The Devils were looking to string together two straight wins for the first time since November as the Columbus Blue Jackets came to town in the final game before the NHL’s mandatory Christmas break. It was the second time in four days these two teams had met, with the Jackets having won 2-1 last Thursday at Nationwide Arena. Today, Columbus won 3-0, scoring goals on their first two shots of the game and adding a third in the second period.
The highlight of the day for Devils fans, at least, was that the team was wearing their white, green and red Heritage uniforms. These unis are heavily based on the jerseys the team wore from 1982 to 1992 at the Meadowlands. The last time the team wore these uniforms was actually April 29, 1992 – game six of the Patrick Division Semifinals against the Rangers at Brendan Byrne Arena. They will wear them three more times this season after this.
The Devils lineup remained largely the same as the game versus the Senators, with Mirco Mueller, Stefan Noesen and Egor Yakovlev as the healthy scratches.
The one change was between the pipes. Keith Kinkaid started for the Devils but would only last half the game. He faced 11 shots and stopped eight of them. Following the third Columbus goal 10:47 into the second period, Kinkaid was pulled in favor of Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood stopped all nine shots he saw. In goal for the Blue Jackets was Sergei Bobrovsky. The Russian two-time Vezina Trophy winner was simply lights out today. He stopped all 39 Devils shots he faced and was superb for them.
The first goal of the game (and the game winner – his second such in two games against the Devils in less than a week) came off the stick of Cam Atkinson at 4:03 into the game. It was the Jackets’ first shot of the game and came off of a nice backdoor feed from Artemi Panarin. Ryan Murray had the secondary assist. Not only was this the first shot on goal for Columbus, it was also on the Blue Jackets’ first time in the Devils’ zone. One shot, one goal for the Jackets.
One minute and twenty eight seconds later, Danish Devils killer Oliver Bjorkstrand took the Blue Jackets’ second shot on the Devils’ net… and scored. It was a play almost completely identical to Atkinson’s goal with Alexander Wennberg playing the role of Panarin. Zach Werenski had the secondary assist on this goal. Two shots, two goals for the Jackets.
Columbus would end the first period with just four shots on goal, with Kinkaid making his first save on the third shot with about a minute to go in the first period. That save garnered some sarcastic applause from the crowd on hand.
The third goal of the game came off the stick of Panarin, who would be the game’s second star with a goal and an assist (Bobrovsky was the first star with the shutout while Atkinson was the third star with the game winner). This came on a breakaway unassisted on one that should have been stopped by Kinkaid but squeezed through his arm and in instead. It was after that goal that Blackwood came on in relief. Goaltending has been shaky at best for the Devils this year, so we will see where the Devils go after the break.
Special teams was a double edged sword for the Devils this afternoon. They went 0-for-3 on the power play with six shots on goal. At the 16:09 mark of the second, Seth Jones went off for high sticking putting the Devils on the man advantage. Columbus then took a bench minor for too many men on the ice putting the Devils up 5-on-3. During this power play, one of the Jackets’ defenders lost his stick, effectively making it 5-on-2 for the Devils and they still did not score. Chalk that one up to Bobrovsky playing nearly out of his mind.
On the flip side, the Devils kept the Blue Jackets 0-for-4 on the power play with just a single shot. Both teams had a shorthanded shot. So their power play was weak, but the penalty kill was strong, a 50/50 tradeoff for the Devils.
The game would actually end at 4-on-4 when Brett Seney took a goalie interference penalty at 18:03 of the third period and Bobrovsky took a corresponding embellishment penalty.
The Devils out shot the Jackets 39 to 20 in the game while winning 54-percent of the game’s faceoffs. The Devils also out hit Columbus 17-13. Predictably for a John Tortorella-coached team, Columbus had more blocked shots at 13 to the Devils’ seven. The Devils racked up more giveaways at 11 to the Jackets’ three.
Will Butcher led the team in ice time with 22:09 (3:51 on the power play and 1:05 on the PK) while Taylor Hall led all forwards with 21:31 (3:51 of PP time). Ben Lovejoy led in shots with six, hits were led by Miles Wood with five, blocked shots by Andy Greene with two and takeaways by Hall, Brian Boyle, Blake Coleman and Greene who each had one.
Next up, the Christmas break. It will be a good time for the Devils to take some time to rest and regroup and hopefully come out of it refreshed and ready to go. They will face the Bruins up in Boston on Thursday at 7 PM. We will have coverage then for you right here. In the meantime, have a safe and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!