Devils rookie Joseph Blandisi is making an impact with the Devils on the offensive end, just when they need it at the start of the second half.
Blandisi, 21 years old, was signed by the Devils in January of 2015 after being drafted by Colorado in 2012. He was named the 2014-15 OHL Overage Player of the Year and led the league with 52 goals. He was fourth in the league with 112 points in 68 games with Barrie.
This season, he had seven goals and 15 assists in 24 games with the Devils’ AHL affiliate, Albany.
Blandisi made his NHL debut December 11 at Detroit, and was then recalled from Albany on January 9. His first NHL point came on January 12 at St. Louis, and then his first goal came on January 21 vs. Ottawa. That goal against Ottawa was part of a five-goal first period, in which he notched three points, the goal and two assists. He became the first Devil with three points in a period since Brendan Morrison.
Blandisi made a big statement on Tuesday night against the Rangers when he blew by defenseman Dan Girardi and fired one by Henrik Lundqvist. The thing people remembered as much as that goal was how he celebrated by pounding the glass in excitement.
On Saturday, the Devils hosted the team with the most points in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, and Blandisi would come up big again.
The Devils were trailing 1-0 at the start of the third period and were on the power play. Jacob Josefson, camped out by the net, fed Travis Zajac with a pass in the slot. Zajac fired a shot that trickled through the pads of Washington goalie Braden Holtby, and Blandisi came from the left side and whacked it in and tie the game.
Blandisi, who followed that up by jumping into the glass, said of the goal, “It was close enough that I think I had to touch it. Their guy had a stick there, too. I was going to let it roll over (the goal line), but I had to make sure.”
Devils Head Coach John Hynes said of Blandisi contributing, “It’s good, Joe’s been consistent. I think when you look at his game, he’s got some young legs and he’s a good offensive player. Another reason he’s been very successful, I think, as of late just his competitiveness. You see him again tonight when we go on the power play, he’s right in the crease, right around there. Good to see and we’ll see if he can continue to do it.”
Hynes said of Blandisi’s instincts, “I think that’s kind of what his game is, you know, when you look at a guy like him, he has good offensive talent but he’s willing to play in hard areas of the ice and that’s pretty consistent for him.”
The Devils kept the momentum going after the Blandisi goal and and got one from Adam Henrique, his 17th of the year, with 12:13 remaining. The Devils ha a 2-on-1 and Lee Stempniak’s feed deflected off Blandisi’s skate and went to Henrique, who got a rocket by Holtby.
The Capitals regained control soon after, and Paul Carey got his first NHL goal with 5:53 left to tie the game at 2.
The Devils got a late power play when Tyler Williams tripped Kyle Palmieri with 1:00 remaining in regulation. The penalty carried over into overtime and, when that happens, it is a 4-on-3, a variation on the new 3-on-3 format. When the penalty ended at the 4:00 mark of OT, the Capitals got a skater back and made it a 4-on-4 until the next whistle. Incredibly, that would not come until there was 11.2 seconds left.
The Devils’ last big chance came when John Moore fired a laser off the faceoff with 3.7 seconds left.
The game went to the shootout, and Washington clinched it on a masterful goal from Alex Ovechkin. Blandisi took the first shot from the Devils, but Holtby deflected his attempt.
The Devils got four out of a possible six points this week, with the win over the Rangers and a point each from the shootout loss in Toronto on Thursday and this one against Washington.
Hynes said of the game, “I thought it was a good game by both teams that played hard. For us, we did a lot of things that we wanted to do. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. Unfortunately, we didn’t, so we’re not happy about that.”
Devils goalie Cory Schneider said of the game, “We’re pretty happy with how we played against the best team in the league right now. We didn’t give them an inch and we didn’t back down from them at all, but we had it there 2-1 and they make a nice play to tie it up. We kept some of their big players in check, their power play in check, our power play got a big goal for us, so overall there was a lot of positives, just not the end result.”
The Devils have done extremely well against top teams like this. They won both games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, have beaten the Rangers twice, and beat Dallas on January 2 when they held the best record in the league at the time.
Henrique said of that, “I think we match up well. We’re as confident as ever playing against anybody. I think we’ve shown that time in and time out. No matter how we’re playing, we know that if we show up and stick to our game plan, we know how we have to have success and be able to play with the top team in the league. We’ve got to find a way to keep that going down the stretch here and keep putting points on the board.”
Schneider said, “I think we have it in us. We’ve shown it the last few games here. We’ve been battling hard. We’ve played some tough games, some tight games. We’ve held a lead, we’ve given up lead, we’ve gotten a lead. That’s hockey. We’d like to protect leads a bit better, but all things considered four out of six points this week coming out of the All-Star break is pretty good for us and, hopefully, we can build off it next week.”
Hynes said, “Something we had talked about come out of the break was having a focus level and playing at an intensity level to be able to continue to be a competitive team. So far we’ve been able to do it, but it’s only been three games.”