It was the meeting a lot of fans of both clubs had been awaiting all season: Adam Larsson was returning to Prudential Center as a member of the Edmonton Oilers facing off with former Oiler and 2010 first overall draft pick Taylor Hall.
Unfortunately for Devils fans, round one went to Larsson and the Oilers. The Devils fell to Edmonton 2-1 in overtime. The Devils came out with a point, but that was all to show for a decent effort at home.
Of course, the talk pregame was all about the blockbuster trade that brought Hall to New Jersey this past summer. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said that the trade was “good for both teams” in that Larsson has helped the Oilers keep more pucks out of their own net while Hall is the Devils’ top point scorer (although PA Parenteau is their top goal scorer right now).
But tonight was about the comparisons. How would Larsson and Hall fare? Both guys had good games. Larsson was solid defensively, as usual and Hall was kept off of the scoresheet, but played well away from the puck, as the smart player that he is really showed.
The Devils would be without Larsson’s New Jersey defense partner as Andy Greene was out for the second consecutive game and is day-to-day with an upper body injury. He will most likely not play on Monday against Florida either.
New Jersey’s other scratches were Beau Bennett and Seth Helgeson. Jacob Josefson is back on injured reserve and Yohann Auvitu was recalled from Albany and would play tonight, although he, too, was injured in the first period and did not return. This caused the Devils to have to play with five defensemen most of the night. Also back in for the Devils was another former Oiler, Luke Gazdic. Scratched for Edmonton were Brandon Davidson and Jesse Puljujarvi.
In goal, the Devils went right back to Cory Schneider. Schneider was fantastic most of the night. He made 41 saves on a whopping 43 Oilers shots. Edmonton sent out Cam Talbot. He made 19 saves on 20 Devils shots.
Adam Larsson did get a video tribute on the big screen at The Rock, as a “thank you” to him for his service with the Devils. He was paired on the blue line with Kris Russell.
Appropriately enough, Taylor Hall had the first shot of the game. However, it was Miles Wood, not Connor McDavid or Taylor Hall who wowed fans with the first goal of the game.
Steven Santini pushed the puck up to Travis Zajac in the neutral zone, who passed across to Miles Wood who simply took off at the red line. He blazed in on Talbot, moving to his backhand and slipped the puck five hole, giving the Devils the 1-0 lead. Wood, a lot like McDavid, has great speed that helps create offense. In fact, McDavid had hit the post on a similar play to Wood’s just minutes before.
And that was it for the scoring for most of the night, as both teams settled in to a fairly even defensive game. Cory made a huge save on Mark Letestu midway through the second period.
One of the highlights of the telecast came during the second intermission when MSG Network’s Deb Placey and John MacLean interviewed former Devils coach and executive Marshall Johnston. Johnston was with the team when they were in Colorado and was, in fact the Rockies’ last coach before the team moved to New Jersey. He scouted or drafted many of the Devils’ stars over the years: from MacLean himself to Ken Daneyko, Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer. Hearing his and Chico Resch’s (who was the guest in the first intermission) stories were great. Johnston, like Chico, was in town because he was at last night’s Dr. McMullen ceremony.
The third period began with the Devils getting an early odd man rush that was broken up in a nice play by Oilers’ defenseman Andrej Sekera.
Moments later, at the 3:33 mark, Matthew Benning tied things up with his first NHL goal from Sekera and Anton Lander. Cory was being screened in front by Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks and the Devils’ Ben Lovejoy, who were tied up. The shot went through everyone’s legs and found its way into the back of the net to knot the game at one apiece.
And that is how regulation would end. Going into the overtime, the Devils had to know that Edmonton is a good road team. But with a little bit of help, they would get the win.
Cory Schneider was great in the extra session, but when Zajac was called for slashing McDavid as the Oiler captain drove to the net, Edmonton would have the man advantage to make it 4-on-3. It was kind of a weak call to make in an overtime period, but the call was made, and the Devils would need to kill it off.
The Devils were 0-for-1 on the power play on the night, failing to capitalize on their one chance. Edmonton made it 1-for-2 when a Letestu seeing eye shot beat Cory at the 3:59 mark of the OT session to win the game for the Oilers. Oscar Klefbom and McDavid had the assists on the game winner.
After that heartbreaker, the Devils need to prepare for Jaromir Jagr and the struggling Florida Panthers on Monday night. Florida comes in to Prudential Center in a similar situation to the Devils, in that the losses are starting to pile up as they fall further out of the playoff race. Although in their case, they had fired their head coach and still have not found a winning formula. They are built to win now with a more veteran roster than the Devils have. After that, it is a Western Canadian road trip that will match the Devils right back up with these same Edmonton Oilers in their new building.