The Devils traveled down to Sunrise, Florida to meet up with the rolling Florida Panthers, who defeated them 4-1 at FLA Live Arena for their ninth straight win on home ice.
First up, the Devils recalled Fabian Zetterlund from the Utica Comets yesterday, November 17 and he made his NHL debut tonight. He got the now-typical rookie treatment of taking the ice for warmups by himself without his helmet and ended the game a plus-1 with three shots on goal and two hits over 9:33 of total ice time.
The Utica Comets, by the way, set a franchise record for them with their 11th win to start the season with a 3-2 victory over the Rochester Americans in Rochester last night. They will try to set the AHL record with their 12th straight to start the year on Friday at home against the Charlotte Checkers.
To think that Utica has done this with guys coming and going up to the big club in New Jersey is even more remarkable. Congratulations to them and good luck as well for Friday.
Getting back to the Devils roster, they also placed Tyce Thompson on Injured Reserve on Wednesday as he is dealing with an upper body injury. He joined Colton White, Alexander Holtz and Mason Geertsen (all healthy scratches) as coming out of the lineup.
Florida was without Aleksander Barkov, largely their best player, due to injury. With the Cats without Barkov, the Devils felt that they would have a good chance to gain another win over a true Stanley Cup contender.
One guy who would not be going on IR was Mackenzie Blackwood. With Tuesday’s postponement versus the Ottawa Senators, Blackwood was allowed a little more time to heal up and was good enough to play tonight.
Blackwood was 2-0-0 with a .923 save percentage all-time in his career against the Cats coming into tonight. He was the starter in the Devils’ 7-3 blowout win ten days ago at Prudential Center.
He got the start and made 23 saves on 27 Panthers shots for an .852 save percentage. He stopped both of Florida’s power play shots that he saw and 21 of their 25 shots at even strength. He ended up being pulled following the fourth Panther goal.
Coming on in relief was Jonathan Bernier – his second straight reflief appearance since he substituted for Blackwood against the Rangers on Sunday when Blackwood went into concussion protocol. Bernier stopped all 14 total shots he saw and the Panthers’ lone shorthanded shot of the game. He turned aside 13-of-13 at even strength in pitching his second straight relief shutout.
Getting the nod for the Cats was Spencer Knight, who had taken the loss at Newark last month. He stopped 45 of the Devils’ 46 total shots for a .978 save percentage. He stopped the Devils’ nine power play shots and 36 of their 37 even strength shots. He played almost a perfect game, especially late when he made a big stop on Nico Hischier in close with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
The Devils ended up 0-for-3 on the power play while the Panthers were 0-for-2 and Florida ended the game with 41 total shots on goal between the two Devils goaltenders.
With Zetterlund making his NHL debut tonight, the Devils were also celebrating some other milestones. Defenseman Damon Severson was playing in his 500th NHL game tonight – all with New Jersey – and forward Michael McLeod was playing in his 100th (also all with the Devils).
This also marked the Devils’ first trip to what was then the BB&T Center since the last game of the 2018-19 season. They did not face there in the shortened 2019-20 season and, due to the divisional alignment in 2020-21, did not even play each other last season.
The Devils got on the board first with a very strong first period. They dictated play and would end up outshooting Florida 22-13 in the first frame.
They finally broke through on Knight at the 13:37 mark of the first. Jimmy Vesey carried the puck into the Florida zone and saw that Panthers defenseman Mackenzie Weegar was without a stick. This allowed him to fight through Weegar’s check and pass to a pinching Dougie Hamilton, who was cutting up towards the near faceoff circle. Hamilton took the pass and scored his second goal in two games. Vesey’s read of the play, seeing Weegar without the stick, allowed Hamilton to pinch up and created the goal. PK Subban had the secondary assist.
But the Devils would not get out of the first period unscathed.
With 6.4 seconds to go in the period, Carter Verhaeghe took a pass from Weegar in the neutral zone while the Devils were in a partial change. Verhaeghe turned on the jets up the left wing boards and shot, having room. He got off a near-perfect shot off of the far post and in to tie the game at one.
It was a rough one for the Devils, giving up a goal that late in a period that they essentially won. But they came out with the 1-1 tie as we headed for the second. Little did they know that that goal would seal their fate for the night.
It began 3:08 into the new frame when Patric Hornqvist won the puck off of the end boards behind the Devils net. The puck got to Ryan Lonberg, who centered it to Eetu Luostarien, who jammed it in past Blackwood to give Florida a 2-1 lead.
Less than a minute later, at the 4:25 mark, Jonathan Huberdeau gained the blue line after taking a pass from Anthony Duclair and skated up the right wing side. He ripped a shot over Blackwood’s glove and made it 3-1.
Despite the call on the ice of good goal, the would call over referee Wes McCauley and coach Lindy Ruff would elect to use his coach’s challenge to review that Huberdeau was offsides heading over the blue line.
Replays did show that both of his skates crossed the Devils blue line before the puck. However Toronto felt that Huberdeau was in control of the puck while crossing over the line and skating backwards. This resulted in the goal being confirmed.
This is a new wrinkle that the NHL is using with this rule. It is meant to cut down on goals being recalled and allowing skilled players to do their thing. Because Huberdeau had control of the puck, this apparently makes a blatantly offside play good and the goal counted.
Regardless of if the goal should have counted or not under any interpretation, the Panthers would continue their onslaught.
At the 8:15 mark of the second period, the Panthers won a draw deep in the Devils zone and Aaron Ekblad got it to Huberdeau in the near corner in the Devils zone. Huberdeau’s pass to Duclair on the doorstep was accidentally tipped to Duclair off of Subban’s stick. Duclair got the puck and put it behind Blackwood to make it 4-1 Cats.
This was the goal that chased Blackwood in favor of Bernier. Bernier would not let in another and 4-1 was our final. Janne Kuokkanen did ring one off of post on a power move Florida net early on in the third period to give the Devils one more missed scoring chance.
The Devils did have an opportunity late. Radko Gudas and Andreas Johnsson got into a scuffle that resulted in both men getting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and Gudas also being assessed a roughing minor all at the 17:55 mark of the third period.
This put the Devils on the power play and, with Bernier pulled, up with a 6-on-4-man advantage.
The Devils did not convert and the only thing of note, besides the aforementioned save made by Knight, was Knight’s attempt to shoot on the Devils’ empty net. He fanned on the shot try, fortunately for the Devils and the game ended 4-1.
The second period showed that the Panthers were embarrassed by their meeting in New Jersey last month and they were out for blood. They have now become the seventh NHL team win their first nine home games with this W which shows that, though they have faltered a little of late, they are still a force to be reckoned with this season.
The Devils outshot Florida 46-41 and won 57-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hischier would lead the Devils centers with a 62-percent personal winning percentage.
The Panthers ended up with eight penalty minutes to the Devils’ six. The Cats played the more physical game with 35 hits to the Devils’ 24. New Jersey did edge the Panthers in blocked shots with 16 to Florida’s 15. The Devils ended up with 12 turnovers to the Panthers’ 18.
Hamilton ended up leading the Devils in total ice time with 21:39 logged. He played 3:20 on the power play and 28 seconds of penalty kill. Hischier led the forwards with 19:10 time played – which includes 3:28 on the power play and 1:20 on the PK.
Shots on target were led by Tomas Tatar who ended the game with six. Hits were led by Kuokkanen and Subban, who each had three. Blocks were led by Jonas Siegenthaler (who has quietly had a good early season on the blue line for the Devils) with four. Giveaways were led by Yegor Sharangovich, Dawson Mercer, Ty Smith and Ryan Graves who all had two. Takeaways were led by Johnsson, Hischier, Vesey, Jesper Boqvist and Subban who each had one.
Next up, the Devils will remain in the Sunshine State and travel to Tampa to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. That game is on Saturday, November 20 and is a 4 PM puck drop from the Amalie Arena.
We will have a recap for you here following the game as I will be working on my birthday. Until then, have a great week, everyone!