Bruins 1, Devils 0: Five observations from a low-event loss in Boston
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Five observations from New Jersey vs Boston:
1. The Devils showed up
While the team itself doesn't have much incentive to play well and get results, a lot of the players do. They're trying to earn jobs and it showed against Boston. After a somewhat slow start – one in which the Devils could barely touch the puck – they really found their footing. It wasn't like they generated chance after chance or really dominated the Bruins but they did win the chance battle and hung in until the final whistle despite playing in the latter half of a road back-to-back with an extremely watered down lineup. It's not like it wasn't an important game for the Bruins, either. Had they lost, they'd be just one point ahead of Toronto in the standings. Though they did hang on for a win, you could argue a Devils team that more closely resembles Binghamton than New Jersey was the better side (they recorded six more high-danger chances). That's a positive sign. More importantly, they played well *and* lost so they didn't hurt their chances of winning a top pick.
2. Mackenzie Blackwood was strong
He didn't face a ton of quality but the Bruins, a strong team with a much deeper offensive attack than they had a few weeks ago, still tested him with 30 shots. Blackwood he was up to the task stopping 29 of them – including a penalty shot vs Boston's leading scorer, Brad Marchand. It was yet another game where the Devils were outshot by a decent margin and were in it until the final whistle thanks to strong goaltending from Blackwood. The 22-year-old now owns an impressive .931 save percentage through 15 games and has not seemed one bit out of place throughout the process. He sure looks like a guy who can play on next year's team.
3. Jesper Bratt continues to threaten
In recent weeks, Bratt has been one of the most dangerous players on the ice more often than not. That was the case again vs Boston. His speed was a factor – he looked very dynamic rushing the puck through the neutral zone, plus he absolutely torched Zdeno Chara – and it played a big role in Bratt finishing tied for the team lead in both chances (3) and high-danger chances (2). His recent play is one of the lone bright spots.
4. Props to Egor Yakovlev
He hasn't played much defense for the Devils this season. He's been in and out of the lineup a ton. He is finally getting a chance to play, and it's out of position. How did Yakovlev handle it? The best way possible. He finished with a 60 Corsi For% and, like Bratt, recorded three individual chances. Boston only mustered up one in the ~11 minutes he played at 5v5. He was legitimately good at both ends of the ice. I don't know what his future holds – personally, I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up elsewhere – but good on him for making the most of a crappy situation. I'm sure it didn't go unnoticed.
5. The injuries are getting ridiculous
Another game, another injury to a key member of the Devils. This time it's to 20-year-old star Nico Hischier, who quietly has been one of the league's top players this year (Evolving-Hockey.com ranks him 17th among forwards in Goals Above Replacement). He is one of the few players that makes tuning in on a nightly basis worthwhile so let's hope his injury is minor and he's able to continue playing. We still have 16 games left!
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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