The Devils have not started a season 4-0 in 23 years. They have done so three times in team history with the most recent being the 1995-96 iteration of the club. Tonight, the 2018-19 team joined that select group, winning their fourth straight to begin the season by blanking the Dallas Stars 3-0.
The Devils had an injury scare in their last game against San Jose when Nico Hischier blocked a shot and then left yesterday’s practice with a sore ankle. He would play today, but the Devils would end up seeing another player go down in tonight’s game. Will Butcher (who played for Dallas coach Jim Montgomery at the University of Denver, winning a national championship with him) was hit late in the game by Roman Polak of the Stars and left with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. He would not return, but hopefully he is okay, as he is a big part of the Devils’ power play.
And the power play would play a big role in the night. Coming into the game, the Stars were ranked second in the NHL on the man advantage while their penalty kill came in tied at 20th, clicking at a 75-percent rate. That is not good and, in fact the Devils would go 1-for-6 on power play for the night with nine shots. Dallas would go 0-for-3 with the Devils holding one of the league’s better power play units to just three shots. The Devils added a wrinkle to their own power play second unit by swapping Jean-Sebastien Dea in for Damon Severson.
The Stars were playing the backend of a back-to-back, they lost at Ottawa last night and came in looking to atone for that. The Devils had not lost to the Stars in regulation on home ice since 2000. That is a streak that predates the Prudential Center, obviously going back to the Meadowlands.
The healthy scratches for the Devils were Eric Gryba, Steven Santini and Drew Stafford as the Devils went with the exact same lineup they have had for the first three games of the season.
In nets, Keith Kinkaid was again the man for the Devils. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in notching his second shutout of the young season. He only had one all of last year. He also tied Alain Chevrier on the Devils all-time wins list with 56. He was especially good late, preserving the shutout while Dallas was trying to tie the game. He took a lot of shorthanded shots since Dallas would pretty much end the game on the PK. For the Stars, Anton Khudobin went, stopping 31 of 34 Devils shots.
The Devils kicked off the scoring on the power play at 3:42 of the first. Dallas’ Connor Carrick had gone off for cross checking at 2:41 and the Devils would make the most of it. And who else would get the scoring going than none other than Kyle Palmieri? The puck was wound around the boards to Butcher at the near point. He walked the blue line and dished off to Palmieri at the top of the far faceoff circle. He unleashed a one-timer that beat Khudobin stick-side to give the Devils the 1-0 lead early. Taylor Hall had the secondary assist on the goal.
WIth that goal, Kyle Palmieri became the first player in NHL history to score his team’s first goal of the game for the first four games of the season. An obscure stat to be sure, but a very cool one nonetheless, thinking of some of the many greats who have played in the NHL over the 101 seasons.
A strange thing occurred in the first period when the Devils were on the power play with Julius Honka off for cross checking at 6:01. During that time, at 7:09, Jamie Benn was assessed a delayed penalty for holding. The Devils were set to go on a 5-on-3 power play and were controlling the puck. Because of this, Hall decided to deliberately shoot the puck into the Devils’ bench to get a whistle and start the 5-on-3. The officials decided that this was too blatant and called delay of game on Hall, evening things up once Honka got out of the box. A 5-on-3 power play that would have lasted for 52 seconds was shortened to a conventional power play. You cannot really blame Hall here as you could understand what he was trying to do and there was no harm, no foul since Dallas did not score.
The rest of the Devils’ scoring came in the second period. Blake Coleman made it 2-0 at 2:03 of the second frame when the Devils hard forechecking led to Severson keeping the puck in the Dallas zone at the blue line. He gave to Coleman, who gathered the puck and snapped one by Khudobin to double the Devils’ lead. Coleman, of Plano, Texas, now has three goals in four career games against his hometown team.
New Jersey would then go up 3-0 on a weird play. As Khudobin swung his stick around on a play behind the Stars’ net, he broke it on the side of the goal. He dropped it and motioned to his bench that he needed a new one. At 16:19, Dea grabbed the puck from a turnover by Dallas just outside their blue line. He skated it up the left wing boards and fired, beating Khudobin (who was still without a stick) to make it 3-0. Khudobin could have actually played with the broken stick – something that would be a penalty for a skater but not for a goalie – except that it broke just above the paddle at the bottom of the shaft and was completely unusable. Dea now has three goals in four games as a Devil, this one coming unassisted.
The third period would see a good fight between Benn and Miles Wood at the 2:28 mark. It was a spirited affair that ended in a draw.
But penalty troubles would continue for the Stars, as Roope Hintz took a high sticking call with 2:17 remaining. This would keep Montgomery from using a tactic he likes, pulling the goalie early to overcome – in this case – a three goal deficit. Dallas would try shorthanded to get one by Kinkaid. The Stars ended the night with five shorthanded shots on net.
But this was Kinkaid’s night as the final horn sounded and he got the shutout. Statistically, the Devils outhit the Stars 15-13 and both teams ended with an equal seven blocked shots. The Devils led the league in three main categories coming into tonight: goal differential, goals against and team faceoff percentage. They improved on two of those by not giving up a goal, but lost in the faceoff circle 44-percent to 56-percent. They also came in second in goals for.
Individually, Sami Vatanen led the team with 25:10 of total ice time (including 4:41 on the power play and 2:35 on the PK). Travis Zajac led all forwards with 21:15 total TOI (seven minutes on the PP/3:59 on the PK). Shots on goal were led by Palmieri with four and he also led in hits with four. Vatanen led in blocks with two and Hischier led in takeaways with three.
Overall a good night for the Devils. Next up, another Western Conference team comes to town as the Colorado Avalanche visit The Rock on Thursday. I will be attending this game live, so my post will be up a little later than usual, but we will hopefully see you then.