For all the talk about the younger players already on the Devils’ roster – including teen rookie Dawson Mercer who had a point in his first three NHL games – and guys like Alexander Holtz and Luke Hughes in the pipeline, I never gave a moment of thought to Nico Daws past reading a little bit on him when he was drafted. Why would I, when the Devils had a 24-year old Mackenzie Blackwood as the starter, plus a solid veteran backup in Jonathan Bernier? Especially given that goalies usually take longer to make an impact at the NHL level regardless, and the German-born Daws was a 2020 3rd round pick with exactly one game of AHL experience before last night’s stunning NHL debut. Daws wasn’t even taken in his first year of draft eligibility in 2019, as he was a backup on his own OHL team. And yet, here we were last night watching him in his NHL debut after the Devils’ top two goalies both started nursing injuries at once.
Seeing the 20-year old Daws announce his presence to Devils fans by making 24 saves last night including some high-quality stops early, just reminded me once again that there’s no better reality TV than professional sports. You just can’t script this stuff in Hollywood and be believable.
Reading Daws’ scouting report in the YT video, you see why the Devils brass (including legendary goalie Martin Brodeur above) liked the kid enough to use a third-round pick on him. A Devil goalie that’s calm with good lateral movement and can play the puck…who else does that sound like to you? Obviously it took the perfect storm to shuttle him to the NHL last night as the Devils’ third different starting goalie in four games this season – and none being the presumed #1 in Blackwood – and he’ll likely spend most of the season in Utica once Blackwood and Bernier start playing again, but for one sensational Saturday night Daws became an instant fan favorite, backstopping what can only be described as a grinding 2-1 OT win.
Last night’s Hollywood moment looked more like a Same Old Devils game through two periods. You would have thought the Devils would come out with their hair on fire after both the desultory effort on Thursday and coach Lindy Ruff taking his team to task over it. Particularly with the kid in net. And yet, almost every Devil aside from Daws was straight trash in the first period. You couldn’t have had a worse first five minutes to the game with the inevitable result of an early holding penalty by Jonas Siegenthaler being yet another power play goal allowed by our not-so-special teams to Dylan Cozens, one of the Sabres’ own prized younger players (#7 OA in 2019).
In some ways what happened less than a minute later was worse, when the Devils were about to go on the power play but Ruff made a foolish challenge to a disallowed goal that was never going to be overturned considering it was an official’s judgement call. Asking the refs to overturn a goal they waved off due to a player being thrown into the goalie is like asking NFL refs to overturn their own pass interference call – which few did, thus it stopped being reviewable. The fact we got a bench minor over it, to turn our PP into a 4-on-4 just made it worse. Coach Ruff predictably took full responsibility for the challenge after the game, admittedly I was impressed with his recall during the post-game presser comparing it to a disallowed goal against the Bruins last year (god knows I don’t remember a lot of in-game details from last season), but it didn’t help the team last night.
Things didn’t improve a lot as the Sabres dominated the first while the Devils continued to skate with their head in the clouds – exhibit A Yegor Sharangovich having two lazy, mindless turnovers in a five-second span, though it didn’t truly bottom out until early in the second when the Devils’ PP proved (again) as inept as their PK, not only failing to convert on back-to-back Sabre penalties but failing to even keep the puck in the Buffalo zone or get quality chances during the four minutes with an extra man. A botched keep by PK Subban drew particularly loud boos as everyone there was just fed up in general watching this team’s PP. It’s especially galling when other team’s PP’s score so easily on our PK and there’s no built-in excuse of a lack of practice time this year.
As if embarrassed into action by their own ineptitude or the fans’ dissatisfaction, the Devils picked their play up and started outskating the Sabres (on the second night of a back-to-back) from there, but it looked like it wouldn’t matter after a period where the Devils hit no fewer than three posts, including an absurd double save by Dustin Tokarski off of Marian Studenic after a breakaway in an extended sequence where the Devils could have had goals twice and even got the goal horn ringing for half a second. After that happened, I was convinced the Devils weren’t scoring all night.
Even though the Devils’ play improved for the rest of the night, Daws still had to be on point – particularly in one sequence late in the second when he stopped a breakaway by Drake Caggiula, then made another couple of point-blank saves soon after, including one off a deflection. As daunting as 1-0 looked at the time, we were never coming back from 2-0 last night. Things looked especially bleak when Nico Hischier was briefly forced off the ice late in the second, after a brutal uncalled spearing in the ribs made the rest of the night painful for the captain.
Not only did Nico return for the third (despite pain that made him wince the rest of the night), but he was johnny on the spot early in the period when Dougie Hamilton’s point shot missed the net, but Nico deflected the rebound off the back boards past Tokarski for not only the tying goal, but also a goal on the power play at that. Will miracles never cease? Despite outshooting the Sabres 29-12 in the final forty minutes, tying the game was the best the Devils could do over sixty minutes. However it did set up another dramatic three-on-three goal, this one by Pavel Zacha, who took a nice spinaround feed from Damon Severson and beat Tokarski with a laser of a wrister to win it. Sadly no stick toss from Pavel, but the goal will do just fine.
Unlike the Kraken game, the three stars were farcically easy last night, it’s just a matter of what order you want to put them in. I do want to shout out Studenic for a strong game too, especially being in and out of the lineup so far this season, though given the coach’s comments in the postgame about him adding speed that we’re missing with Jack Hughes and Miles Wood out of the lineup, I’d expect to see more of the 22-year old Studenic for the immediate future. At the arena, the three stars were Zacha, Hischier and Daws. I’d reverse that order.
Devils Three Stars:
- Nico Daws – 24 saves, win in his NHL debut and as the coach said after, two Nicos were indeed better than one
- Nico Hischier – PPG, clocked a shade over twenty minutes despite playing hurt after the second
- Pavel Zacha – GWG in OT