Devils Outlast Isles, Win 2-1

Welcome to the first game of the new year/decade for the New Jersey Devils. They traveled to the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York to take on the Islanders in a battle televised on NBCSN. Both teams were looking to win their third straight and it was the Devils who prevailed, edging the Isles 2-1.

Some not-too-encouraging news to begin for the Devils as Jack Hughes, who tumbled into the boards late in the game against Boston on Tuesday, would not play tonight with what the team is calling an upper body injury. He joined Connor Carrick as the scratches and Kevin Rooney slotted in for Hughes.

The Devils also made a move on the roster, sending Gilles Senn back to AHL Binghamton and recalling Louis Domingue from Binghamton. Domingue had been injured in December and was on a conditioning stint in Binghamton after coming off of injured reserve.

Speaking of goaltending, Mackenzie Blackwood was back in net for the Devils, stopping 29 of the 30 shots the Islanders peppered him with for a .967 save percentage on the night. He kept the Devils in this and may have stolen it for him. Blackwood would go on to be named the game’s first star. Opposing him for New York was Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 39 of the Devils’ 31 shots for a .935 save percentage. Both goalies were stellar and kept this game from getting too out of hand in either direction.

Following a scoreless first period, the Islanders had seemed to get on the board first just 39 seconds into the second. The Isles made some nifty passes and the puck was given to Leo Komarov in tight. Komarov took a few hacks at it and, after a few point-blank saves by Blackwood, it eventually went in. Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine, after his staff got a look at it, challenged for goalie interference.

Komarov had backed up into Blackwood as he was in the crease firing his shots. He eventually bumped into Blackwood, impeding him from being able to make the final save. The referees had a look at it and agreed with this. The goal was waved off and the Devils had dodged a bullet.

However, the Isles would get one for real when, at the 7:33 mark of the second, Brock Nelson gained the Devils zone and wristed one by Blackwood, through Andy Greene’s legs, using him as a screen. Ryan Pulock and Derick Brassard had the assists and it was 1-0 New York. Nelson would be named the game’s third star at the end of the night, getting what would go down to be the Isles’ lone goal on the evening.

The score remained that way until, with less than ninety seconds to go in the second, Travis Zajac won a faceoff deep in the Islanders’ zone. The puck went towards the right hash mark where Nikita Gusev was camped. He settled the puck down and saucered a nice pass to PK Subban at the point. Subban blasted a slap shot that beat Varlamov clean to tie the game up at one.

The game winner came just 1:09 into the third period on a full individual effort by Nico Hischier. Nico won a faceoff, again, deep in the Isles’ zone and he banked it to the right again. Kyle Palmieri grabbed it and fed it back to Nico, who made a nice drive towards the New York net and put the puck around and behind Varlamov to give the Devils the 2-1 lead. Nico would go on to be named the game’s second star with what would go down as the game winner from here.

And this would hold up. The Islanders pulled Varlamov with a little more than two minutes to go in regulation but they could not crack Blackwood or the Devils’ defense.

Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play with the Devils managing two shots on goal and the Islanders two shots as well.

The Devils won only 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs, but both of their goals came off of faceoff wins, which showed that they won them when they were crucial.

The Isles outhit the Devils 30-25 and had more giveaways at 16 to the Devils’ 13. The Devils did get more blocked shots with 23 to the Islanders’ 20.

Individually, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 24:03 of ice time (including 2:38 on the power play and 1:01 on the penalty kill) while Hischier led the forwards with 20:12 (2:38 on the power play and eight seconds shorthanded). Ice time was pretty evenly distributed amongst the d-men with most averaging around 20 minutes.

Shots on goal were led by HIschier, Blake Coleman and Subban, who each logged four. Coleman also led in hits with five and Greene and Mirco Mueller led in the blocks category with three each. Jesper Bratt, who got shaken up late in the game, registered two takeaways to lead in that category.

So suddenly the Devils have won three in a row. Can they keep things up when they return home on Saturday to take on the high-powered Colorado Avalanche? We will find out Saturday night when these teams clash at the Rock. We’ll see you then!

WJC Quarterfinals Wrap Up

The World Junior Championship got into the medal rounds today with some expected results and some disappointing ones.

We’ll start with the most disappointing.

The US lost to Finland 1-0 on a power play goal by Joonas Oden. In a bit of irony, Oden was born in Washington state in the American Northwest before his family moved back to Finland when he was young. So he knocks out the US, and Finland moves on to the semifinals.

Now on to games involving Devils prospects. First, Russia-Switzerland.

The Russians won this one 3-1 to advance to the semis. Akira Schmid did not dress for the Swiss, with coach Thierry Paterlini electing to go with the tandem of Luca Hollenstein and Stephane Charlin again.

But while Schmid did not dress, Russian defenseman Danil Misyul did. He had three shots and an even plus/minus rating in 16:40 of total ice time.

Following a scoreless first period, the Swiss took a too many men on the ice bench minor 37 seconds into the second. The Russians capitalized on this one with Dmitri Voronkov scoring at 1:12 from Grigori Denisenko and Nikita Alexandrov.

Switzerland would respond with the equalizing goal at 7:08 off the stick of Gaetan Jobin (assist to Joel Salzgeber).

Alexander Khovanov scored what would go down as the game-winner at 14:07 from Denisenko. That broke the tie to make it 2-1 Russia.

From there, the Swiss got into some penalty trouble. Sandro Schmid took a hooking call at 15:34 and, just as that penalty was expiring at 17:36 (with the Swiss killing it), Matthew Verboon was called for a high-stick. This put Switzerland right back on the penalty kill and they could not overcome this one. Voronkov scored at 18:13 – from Alexander Khovanov and Yegor Zamula – to notch an insurance goal and make it 3-1.

The Swiss tried to tie things by pulling Hollenstein a few times late during the third period, but could not get the two to level it. The final was 3-1 as Russia moves on to the semifinals.

Hollenstein made 33 saves on 36 shots against while Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov made 14 saves on just 15 Swiss shots.

Next up, Canada defeated Slovakia 6-1 to move on to the semis as well. Ty Smith had two shots on goal and was a plus-1 plus/minus in 16:40 of ice time. Kevin Bahl was a plus-2 in 14:42 of total ice. Alexis Lefreniere returned from injury for the Canadians and had a goal, an assist, four penalty minutes to go with four shots on goal and a plus-2 rating over 16:40 of ice time.

The Canadians began the game with Nolan Foote taking a check to the head five-minute major plus a game misconduct to go with it. It came 53 seconds into the game on the big forward’s first shift.

But that would not deter Canada. Barrett Hayton scored at 6:47 of the first (just after the five-minute major was up) to make it 1-0. Lafreniere and Dylan Cozens had the assists.

And the train kept a rolling when Connor McMichael scored 1:21 into the second (from Joe Veleno) to make it 2-0.

Two minutes and twenty-one seconds later, Jacob Bernard-Docker made it 3-0 when he scored from Jamie Drysdale and Cozens.

Liam Foudy made it 4-0 when he scored at 9:02 from Ty Dellandrea and Drysdale.

At the 9:44 mark of the second, Slovakia’s Maxim Cajkovic was called for a hook putting Canada on the power play. Lafreniere would score about a minute later at 10:50 from Calen Addison and Hayton to make it 5-0 on the power play.

The Canadian barrage ended on the power play when Slovakia’s Marek Minarik received two minutes for hooking with seven seconds to go in the second period. That would carry over to the third and Hayton converted exactly a minute in to the new frame when he made it 6-0 from Addison.

Following this goal, the Slovaks pulled goalie Samuel Hlavaj in favor of Samuel Vyletelka.

The new goalie would help the Slovaks a little as they got on the board, breaking the shutout when Oliver Okuliar beat Joel Hofer at 6:10 of the third to make it 6-1. Kristian Kovacik had the lone assist on the goal.

Things started to get a bit chippy from there on out. Slovakia’s Martin Vitalos was given two minutes for checking from behind plus a ten-minute misconduct at 12:17.

Then, at the 15:28 mark of the third, things got crazier as both Lafreniere (Canada) and Boris Cesanek (Slovakia) were each assessed double minors for roughing.

Things settled down and the game ended with Canada taking a 6-1 victory.

Hofer was barely tested, making 17 saves on just 18 Slovak shots against. The Slovakian goalies combined to make 38 saves on 44 Canadian shots.,

In the final quarterfinal game of the evening, the Swedes took on the host Czechs. Sweden prevailed 5-0 at the Ostravar Arena to advance to the semis.

Sweden’s Devils prospect Nikola Pasic had three shots on net in 16:28 of total ice time.

The Czechs, with Devils legend Patrik Elias behind the bench as an assistant coach, got into some penalty troubles early. Martin Has was called for holding at 8:23 and, before that could expire, at 9:53, Otakar Sik cleared the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Czechs killed those off, but at 11:55, Jan Sir took a slashing call and the Czechs were back on the penalty kill.

They could not escape this one as Nils Hoglander scored at 13:08 from Samuel Fagemo and Rasmus Sandin to make it 1-0 Sweden. And they never looked back.

At 15:09 of the first, Hugo Gustafsson scored shorthanded when Czech goalie Lukas Dostal coughed up the puck to him behind the Czech net. He put it into the empty net to make it 2-0 Sweden.

The only event of the second period was a Swedish goal off the stick of Hoglander to make it 3-0. Sandin and Fagemo had the assists on the goal that came just 45 seconds into the period.

The third period kicked off with Sweden being awarded a penalty shot 4:04 in. Victor Soderstrom took the shot (in IIHF rules, any player no matter if he was on the ice or not at the time the penalty shot was called, can take the penalty shot) and scored to make it 4-0.

Gustafsson rounded out the scoring when he scored on the power play at 10:44 into the third. Hoglander and Nils Lundkvist had the assists. The Czech Republic’s Has was called for tripping 13 seconds prior to the goal.

At the 14:59 mark, the Czech Republic’s Karel Klikorka received five minutes for slashing plus a game misconduct and that was that. The Swedes move on and the hosts were eliminated.

Hugo Alnefelt stopped all 23 shots he faced while Dostal stopped 32 of 37 Swedish shots.

So the semifinals will see Sweden taking on Russia and Canada versus Finland. That takes place on Saturday, January 4 and we will have coverage for you right here.

In other WJC-related news, Germany bested Kazakhstan 4-0 to take the first game of their best-of-three relegation series. They play game two on Saturday as well.