Devils Blanked in Columbus

The Devils traveled to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets in their final game just prior to the bye week and the All-Star break.

Unfortunately for the Devils, Elvis was in the building for the Jackets. Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins stopped all 41 of the Devils shots, withstanding a great Devils’ first period and got the 5-0 shutout. This was the first time the Devils had been shutout since December 10 at Dallas.

The Devils have had some problems at the Nationwide Arena over the last few seasons. They had a 3-14-1 record over the last 18 games coming into tonight according to MSG Network.

Cory Schneider got the nod to start for the Devils for the first time since November 8 (71 days according to MSG Network) with the Devils scratching Louis Domingue to exercise caution with his injury. He made 13 saves on 17 Blue Jacket shots for a .765 save percentage. Mackenzie Blackwood, who was serving as the backup tonight, came in after the fourth Columbus goal and made 13 saves on 14 shots for a .929 save percentage. The Blue Jackets finished the game with 31 shots, being outshot by the Devils by ten.

Mike McLeod and Mirco Mueller were the other scratches as Kevin Rooney slotted back in after missing the last game due to illness.

The Devils restructured some of their lineup, moving Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier and Wayne Simmonds to the top line and using the line of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev as a unit on the power play.

Speaking of the power play, the Devils went 0-for-3 with five shots and Columbus was 0-for-2 with two shots (both on Schneider) and a shorthanded goal (also on Schneider).

Although the Devils had the better first period, peppering Merzlikins with 21 shots in the opening frame, the Blue Jackets had the better of it. They came out roaring and hit a post right away.

Cam Atkinson got them on the board first at 14:49 of the first when he took a long-range shot from just inside the blue line and beat Schneider to make it 1-0. Nathan Gerbe and David Savard had the assists.

The rest of the Columbus scoring came in the second period beginning when Atkinson scored his second of the night 8:40 in. It came just off of a Devils power play where they had applied pressure in the Jackets’ zone for about two minutes straight. Atkinson then took a snap shot off of the rush and beat Schneider to make it 2-0. Emil Bemstrom and Alexander Wennberg had the assists.

Jacob Lilja made it 3-0 when he scored unassisted at the 11:58 mark of the second period. On this one, Schneider made the initial save and the rebound was cleared by Will Butcher right to the stick of Lilja. He fired it by Cory and the Jackets had tripled their lead.

The fourth goal came when a hard around clearing attempt by the Devils came right to Vladislav Gavrikov. He shot on Schneider and the rebound came to Nick Foligno in front and he scored at 12:14.

It was after this goal that Schneider was pulled in favor of Blackwood. Blackwood would give up the fifth goal when Wennberg took a pass from Atkinson and skated up ice. He broke into the Devils’ zone and roofed one by Blackwood to make it 5-0. Zach Werenski had the secondary assist.

A scoreless third period did feature a short wrestling match-style scrap between Gerbe and Damon Severson.

Statistically, the Devils won 54-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Travis Zajac winning 67-percent of his. The Devils had one more hit than Columbus at 22 to 21 and the Jackets had 17 blocked shots to the Devils’ eight. Columbus had more turnovers at eight than the Devils at six.

Time on ice was led by PK Subban, who had 22:40 of ice time (1:50 on the power play and 1:57 shorthanded included). Pavel Zacha led the forwards with 19:46 (2:06 on the PP and 2:10 killing penalties).

Shots were led by Hischier with five, hits by Andy Greene with four, blocks by Hischier with two and takeaways by Zacha with two.

Next up, the bye week/All-Star break. Nico Hischier will be taking part in the festivities in St. Louis and we will have coverage of that for you next weekend. Following that, on the 27th of January, the Devils will face the Senators in Ottawa. Have a great week everyone!

Devils Cannot Repeat Magic, Lose to Caps 5-2

After defeating the Washington Capitals five days ago in the Capital One Arena in DC, the Devils were right back looking to take another one from the NHL’s best team.

They would not. They were downed 5-2 tonight as the Caps just rolled. It did not hurt that Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick either.

Some roster notes to get to first as the bug that got Jack Hughes in Toronto has apparently hit the rest of the team. Kevin Rooney missed tonight with illness. Also, Kyle Palmieri was placed on injured reserve retroactive to the last time these teams met on January 11. Mike McLeod was recalled from Binghamton to take Palmieri’s spot on the roster and, since Rooney was a game-time decision that could not go, played tonight. He centered a line with Jesper Boqvist and John Hayden. Mackenzie Blackwood was the other scratch as he is, according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter, very close to returning.

Which brings us to the goaltending situation. Interim coach Alain Nasreddine mentioned that the team would have to look at things coming out of the All-Star bye week, but that decision may have gotten a little bit easier for him.

Louis Domingue got the start tonight, but left after the first period with a lower body injury. He stopped 13-of-16 Washington shots for an .867 save percentage. He was making his fourth straight start. Cory Schneider came on in relief for the second straight game and made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 save percentage. Washington finished with 38 total shots. Ilya Samsonov went for the Caps, making 32 saves on 34 Devils shots for a .941 save percentage.

Domingue started the game making a big stop early on Ovechkin. The puck went over his shoulder, hit the post and he swept it out with his stick as it was going over the goal line.

That was followed, with 16:41 to go in the first period, by Carl Hagelin seeming to score when Lars Eller got the puck down low and passed to Hagelin, who was cutting towards the net. It went behind Domingue, but, after some discussion at the bench, Nasreddine decided to use his coach’s challenge, saying the Caps were offsides at the blue line just prior to the goal being scored.

Sure enough, replay showed that Michal Kempny, at the Devils blue line, was unable to keep the puck in and the call on the ice (good goal) was reversed to no goal. The Devils had seemingly dodged a bullet, but things would get bad soon enough.

It came on the while the Devils were down two men, with Travis Zajac going off for tripping at 13:39 and then Hayden at 15:12 for holding. It set up a 5-on-3 situation and Ovechkin would make this one count.

The Capitals won the faceoff in the Devils’ zone and got it back to John Carlson at the point. He passed down to Ovechkin in his “office” and he ripped a shot by Domingue to make it 1-0 Washington. Nicklas Backstrom had the secondary assist. That goal came at 15:17.

Ovechkin got his second with less than a minute to go in the first. At 19:08, Backstrom won another faceoff deep in the offensive zone and Ovechkin swooped in to grab the loose puck. He wristed it by Domingue to make it 2-0.

Cory came in in the second to relieve the injured Domingue. He had little luck with Hagelin, as he scored for real this time, 16 seconds into the period on a cold Schneider. It came when the Devils could not clear and Eller took the puck, making a slick pass to Hagelin, who scored from the slot. Richard Panik had the secondary assist. This made it 3-0 Washington.

But the Devils got on the board less than a minute later at 1:08 when Wayne Simmonds ended his 28-goal drought. Nico Hischier grabbed the puck down low and protected it, eventually finding Simmonds in front of the net and he shoveled it home to make it 3-1. Will Butcher had the secondary assist. All of the goal scoring in the second period happened within the first minute and a half.

So that took us to the third with the Devils trailing by two and about to go on the penalty kill 2:11 into the new frame when Butcher was called for holding.

But the Devils are always a threat to score shorthanded with Blake Coleman on the ice and that is exactly what happened. At 3:34, Coleman took the puck at center ice and broke in on Samsonov. He went backhand to score his third shorthanded goal of the year and cut the Caps’ lead to one at 3-2. Zajac had the lone assist.

But the Capitals would retake control of the game at 6:42 when Cory made several saves in tight. Eventually, the puck squibbed out to Jakub Vrana in the high slot and he shot, beating Cory unassisted to make it 4-2 and restore the two-goal lead.

Later on, with 7:02 to go, a turning point in the game for the Devils as Kempny was called for a double-minor for high-sticking on Nikita Gusev. When Gusev got hit, play was immediately whistled dead. However, once the call was made, the officials reviewed it and found that, while Kempny had swung at an airborne puck, his stick did not hit Gusev’s face. It was the puck that made contact with him and the penalty was overturned. The Devils would not be going on an extended power play.

Instead, at 15:42, Ovechkin would complete his hat trick and put Washington up 5-2. It came when the puck was misplayed in the Devils zone. Tom Wilson grabbed a loose puck along the near boards and blindly threw it towards net. He ended up connecting to Ovechkin tape-to-tape at the side of the Devils’ net and Ovechkin tapped it in. Carlson had the secondary assist.

And that was it. The Devils ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play with five shots. They also had four shorthanded shots, one of which they scored on. Washington was 1-for-5 with six shots. Three shots came on Domingue and three on Schneider. They added a shorthanded shot as well on Domingue.

The Devils won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Zajac winning 65-percent of his to lead and McLeod winning 60-percent of his draws.

The Devils outhit the Caps, 18-11, had more blocked shots at 18 to 13 and less turnovers at six to Washington’s 18.

PK Subban led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 23:30 (4:34 on the power play and 3:01 shorthanded), just edging Damon Severson, who had 23:07. Coleman led the forwards with 18:57 (including 5:42 shorthanded, where he is obviously very dangerous).

Stats-wise, Coleman led in shots on goal with six, Pavel Zacha and Connor Carrick led in hits with three apiece, Andy Greene led in blocks with four and Jesper Bratt led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils have one more game prior to the All-Star bye week. They will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in Ohio. I have a family function on Saturday, so I am recording the game and will eventually have the recap up a little bit later than usual.