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!