The Devils dropped their tenth straight game and fell to last place in the Eastern Conference despite a dramatic comeback that they just could not finish. They fell 5-4 to the Arizona Coyotes.
The roster had a drastically different look tonight. For starters, Travis Zajac was back in New Jersey with his wife as they were celebrating the birth of their third child. With Zajac out, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri would be playing with Adam Henrique centering their line.
Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body injury) was out of the lineup as well. In his and Zajac’s place, Blake Pietila and Kevin Rooney were recalled from Albany to replace them. Andy Greene was also back in on the blue line following his return to the team. Miles Wood went hard into the end boards at practice earlier today and was favoring his shoulder, but he would play. Ken Appleby was sent back to the A-Devils as Keith Kinkaid felt better and was able to back up Cory Schneider tonight.
Also scratched for New Jersey were Michael Cammalleri and Jacob Josefson as well as Dalton Prout. Sitting for Arizona were Alexander Burmistrov, Kevin Connauton and Teemu Pulkkinen.
These two teams last played all the way back on October 25 in New Jersey where the Devils came away with the victory and scored five goals. Since then, both teams have gone steadily downhill. However, for the Coyotes, one bright spot has been the rookies, who have scored a combined 80 points for the club. The Devils had won five straight games against the Coyotes coming into this game.
The matchup between the pipes saw Mike Smith make 26 saves for the Coyotes on 30 shots faced for a .867 save percentage. The Devils started Cory Schneider, who made six saves on 10 shots faced for a .600 save percentage. Keith Kinkaid would come on in relief for him at about the 15:47 mark of the second period and make 20 saves on 21 shots faced for a .952 save percentage.
The first period was ugly for the Devils, no doubt about it. It began just 1:27 into the period when Radim Vrbata scored from Max Domi and Connor Murphy. The Devils would immediately challenge this goal, saying that Domi had entered the Devils zone ahead of the Christian Dvorak and the puck, thus being offside. The linesmen looked at the replays and did not agree, ruling that Domi was, in fact on side and the goal was a good goal. It was 1-0 Coyotes.
Arizona scored again one minute and 26 seconds later when Tobias Rieder found the netting behind Cory from Jordan Martinook. It was now 2-0 Coyotes.
The third Arizona goal was set up by the whistle happy referees calling everything in sight. First, at 13:24 Domi was called for interference, giving New Jersey a 5-on-4 power play. Things were evened up at 15:24 when Joseph Blandisi went off for holding. At 16:24, Vrbata was sent off for cross checking, making it a 4-on-3 for the Devils. Then Taylor Hall was nabbed for slashing at 16:40 to make it a 3-on-3. As each of those penalties expired, it ended up with Arizona coming away with a 5-on-4 man advantage on which Jakob Chychrun scored from Rieder and Martinook. The Coyotes would end up 2-for-3 on the power play and the Devils were 1-for-2 on the night.
The Devils hit rock bottom at 3:59 of the second period when Brendan Perlini scored from Anthony DeAngelo and Chychrun again on the power play (Greene was in the box for holding). It was now 4-0 Coyotes.
The Devils were deep in a hole when, at 4:36 of the second, Mike Smith, one of the NHL’s best puck handling goaltenders was called for delay of game for playing the puck outside of the trapezoid. Then, at 5:47 of the period, Joseph Blandisi stole the puck from an Arizona defender and skated it to the far faceoff circle. He went cross ice to Hall, who connected on a pass to a cutting Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri was cutting in on net and scored, tumbling into the net along with the puck. The Devils had made it 4-1.
New Jersey would cut the lead in half at 12:09 of the second when Damon Severson kept the puck in the Arizona zone. He bobbled it and Beau Bennett picked it up in the slot, skated in on Smith, went to his backhand and scored to make it 4-2. With the Devils mounting a comeback, things began to get a little bit chippy as there was a lot of extra curricular activity after the whistles.
The third period opened with the Devils’ comeback continuing. Just 17 seconds into the third frame, Adam Henrique won an offensive zone faceoff back to Damon Severson at the far point. He fired and seemed to have beaten Smith cleanly to end his goal scoring drought that goes back to November 15. Replays showed that Palmieri actually tipped it in and he got the credit, giving him his second goal of the game to make it 4-3 Coyotes.
The Devils comeback would hit a snag when Sewell, New Jersey-native Anthony DeAngelo scored his fourth goal of the season from Jamie McGinn and Chychrun to put the Coyotes back up by two, 5-3.
But New Jersey made things interesting. First, at 15:02, the lead was cut back to one when Wood and Pavel Zacha cycled in the far corner. Zacha then went against the grain, finding John Moore behind the play. Moore took the pass, went to his back hand and beat Smith to make the score 5-4.
The Devils were within one and had their chance to tie it up when, with just 2:38 left in the game, Luke Schenn hauled down Hall and the ref awarded him a penalty shot. Smith would stop him and the game would continue 5-4. New Jersey pulled Kinkaid with about 50 seconds left in the third, but could get nothing going to tie it up and dropped their tenth straight and yet another one goal game.
But they did battle back and that showed that this team has not given up.
Next up, the Devils return home on Tuesday to the Prudential Center to take on the Winnipeg Jets. I will be attending this game live, so my post may be a little bit late. Hopefully, the Devils can get a win here as it would do a lot to boost the morale of this young team and their fans.