Devils Burned by Flames Early, Fall 5-3

The Devils ran into the red-hot Calgary Flames tonight as they completed their five-game season opening homestand at the Prudential Center. They fell behind in a poorly played first period and ultimately lost, 5-3.

Following the overtime win on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, head coach Lindy Ruff decided to shake up the lineup up and down. All line combinations were reshuffled with Janne Kuokkanen moving to play the left side on the top line centered by Nico Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich on the right wing.

The top two defensive parings were redone with Ty Smith moving up to play on the top pairing with Dougie Hamilton, with Ruff’s thought process being to put their top two offensive defensemen together to kickstart an anemic offense. Ryan Graves was moved to a pairing with Damon Severson and PK Subban and Jonas Siegenthaler remained together on the third pairing.

Jonathan Bernier, Marian Studenic and Christian Jaros were the scratches for the night for the Devils.

In injury news, Mackenzie Blackwood got closer to a return as he skated yesterday for the first time since the preseason. He also received his first COVID-19 vaccination shot yesterday, meaning that he will be allowed to play when the team goes to Canada. They first travel north of the border in December when they go to Winnipeg.

His decision to get vaccinated may have been partly spurred on by the fact that TSN and The Athletic both reported that Blackwood is a possible candidate to play for Team Canada at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. He should receive the second shot within a few weeks.

With Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier still out of action at the moment, Nico Daws – fresh off of his big first NHL win (he became the first Devils goaltender to get his first win in OT on Saturday), got the nod again tonight.

Things did not go as smoothly against Calgary for him. He gave up three goals in 12:10 of duty. Stopping only four of the seven shots he faced. He let in one of the Flames’ two power play shots that he faced and was equal to only three of their five shots at even strength. He finished with a .571 save percentage for the night.

Following the third goal – a power play goal by Elias Lindholm – Scott Wedgewood came on in relief and stopped 20 of their 22 shots against him. He stopped the two shorthanded shots against him, one of their two power play shots (they had four total) and 17 of the 18 shots he faced at even strength. Calgary ended up with 29 total shots on goal on the night. He finished with a .909 save percentage.

For the Flames, Dan Vladar started. He was equal to 27 of the Devils’ 30 total shots, four of their five power play shots and 23 of their 25 shots at even strength. He had a .900 save percentage for the night.

This was the first time in almost two years between these two teams (with Calgary wearing their beautiful retro-80’s inspired white road uniforms) and the Flames’ Blake Coleman’s first return to Prudential Center as an opponent.

Coleman was traded on February 16, 2020 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The teams were supposed to meet at the end of the 2019-20 season, but the game was canceled as a part of COVID wiping out the end of that regular season.

Last year, with Tampa in the Central Division and the Devils in the East and no inter-divisional play, the Devils did not play the Lightning either. Therefore, it took Coleman moving on as a free agent to Calgary for him to return. He did get a video tribute on the big board and the fans got to salute the former Devils fan favorite.

The Flames were playing the second half of a back-to-back as they faced the Rangers last night in Manhattan, winning 5-1.

And they picked off right where they left off tonight.

It began just 6:35 into the game when Milan Lucic scored. It was actually a nice play where Oliver Kylington made a stretch pass that was redirected to Lucic by Erik Gudbranson. Lucic was behind the Devils’ defense, took the redirected pass and was all alone in on Daws. He shot low on the ice and beat him before he could get set to make it 1-0 Calgary.

The Flames would double up their lead at 10:08 of the first period when Andrew Mangiapane scored his first of two in the period. Calgary won the puck off of a board battle in the neutral zone. The puck was lost in the Devils’ zone and Siegenthaler misplayed the loose puck flat footed. Mangiapane recovered the puck and shot as he was falling down, beating Daws to make it 2-0. The goal was unassisted.

Calgary kept the onslaught up as, at 12:10, Lindholm scored on the power play (Subban was off for a pretty egregious trip on Lucic at 11:48) Johnny Gaudreau moved the puck from along the half wall to Rasmus Andersson at the point. He shot and Lindholm got a piece of it in front, redirecting it by Daws to make it 3-0. It was after this goal that Daws was chased in favor of Wedgewood.

The Flames would end the night 2-for-3 on the power play while the Devils were 1-for-4.

For the Devils, the nightmare of a first period was not over.

Mangiapane notched his second of the night at 12:58 of the first. Jesper Bratt lost his edge playing the puck in the Calgary zone. He turned over the puck to Dillon Dube, who gave it to Mangiapane, who was off to the races. He broke in on Wedgewood and went backhand/forehand to beat Wedgewood. It was Mangiapane’s second straight two-goal game (he had a pair versus the Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden). It also put the Devils in a hole, giving the Flames a 4-0 lead. Bratt would see his ice time limited in the first period because of his gaffe on this play and some other poor play.

The Devils would get on the board at the 7:01 mark of the second period when Pavel Zacha scored his first of two on the night. It came technically unassisted, but with a lot of help from a forechecking Nico Hischier. Hischier’s hard forecheck put pressure on Vladar, who tried to reverse and wrap the puck around the far side of the boards. It never got up the boards as Zacha intercepted it. With no one covering in front and Vladar unable to get back to his net in time, Zacha shot from a sharp angle into what was an empty net and scored to make it 4-1.

That was the only scoring of the second. And it would be a steep climb, as according to Steve Cangialosi of the MSG+ broadcast, the last time the Devils overcame a four-goal deficit was November 2, 1985 when Mel Bridgman would end up scoring in overtime against the Rangers and the Devils won 6-5.

In the third period, the Flames got another to make it 5-1 at the 11:18 mark. It came on the power play. Mason Geertsen had gone off for a high stick on Sean Monahan and Monahan would make the Devils pay.

Monahan centered the puck from the far half wall, making a nice spin pass in the process. The puck got to Matthew Tkachuk at the near hash marks. He had the time to pick where he wanted to shoot and beat Wedgewood five-hole to make it 5-1.

The Devils, however, would score the last two goals of the game.

It started at 11:51 of the third when Dawson Mercer scored in his last game before his 20th birthday. Mercer shot on Vladar while the Devils were in the Calgary zone. His shot hit Vladar in the mask, loosening it. Vladar wanted a whistle from the officials but did not get it. The Flames cleared the zone and the Devils recovered it. Andreas Johnsson got it and found Mercer behind the Flames’ defense. He beat Vladar, who argued about the non-whistle, but got no satisfaction. Hamilton had the secondary assist on the goal that made it 5-2 Calgary.

At 16:30, Johnsson and Juuso Vlaimaki squared off to fight, with Johnsson immediately dropping his gloves on the play. They were separated immediately and did not scrap, but both went off for unsportsmanlike conduct.

However, the reason Johnsson reacted so vehemently on the play was because Valimaki had impeded him during in the corner prior to the two squaring. Valimaki would end up taking an extra two minutes for holding Johnsson’s stick, putting New Jersey on the power play.

The Devils would pull Wedgewood for a 6-on-4 advantage during the power play, and it paid off.

At 16:58, there would be a scramble in front of the Flames’ net as Calgary was not able to clear the puck previously. Vladar made the initial save on Mercer, but Zacha put in the rebound to make it 5-3. Zacha had two goals on the night and Hamilton had the secondary assist – his second of the night.

But the Devils could not get another. Wedgewood was pulled with a little under two minutes left in regulation but time simply ran out on the Devils.

The Devils, as team, outshot Calgary by one: 30-29. The Devils won just 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Mercer leading with a 57-percent personal winning clip. The Flames had 12 penalty minutes to the Devils’ ten. The Devils did play the more physical game, with 29 hits to the Flames’ 17. The Devils also had 17 blocked shots to Calgary’s 13. The Devils, however, ended up with 15 giveaways to the Flames’ eight. Siegenthaler led the Devils with four giveaways.

Personally, Hamilton led all Devils’ skaters in ice time with 24:23 (including 5:11 on the power play and 57 seconds on the penalty kill). Hischier led the forwards with 22:35 of total ice time (including 4:44 on the power play and 1:24 on the PK).

Mercer (one goal, one assist), Zacha (two goals) and Hamilton (two assists), each led the Devils with two points each. Mercer led in shots on goal with five. Tomas Tatar led in hits with five laid on the Flames. Jimmy Vesey, Smith and Subban all led in blocks with three. Takeaways were led by Vesey with three.

Next up, the Devils will play their first road game of the season as they travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday to take on the Penguins, who just keep on rolling. The Devils will try to bounce back as they suffered their first regulation loss in the Calgary game.

The game in the Steel City on Saturday is at 7 PM. We will see you then!

Also, before we go, a big congratulations to former Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was inducted into the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame this past Sunday. He played his college hockey at Dartmouth. He won the Stanley Cup with the Pens in 2016 and the Cup was actually present at his induction. Congrats again to The Rev!

Nicos Run Wild as Devils Defeat Sabres in OT

The Devils, coming off of their first loss of the season, took on the Buffalo Sabres tonight on the second half of a back-to-back for them. It was a hard fought one, but the Devils took home the two points when they beat Buffalo 2-1 in overtime.

The Sabres were also coming off of their first loss of the year, having been defeated by the Boston Bruins last night. They won their first three of the year before running into the B’s on Friday.

The Devils also had some changes in goal as Jonathan Bernier is still out with a lower body injury and Mackenzie Blackwood remains on Injured Reserve. With that, Scott Wedgewood stepped aside as the backup and Nico Daws made his NHL debut. He became the third Devils’ starting goalie through their first four games.

He also became the third youngest goaltender at 20 years old to make his NHL debut in a start. Both Craig Billington and Martin Brodeur did it at 19 years old. Daws wore number 50.

Daws made 24 saves on 25 total Sabres shots. He let in the only power play shot he saw as the Sabres were 1-for-2 on the man advantage. He stopped all 24 shots he saw at even strength and finished with a .960 save percentage.

Buffalo countered with Dustin Tokarski. He stopped 37 of the Devils’ total 39 shots for a .949 save percentage. He let in one of the three New Jersey power play shots as the Devils finished 1-for-3. He stopped 35 of the 36 shots the Devils peppered him with at even strength.

In addition to Bernier, the Devils’ scratches included Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros. Jaros slotted out of the lineup because Ty Smith returned and made his season debut tonight. Smith played 20:49 of total ice time (including 16 seconds on the power play and 49 seconds of penalty kill time) and registered three blocked shots, a giveaway and a takeaway. With him back, the Devils’ core defense was all healthy and intact.

In another note, former Devils defenseman Will Butcher was making his return to Prudential Center tonight as a member of the Sabres. He was wearing his traditional number 4, which he wore in college, but could (obviously) not wear in New Jersey.

The Devils looked a little shaky in the first period and fell behind very early.

Jonas Siegenthaler was called for holding Jeff Skinner just 1:57 into the game and Dylan Cozens would make them pay.

At 3:19, Cozens spun off the half wall and gave to Jacob Bryson at the point. Bryson gave the puck back to Cozens and Cozens stepped up to the far faceoff circle and shot, beating Daws to make it 1-0 Buffalo. Kyle Okposo had the secondary assist on the goal.

Things looked a little better for the Devils at the 4:07 mark of the first. On a delayed penalty to Buffalo’s Arttu Ruosalainen for hooking Nico Hischier, Hischier pushed Tokarski’s pad into the net with the puck. The red goal light did go on, but the referee waved the goal off, saying that he blew the whistle before the puck entered the net – which it had.

Devils head coach Lindy Ruff decided to use his coach’s challenge on that to review and see if the puck went in before the whistle blew. The review upheld the call on the ice of no goal.

The Devils were assessed a delay of game penalty for the unsuccessful challenge – putting the teams at 4-on-4 for the next two minutes. Coach Ruff later, during his postgame press conference, said that that this was “on him.”

The Devils came on and pressed during the middle second period, especially late when Tokarski stood on his head. He stopped Marian Studenic point blank and the Devils ended up hitting two posts on one scramble in front. On one, the goal horn even went off briefly, but the Devils did not score. They added one more post before the period was through.

Towards the end of the second period, Nico Hischier went down the tunnel, having favored an injury for most of the period.

But Nico would return for the third period.

And he would tie things up. At the 5:52 mark of the third, on the power play, Hischier scored to finally knot the game at one.

Rasmus Dahlin was called for interference against Andreas Johnsson at 4:24. On the ensuing man advantage, Dougie Hamilton got the puck at the point off of a broken play. Hamilton took a shot that went wide of the net. The puck caromed off the boards to Hischier in front and Nico directed the puck behind Tokarski to make it 1-1. Tomas Tatar had the secondary assist on the goal.

Time expired on regulation and the game was off to overtime. It was the Sabres’ first OT game of the year and the Devils’ second (they won on opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks in OT).

This one would go a little bit longer than the Chicago overtime. It took until the 3:09 mark for Pavel Zacha to gain the Buffalo zone. He dropped the puck for Damon Severson just at the top of the circles. Severson faked a shot to draw in the Buffalo D while Zacha went to the near faceoff circle. He got a pass back from Severson and wristed a shot by Tokarski to win the game for the Devils 2-1. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist on the game-winner.

The Devils outshot Buffalo 39-25 and won 66-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Michael McLeod won 76-percent of his faceoffs to lead the team in that category. The Sabres accumulated eight team penalty minutes to New Jersey’s six. The Sabres outhit the Devils 30-25 and had more blocks at 13 to the Devils’ ten. The Devils also had more turnovers at 13 to the Sabres’ six, with Hamilton and Hischier having two apiece for the Devils. Dawson Mercer, McLeod, Tatar and Ryan Graves each had two takeaways to lead in that category.

Ice time saw Severson lead with 22:34 logged (including 2:11 on the power play and 1:11 of PK time. Hischier led the forwards with 20:06 (including 3:59 on the power play and 55 seconds killing penalties).

Hischier led in shots on goal with five, hits were led by McLeod with four and Smith led in blocks with three.

Next up, the Devils will welcome their first Canadian guests into the Prudential Center this season as the Calgary Flames come calling on Tuesday. They will be the first opponent from North of the Border since late 2020 as 2021 saw the Devils not cross over with the North Division at any point in the regular season. It will also see Blake Coleman return to The Rock for the first time as a Flame.

Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will hopefully see you then.