Devils look to end Islanders’ win streak.
The New Jersey Devils had rough starts to their games on Tuesday and Thursday, but made impressive comebacks in the fourth period of each to at least get close.
They’ve looked better than they have lately, so improvement is nice to see.
They’d look to take it a step further on Saturday against the New York Islanders by showing up to play in all periods in order to get on the board early and not have to play catch up.
This feat might be a little easier since the Islanders would be without their captain Anders Lee, who suffered a lower-body injury on Thursday after getting tangled up with Pavel Zacha and is out indefinitely.
Lindy Ruff did change up the lines once again on Saturday.
Janne Kuokkanen would move to the left wing of the top line with Yegor Sharangovich heading to the right. The Andreas Johnsson, Jack Hughes, and Jesper Bratt line was reunited.
Mikhail Maltsev was moved back to left wing and would join Zacha and Kyle Palmieri. Miles Wood would head back to the fourth line alongside Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian.
MacKenzie Blackwood got the start in net.
1st period: How is it tied?
The Devils looked great in the first period and even though they were outshot 13-6, it was surprising that they came out of the period tied 1-1.
Zacha, who scored the first goal, had a great chance to score on an odd-man rush, but a collision of some Devils players into the boards allowed the Islanders to have an odd-man rush themselves that resulted in a goal.
Even so, this was a much better first period of hockey for the Devils than they’d played in some time. The penalty kill continues to look much better, as well.
2nd period: Please don’t blow it…
The Devils deserved to come out of the second with the lead and that’s what happened. They didn’t score on the power play but had some good looks there and were perfect on two more penalty kills.
A nice goal by Kuokkanen and his line allowed the Devils to head into the third up 2-1.
The Devils’ biggest problem lately has been an inability to play a full 60 minutes of great hockey. They’d looked good through two periods. Let’s see if they can hold on for another 20 minutes.
3rd period: They blew it.
We talked about the Islanders being without their captain, Lee. We didn’t account for his replacement, Kieffer Bellows, coming in and single-handedly changing the game.
Bellows made some great plays, but the Devils did what they’ve been doing: not staying consistent throughout the full 60 minutes. They looked great in the Islanders’ zone to end the game, but that wasn’t enough.
The Devils are taking steps in the right direction, but they aren’t doing enough to come out of these games against some of the best teams in the entire league with wins.
This loss hurts.
Key Moment: Blackwood’s big saves
Blackwood came up with some huge saves on the Islanders’ first power play in the first period, and the argument can be made that those saves were a key reason why the Devils were able to keep this game close and even dominate at times.
These saves also reflected the Devils’ improved play on the penalty kill as of late as well as Blackwood’s improved play.
Blackwood started off the season looking like one of the best goaltenders in the game, but missed a lot of time after coming down with COVID-19.
He hasn’t looked the same since coming back, but does seem to be improving game by game, and the sequence of saves he made on that penalty kill is proof of that.
Player of the game: Janne Kuokkanen
Kuokkanen was New Jersey’s best player in this game. His goal, on which he exhibited great skill and awareness, allowed the Devils to take the lead and he even had a good defensive game.
Kuokkanen is another Devils youngster who’s been thriving. He has three goals and an assist in his last three games.
Ruff might’ve actually hit gold with Kuokkanen’s line and shouldn’t look to break it up anytime soon.
Kuokkanen’s numbers: 16:40 TOI, 1 G, 67.74 CF%, 0.44 iXG, 1 block, 1.12 xGF, 0.52 xGA, 0.94 GF, 0 GA, 0.14 defensive rating, 0.67 offensive rating, and 1.04 individual rating.
Stats are courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards and Natural Stat Trick.