The Devils made a push, but came up short on Long Island, losing to the New York Islanders, 5-3 in the first of three straight games between the teams.
The Islanders are good. They had won six straight coming into tonight. They were 8-0-1 in their last nine coming into tonight. They had not lost a game in regulation at the Nassau Coliseum, coming into the night at 11-0-2 at home.
The Devils had actually been playing well too. They had taken three of a possible four points on this road trip with a win in Boston and an OT loss in Washington.
But the Islanders are not in first place in the East Division for nothing. Barry Trotz’ team came into tonight on fire.
The Devils were without Will Butcher tonight as he has been added to the NHL’s COVID protocol list. That was announced minutes before the game. He has not necessarily tested positive yet, but it is scary. Scary because the Binghamton Devils, who are sharing Prudential Center with the bit club this year had a game suspended last night following a positive COVID test in the organization. The B-Devils are playing in RWJBarnabas Heath Hockey House, the New Jersey Devils’ practice rink.
Joining him as scratched were Aaron Dell and Nikita Gusev.
In net, the Devils turned to Mackenzie Blackwood following Scott Wedgewood’s brilliant play the last week. Blackwood made 29 saves on 34 Islander shots for an .853 save percentage. He stopped six power play shots and one shorthanded shot. He stopped 22-of-27 at even strength.
Facing him was Ilya Sorokin for New York. He stopped 19-of-22 shots for an .864 save percentage. He stopped their lone shorthanded shot; the Devils did not register a power play shot. He made 18 saves on 21 Devils shots at even strength.
Sorokin set an Islander rookie goalie record tonight with his fifth straight victory.
The game started with Jack Hughes on the left wing with Pavel Zacha back at center and Kyle Palmieri on their right wing.
Matt Martin got the Islanders on the board just 3:15 into the contest. The Nick Leddy got the puck up high to Scott Mayfield who went D-to-D with Martin. Martin shot and it seemed to be tipped by Cal Clutterbuck in front, but actually beat Blackwood cleanly. It was his goal and the Isles were up 1-0.
At the 9:54 mark, Adam Pelech made it 2-0 Isles when his shot got by Blackwood, who was knocked down by the Devils’ Dmitry Kulikov. Ryan Pulock had the primary assist while Anders Lee had the secondary.
The Islanders took that 2-0 lead into the second, where they would double their lead.
It began with Noah Dobson. At the 3:15 mark, Dobson shot the puck from the point and it went in while Oliver Wahlstrom fell into Blackwood. The Devils used their coach’s challenge for goalie interference on Wahlstrom. However, the replay upheld the call on the ice: good goal. It showed that Sami Vatanen had pushed Wahlstrom into Blackwood. The goal was scored as unassisted.
Because the coach’s challenge was unsuccessful, the Devils were assessed a delay of game penalty that they killed off. The Isles ended the game 0-for-5 on the power play, one of the few bright spots for the Devils. The Devils were 0-for-1 on the man advantage.
Josh Bailey made it 4-0 Islanders at 17:13 when Martin created a turnover deep in the Devils’ zone. Casey Cizikas took the loose puck and passed it to Bailey, who scored.
The Devils were now fighting from underneath going into the third.
But 3:23 into the third frame, Janne Kuokkanen made it 4-1. The puck came to a stop in front of the net from a PK Subban shot. Kuokkanen grabbed it, spun around and one-handed chipped the puck over Sorokin. It went up and over him to put the Devils on the board. Travis Zajac had the secondary assist.
Forty seconds later at 4:03, Mikhail Maltsev cut the lead in half at 4-2. Maltsev took a pass from Vatanen and skated along the near half wall with it. He shot from there, snapping a backhand shot by Sorokin. Michael McLeod had the secondary assist.
The Isles called a timeout following the second Devils goal and came out flying.
At the 4:44 mark, just seconds after the Maltsev goal, Brock Nelson restored the Islanders’ three goal lead. He took a pass out of the corner by Pulock while he was all alone in front of the New Jersey net. He simply shoveled it in upstairs and made it 5-2.
But the had one more in them. At 15:52 of the final period, Jack Hughes scored to make it 5-3. Hughes took a pass from Andreas Johnsson down low. Hughes was right in front of the Isles’ net when he took the pass and shot as he was being pushed down, scoring. Jesper Bratt had the secondary assist.
But the Devils’ comeback was cut off when Palmieri took an interference penalty, putting the Devils a man down with about 3:30 to go in the game.
The Devils were outshot 34-22, won just 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs, had less blocks at 17-13 and had more giveaways at 13 to the Isles’ six. The Devils did have more hits at 24 to the Islanders’ 18.
Zajac had the best faceoff winning percentage at 63-percent. Damon Severson led in ice time with 24:35 and Zajac led the forwards in TOI with 19:23.
Shots on goal were led by Yegor Sharangovich and Maltsev who both had three. Hits were led by Nate Bastian with five. Blocked shots were led by Ryan Murray with four. Takeaways were led by Sharangovich, Bratt, Hughes and Subban who each had one.
Next up: game two of this three game set. The Isles visit Prudential Center on Saturday for a 7 PM puck drop. We will see you then.
Until then, stay safe everyone!