Devils Dropped in Winnipeg

The Devils traveled to the newly-renamed BellMTS Place in Winnipeg this afternoon coming off the heels of a rough overtime loss in Toronto. That was a scoreless affair that was settled with 2.2 seconds remaining. Today’s game was a little bit different. The Jets scored five goals in a little over 12 minutes in the second period to knock off the Devils by a score of 5-2.

It was a homecoming for a few Devils, including Travis Zajac, who is from Winnipeg and Drew Stafford, who played for the Jets and was returning for the first time since being traded to Boston at last year’s trading deadline. Coincidentally, both Zajac and Stafford are friends who played together at the University of North Dakota.

Roster-wise for the Devils, Marcus Johansson remains out with a concussion, although he has been cleared for light skating. Jimmy Hayes, Dalton Prout and Pavel Zacha were the healthy scratches. On the subject of Zacha, coach John Hynes said that he spoke with Pavel and his agent to in order to be “transparent” with him about how he can work to get back into the lineup. He discussed exactly what they want to see from the first round pick of the Devils from a few years ago.

Both the Jets and the Devils were coming into the game with identical records of 11-4-3. New Jersey was sitting atop the Metropolitan Division while Winnipeg sat in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference behind only the St. Louis Blues in both instances. The teams are also very similar in style, although the Jets are physically bigger and the Devils a little bit faster. Winnipeg also picks their spots very well. They have a high shooting percentage, but are bottom of the league in shots taken. The shots they do take, they make count. That was very much in evidence this afternoon against the Devils.

The Devils got off to a quick start with Kyle Palmieri hitting the post and then Andy Greene following up with the rebound that Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck stretched across the crease to save, leading to a beautiful stop. The first period ended 0-0 and with the beginning of the second period, the Devils had been shut out for over 102:36 (since Miles Wood’s third goal at Chicago on Sunday).

Winnipeg would notch the first goal of the game when Kyle Connor scored 5:51 into the second period from Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. But it would only take the Devils 1:01 to respond and end their shut out streak.

It came in weird fashion. Brian Gibbons shot from the slot and seemingly hit the crossbar. The goal light never came on and play resumed. When a whistle blew, the game went to a TV timeout. As the broadcast came back from break, it was announced that Toronto had taken a look at the play on replay and that the puck came in and out of the goal so fast that nobody noticed it. The goal counted and the game was tied up at one. The referee actually announced the goal to the arena before television viewers had any idea, making for a nice surprise for Devils fans coming back from the commercial break. Blake Coleman and Will Butcher had the assists on Gibbons’ team leading ninth goal.

You might think that that would give the Devils some momentum. You would be wrong in that regard. It must have been like poking a sleeping bear with a stick because the Jets just came alive after that.

It began at 8:06 of the second when Patrik Laine scored his tenth from Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little to give Winnipeg back the lead, 2-1. Jacob Trouba scored from Connor and Scheifele about 35 seconds later to make it 3-1. Exactly one minute after the Trouba goal, Matt Hendricks scored from Mathieu Perreault and Joel Armia to make it 4-1. Perreault himself finished the second period outburst at 18:18 when he beat Cory Schneider to make it 5-1 from Hendricks and Armia. Hendricks would be named the game’s first star while Perreault was the second.

This was the first time that the Devils had given up five goals in a single period since March of 2008 when Pittsburgh scored five in a 7-1 defeat.

One of the lone bright spots of the game came at 7:14 of the third period when Will Butcher finally scored his first NHL goal. It came when, after a Nico Hischier shot trickled by Hellebuyck, the puck was left sitting on the Jets’ goal line. Butcher was there to tap it over for his first career goal. It may not have been pretty, but it was good enough to cut the Jets lead to 5-2. Taylor Hall had the secondary assist on the goal.

Eventually, though, time ran out and there would be not comeback like last week in Chicago. Hellebuyck was named the game’s third star and made 34 saves on 36 Devils shots. Winnipeg fired 34 shots on the Devils’ goaltenders, with Schneider playing the first two periods and Keith Kinkaid taking over in the third. Schneider faced 22 shots and made 17 saves while Kinkaid was equal to all 12 shots he faced.

The Devils were 0-for-2 on the power play, with seven shots and played a clean game themselves. Winnipeg did not have a power play opportunity. That was one of the bright spots for New Jersey, they were very disciplined.

As for individual stats, defenseman Andy Greene led in time on ice with 21:11. Hischier led in shots on goal with seven while Steven Santini led in hits with five. The Devils were beaten in the faceoff circle as a team to the tune of 59-percent for the Jets to 42-percent for the Devils.

Next up, the Devils finish this particular road trip on Monday, November 20 at Minnesota. The Wild got off to a rough start but have been playing well of late. This should be a test for the Devils as they head into St. Paul.

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