The Devils Western Canadian road trip continued in Edmonton Friday, taking them to a building that will not be around next season when the Devils again visit the city.
Rexall Place, formerly known as the Northlands Coliseum, is closing its doors after the 2015-16 season, the Oilers moving to a new arena in downtown Edmonton to be known as Rogers Place.
For the Devils, it was the site of one of the most infamous nights in franchise history. After the Oilers defeated the Devils 13-4 on November 19, 1983, Wayne Gretzky made his “Mickey Mouse team” comment to reporters. The New Jersey Devils were not very good in those days and the Edmonton Oilers were. The Oilers laid a drubbing on the Devils and Gretzky (in one of the few missteps in a very classy player’s career) said that the team was, to paraphrase, pulling the NHL as a whole down with their bad play in Kansas City, Colorado and Jersey. He said that they needed to get better personnel both on and off the ice. The Devils would respond by firing head coach Billy MacMillan and hiring Tom McVIe.
This roasting by Gretzky would arguably lead to the Devils hiring Lou Lamoriello down the road, leading to their respectability and, eventually, three Stanley Cups. Gretzky actually said it out of frustration due to his friend, former Oiler and then-Devil, goaltender Ron Low being in goal for most of the Edmonton offensive assault. But nonetheless, Devils fans at the time took it to heart and gave it to “the Great One” on his next visit to the Meadowlands.
But that was then and this is now. Since 1987, the Devils have won twelve games at the arena, and have posted a 6-1-1 record there since 2000.
The Devils came into this game having dropped a rough one in Calgary. They had not lost back-to-back games since mid-October, the beginning of the season, and were looking for a bounce back performance against the Oilers. Edmonton would be missing young phenom Connor McDavid, out with a broken clavicle and the Oilers have been struggling through this young season. But, as Ken Daneyko pointed out, they played well against the Blackhawks the other night, falling in overtime, but going toe-to-toe with the defending champs.
Keith Kinkaid got the nod in goal for the Devils, making his fourth start of the year. According to MSG+’s Steve Cangialosi, Kinkaid wanted to get at least one start in the Rexall Center in his career before the building was shut down.
The first goal of the game came at 6:59 when Edmonton netminder Anders Nilsson misplayed the puck behind his cage and it almost deflected into the goal after traveling through the crease. It was then picked up by the Oilers and rushed up ice where Taylor Hall gave it to Leon Draisaitl, who deposited it behind Kinkaid to put the Oilers up 1-0. Adam Henrique hit a post late in the period, giving the Devils a great chance to tie the game late in that frame.
The Devils tied the game at 6:04 of the second period when Kyle Palmieri scored on the power play. He was able to make a nice head fake and feign a shot to beat the Oilers defender before pulling the trigger in front of the net, beating Nilsson.
From there it was all Edmonton. Oscar Klefbom beat Kinkaid at 7:12 of the second period, making it 2-1. Early in the third, the Oilers, on the power play, kept hacking at the puck in front of Kinkaid’s net, he made several stops before the Devils, thinking he had the puck, let up and Jordan Eberle poked it home. It was now 3-1 Oilers. Former Penguin Mark Letestu made it 4-1 mid-third to ice the game for Edmonton. Hall added his second of the game into an empty net at 17:29 of the third.
Adam Larsson had a scary moment as he was hit from behind by an Oilers player along the boards and his head and face were driven into the stanchion that divides the glass. He was bloodied and no penalty was called on the play, but he did return to the game, stitched up.
The Devils will now try to salvage their road trip in Vancouver on Sunday. New Jersey played the Canucks earlier this month at home, coming away with a 4-3 win. Now the teams will meet in British Columbia as the Devils look to come away with a victory on their Western Canada swing. Following that, the team will come home to face Columbus the night before Thanksgiving and then a home-and-home with the Canadiens on back-to-back nights directly after the holiday.
So the Devils say goodbye to Northlands Coliseum/Rexall Place with a rare loss (for them, in recent times) in the building. Now their focus is on Vancouver and taking the season series from the Canucks as they try to get back on a winning track.