Devils Cannot Repeat Magic, Lose to Caps 5-2

After defeating the Washington Capitals five days ago in the Capital One Arena in DC, the Devils were right back looking to take another one from the NHL’s best team.

They would not. They were downed 5-2 tonight as the Caps just rolled. It did not hurt that Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick either.

Some roster notes to get to first as the bug that got Jack Hughes in Toronto has apparently hit the rest of the team. Kevin Rooney missed tonight with illness. Also, Kyle Palmieri was placed on injured reserve retroactive to the last time these teams met on January 11. Mike McLeod was recalled from Binghamton to take Palmieri’s spot on the roster and, since Rooney was a game-time decision that could not go, played tonight. He centered a line with Jesper Boqvist and John Hayden. Mackenzie Blackwood was the other scratch as he is, according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter, very close to returning.

Which brings us to the goaltending situation. Interim coach Alain Nasreddine mentioned that the team would have to look at things coming out of the All-Star bye week, but that decision may have gotten a little bit easier for him.

Louis Domingue got the start tonight, but left after the first period with a lower body injury. He stopped 13-of-16 Washington shots for an .867 save percentage. He was making his fourth straight start. Cory Schneider came on in relief for the second straight game and made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 save percentage. Washington finished with 38 total shots. Ilya Samsonov went for the Caps, making 32 saves on 34 Devils shots for a .941 save percentage.

Domingue started the game making a big stop early on Ovechkin. The puck went over his shoulder, hit the post and he swept it out with his stick as it was going over the goal line.

That was followed, with 16:41 to go in the first period, by Carl Hagelin seeming to score when Lars Eller got the puck down low and passed to Hagelin, who was cutting towards the net. It went behind Domingue, but, after some discussion at the bench, Nasreddine decided to use his coach’s challenge, saying the Caps were offsides at the blue line just prior to the goal being scored.

Sure enough, replay showed that Michal Kempny, at the Devils blue line, was unable to keep the puck in and the call on the ice (good goal) was reversed to no goal. The Devils had seemingly dodged a bullet, but things would get bad soon enough.

It came on the while the Devils were down two men, with Travis Zajac going off for tripping at 13:39 and then Hayden at 15:12 for holding. It set up a 5-on-3 situation and Ovechkin would make this one count.

The Capitals won the faceoff in the Devils’ zone and got it back to John Carlson at the point. He passed down to Ovechkin in his “office” and he ripped a shot by Domingue to make it 1-0 Washington. Nicklas Backstrom had the secondary assist. That goal came at 15:17.

Ovechkin got his second with less than a minute to go in the first. At 19:08, Backstrom won another faceoff deep in the offensive zone and Ovechkin swooped in to grab the loose puck. He wristed it by Domingue to make it 2-0.

Cory came in in the second to relieve the injured Domingue. He had little luck with Hagelin, as he scored for real this time, 16 seconds into the period on a cold Schneider. It came when the Devils could not clear and Eller took the puck, making a slick pass to Hagelin, who scored from the slot. Richard Panik had the secondary assist. This made it 3-0 Washington.

But the Devils got on the board less than a minute later at 1:08 when Wayne Simmonds ended his 28-goal drought. Nico Hischier grabbed the puck down low and protected it, eventually finding Simmonds in front of the net and he shoveled it home to make it 3-1. Will Butcher had the secondary assist. All of the goal scoring in the second period happened within the first minute and a half.

So that took us to the third with the Devils trailing by two and about to go on the penalty kill 2:11 into the new frame when Butcher was called for holding.

But the Devils are always a threat to score shorthanded with Blake Coleman on the ice and that is exactly what happened. At 3:34, Coleman took the puck at center ice and broke in on Samsonov. He went backhand to score his third shorthanded goal of the year and cut the Caps’ lead to one at 3-2. Zajac had the lone assist.

But the Capitals would retake control of the game at 6:42 when Cory made several saves in tight. Eventually, the puck squibbed out to Jakub Vrana in the high slot and he shot, beating Cory unassisted to make it 4-2 and restore the two-goal lead.

Later on, with 7:02 to go, a turning point in the game for the Devils as Kempny was called for a double-minor for high-sticking on Nikita Gusev. When Gusev got hit, play was immediately whistled dead. However, once the call was made, the officials reviewed it and found that, while Kempny had swung at an airborne puck, his stick did not hit Gusev’s face. It was the puck that made contact with him and the penalty was overturned. The Devils would not be going on an extended power play.

Instead, at 15:42, Ovechkin would complete his hat trick and put Washington up 5-2. It came when the puck was misplayed in the Devils zone. Tom Wilson grabbed a loose puck along the near boards and blindly threw it towards net. He ended up connecting to Ovechkin tape-to-tape at the side of the Devils’ net and Ovechkin tapped it in. Carlson had the secondary assist.

And that was it. The Devils ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play with five shots. They also had four shorthanded shots, one of which they scored on. Washington was 1-for-5 with six shots. Three shots came on Domingue and three on Schneider. They added a shorthanded shot as well on Domingue.

The Devils won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Zajac winning 65-percent of his to lead and McLeod winning 60-percent of his draws.

The Devils outhit the Caps, 18-11, had more blocked shots at 18 to 13 and less turnovers at six to Washington’s 18.

PK Subban led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 23:30 (4:34 on the power play and 3:01 shorthanded), just edging Damon Severson, who had 23:07. Coleman led the forwards with 18:57 (including 5:42 shorthanded, where he is obviously very dangerous).

Stats-wise, Coleman led in shots on goal with six, Pavel Zacha and Connor Carrick led in hits with three apiece, Andy Greene led in blocks with four and Jesper Bratt led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils have one more game prior to the All-Star bye week. They will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in Ohio. I have a family function on Saturday, so I am recording the game and will eventually have the recap up a little bit later than usual.

Matthews, Coleman Each Score Hat Tricks; Devils Fall to Leafs

The Devils could not continue their streak of taking down elite Eastern Conference teams as they lost tonight to the host Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4 despite Blake Coleman’s three goal effort.

To begin with, we have some All-Star Game news as Nico Hischier will be going after all. He will be taking Kyle Palmieri’s place. Palmieri is currently out with a left foot injury suffered last weekend against the Capitals. Nico will be making his first NHL All-Star appearance.

Palmieri did not make the trip with the Devils up to Toronto. He is recovering as he could not even get his foot in his skate boot. He could join the team sometime on the rest of the road trip according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter.

Like Palmieri, Mackenzie Blackwood is still out with his injury and Cory Schneider served as the Devils’ back up tonight, more on that later. Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch and Connor Carrick slotted in on defense again tonight. Toronto was also missing some key parts of their defense as Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin are out with injuries. Also, for the Devils, Jack Hughes would leave the game midway through as, according to Wachter, he felt ill. There was no injury.

The goaltending matchup saw Frederik Andersen make 25 saves on 29 shots for the Maple Leafs for an .862 save percentage. For the Devils, Louis Domingue made his third straight start and it did not go his way. He stopped 14 of the 19 shots he saw for a horrid .737 save percentage. Schneider came in after Domingue gave up his fifth goal of the evening and stopped 13 of 14 for a .929 save percentage. The Leafs, with an Auston Matthews empty net goal later in the game, had 34 total shots on goal.

The Devils knew that the Leafs would be angry coming into this game, having given up eight goals to the Florida Panthers in an 8-4 loss to them down in Sunrise on Sunday.

And sure enough, Toronto jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period starting when 5:18 in when John Tavares scored. The Leafs won the faceoff and eventually worked it back to Rasmus Sandin, who walked the blue line, wristing the puck on net. Tavares was camped out in front and tipped it by Domingue for the first goal of the game. William Nylander had the other assist.

The Leafs made it 2-0 at 9:10 when Frederik Gauthier took a puck in the slot and shot it cleanly by Domingue unassisted to double up the Toronto lead.

Zach Hyman ended the Leafs’ first period onslaught when he scored with about five seconds left in the frame on the power play. PK Subban was called for interference on Dmytro Timashov to put Toronto on the man advantage. The Devils could not clear the zone and, similar to the first goal, Sandin just threw it on net with Hyman in front, tipping it by Domingue as he was falling down. Jason Spezza got the secondary assist.

The second period saw the beginnings of two hat tricks and the Devils climb back in to things.

First, Nylander made it 4-0 Leafs when, 2:12 into the frame, Domingue tried to clear the Devils’ zone on his own around the boards. It came to Tavares, who played tic-tac-toe with Pierre Engvall. He shot and Nylander tipped the puck through Domingue.

The Devils had only given up a goal each to both Washington and Tampa Bay in their last two games, but had now given up four in less than two periods of play tonight.

Coleman broke the shutout when he scored at 6:56 of the second. It saw Coleman make a nice individual effort, driving to the net through the middle. He stayed on the puck, got position on the Toronto defender as he drove on Andersen and chipped it over the Leafs’ goaltender to make it 4-1. Miles Wood and Will Butcher had the assists on Coleman’s 16th of the year. That tied him with Kyle Palmieri for the team lead in goals.

That was the start of Coleman’s three, but, at 10:39 on the power play, Matthews would begin his. Ironically, it was Coleman who went off for high-sticking Alexander Kerfoot setting this up. It saw Mitch Marner made a pass to Matthews at the top of the faceoff circles. He faked a shot and tapped it over to Matthews at the side of the New Jersey net. Matthews simply laid it up and the Leafs had the 5-1 lead. Tavares, who had three points on the night, had the secondary assist.

Following the first play stoppage after the goal, the Devils made the decision to pull Domingue in favor of Schneider. It would be Cory’s fist NHL action since November 8, a 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. And he held Toronto off the board for the rest of the period.

It was only 3:58 into the third that Cory gave up his only goal of the night. This one came when Marner grabbed a puck off of the left-wing boards, cut up ice and passed to Matthews at the far faceoff circle. Matthews shot and beat Schneider to make it 6-1. Hyman had the other assist.

But the Devils would make things very interesting as Coleman would complete his hat trick and they would make a mini comeback.

At 12:00 of the third, Coleman scored his second when Nikita Gusev gathered the puck up on the wing and was off with Coleman on a 2-on-1. Gusev chipped the puck over to Coleman, who backhanded it by Andersen to make it 6-2. Carrick had the secondary assist.

Coleman would complete his first career NHL hat trick 3:35 later when Will Butcher put the puck on net as he was cutting down low. Coleman chopped at the rebound, beating Maple Leafs’ defenseman Travis Dermott to score and cut the lead in half at 6-3.

Then things got really interesting. AT 15:55, about twenty seconds after Coleman’s third goal, Toronto’s Cody Ceci was called for a hook. That put the Devils a man up. They then pulled Schneider to make it 6-on-4. At 17:40, Martin Marincin also got a hooking penalty to make it 6-on-3 with Schneider still pulled. But they would only have about 15 seconds of the 6-on-3.

At the 18:02 mark of the third, Subban took a pass from Jesper Bratt, after he faked the shot, and blasted a slap shot from the point to make it 6-4. Wayne Simmonds had the secondary assist. It came on the power play, but after the Ceci penalty had expired. That meant that the Marincin penalty was also canceled because of when they scored. If they had scored a few seconds earlier, they would have had the rest of the Marincin penalty at 6-on-4.

Unfortunately, that was not to be and, at 18:40, with Schneider out of the net, Matthews scored into the vacated cage to complete his hat trick and give us our final of 7-4.

The Devils ended the night 1-for-4 on the power play with five shots. They also had a single shorthanded shot. Toronto was 2-for-4 with nine shots (six on Domingue and three on Schneider – who did not give up a power play goal). They also had one shorthanded shot on Schneider.

The Devils lost out in the faceoff circle, winning just 41-percent of the draws with Nico winning 44-percent of his. The Devils did lead in hits at 20-17, but Toronto had 17 blocks to the Devils’ 12. True to form, the Leafs led in turnovers by a wide margin, turning the puck over 16 times to the Devils’ eight.

Individually, Coleman led in points with three (all goals), Coleman and Subban, the two goal scorers, co-led in shots with six each, Coleman led in hits with four, Andy Greene led in blocks with three and Damon Severson led in takeaways with two.

Ice time was led by Severson with 23:33 total (including 4:06 on the power play and 3:17 on the penalty kill). Hischier led the forwards with 19:20 total ice time (3:56 on the power play and 1:45 shorthanded included).

So next up, it’s a return date with the Washington Capitals on Thursday in DC. Do the Devils still have any magic in them for the 7 PM start? We will find out on Thursday and will have it for you right here then.