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Timo Meier’s Hat-Trick Fuels Devils’ 4-1 Win Over The Blues

Alright, Devils fans, it all comes down to this. In mere hours we’ll know just how far into the future New Jersey is looking.

Thursday night, the NHL’s annual Trade Deadline is upon us, last night the Devils hosted the St. Louis Blues in a matchup that resulted in a 4-1 victory for New Jersey. Of New Jersey’s four goals, Timo Meier scored three of them and recorded his first hat-trick as a member of the Devils. (Erik Haula scored the fourth goal – an empty-netter). And as impressive as that is, it unfortunately doesn’t change the fact that the Devils are essentially pivoting on their season.

Tyler Toffoli – a pending UFA after the season – was scratched for “asset management” reasons as the Devils begin to look toward the future. Just how far into the future is the question. Will they retool for next season or is this the start of another multi-year plan? If Timo Meier can find a way to play an entire season like he did in the game against the Blues, then New Jersey should be able to turn things around pretty quickly and get back to playoff contention next year.

“We addressed it in our 5:30 meeting,” Travis Green said after the game. “We’ve got a young group and some of them haven’t gone through something like this, but this is kind of just normal business in the NHL. Things like this happen and that shouldn’t change our focus. That was it. It wasn’t a long talk at all.”

Of course, GM Tom Fitzgerald didn’t want it to come to this. After last year’s playoff run, he wanted to be building towards a Cup at this year’s Trade Deadline. Instead, he’s now facing questions about the team’s goaltending, defense and overall foundation. With New Jersey’s win over the Blues in the books, let’s take a look at how the game unfolded and then see if we can make some educated guesses about how their roster will look once the deadline passes at 3 pm (ET) on Friday. 

Unlike many previous games, the Devils came out of the gate hot with a couple quality scoring chances. The first came when Justin Faulk fumbled the puck directly in front of Jordan Binnington and Nico Hischier swooped in to steal the rubber biscuit. Binnington stopped the Devils’ Captain before turning his attention to Jack Hughes a couple of moments later. Hughes broke up St. Louis’ play in New Jersey’s zone and went up ice for a two-on-one odd-man rush; he elected to take the shot himself but watched as Binnington swallowed it up without allowing a rebound. 

“I’d like to see us execute with the puck,” Interim Head Coach Travis Green said before the game, “make sure we can get into their zone and get the momentum going our way.”

The Garden Staters certainly did that early and kept their skates on the gas pedal. The Devils’ pace eventually caused Nick Leddy to take a tripping penalty when he took down Curtis Lazar 3:36 into the game. New Jersey didn’t score on the power play but it was a welcome sign that the team had the energy to start the game, which is something they’ve lacked plenty of times in recent months. In fact, New Jersey held St. Louis without a shot on goal for the first 7:54 of the game.

“We obviously focused on the start,” Timo Meier said. “The last game, (we had) a terrible start and tonight we saw, if you start the right way you’re gonna make it easier on yourself. Moving forward we gotta build on that. Obviously, when we can come out like that, it’s a lot easier to manage the game after (that).”

Continuing with their strong start, 40-seconds into their second power-play of the game – this one courtesy of a Nick Leddy slashing penalty – Jack Hughes dangled his way through the Blues’ defense and passed the puck to Nico Hischier, who shot it at Binnington. St. Louis’ netminder made the save but allowed a rebound that Timo Meier used a nifty backhand shot on to give the Devils a 1-0 lead 13:24 into the game. It should be noted that Meier was on the ice in Toffoli’s usual power-play spot – down low. Sometimes change can be a good thing.

“I thought we kept it positive,” Ondrej Palat said after the game. “Guys had a great practice yesterday and today we showed a little bit more in our details.”

2:40 later, Meier put the Devils up 2-0 with his second goal of the game. The early two-goal lead was a stark and welcome contrast to New Jersey’s lackluster starts of late. So, even though Curtis Lazar took a tripping penalty late in the period – the Devils successfully killed it off – the Garden Staters ended the first period up 2-0 after one of their best starts of the season. 

The Blues slowed the Devils a bit to start the second period. 56 seconds into the middle period, John Marino took a hooking penalty, but New Jersey’s penalty-killers managed to keep the Blues off the board. Then 9:03 into the period, Scott Perunovich sent a shot off the pipe and Brandon Saad wired the rebound past Nico Daws to cut the Devils’ lead to 2-1. 

Not to be outdone, with 3:20 left in the second period Timo Meier sniped a shot past Binnington to complete his first hat-trick as a member of the Devils and re-establish New Jersey’s two-goal lead. 

“Some of those goals (were just) really nice setups,” Meier explained. “It’s just (being) in the right spot. We were making good plays offensively. We found a way to win a game, which is really important. And now we gotta build on this.”

The third period wasn’t much to write home about. However, considering how the Devils have made it a habit to give up goals shortly after scoring their own, it was a welcome sight for the hometown fans to see the team lock things down in the third and secure a win. Erik Haula’s empty-netter at 19:01 of the third period provided the final margin of victory, 4-1.

Now, as for how the Devils’ roster might change before Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes…

After being held out against the Blues, Tyler Toffoli is more than likely gone. GM Tom Fitzgerald admitted he sat down with Toffoli’s representatives to discuss a potential contract extension. However, the belief is they couldn’t agree on term – length – and while Fitzgerald didn’t actively shop his winger, he has been listening to other teams’ overtures. 

According to sources, a few teams called to inquire about Dawson Mercer, who is a pending RFA, however, it isn’t believed that those conversations went very far. So it’s reasonable to expect the young forward to remain on the team post-deadline. 

Vitek Vanecek, who has dealt with a persistent lower-body injury the past couple of months, has one year left on his deal but has ceded the crease to Akira Schmid and Nico Daws. So, while he isn’t expected to be moved before the Trade Deadline, he could be moved over the summer. 

Alexander Holtz is a name to watch after Fitzgerald’s pointed comments about the young winger earlier this week. While the Devils aren’t believed to be actively shopping the former first-rounder, they are listening to almost everyone and Holtz could hold some value in the hours leading up to the deadline. 

On a smaller note, Tomas Nosek, Chris Tierney, Colin Miller, and Brendan Smith are all pending UFAs and could be dealt with low-to-mid-round draft picks if Fitzgerald decides to go that route. Depth is important to any team, but when a team decides to do a soft reset, sometimes those are the types of players who get dealt. 

So, even though Thursday night was Timo Time, Friday could prove to be Fitz-frantic.

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