The Devils made their very first trip to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas a productive one. They defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 8-3, paying back a one-goal loss last week in New Jersey where the Devils were just not able to muster one last one past Marc-Andre Fleury.
This loss marked just the eighth regulation loss at home for the first-year Golden Knights, who have had a dream season for an expansion team. This also marked the worst home loss the Knights have had this year.
The big question coming into last night’s game was how the Devils’ three off days in Vegas would affect them. To a man, the players said that they were “on their best behavior” and, while they enjoyed their time in the city, knew they were on a “business trip.”
Some roster business to get to as Travis Zajac, who had injured his back against Winnipeg last week, made the trip west with the team and played tonight. With him in, Jesper Bratt was a healthy scratch up front. Kyle Palmieri slotted into the top line with Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall as a result. Pavel Zacha remains out with an upper body injury, as he could join the team later in the trip according to the team and Steve Cangialosi of MSG. Jimmy Hayes and Mirco Mueller were the other two out of the lineup.
Vegas was without James Neal and Reilly Smith, two big producers who would be missed for the Golden Knights.
Keith Kinkaid got the nod in goal for the Devils, as his performance in Nashville was too good and coach John Hynes wanted to continue with the hot hand. He made 39 stops on 42 shots against. The Golden Knights started Fleury again, who recently became the fastest goalie to 400 wins in his NHL career. He made seven saves on 11 shots, being chased after the fourth Devils goal in favor of Maxime Lagace. Lagace made 13 saves on 17 shots. The Devils finished the night with a total of 28 shots, being outshot in the victory.
There were a few hundred Devils fans who made the trip to Vegas to see their team take on the Pacific Division leaders, according to Deb Placey and Ken Daneyko of MSG. They were ready, so let’s get to it.
The Devils broke the seal on the game with a shorthanded goal. It was their ninth shorty of the year and, of course, involved Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman. The Devils’ Damon Severson was serving a tripping penalty and, off of a faceoff in the Devils’ zone, which Vegas won, the puck bounced back to the point. Gibbons was right there, picking it up and skating it into the Knights’ zone. He stopped just inside the blue line and found Coleman driving to the net. Coleman chipped the puck over Fleury to give the Devils a 1-0 lead at the 6:23 mark.
The Devils would double their lead about a minute and a half later when Nico Hischier scored from Severson and Sami Vatanen. That one came when Nico moved in on a two-on-one with John Moore. Using Moore as a decoy, he threw the puck towards the Vegas net. Tomas Tatar inadvertently got his stick on it and tipped it by Fleury to make it 2-0. Finally, it seemed, the Devils were getting a little bit of puck luck. The Devils were up by two going into the first intermission. But would that be enough against a good team like Vegas?
They would not let it get that far. Just 1:55 into the first, Zajac put the Devils up 3-0 to start to create some separation between them and the Knights. Will Butcher had the secondary assist, but getting the primary was Michael Grabner. It was his seventh assist of the year, but his first point as a New Jersey Devil. The goal developed when Butcher skated crossed the blue line with the puck and dropped for Grabner, who was trailing just behind. Grabner tic-tac-toed to Zajac, who was entering the slot. He fired a wrister by Fleury to make it 3-0 just like that.
And it only took 36 seconds for the Devils to extend the lead to four. Stefan Noesen notched his eleventh from Andy Greene when Greene swept the puck from a Golden Knights player and connected with Noesen behind the Vegas defense. Noesen had a partial breakaway and beat Fleury five hole to put the Devils up 4-0 and knock Fleury out of the game.
This was the first time the Golden Knights had trailed by as many as four goals in their history at T-Mobile Arena.
But they would quickly have some pushback. Erik Haula scored on the power play at 11:08 from Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt to cut the Devils lead to 4-1. On the evening, the Devils would go 1-for-2 on the power play with two shots. They also had one shot shorthanded. Vegas was 2-for-5 with the man advantage, as they had their chances. They had 11 power play shots.
Miller would cut the Devils lead in half just before the second intermission when he scored unassisted at 18:55. Things were not looking good for the Devils heading into the third, as the Vegas crowd was loud and back into things.
But the Devils would silence them very fast. Blake Coleman scored unassisted just 2:04 into the third period. Coleman stole the puck from Deryk Engelland and skated into the Vegas zone. He shot and had it blocked in front by Jon Merrill. Coleman grabbed his own rebound and beat Legace to make it 5-2 Devils. This was Coleman’s first career two goal game.
At the 7:02 mark, Grabner would notch his 26th of the year, and first as a Devil, from Hischier and Gibbons to make it 6-2. Hischier came out of the far corner, skating to just inside the Vegas blue line. He fired on net, with the rebound coming back to him in the near corner. He was a ball of energy as he grabbed it and worked along the boards with Gibbons. They got it to the front of the net and Grabner took a pass from Nico, simply shoveling it into the empty side of the net.
But the Devils were not done yet. With Merrill off for tripping Grabner (who had his best game as a Devil so far), Kyle Palmieri got onto the scoresheet. On the power play, he scored from Patrick Maroon and Taylor Hall. The Devils won a faceoff in the Vegas zone, with the puck going back to Sami Vatanen. He walked the line and gave it to Hall at the near half wall. Hall found Maroon at the side of the Vegas net. He tried to jam it home and the rebound came to Palmieri at the other side of the net. He put it into the empty side of Legace’s net to make it 7-2 Devils.
With that seventh goal, the Devils had scored seven for the first time since the comeback in Chicago earlier this season on November 12. But they still were not done.
The final one to get in on the Devils’ goal scoring binge was Taylor Hall. He scored his 31st of the year from Brian Boyle at 14:31 of the third to make it 8-2. Hall skated in to the Golden Knights’ zone, shot and, with Boyle battling in front of the Knights’ net, took his own rebound and stuffed it home. The Devils had put up an eight-spot on the road for the first time since November 25, 2005 against the Lightning.
Vegas’ Haula scored from David Perron and Tatar with 28 seconds remaining in the game on the power play, but it was simply window dressing. The Devils had sealed their second straight victory to kick off a rough road stretch.
Stats-wise, Vatanen led in ice time with 24:05 (including 1:18 on the power play and 3:48 on the PK). Zajac led all Devils skaters with 18:06 (including 1:09 on the power play and 4:06 on the penalty kill). Shots were led by Hischier with four, hits by Boyle with seven, blocks by Moore with five. Takeaways were led by Boyle and Grabner who each had one. The Devils won 52-percent of the faceoffs in the game.
Blake Coleman took home first star honors while Keith Kinkaid was the second star and Taylor Hall the third.
Next up the Devils will head off to Los Angeles for a game with the Kings on Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day. That game is a 4 PM start time here in New Jersey. Hopefully the Devils can get the California leg of their road trip off on the right foot when they travel to Staples Center.
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