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A Different Goaltender

It’s all about goaltending. It’s such a simple, yet novel idea. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

It’s a small sample size, but the Devils have had the look of a different team ever since Jake Allen was acquired at the Trade Deadline. Or, at least, they usually look like a different team. Saturday night, the Devils hosted the Ottawa Senators for their last home game before heading out on a weeklong road trip. And this was one of those nights where they did not look like a different team. Rather, they were the same old team who has struggled in front of its netminders all season long. And those struggles manifested themselves in the form of a 5-2 loss to the Senators, during which, a nightmare second period took a 2-1 lead and turned it into a 4-2 deficit. 

Since coming over to New Jersey – and getting his work visa issues sorted out – Allen had started four games before facing Ottawa. In those four starts, he was 3-1 with a .946 SV% and a 1.76 GAA. That’s in contrast to his 6-12-3 record in 21 starts for Montreal to go along with an .892 SV% and 3.65 GAA. Then, against Ottawa, Allen made 20 saves on 25 shots faced. But, in truth, none of the goals scored by the Senators were his fault as the Devils left him out to hang and dry while committing 13 giveaways – nine through the first two periods. 

That leads us to the question, what has changed for Allen between his time in Montreal and his time in New Jersey?

It’s quite simple. With the Devils, Allen is getting consistent playing time, which has allowed him to get in a groove between the pipes. While playing for the Canadiens, Allen was often relegated to being the third-string goalie behind Sam Montembeault and Cayden Primeau. 

Now, that’s not to say that Allen was playing like a third-stringer, rather, he was the veteran on a young team that was trying to break in two young netminders. That left Allen as the odd man out. And just like a relief pitcher in baseball, it’s hard to play at the top of your game when you’re simply not getting the amount of in-game reps needed to become and stay sharp. 

Of course, consistent playing time isn’t the only reason for the change in Allen’s performance. He’s also playing with a confidence that he wasn’t outwardly displaying earlier in the season. Even though he was technically charged with giving up five goals to the Senators, Allen never once looked frazzled or like he was dejected by his own performance.

The start of the game was heavy on action as Kurtis MacDermid and Mark Kastelic dropped the gloves – from seemingly out of nowhere – at the 2:38 mark of the opening period. It was a heavyweight bout for sure and one that looked fairly even until MacDermid managed to bring Kastelic down for the “win.” 

New Jersey may have scored the fisticuffs victory, but it was Ottawa who scored first – at 4:56 of the first period – when Mathieu Joseph tallied a short-handed goal to put the Senators up 1-0. Joseph managed to slide the puck through Allen’s legs and had Devils fans shaking their heads in a sight all too familiar this season, as New Jersey once again surrendered the first goal of the game. 

The second period started out much better for the Devils, even though they were still on the penalty kill for 19 seconds. Four seconds after returning to even strength, Jesper Bratt broke in alone on Joonas Korpisalo to tie the game 1-1. And then, 36 seconds later, Tomas Nosek guided the puck past Korpisalo to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead. 

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Between the 4:06 mark of the second period and the 9:01 mark, the Senators scored three times to retake the lead, 4-2. Ridley Greig, Angus Crookshank and Thomas Chabot were the goal-scorers as the Devils committed far too many turnovers and made plenty of questionable decisions with the puck.

New Jersey didn’t put up much of a fight in the third period and by the time Drake Batherson scored Ottawa’s fifth goal of the game – 10:15 into the period – the Devils’ fate was sealed. The Devils’ loss severely hurt what little chance they had left at making a run to the post-season and essentially makes their game against the Islanders on Sunday a do-or-die affair. With 71 games now in the books, the Devils need to turn things around quickly if they hope to avoid a dark Spring and Jake Allen could very well be one of the team’s catalysts if it manages to go on a run. 

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