Devils Crowned by Kings 3-2

And it continues.

The Devils fell to the lowly Arizona Coyotes to kick off their four-game homestand last Wednesday. Then they proceeded to lay an upset at the hands of the powerhouse Carolina Hurricanes last night.

Tonight, in the backend of a back-to-back against a Los Angeles Kings team that has been having trouble winning on the road? They lost 3-2.

You can’t always explain these things, you just go along for the ride.

Last night’s game against Carolina saw the Devils put up a touchdown and the extra point for only the second time this season. The only other team that they scored seven goals on, strangely enough, was the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers. They beat the Cats on November 9, 2021 7-3 at home.

Ironically, their win over the Hurricanes last night knocked the Canes out of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. By virtue of the Rangers’ win over the Coyotes last night at the Garden, it was the Blueshirts who took over the division lead. The Devils inadvertently put their hated rivals in first place in the division by playing a game well!

Anyway, that aside, they kept the lineup exactly the same for tonight’s game against the Kings with Mason Geertsen, Marian Studenic and Jesper Boqvist as the healthy scratches.

That lineup uniformity extended to the crease as well. Jon Gillies made his first NHL back-to-back consecutive starts. Part of this is that the coaching staff was intending to go back to Mackenzie Blackwood, but the trainers indicated that Blackwood “is not quite ready yet.”

Gillies made 34 saves on 37 total Los Angeles shots for a .919 save percentage on the night. He stopped all four of LA’s power play shots as the Kings went 0-for-3 on the power play as a team. He got 30 of the Kings’ 33 shots at five-on-five play.

For the second time this season, the Devils faced the right-handed catching Cal Petersen (the second time this week that the Devils have faced a right-handed catching goalie as well). Petersen had gotten an overtime victory over the Devils in Los Angeles earlier in the season.

Petersen made 23 saves on 25 shots total by the Devils for a .920 save percentage on the night. He turned aside the two shorthanded shots that the Devils peppered him with and one of their two power play shots. The Devils ended the night 1-for-2 on the man advantage. He was 20-for-21 at five-on-five.

Also, a correction to Andreas Johnsson’s goal scored last night as he ended a 17-game goal drought. I believe I identified it as an 18-game goal drought in last night’s post.

One player that the Kings had tonight that they were without when the teams met earlier this season in LA is Quinton Byfield. Byfield was the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and was playing just his second game of the season this year in the NHL. He was injured in this year’s preseason after only playing six NHL games last season. This might have been many Devils fans first look at him.

The Devils got on the board first 2:37 into the game when Damon Severson hit Jesper Bratt with a perfect tape-to-tape saucer stretch pass from the Devils zone that sprung Bratt behind the Kings defense.

Bratt deked backhand-forehand and beat Petersen, going right around the LA goalie to make it 1-0.

It was an electrifying pass from Severson and an even better finish by Bratt to give the Devils the early lead.

Of course, following last night’s lead, the Kings quickly had an answer for the Devils.

It came at 5:47 gone by in the first period at four-on-four play.

Both LA’s Dustin Brown and the Devils’ Michael McLeod had gone off the ice at the 4:53 mark of the first. McLeod for cross checking Brown and Brown for embellishment on the penalty.

At the aforementioned 5:47 mark, Alex Iafallo read a pass by Jack Hughes to Severson at Kings’ blue line well. He took the puck practically off of Severson’s stick and skated into the Devils zone on a partial 2-on-1 with Hughes backchecking hard to catch up to help out the lone Devils defenseman back.

Iafallo raced up the right-wing boards and unleashed a well-placed shot off of the rush himself, beating Gillies. The goal was unassisted and tied the game at one.

Bratt would make himself an assist away from a Gordie Howe hat trick when he got into his first NHL scrap at the 8:04 mark of the first.

Carl Grundstrom had laid a big, though clean, hit on Jack Hughes just before. Bratt then came to Hughes’ rescue and, though it was not a big heavyweight brawl, both Bratt and Grundstrom did pull roughing minors out of the tussle.

Bratt ended up with a double minor for roughing, as a matter of fact for his eagerness to get at Grundstrom. That put the Kings on a power play that would ultimately last three seconds.

Following the faceoff putting the puck back in play, Dustin Brown tripped Severson to take a minor and pretty much cancel out the LA power play. All of this was killed off.

However, it was the Devils who would retake the lead heading into the first intermission when Bratt scored his second of the night at 17:34 gone by in the first on the power play.

Grundstrom was called for slashing Tomas Tatar at the 16:33 mark of the first to put the Devils up a man.

At the time of the goal, just about a minute into the man advantage, the Devils moved the puck around the Kings zone tic-tac-toe. They eventually got it to Severson, who gave it to Hughes up top on the far of the rink. Hughes walked it up a bit and faked like he was going to shoot, freezing the Kings penalty killer and Petersen as well.

Hughes had scored from that spot in last night’s versus the Hurricanes so the Kings needed to respect his shot. Unfortunately for them, Hughes was able to pass through an open seam that opened up for him to Bratt located at the near side. Bratt then sniped a finish into a wide open goal cage since Petersen was leaning to one side respecting Hughes’ ability to shoot.

Bratt’s goal, his 13th of the year (a new career high for him) eclipsed his previous high in a fewer amount of games played in a season.

In addition, the Devils now had a 2-1 lead to take into the second period.

But the Kings would not go anywhere.

In the second period, the Devils had trouble getting the puck deep into the Kings zone before trying to make a change. Kings forward pushed the puck back out and sprung Viktor Arvidsson up the right-wing boards and into the Devils zone all alone on Gillies. He scored at 15:59 gone in the second period to tie the game at two in the second.

That tie was taken right into the third period.

The Kings would put the hammer down in the third when, at 11:05, Brown was able to get a nice pass to Grundstrom while Brown was being squeezed along the far half wall in the Devils zone. Grundstrom took the pass in the slot, spun around and got a shot off that beat Gillies stick side to give Los Angeles the 3-2 lead. Tobias Bjornfot had the secondary assist on the game-winner.

Gillies was pulled by New Jersey with a little over 1:37 left to go in regulation.

The Devils actually forced overtime when they were in LA earlier this season when they pulled the goaltender and scored with the extra attacker.

Tonight, they put the kibosh on that themselves before they were able to finish.

The Devils took a too many men on the ice bench minor with a little over 30 seconds left in the game and would finish the game killing a penalty. They had muffed a change and it was very briefly 7-on-5.

Head coach Lindy Ruff used his timeout just after the penalty was called. When the Devils regained possession of the puck with about ten seconds left in the game, Gillies headed to the bench again to even the attack at five-on-five.

But it was too late. The Kings held on and won the game 3-2.

The Kings outshot the Devils 37 to 25 while the Devils won 53-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Michael McLeod again led the Devils centers with a 71-percent faceoff winning percentage on the night.

Other team stats saw the Devis with ten penalty minutes total and the Kings rack up eight. The Devils were outhit 31 to 29. The Kings also had 11 blocked shots to the Devils’ nine. LA ended up with five team giveaways to New Jersey’s nine.

In terms of ice time leaders, Severson led everyone with 25:13 total time. This included 1:04 on the power play and 1:40 killing penalties. For the forwards, Nico Hischier led in total ice time at 18:40 logged (including 1:01 of PP time and 1:13 of PK time). McLeod led in shorthanded time for the forwards with 1:27 out of his 13:28 of his total time spent on the PK. Jack Hughes played the most power play time for forwards at 1:04 (out of 18:09 total TOI). He also played 13 seconds on the penalty kill.

In terms of scoring, Jesper Bratt (two goals for two points) and Damon Severson (two assists for two points) led there. Jack Hughes (one assist) was the only other Devil to record a point tonight.

Hischier led in shots on goal with four. Nathan Bastian led in hits with six. Defensemen Christian Jaros and Ryan Graves led in blocked shots with two. Hughes, Severson and Graves led in giveaways with two each and Hischier led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils will welcome the Dallas Stars to Prudential Center on Tuesday in the homestand finale.

That game – the second straight the Devils will play against historic Stanley Cup Final rivals – will begin at 7 PM and will air over ESPN+. We will have coverage for you right here following the game.

In the meantime, I would like to take a moment to address the recent news about an incident in the ECHL involving PK Subban’s brother Jordan of the South Carolina Stingrays.

Jordan’s Stingrays were paying the Jacksonville Icemen on Saturday night when Jacob Panetta of the Icemen made a racist and reprehensible taunt towards Jordan following a scrum by the two teams.

The Devils made their support of both Jordan and PK and their family known with a statement. Both Jordan and PK responded to the incident on Twitter – which included video of the disgusting gesture made as Jordan was skating away with his back to Panetta.

Panetta has since been released by the Icemen and suspended indefinitely by the ECHL according to Erika Wachter on the Devils’ postgame shot on MSG+ tonight.

Jordan was being led away from the on-ice altercation by an official when, with Subban’s back to him, Panetta began to make monkey gestures towards him. Subban then raced back and confronted Panetta, as did a good many of Jordan’s Stingray teammates. This includes Nico Blachman, who came off of the South Carolina bench to attack Panetta according to Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

It should be noted that, in the video, no player from the Icemen came to his defense, a fact that PK pointed out in his Twitter post.

The really sad and scary part is that the second such incident to occur in professional hockey this month.

On January 21, the AHL suspended Krystof Hrabik of the San Jose Barracuda 30 games for making the same gesture towards Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners (who is also a Black player) in a game on January 12.

In Hrabik’s case, ESPN’s Wyshynski reported that Imama was held back by one of the linesmen while Imama’s teammate Travis Barron confronted Hrabik.

Hrabik, who will be banned for the three games that he missed during the AHL’s investigation of the incident in addition to 27 other games, will be able to reapply to the AHL for reinstatement after 21 games.

Hrabik will be able to work with the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee. The Players Inclusion Committee is run by NHL executive Kim Davis. PK Subban is a co-chairman along with Anson Carter, who now works as an on-air TV analyst for TNT.

In both instances, there were apologies. The Icemen made an apology when they announced that Panetta had been released from the team. The Stingrays and the Devils came out in support of the Subban brothers. The American Hockey League made an apology for the incident directed at Imama. Both Hrabik and Panetta apologized publicly as well, for what its worth.

Not to get too much on a soapbox here, because I understand fully that, not being Black in professional hockey, I will never understand the kinds of things that the Subbans and Imama and men like them have and will go through on a near-constant basis and it would be disingenuous to pretend that I do.

What I can say is that this should not be something that you resort to “in the heat of the moment.” Both Panetta and Hrabik backtracked on what they did and insisted that they did not mean anything racial by their intentions.

The problem is that the gestures were very much meant in a racial way and the thinking that went into them is what needs to change.

If your first reaction to a “heated moment” with an opponent who is Black is to go and make, not only racial slurs, but to pantomime gestures that the fans in the stand can either easily understand as, or at the very least, misinterpret as, racist, it may be time to reevaluate your underlying thinking there.

I wholehearted applaud the efforts that the NHL and men like Subban, Carter in addition to pioneers like Willie O’Ree and Bryce Salvador have made to make the game more inclusive and accepting.

However, for every effort there will always seem to be a segment of pushback. This will require just continuing to putting in the hard work – no matter how disheartening the setbacks – both by people like the Subbans and Kim Davis, and also everyday fans.

It starts at the grassroots. If we the fans can make it known that we will not tolerate racist or hateful speech in the stands, as chirps on the ice in our own hockey experiences (no matter the level you play at, or whom it is aimed at), then “Hockey is for Everyone” will continue to be just a pipedream.

As Devils fans, stand with PK Subban and his family and just do the right thing when you can and do what you can not to tolerate racism anywhere in any form. The smallest gestures can sometimes make the biggest ripples, I feel and it starts with us. Let’s try to be better as a whole.

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