Blackwood Gets Back-to-Back Shutouts to Close 2018 on a Winning Streak
On a chilly New Year’s Eve day, the New Jersey Devils looked to keep their two-game winning streak alive. The Vancouver Canucks were also trying to do the exact same thing. However, New Jersey would have to do it without their MVP Center Taylor Hall who was scratched from the lineup again with a lower-body injury (later to be placed on the IR). The Devils faithful though did not seem phased by the absence of Hall as they cheered loudly and seemed energized by the Devils recent wins at the start of the game. This is something that Devils fanbase has struggled with this season. Often times, the Rock has been louder for visiting teams then for New Jersey. Perhaps that will change in 2019 with a re-energized Devils team.
Have the Devils Found Their Groove with Blackwood?
MacKenzie Blackwood continues to start in goal over the struggling Keith Kinkaid. The 22-year-old came up earlier in the month when former starter Cory Schneider was placed on the IR and the Devils needed a backup. But, just as soon as he was suited up he got ice time. Kinkaid was pulled on the 18th against Toronto letting the young goalie get his first taste of NHL ice. Since Blackwood has been called up, the Devils are seemingly fusing together into the team of last season. But, the young Devil is not taking all the credit on the team’s turnaround, in fact, he isn’t taking all the credit for his shutouts. In the locker room, he speaks to the team effort being the driving force behind the win streak, not just his goaltending.
In addition to the new goaltending efforts, production from key players and a strong penalty kill (currently ranked 5th) is driving the wins for New Jersey. Miles Wood, who has struggled to return to his playing identity is seeming to find his way back according to Coach John Hynes. Hynes said, “He has turned the corner a little bit and when he plays to his identity he is a much more productive player” when speaking about Wood.
Hynes also said that “We need to be a team with strong goaltending, strong special teams, defends well, and no passengers.” The “no passengers” theme seems to be resonating with the team as Pavel Zacha is on a two-game point streak. Zacha is often critized for his lack of points when he is on the roster.
Devils First Period Set the Tone
The re-imagined second line started the game. Full of centers, Travis Zajac held onto his standard position while Blake Coleman and John Quenneville flanked him on the wings. Early on Will Butcher took the first penalty of the game with a hooking call right in front of the Devils goal. But, the 5th ranked penalty kill unit held the Canucks to three shots on goal. None of which passed Blackwood. Wood played strong in throughout the game but, almost gave the Devils an early lead on a breakaway opportunity that Anders Nilsson easily blocked.
Coming close to the half-way point of the first, Brian Boyle stuck with a rebound to get it past Nilsson. That first goal was pure determination by Boyle.
At 17:06 Bo Horvat was called for tripping. While on the power play and with a little help from the crossbar, Wood was able to put the Devils up 2-0.
The Second Period is an Even Matchup
The second period started off with intensity on both sides. However, both sides matched the others drive and play. This resulted in much back-and-forth. At 7:18 Damon Severson got sent to the box for tripping. This put the Canucks on their second power play of the day. However, the Devils special teams allowed no SOG’s during the two minutes Severson sat. This is even more spectacular because most of the ice time was spent in the Devils zone. With just under two minutes left the Canucks got their third power play of the game. Coleman was called for a nasty elbow and was sent to the box. Yet, just like the previous power play, no shots were allowed on Blackwood. With only 14 seconds left in the period, Markus Granlund was called for tripping. This evened things out to 4-on-4 to end the period.
Third Period Was the Way to End 2018
The third started off where the second left off with 4-on-4. That lasted for seven seconds. Then the Devils went on their second power play of the night. Sami Vatanen took advantage of the 5-on-4 and got a hard shot past a falling Nilsson to put the Devils up 3-0. Pavel Zacha then joined the scoring action shortly after with an even-strength goal. It was assisted by Stefan Noesen and Steven Santini. This assist marked Santini’s first point of the season, he missed most of the year with a broken jaw.
In a rather quiet game, there had to be a little bit of fire with such a deficit. Antoine Roussel and Severson had some words. That ended with Roussel coming up behind Severson, tossing his gloves and essential bashing Severson’s head into the ice several times. Severson did not appear to be badly shaken up from this. It was no surprise Roussel was given a game misconduct and the Devils went on their final power play of the game.
The Canucks got one last scoring chance when the Devils were called for a bench minor, delay of game. But, just like the previous power plays, the special teams did not allow one shot on Blackwood.
Takeaways and What’s Next
Blackwood bested Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur by being the youngest Devils (Rockies or Scouts) to record back-to-back shutouts. While he has only been in the league a few weeks, he is making his mark. While I know some are already placing the franchise tag on him, let’s all take a breath. If there is one thing I have learned as a lifelong Yankee fan it is, beware of hype. Do we remember the Joba Rules, Phil Hughes, John Ryan Murphy, etc…
It is not that these players didn’t live up to, its that placing huge pressure with future labels often backfires. It gets into their heads. They are forced to live up to an inflated image that is often unreachable. Blackwood will lose. He will have a bad day and let more goals in than he should. He will also have days where he faces 40 shots and doesn’t let one cross the line. Let him play right now and see where he goes.
Taylor Hall was placed on the IR with a lower-body injury stemming back to December 27. He will not be with the Devils on their four-game road trip that kicks off in Dallas on the 2nd. That means players like Zacha and John Quenneville will have their time to step up and shine.
As Hynes said, there is no room for passengers on this team.
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