Welcome to the first game of the new year/decade for the New Jersey Devils. They traveled to the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York to take on the Islanders in a battle televised on NBCSN. Both teams were looking to win their third straight and it was the Devils who prevailed, edging the Isles 2-1.
Some not-too-encouraging news to begin for the Devils as Jack Hughes, who tumbled into the boards late in the game against Boston on Tuesday, would not play tonight with what the team is calling an upper body injury. He joined Connor Carrick as the scratches and Kevin Rooney slotted in for Hughes.
The Devils also made a move on the roster, sending Gilles Senn back to AHL Binghamton and recalling Louis Domingue from Binghamton. Domingue had been injured in December and was on a conditioning stint in Binghamton after coming off of injured reserve.
Speaking of goaltending, Mackenzie Blackwood was back in net for the Devils, stopping 29 of the 30 shots the Islanders peppered him with for a .967 save percentage on the night. He kept the Devils in this and may have stolen it for him. Blackwood would go on to be named the game’s first star. Opposing him for New York was Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 39 of the Devils’ 31 shots for a .935 save percentage. Both goalies were stellar and kept this game from getting too out of hand in either direction.
Following a scoreless first period, the Islanders had seemed to get on the board first just 39 seconds into the second. The Isles made some nifty passes and the puck was given to Leo Komarov in tight. Komarov took a few hacks at it and, after a few point-blank saves by Blackwood, it eventually went in. Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine, after his staff got a look at it, challenged for goalie interference.
Komarov had backed up into Blackwood as he was in the crease firing his shots. He eventually bumped into Blackwood, impeding him from being able to make the final save. The referees had a look at it and agreed with this. The goal was waved off and the Devils had dodged a bullet.
However, the Isles would get one for real when, at the 7:33 mark of the second, Brock Nelson gained the Devils zone and wristed one by Blackwood, through Andy Greene’s legs, using him as a screen. Ryan Pulock and Derick Brassard had the assists and it was 1-0 New York. Nelson would be named the game’s third star at the end of the night, getting what would go down to be the Isles’ lone goal on the evening.
The score remained that way until, with less than ninety seconds to go in the second, Travis Zajac won a faceoff deep in the Islanders’ zone. The puck went towards the right hash mark where Nikita Gusev was camped. He settled the puck down and saucered a nice pass to PK Subban at the point. Subban blasted a slap shot that beat Varlamov clean to tie the game up at one.
The game winner came just 1:09 into the third period on a full individual effort by Nico Hischier. Nico won a faceoff, again, deep in the Isles’ zone and he banked it to the right again. Kyle Palmieri grabbed it and fed it back to Nico, who made a nice drive towards the New York net and put the puck around and behind Varlamov to give the Devils the 2-1 lead. Nico would go on to be named the game’s second star with what would go down as the game winner from here.
And this would hold up. The Islanders pulled Varlamov with a little more than two minutes to go in regulation but they could not crack Blackwood or the Devils’ defense.
Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play with the Devils managing two shots on goal and the Islanders two shots as well.
The Devils won only 47-percent of the game’s faceoffs, but both of their goals came off of faceoff wins, which showed that they won them when they were crucial.
The Isles outhit the Devils 30-25 and had more giveaways at 16 to the Devils’ 13. The Devils did get more blocked shots with 23 to the Islanders’ 20.
Individually, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 24:03 of ice time (including 2:38 on the power play and 1:01 on the penalty kill) while Hischier led the forwards with 20:12 (2:38 on the power play and eight seconds shorthanded). Ice time was pretty evenly distributed amongst the d-men with most averaging around 20 minutes.
Shots on goal were led by HIschier, Blake Coleman and Subban, who each logged four. Coleman also led in hits with five and Greene and Mirco Mueller led in the blocks category with three each. Jesper Bratt, who got shaken up late in the game, registered two takeaways to lead in that category.
So suddenly the Devils have won three in a row. Can they keep things up when they return home on Saturday to take on the high-powered Colorado Avalanche? We will find out Saturday night when these teams clash at the Rock. We’ll see you then!