Jaromir Jagr played about one and 2/3rds of a season with the Devils, but made quite an impact in that relatively short amount of time. Even after he was dealt to the Florida Panthers right before the trading deadline last year, you still see quite a few of Jagr’s number 68 Devils jerseys in the stands at any particular home game.
Tonight, Jagr made his return to the Rock with his Panthers teammates. The Panthers have played well of late, they were looking to sweep a five game road trip, a trip where they beat the likes of Nashville and St. Louis, no pushovers there. It was a game that could easily have mirrored the Philly game in nature. The Devils, however, have been talking about coming out with better starts to games and they would make good on that tonight.
Cory Schneider again got the start, making a total of 34 saves. He was opposed by his former Vancouver teammate Roberto Luongo. The Devils only managed 18 shots on the night, being badly outshot 36-18, and Luongo nabbed 14 of those shots.
Travis Zajac missed his second consecutive game with an upper body injury. Bobby Farnham and Jon Merrill were healthy scratches for New Jersey.
The Devils had addressed getting off to a quick start and they certainly did. Twenty-six seconds into the game, Adam Henrique poked the puck into the left corner in the Panthers zone. He recovered the puck and moved it to the opposite corner to Mike Cammalleri who centered it to Lee Stempniak who beat Luongo to give the Devils a very quick 1-0 lead.
The Devils would leave the first period with a 2-0 lead when Damon Severson intercepted a Florida pass in the neutral zone and fired it up to Kyle Palmieri, who skated it in and shot from a bad angle behind the goal line at 12:55 to double the Devils lead. The teams would enter the second period four-on-four when Severson and the Panthers’ Brandon Pirri went off for roughing. Coincidental minors would open the ice up a little bit going into the new period and fresh ice.
While the first period was all Devils, the second period would see Florida climb back into the game. They scratched, clawed and did not give up, making the game a little more tense for Devils fans.
Forty-five seconds into the period, with the teams at four-on-four, last year’s Calder Trophy winner as NHL Rookie of the Year, Aaron Ekblad beat Cory. Jagr and Aleksander Barkov had the assists. It was Jagr’s first of two assists on the night.
With the lead now cut in half, 2-1, the Devils would look for a little bit of insurance. That would come courtesy of Adam Henrique. At 3:43, an Adam Larsson shot rebounded out to Henrique in the slot. He settled the puck down and attempted a wraparound and the puck beat Luongo. New Jersey was now up 3-1. The Panthers would continue to push back in the game when Jonathan Huberdeau scored on a snap shot with assists to Jagr (his second of the game) and Ekblad.
Some officiating calls came under scrutiny (especially from MSG+ analyst Ken Daneyko) in the second. First, at 17:54, Larsson was called for tripping Huberdeau on a breakaway and a penalty shot was awarded to the Panthers young star. Schneider stopped him, but the awarding of the penalty shot itself was controversial in Daneyko’s eyes because of the fact that Larsson was clearly going for the puck when he tripped Huberdeau and the tripping was incidental on the play.
Then at 19:40 of the second, Kyle Palmieri gave Luongo a snow shower as play was stopping. A fairly routine occurrence in a hockey game that Florida’s Erik Gudbranson took offense to. Gudbranson went off for roughing and Palmieri drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play. The reasoning for Palmieri going off was a little bit vague, but Daneyko speculated that it may have been so that the referees could keep the game under control. No matter the reasoning, a very critical third period would start the same way the second did: four-on-four on clean ice. It did not matter, as neither team took advantage of the extra room on the rink.
It should be noted that the Devils only mustered four shots in the second period to Florida’s twelve. In the third period, things would get worse as New Jersey fired only three shots on net while the Panthers dominated with 17.
But, the Devils would eke out the win. Mike Cammalleri notched another multi-point game when he worked the puck out of the corner to Damon Severson along the near boards. Severson fired a shot that was blocked in front, and settled down by Henrique, who passed back to Severson. Severson saw Cammalleri at the top of the far faceoff circle and he moved it over to him. Cammalleri fired and put the puck behind Luongo to give the Devils a 4-2 lead.
And that was all she wrote. Florida pulled Luongo late in the third, but were not able to solve Cory any more. With this win, the Devils moved past the Panthers in the standings a point past Pittsburgh for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Devils next travel to Toronto on Tuesday to meet up with another old friend. Lou Lamoriello’s Toronto Maple Leafs will see the Devils for the first time this season at Air Canada Centre. The Devils had a rough time with the Cats but weathered the storm (largely due to the brilliant work of Cory Schneider). Can they improve on this win against a Leafs team that has had a rough go of it this season?