Even in strange times, you sometimes have things that stand out as being weird.
Tonight would be one of those weird ones as the Devils fell 5-3 to the Vegas Golden Knights at Prudential Center to suffer their fourth straight loss in regulation.
Let’s begin from the top. The Devils announced another addition to their growing COVID Protocol list as Jesper Boqvist entered Protocol to join Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves and Christian Jaros out in quarantine.
In addition, PK Subban was held out as a game-time decision as a precaution according to head coach Lindy Ruff. It was not specified whether that “precaution” was due to injury or illness at the beginning of the game, but was confirmed by head coach Lindy Ruff as being illness in the postgame press conferences.
The Devils lone healthy scratch was goaltender Akira Schmid, who did not dress as newly acquired Jon Gillies was the backup tonight. Gillies was on the bench and wore number 32. It is possible we see him this weekend with the Devils playing a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
With all of that, some lineup changes were needed in the lineup. Ty Smith was moved to the top defensive pairing with Dougie Hamilton with Graves out. Also, in a move that would have some consequences late in this game, Mason Geertsen was put on defense on the third pairing with Kevin Bahl.
Instead the Devils went with Mackenzie Blackwood in net as his workload continues to pile up for the time being. Tonight, he made 25 saves on 29 total Vegas shots for an .862 save percentage tonight. He shrugged off the Golden Knights’ lone shorthanded shot and three of their four power play shots. He was equal to 21 of Vegas’ 24 shots at even strength. The Knights ended up with 30 total shots in the game due to an empty net goal scored late in the third.
The Golden Knights started Robin Lehner, as the big Swede (who has gone on record saying that he turned down an invite to the Winter Olympics for Sweden – we will talk more about the NHL/Olympic situation on the blog as things develop there) made 23 saves on 26 total Devils shots for a nightly save percentage of .885. The Devils scored on their only shorthanded shot and Lehner turned aside three of their four power play shots. At even strength he made 20 saves on 21 shots.
Lehner was not expected to start tonight. The Golden Knights have a back-to-back as they play at the Rangers and Laurent Brossoit was going to go for them tonight at the Devils. However, Brossoit did not start and, in fact, did not spend most of the game even on the bench. He would return late, just in time for the third period.
There was no official word on why he was missing for most of the game as he did take warmups. We, as fans, can speculate, especially with the COVID situation running through the NHL right now, but there was no official word from Vegas on the situation.
It, however, a good thing he was available late, as in a dustup between the teams late – which we will get to at the end of the recap, Lehner ended up with a 10-minute misconduct and Brossoit would play the final 15 seconds of the game. He appeared but did not face a shot. Lehner got the win.
The Devils ended the game 1-for-3 on the power play while the Golden Knights were 1-for-4 to finish.
This was the first meeting between New Jersey and Vegas in about 21 months. March 3, 2020 – just before the shutdown of the 2019-20 season.
The game got going for the Devils fast.
Jack Hughes scored just 1:41 into the contest when Tomas Tatar curled back towards the Vegas blue line just after entering their zone. He passed to Hamilton at the near point. Hamilton got the puck on the net as Lehner made the initial save. Hughes was crashing in behind the play and was able to slow up just in time not to overskate the rebound. Lehner was now out of position to make the second save and Hughes put the puck behind him to make it 1-0 Devils.
The Devils had the lead, but penalties quickly became too much to overcome.
At 7:42 of the first, Damon Severson was called for roughing, followed by Janne Kuokkanen for tripping at 8:48. This put Vegas on a 5-on-3 power play for 54 seconds. Vegas took their timeout here as their coach Pete DeBoer wanted to get them ready for an early crucial moment in the game.
And the Devils were up to the challenge. They killed off the Severson penalty and were about 31 or so seconds from killing the 5-on-4 when, at the 10:22 mark, Vegas struck.
Jonathan Marchessault passed out of the far corner to Reilly Smith along the far wall. He found Dylan Coghlan near the top of the far faceoff circle. Smith’s pass was on-end but teed up for Coghlan, who blasted a shot with some traffic in front of Blackwood.
It went in to tie the game at one apiece which was a shame for the Devils’ penalty kill since they had done so well to kill the 5-on-3 and most of the 5-on-4. But they surrendered the power play goal and we were off to the first intermission tied at one.
The second period would see the Golden Knights take the lead 3:47 in when Brett Howden threw the puck out of the near corner, absorbing a hit to make the play in the process. He got it to Keegan Kolesar in the middle of the ice and he shot with William Carrier in front. Carrier redirected Kolesar’s shot by Blackwood in front to make it 2-1 Vegas.
That lead would take us to the third period and this is when things would begin to get wild.
Just 7:37 into the new period, Smith sent a pass cross-ice from the Vegas zone to William Karlsson streaking up the left-wing boards.
His pass hit Karlsson on the tape in-stride and Karlsson had only Ty Smith to beat back in the Devils’ zone. He snapped an absolute laser beam of a shot past Blackwood to make it 3-1 Golden Knights. Coghlan had the secondary assist.
About 27 seconds after Karlsson’s goal, Nicolas Roy made it 4-1 when Roy broke in on a 2-on-1 up the right side and got a quick snap shot off on Blackwood by himself. Alex Pietrangelo (secondary) and Mattias Janmark (primary) had the assists on the goal.
The Devils were down by three now and things looked to be heading towards a routine loss for New Jersey.
But the Devils began to make things interesting beginning at 8:30 mark of the third. That is when Coghlan was called for a high-stick on Yegor Sharangovich.
The Devils went on the man advantage and, at 10:03 gone by in the third, Ty Smith sent the puck from the point to Severson at the near faceoff circle. Severson made a nice, one-touch pass to Tatar in the high slot. Tatar got a quick shot off while he was spinning and falling to the ice.
The puck went in by Lehner, scoring the Devils’ first since December 8 in a win over the Flyers.
It was now 4-2, but New Jersey was not done.
At the 10:42 mark of the third, Nate Bastian was called for tripping, which put the Golden Knights on the power play. It then became the Jimmy Vesey Show for the Devils.
Vesey was stopped early on in the penalty kill when he got in behind the Knights’ defense and shot over the Vegas net.
At 12:28, though, Vesey would get his. Jonas Siegenthaler took a shot from the Vegas blue line that fluttered in and was deflected in by Vesey, over Lehner to make it 4-3 Knights. This was a shorthanded goal – the Devils’ firsts since November 11 in a win over the Islanders.
This was the first time this season that the Devils had scored an even strength, power play and shorthanded goal in one game. Michael McLeod had the secondary assist on Vesey’s shorty.
Vesey had a good game, add in that Jack Hughes had been stood up with a big hit by Vegas defenseman Zach Whitecloud earlier in the third that the Devils were not happy about. Whitecloud had seemingly left his feet on the hit as he had Hughes lined up.
Replays showed that it was incidental contact that was the reason Whitecloud was off his skates briefly (basically the momentum of the hit caused him to come up off of his skates).
But the Devils were not thrilled about Hughes being hit like that. Hughes was alright in the end and it was Vesey who laid a clean hit on Whitecloud on a play later on, sending a bit of a message to Whitecloud and the Golden Knights not to take liberties with Hughes.
That, however, was not the last we would see of the consequences of that hit on Hughes.
Blackwood would be pulled with about 1:40 to go in regulation.
Marachessault would score into the empty net at the 18:53 mark from Karlsson and Brayden McNabb to seemingly ice the game for Vegas.
It was a rough one as Smith had made a nice defensive play before Marchessault found the back of the empty net to thwart Karlsson’s empty netter attempt.
But, it was now 5-3 Vegas and we were cruising towards the ending.
The Devils used their timeout following the Marchessault goal and pulled Blackwood again with less than a minute to go in the game after gaining possession following the faceoff. They were going to keep on fighting to the end.
It would seemingly pay off too.
With 25.0 seconds shown on the game clock, Hamilton made a fake shot/pass to Severson, who found a seam to pass across to Hughes on the near side of the Vegas net. Hughes laid the puck in to seemingly make it 5-4.
We were, however, under a minute to go in the game, so the league reviews all goals scored. The referees were signaled and the Situation Room let them know that Hughes was a step offside as the Devils entered the zone prior to the goal being scored.
The goal was called back as Hughes’ bid for a two-goal game was taken away. Replays did show him clearly offside, in over the Golden Knights blue line right before the puck entered. It was just a matter of anything that can go wrong for the Devils lately has gone wrong.
But things were not done there.
With about 15 seconds left in regulation on a faceoff, Geertsen lined up as a winger after having spent the entire game as a defenseman. Vegas was not happy with this, as they saw this as retaliation for the Whitecloud hit on Hughes earlier on.
Geertsen got into with Kolesar before the faceoff. Pietrangelo jumped in when play got going and got his stick in Geertsen’s face with Geertsen and Kolesar finally throwing some punches while Pietrangelo also got his licks in on Geertsen.
Geertsen and Pietrangelo each received ten-minute misconducts.
In the ensuing scrum, Lehner swatted with his stick at Bahl as things were breaking up. Bahl took exception to that and Lehner ended up taking off his mask, wanting a piece of somebody, anybody. He would also get ten-minutes and not finish the game – though he got the win.
One Golden Knights player kicked a Devils players’ glove into the stands and Max Pacioretty ended the game screaming at Ruff from the Vegas bench.
Once things settled down a bit, equipment was cleared off of the ice and the teams cleared when the final horn sounded.
Cameras did show Geertsen shoving a linesman down as he was being restrained away from the scrum late in the game. We shall see if he receives a fine and/or suspension for that in the coming days.
In all, 30 minutes of penalties (the three misconducts) were all that was handed out in the final moments of this game, but it was a bit of an ugly scene nonetheless.
The Golden Knights outshot the Devils 30-26. The Devils won 48-percent of the game’s draws. McLeod again led the centers with a 58-percent personal winning percentage.
Vegas ended up with 26 total team penalty minutes while the Devils had 18. The Devils did lay 15 hits on the Knights to Vegas’ six in the game. The Golden Knights blocked 16 shots to the Devils’ nine and the Devils had 11 giveaways to the Knights’ three.
In ice time, with the Devils lineup decimated up and down, there were some changes to the distribution of ice time. Severson led Devils skaters with 28:18 logged of total ice time (including 3:44 on the PP and 4:45 on the PK). Siegenthaler led all Devils skaters in PK time with 6:23.
Hughes led the forwards with 18:38 of total ice time, including 2:39 on the power play. Sharangovich and Dawson Mercer led the forwards with 2:43 of total power play time while Vesey led the forwards in shorthanded time with 3:56.
Hughes led in shots on goal as well, with four. Bastian led in hits with four. Blocks were led by Marian Studenic and Hamilton with two each. Hamilton led in giveaways with three while Tatar led in takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils will travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Saturday. Puck drop for that game is 8 PM and the game will be shown on MSG+.
Hopefully, they will get that game in with all that has been going on COVID-wise across hockey.
The Utica Comets had their game tonight against the Cleveland Monsters in Utica postponed due to a COVID outbreak according to the Comets’ website, so there is not even any respite for the Devils at the AHL level.
We will see where things go from here and, should the game get played, we will, of course, have a recap for you right here.
Have a great rest of the week everyone and we will see you then!