The Devils knew it would be hard. They were rapidly falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt with one goal losses to Ottawa, the Rangers and Montreal and four straight overall, including the loss to the Islanders on February 19. They made some deals at yesterday’s trading deadline to make sure the team got younger and to gain some assets going into this summer’s expansion draft and the Entry Draft, losing PA Parenteau and Kyle Quincey.
While they did lose to the Washington Capitals 1-0 at Verizon Center, giving the Caps their franchise-record setting 14th straight home win, they also had some positives in terms of how those younger players performed and holding the NHL’s best team to one goal on only a handful of shots.
In roster news, the Devils called up forward Kevin Rooney, as they were without Pavel Zacha (lost to injury). Rooney is a 23-year-old undrafted free agent from Providence College who was playing in Albany in the AHL, where he had 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points in 57 games. He actually has previous Devils ties. His uncle Steve Rooney played 26 games for the Devils back in 1988-89. Steve Rooney also played for Montreal and the old Winnipeg Jets, winning a Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986.
In other roster moves, Blake Coleman, Joe Blandisi, Miles Wood and Steven Santini were loaned to Albany and then quickly recalled so that they could be eligible for the AHL Calder Cup playoffs.
Scratches for New Jersey included Jacob Josefson and newly acquired from Columbus Dalton Prout. Washington scratched Taylor Chorney, TJ Oshie and Nate Schmidt tonight.
Goaltending saw Cory Schneider start between the pipes for the Devils. He made 23 saves on just 24 Caps shots for a .958 save percentage. Braden Holtby went for Washington and got all 15 shots fired his way for a perfect 1.000 save percentage.
The lone goal of the game came at 7:21 of the third period. The Devils held the best offensive team in the NHL to no goals over two full periods before Jakub Vrana, a rookie scored his second career goal on the power play from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Colonia, New Jersey’s John Carlson. The power play was the difference, as the Devils went 0-for-4 and the Caps were 1-for-5.
That power play total included Washington’s Brett Connolly getting a double minor at 13:27 of the third period (two minutes for slashing and then two for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the slashing call). The Devils could not muster a goal with their four minutes with the extra man.
Cory was pulled with about 1:23 left in the game but that extra skater was negated by Wood taking a cross checking penalty on Brooks Orpik. Wood took the penalty after Orpik laid a rough check on Taylor Hall, with Wood sticking up for his star winger (the Capitals outhit the Devils 22 to 13). Cory was then pulled again with the Devils killing the penalty as New Jersey desperately tried to get things tied up.
Other than that one goal, other major plays saw Blandisi get into a scrap with Dmitry Orlov. It was a good fight, as Blandisi handled himself well and was able to take Orlov down to the ice.
The Devils lost Michael Cammalleri at the 11:03 mark of the third period. He went down after going into the boards hard, clutching his right shoulder and did not return.
Now, the Devils face another stiff test in the Boston Bruins. They travel up to Boston on Saturday, trying to get off of their five game slide. While the team is probably well out of a playoff spot right now, the remaining games allow for some of their younger players to get some playing time and NHL experience and can help set the tone for the 2017-18 season.