Devils Frozen Out in Minnesota, Fall 5-2

The Devils’ recent struggles continue as they dropped their second straight game and fourth of their last five. Playing for the first time in the month of December, they fell to the Minnesota Wild 5-2 in St. Paul.

This loss snapped the Devils’ four-game win streak at the Xcel Energy Center at Minnesota and represented the Devils’ second loss to the Wild in a little over a week. They lost in a shootout last Wednesday to the Wild back home in Newark. Minnesota now sweeps the season series.

Coach Lindy Ruff was understandably not happy with the Devils’ effort against in their loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and worked the team hard in practice yesterday.

Jack Hughes was back for his second game in his return from injury and Janne Kuokkanen joined Colton White as a scratch. Mason Geertsen slotted back in on defense.

Hughes, of course, is also coming off of signing his new contract extension. It was an eight-year extension that was the maximum allowed under the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Hughes again mostly played winger on the night largely to ease him back into the lineup. Playing wing has less responsibilities than center so that makes it a little easier to get his footing back into the lineup.

In goal, the Devils started Mackenzie Blackwood, as he is largely emerging as the team’s number one goalie. He was not as sharp tonight, but to be fair, did not get much goal support from the guys in front of him.

He made 33 saves on 39 total Minnesota shots for a save percentage of .868 on the night. He saved all six Wild power play shots (Minny ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play) and made 27 saves on 32 even strength shots.

Blackwood suffered just his second regulation loss of the season on Tuesday versus the Sharks, he now has three after this loss at Minnesota.

For the Wild, Kaapo Kahkonen started, making 29 saves off of 31 Devils total shots. He finished the night with a .935 save percentage. He stopped all five Devils power play shots – the Devils ended the night perfect on the penalty kill, but also 0-for-3 on their power play. He made 24 saves on 26 Devils even strength shots.

Of note and something to watch for: Devils’ play-by-play man on MSG+2, Steve Cangialosi mentioned that Devils goaltending coach Dave Rogalski is in COVID protocol. Hopefully this does not have any bearing on the team moving forward, but a few teams (including the Senators and the Islanders) have had some postponements this season already due to COVID outbreaks. These unscheduled breaks in the season for teams may end up putting the NHL’s involvement in the Winter Olympics in jeopardy as well.

The Devils got into a hole very early. Minnesota (who had points in their last five games prior to this one – this is the best 22-game start in Wild franchise history as they stand at first place in the Central Division) came out with jump, as evidenced when Kevin Fiala hit the post off of a backhand while one-on-one in the Devils zone with Dougie Hamilton early in the first period.

The Wild would get on the board for real just 8:49 into the game. Minnesota goaltender Kahkonen wound the puck up the boards to Ryan Hartman in the neutral zone. He made a nice cross-ice pass to Kirill Kaprizov in stride. Kaprizov got it along the right-wing boards and beat Devils defenseman Ryan Graves with a shifty move, then cut in on Blackwood and scored to make it 1-0 Wild.

Kaprizov is a dynamic player and just had way too much room on the play, going one-on-one with Graves and he made him pay.

Minnesota would double up their lead before the end of the first period when Rem Pitlick scored at the 11:09 mark.

Victor Rask got the puck out of the corner as the puck rolled off of Graves’ stick as the Devils were already off on their transition. Nobody was back when Rask got the puck to Pitlick in front of the Devils’ net. Pitlick cut back and skated around Blackwood to deposit the puck in the Devils goal and put the Wild up 2-0.

That took us to the second period as the Minnesota assault continued unabated.

Just 2:28 into the new period, Kaprizov scored on a goal that was originally credited to Hartman.

Mats Zuccarello got it down low to Kaprizov near the Devils goal line. He threw it towards net and it banked in off of a Devils’ skate to make it 3-0 Wild. It initially looked like Hartman had shot the rebound in after it went off of the Devils players’ skate, but it went in off of Kaprizov’s shot, giving him two goals on the night. Alex Goligoski had the secondary assist on the goal.

But the Devils have been more resilient in this season than recent years and that showed in this second period.

It began at the 2:52 mark, just 44 seconds after Kaprizov’s second goal.

Michael McLeod got the puck to Hamilton at the far point. He went D-to-D with Graves. Graves stepped up and blasted a bomb past Kahkonen to make it 3-1 Minnesota.

The Devils took longer to respond in this game than it did in the Sharks game on Tuesday. They got down in a 4-0 hole in that game before starting a modest comeback. This game only took them going down by three before they started to get back in the game.

The Devils would add another one as well, at the 7:40 mark of the second. Hamilton got the puck off of a turnover at the Devils blue line and made a stretch pass to Tomas Tatar. Tatar got behind the Wild defense and was all alone in on Kahkonen. He scored five-hole to make it 3-2 as the Devils got within one goal.

For Tatar, this was his second goal in two games and his third in four games. For Hamilton, his second assist of the night gave him two points and a hand in both Devils goals on the night.

However, Minnesota would jump right back out to a two-goal lead at the 10:47 mark of the second.

Hartman took a shot from the point. Blackwood made the save on the initial shot, but former Devil Dmitry Kulikov was there on the doorstep to sweep the rebound in past him and make it 4-2 Wild. Kaprizov had the secondary assist on the goal, giving him three points on the night (two goals and the assist).

Blackwood made a big save just as time expired in the second period when Matt Dumba made a nice move around the Devils defense and got a shot off as the horn sounded.

The third period began with a scary moment for the Devils and their fans.

Marcus Foligno hauled Jack Hughes down as Foligno was backchecking on a play in the Minnesota zone. As Hughes went down, he went into the end boards awkwardly, landing with his left shoulder hitting the boards first. He was okay, but it could have been a very costly play for the Devils and Hughes.

At the 6:16 mark of the third, a stranger moment occurred. Andreas Johnsson and Hartman squared off to fight after jostling in front of the Devils net. Johnsson dropped his gloves, as did Hartman. But Johnsson also took off his helmet.

This is now an occasion for the linesmen to jump in right away. A player cannot intentionally take his helmet off on the ice anymore. Both men received roughing minors with Johnsson getting an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct. Hartman, who was visibly annoyed by Johnsson’s actions, immediately signaled to the referee that Johnsson should receive an extra two.

Keep in mind, however, that Johnsson has not actually had a fight at the NHL level yet. His last scrap came in the American Hockey League and the rule about removing your helmet is relatively new. For a guy not accustomed to fighting, it was simply a lapse in his thinking and not something he likely did to get out of the fight.

The Devils would kill off that penalty, as well as a tripping penalty to Dawson Mercer just as the Johnsson penalty was up, putting Minnesota right back on the man advantage – which the Devils would kill as well.

The Wild, however, would get one at even strength when Hartman scored at the 16:05 mark of the third. Goligoski moved it up to Hartman, who weaved through the Devils’ defense in their zone and snapped a shot by Blackwood’s stick side to make it 5-2, our final.

Just as time expired in the game, Nick Bjugstad got a shot off and beat Blackwood. However, time did expire just as he got he shot off and before it entered the net.

The Devils took offense and there was some pushing and shoving to end the game, but everyone cleared the ice eventually without incident.

The Devils were outshot 38-31 in the game. They won 45-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod leading the regular centers as he won 74-percent of his draws – leading the Devils centers by a large margin.

The Devils finished with ten total penalty minutes while Minnesota had eight. The Wild outhit the Devils 14-10 and also had more blocked shots at 15 to the Devils’ 13. Each team ended the game with five giveaways.

In time on ice, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 22:18 of total time (including 3:15 on the PP and 4:39 of time killing penalties). Nico Hischier led the forwards with 20:17 of total ice time – which included 2:45 on the power play and 3:42 on the PK.

Hamilton had assists on both Devils goals (both the primary assist) to lead the Devils in scoring with two points. Johnsson led with four total penalty minutes (the roughing call and the unsportsmanlike conduct minor on the same play).

Jesper Bratt led the team in shots on goal with seven. Johnsson and McLeod tied for the lead in hits with three each (of note that the only defenseman to register a hit was Severson, who had one – which just tells you generally how the Wild were running around on the Devils, who were not getting physical with them). Blocks were led by Ty Smith with three. Johnsson led New Jersey with three giveaways while Hischier led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils will finish up this two-game road trip as they head further north to Winnipeg to take on the Jets tomorrow. Puck drop for this game will also be 8 PM on MSG+. This game will mark the Devils’ first trip to Canada in over 22 months.

With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the remainder of the 2019-20 season three-quarters of the way through it the Devils did not go back to Canada that season (remember, they did not qualify for the postseason tournament which was played in Toronto and Edmonton). And last season featured no cross-border play between the American or Canadian teams until Tampa Bay met Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Devils will make their return north of the border on Friday and we will have coverage for you right here.

Until then, we’ll see you in about 24-hours!