The injury bug has bitten the Devils hard. Their list of injured players reads as a who’s who of the roster and got longer tonight. They are essentially icing the Binghamton Devils’ lineup the last few nights (when you also factor in the trades made at the deadline). The joke in the locker room, as MSG’s Erika Wachter said, was that the team was now the “New Jersey/Binghamton Devils.” Add to that that they were being paid a visit by the Western Conference leading Calgary Flames, winners of six straight, and you had a recipe for disaster.
But New Jersey held strong, only falling 2-1 to the Flames in a game that they were competitive in until the end.
We should start with the aforementioned injuries. Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha remain out while John Quenneville (upper body injury) joined them. Miles Wood is out for four weeks with a fractured ankle suffered in the game against Montreal and Kyle Palmieri is now week-to-week with a lower body injury. Nico Hischier wore an “A” on his jersey to replace Palmieri as an alternate captain.
In addition, Mirco Mueller left tonight’s game after a scary head-long crash into the end boards as he toe-picked on a 2-on-1 early in the third period. He fell and was unable to protect himself when he went into the wall. He was stretchered off of the ice after several moments of him not moving. But he did give the thumbs up sign as he left, so he seems like he is okay in that regard. In the postgame show, Wachter did say that the team announced that he had full feeling in his extremities and was alert. He was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.
With all of that, the team recalled Nick Lappin and Blake Pietila from Binghamton. They also got Sami Vatanen back off of injured reserve, as he had been dealing with a concussion since last month. Will Butcher also was back tonight, playing on the third defensive pairing with Connor Carrick. Steven Santini was the lone healthy scratch with those two d-men making their way back into the lineup.
One defenseman who did play tonight, but not on the blue line, was Egor Yakovlev. He was moved up to forward, playing left wing on the fourth line with Kevin Rooney and Kurtis Gabriel.
The goalie matchup saw Mackenzie Blackwood get his first start for the team since February 2 at Montreal. He stopped 33 of 35 for a .943 save percentage. Facing him was David Rittich for Calgary, who stopped 19 of 20 Devils shots for a .950 save percentage.
On special teams, the Devils did not have a power play until the third period, but they could not convert on any of them, going 0-for-2 with five shots. Their lone goal came shorthanded (they had two shots while killing off penalties, scoring on the one). The Flames were 1-for-4 with the man advantage with seven shots on net. They did not register a shorthanded shot.
All of the scoring came in the second frame, with Calgary getting it kicked off 1:07 into the period. The Devils were killing off a 5-on-3 power play that had carried over from the first period. Damon Severson was called for tripping at 19:03 followed by Blake Coleman going off for high-sticking at 19:34. The Calgary goal, scored by Elias Lindholm off assists from Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, came just as Severson’s penalty had expired and he was stepping back on the ice. Travis Zajac’s stick broke on the play, leaving the Devils with essentially two effective players on the ice. Lindholm tried to make a pass through the crease and the puck deflected in off of Vatanen’s skate, making it 1-0 Flames.
Calgary would double that lead at the 13:52 mark of the second when Mark Giordano scored. It was a nice goal as Gaudreau reversed course and passed to Giordano cutting towards the goal. Giordano took the pass, hesitated on the shot, skated around the Devils’ defender and made a move to the backhand, around Blackwood. It was a beautiful goal and a nice individual effort by Giordano to make it 2-0 Flames.
But the Devils were not completely out of things. At 14:54, Coleman (who ended up with eight minutes in penalties in the game, including a roughing call at 20:00 of the third) took another high-sticking penalty, putting the Devils back on the PK. At 16:47, Kevin Rooney stripped Gaudreau of the puck in his own end, cut to the middle of the ice and beat Rittich to make it 2-1. Rittich got a piece of the puck with his glove, but the shot trickled through to cut the Calgary lead in half.
And that was the final. The Devils pulled Blackwood with about 1:52 left in regulation, but were unable to tie things as the Flames held on.
The Devils were out shot 35 to 20, including being out shot 15 to 5 in the first two periods. They out shot the Flames 20 to 5 in the third. Giordano was the game’s third star for his nice goal while Gaudreau was the first star with two assists on the night. Blackwood was named the second star for standing up to the sheer volume of rubber that he saw.
The Devils did dominate in the faceoff circle, winning 62-percent of the game’s draws. They also led in hits (42-31) and blocked shots (11-10) and had three more giveaways than Calgary at nine to six.
Individually, Andy Greene led in time on ice with 22:28 (one second of PP time and 4:56 on the PK), just edging out Vatanen, who logged 22:12. Up front, Coleman led in TOI, logging 22:08 (including one second on the PP and 31 seconds on the PK) – which is kind of surprising since he was in the penalty box so much.
Zajac led in shots on goal with four. Coleman, Gabriel and Nathan Bastian led in hits with five each. Vatanen blocked three shots to lead in that category, including one late with the Devils’ net empty to save a goal and takeaways were led by Nico Hischier and Rooney with two each.
Next up, the Devils will meet up with their Turnpike rivals when the Philadelphia Flyers come to town for the final meeting of the year between them. That game is on Friday and is the start of a back-to-back. We will have that game for you right here. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment below as we always appreciate it.