I don’t normally double up on blogs with two in the same day, but this game deserved it – and in a good way for once. Plus I don’t really have much else to do on New Year’s Eve anyway, with most of the people I know laying low because of the COVID variant spreading through NJ (and most other places) like wildfire. Other than the three home games I went to in December, this was the most I’d watched any Devils game the rest of the month. Not that I was really watching it all the time but I had it on and didn’t flip channels other than getting the occasional update from Rutgers’ ill-fated (and gifted) bowl loss to Wake Forest.
From the start you knew this game was going to be entertaining if nothing else, with three goals in the first 3:05 of the game, four goals in the first six minutes and five goals in the first 11:10 with the action going back and forth all afternoon long. In a wild coincidence all five goals in the first period were scored by former first-round draft picks, with the first three goals all coming from former #1 overalls. Jack Hughes’ power play (!!!) goal was quickly followed by Connor McDavid taking advantage of some…interesting coverage by the Devils (re: zero) to score a wide-open goal. Just seventeen seconds after McDavid’s first goal, Nico Hischier scored off a rebound, caroming the puck off of goaltender Mike Smith’s skate and into the goal. Our second lead didn’t last much longer than the first one as Kailer Yamamoto’s deflection went past Mackenzie Blackwood to tie the game again at the six-minute mark. A nice give-and-go play by Andreas Johnsson and Dawson Mercer gave the rookie his ninth goal of the season and the Devils their third lead of the period.
Shockingly after that barrage of goals, there would only be one more until the third period. Not so shockingly, it was McDavid who scored again in the second period after he split defensemen Ty Smith and Ryan Graves on a breakaway and put home his 19th of the season. Still, in a wide-open game like this one you knew more goals were coming. And come they did in the third period, with Janne Kuokkanen’s slapshot beating Smith to give the Devils their fourth lead of the night at 5:14 of the third. Less than two minutes later, Devin Shore tied the game again when a Ryan McLeod feed went through Ty Smith and right to Shore in front.
As if the game wasn’t wild enough after four blown leads, the most inexplicable sequence of the game occured barely a minute later and gave the Oilers their first lead of the night when Yamamoto scored his second of the night after a delayed penalty. Things got dicey was after it was obvious Dougie Hamilton clearly swatted the puck as the ref was calling the penalty and Hughes arguably touched it later on in the sequence as well, before Leon Draisaitl’s cross-ice pass found Yamamoto for the goal. Interim coach Alain Nasreddine challenged the play but after a nine-minute review (!!!) the officials did an about-face and said the call wasn’t challengeable in a garbled attempt at an explanation. Clearly they thought it was, or we would have been tagged with a delay of game on it as well.
It was right about then I was glad I wasn’t at this game, I might have gone hoarse shouting ‘REF YOU SUCK’ after that sequence. As annoyed as I was at the refs, I also knew to a degree we deserved our own bad luck on that when Hughes stopped playing, appealing for the call off the second touch and allowed the cross-ice pass through. Even more laughably, the refs tagged Yegor Sharangovich for a delay of game on a faceoff a couple minutes later, claiming he played the puck with a hand pass when he arguably was just making a motion getting up after falling down. That was less possession of the puck than Hamilton had on the non-whistle on our delayed penalty.
As if the hockey gods were looking to make things right, both Sharangovich and Hughes would gain redemption soon after. First, there was the matter of tying the game again. Still trailing 5-4 with the net empty, Sharangovich’s top-drawer deflection beat Smith to tie the score at 5-all with just thirty-two seconds remaining in regulation. Then came overtime, with both Jesper Bratt and Hughes getting stopped on breakaways early, but a Hughes slapshot on his next shift of OT hit the beleaguered Oilers goalie, bounced off him and into the net for the winner – Hughes’ second OT winner of the year, and second souvenir stick tossed into the crowd. So at least we’ve gone from six losses in a row to two wins in a row. As they say in the movie Major League, you win one more…that’s called a winning streak! I don’t really want to think about who we have to play to earn that winning streak (the Caps at Washington – shudder), for one night I’d rather just enjoy the Devils pulling out an entertaining win with Hughes having his second dominant game in a row, showing signs he may well be taking that next step.
Notes: So in the first post-break game with the new arena protocols the Devils’ announced attendance was 13,044…oof. I didn’t think it’d be that bad, even with noticing how much ticket prices dropped for this game. I’m not too unhappy about missing this game, even with a lesser than expected crowd. Clearly I’m not the only one who’s got some ambivalence about going to games with a mask in the midst of another pandemic surge either.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Jack Hughes (two goals including the game-winner, one assist in 19:40)
- Dawson Mercer (goal, assist, +2 in 15:54)
- Yegor Sharangovich (game-tying goal)