The Devils played a very good game tonight. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but very, very good. They defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 in their first win in the back end of a back-to-back this season in seven tries. The game included one multi point nights for the top line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri and one of the wildest sequences leading to a goal that you will ever see.
The win followed some bad news as the Devils placed forward Marcus Johansson, who was just beginning to find his groove, on injured reserve with an upper body injury. He left the game at Columbus last night with the injury and now the team will be without him for some time. With that, John Hynes’ line experiment was put to an abrupt end. Taylor Hall was put back on the top line, reunited with Hischier and Palmieri. All that line did was accumulate nine total points on the evening.
The scratches for the Devils were Mirco Mueller, Egor Yakovlev and Stefan Noesen. Ottawa dressed seven D and 11 forwards.
In goal, the Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid between the pipes after Mackenzie Blackwood made his first start in Columbus. Kinkaid had been pulled in two of his last five starts, especially with the Devils giving up a cumulative 10 goals to two scored in the first period over those games. Tonight, though, he was spot on. He made 25 saves on 27 Senators shots. Facing him was Craig Anderson who made 20 saves on 25 shots. He was yanked in the third period in favor of former Devil Mike McKenna. McKenna stopped all seven of the shots he saw. The Devils finished the game with a total of 32 shots.
Things got off to a fast start as Miles Wood took a goalie interference penalty just 59 seconds into the game. The Devils, however, would strike first. It was Pavel Zacha scoring a shorthanded goal off a breakaway at 2:03 after Brian Boyle got it up to him and he chipped it by the Sens’ Thomas Chabot off the boards to himself and was off to the races. That gave the Devils the early 1-0 lead. From there, they would never look back.
Kyle Palmieri made it 2-0 from Hall and Hischier at 10:54 of the first when the Devils’ relentless forecheck kept the puck in the Senators’ zone and Hall won a puck battle in the near corner. He fed Palmieri at the top of the far faceoff circle and Palmieri sniped one by Anderson to double the New Jersey lead.
The Devils had the two goal lead heading into the first intermission, but if you will recall their debacle of a loss in Ottawa earlier in the season, they also held a two goal lead in that one before being blown out by the Sens.
And the Senators would seem to be back into things when Matt Duchene scored his first of two from Mark Stone and Chabot just 2:20 into the second period on the power play. Wood had taken a high sticking penalty on Ben Harpur at 1:52 to set that up. Overall on special teams, Ottawa was 1-for-5 with two shots on the night. The Devils were 1-for-3 with four power play shots and also four shorthanded shots, including the shorty goal.
The Devils would get that power play goal at the 4:07 mark of the second. It came when Harpur took a high sticking call on Palmieri and on the ensuing man advantage, Hall took a rink-wide pass from Palmieri and skated up the near boards in the Ottawa zone. He faked a drop pass to Will Butcher and elected to shoot, beating Anderson to make it 3-1 Devils.
Following that was one of the craziest and most unlikely goals you will ever see the Devils score. It began in the Devils’ zone. Sami Vatanen stopped a surefire Brady Tkachuk goal by coming across the crease when Kinkaid was down. Nico swept the puck out of the goal crease and it came out to Stone, who coughed the puck up to Palmieri. Palmieri then broke into the Sens’ zone on a 2-on-0 with Hall. He fed Hall the puck and Hall buried it to make it 4-1 New Jersey at the 5:19 mark of the second. Words cannot do this goal justice. If you have not seen it, check it out on YouTube or the NHL website. This was one of the craziest sequences I have ever seen in almost 30 years of following the Devils and the NHL. Just amazing.
The play was briefly reviewed by the situation room in Toronto to see if the puck did indeed cross the line before Vatanen saved it. There was also some concern that Nico had closed his hand on the puck in the crease, which would have been a penalty, but penalties cannot be reviewed by Toronto and I do not believe that Ottawa could have challenged for that. Either way, it did not seem on replay that he closed his hand on the puck anyway. The goal for the Devils stood.
Ottawa would again cut the lead down when they halved it to 4-2. Duchene scored on a delayed penalty against the Devils as the puck pinballed around the Devils zone and Duchene simply shoveled it into the open net. That goal came at 11:53 from Bobby Ryan and Christian Jaros.
The scoring would be rounded out when Nico Hischier joined his linemates in getting a goal at 18:58 of the second period. Hall and Butcher had the assists. It came just after the Devils had killed off a penalty and saw Nico shooting from a sharp angle, beating Anderson short side.
In the end, Nico was named the game’s third star with a goal and an assist, Palmieri was the second star with a goal and two assists while Hall was the first star with a pair of goals and two assists. Not a bad night for a line that would likely have been broken up had Marcus Johansson been good to go.
Statistically, the Devils out shot the Sens 32-27 but won only 48-percent of the game’s faceofffs. They out hit Ottawa 22 to 10 and blocked more shots at 10-4. They also ended up with one more giveaway with four to the Senators’ three.
Individually, Damon Severson was saddled with the big minutes tonight, playing 22:06 total (47 seconds on the power play and 2:43 killing penalties). Travis Zajac led the forwards with 19:54 (2:54 on the PP and 4:35 on the PK). Hall had the most shots of all Devils with six, while Wood (who played a feisty game – including getting a ten minute misconduct penalty at the end of the game when he and Mark Borowiecki squared off to fight but took too long before the linesmen jumped in) led in hits with five. Blocked shots were co-led by Butcher and Ben Lovejoy with two each and takeaways were led by Zajac with three.
Next up, one more before the Christmas break. It will be a home rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. Puck drop for that game is 12:30 PM in Newark and the Devils will be wearing their white, red and green “Heritage” uniforms for the first of four games this season. We will see you here with coverage of the game shortly after its conclusion.