF% and out-chanced their opponents 5-1 at 5-on-5.

In the Devils’ unlikely journey to claw their way back into the playoffs, they’re going to need more than just a resurgent Jack Hughes. The Devils have needed Meier to be himself all season and on Tuesday night he certainly looked that way next to Hischier and Bratt.

If the Devils’ top line vs. the Sharks can keep up this kind of production, it seems like New Jersey could have finally found their fit for Timo Meier. On a night when it was a must-win game, the top-line trio suffocated their opposition.

“I think we were just working for each other,” Hischier explained. “(We were) putting pucks on net, working for each other, and we were connected on the forecheck all over the ice.”

Quick Shifts

  • The Devils’ blueline depth chipped in offensively with goals from Kevin Bahl, Brendan Smith, and Colin Miller. New Jersey’s blueline hasn’t exactly been offensively inclined this season, but this game is certainly something to build on.
  • Nico Daws made 1.53 saves above expected en route to his eighth win of the season.
  • 12 different Devils skaters collected at least one point.
  • Jack Hughes’ 11 shots against the Sharks is a single-game career-high.
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