For the New Jersey Devils, the road traveled has been a tough one, but they have seemed to be tougher than the road. They have given up at least three goals in the last nine games they have played, but have gotten a point in all except the game in Winnipeg against the Jets.
They have done the majority of that as the visitors. Now, they return home to the Prudential Center for one game before heading back on the road on Thursday. That game was against the tough, but struggling Vancouver Canucks (yet another Western Conference opponent). They have also not won a game by more than one goal since November 12. How would they fare tonight against the Canucks?
Beau Bennett was back in the lineup, he was out with a puncture wound to the leg suffered from Kyle Palmieri’s skate at practice. He said that he was lucky, as it could have been his Achilles and he would have missed a lot more time than just a few games. With Bennett back, the Devils needed to make some room on the roster, so John Quenneville was sent back down to Albany. I am sure we will be seeing a lot more from Quenneville in the near future.
Also back in for New Jersey was Sergey Kalinin. He had been ill for the last two games. Out for the Devils were Jacob Josefson and Jon Merrill (both healthy scratches) and Pavel Zacha (facial laceration suffered against Nashville). Sitting for Vancouver was Alex Biega and Joseph Labate.
Between the pipes saw Jacob Markstrom starting for the Canucks, making 19 saves on 22 Devils shots. For the Devils, Cory Schneider got the nod against his former team. He made 22 saves on 24 Canucks shots.
The Devils got on the board first just 3:42 into the first. It happened when Taylor Hall grabbed a puck out of a goal mouth scramble, waited and fired, beating Markstrom over the shoulder, glove side. Kyle Quincey had the primary assist while PA Parenteau picked up the secondary.
From there, things got kind of ugly for both teams.
First, Damon Severson and Brendan Gaunce dropped the mitts, with Severson getting the victory on a takedown.
Then, Travis Zajac is checked from behind went face first into the boards. It was speculated by Ken Daneyko of MSG that his face shield might have cut his face, but no matter what, he was bloodied. He left the ice briefly but would return with a full shield on.
The referees missed the hit from behind on Zajac, but did not miss the penalties in the ensuing melee. Out of that, Michael Chaput (who put the hit on Zajac) got a fighting major and John Moore got a fighting major plus the instigator and the Devils were issued a bench misconduct after coach John Hynes got into an argument with the officials. Bennet served the bench penalty. All of this occurred at the 19:28 mark of the first period.
So with one of their best players off the ice with his face bloody, the Devils would now be down 5-on-3 with Vancouver coming out with the power play. The Devils did what they could, the Canucks power play is only ranked 22nd in the NHL, but ultimately, with just 19 seconds left on the 5-on-3, Daniel Sedin one-timed a pass from Brandon Sutter by Cory. Troy Stecher had the other assist on his goal. The Devils had killed off 19 straight power plays prior to this.
Another, scarier, moment happened in the middle of the second. Philip Larsen, the Danish defenseman coming to the Canucks from the KHL, took a big check from Taylor Hall behind the Vancouver net. He had his head down, but may have hit his head on the ice as he fell. He was stretchered out and taken to the hospital. According to Devils’ play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi via the Vancouver medical staff, he was awake and responsive and had full movement on the way to the hospital, so that was encouraging.
With that, it became a very chippy, emotional game – especially for one against a Western team that they only see twice a year.
No penalty was called on that play, as Hall’s hit was legal. However, Vancouver was whistled a few minutes later, at 5:55 when Erik Gudbranson went off for roughing Sergey Kalinin. Also on that play, Alexandre Burrows of Vancouver went off with matching roughing minors with Devante Smith-Pelly.
The Devils were now up a man and Kyle Palmieri would make the most of it. There was excellent puck movement, as five guys touched the puck on the way to Palmieri firing it from the near faceoff dot. He beat Markstrom to give the Devils the 2-1 lead. Hall had the primary assist while Severson had the secondary one. That goal came at 7:08.
On the night, the Devils were 1-for-2 on the power play, as they continue to click. The Canucks were 1-for-3 in the same situation.
The Devils would go up 3-1 at 11:09 when Ben Lovejoy scored his first goal as a Devil and his first goal since March of 2016 (when he was with the Penguins). It occurred when Quincey pinched in to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Zajac then passed across the point to Lovejoy, who fired on net. His slap shot found twine cleanly and the Devils had the two goal lead.
But the Devils have not played the most overtime games in the NHL this year for nothing. Vancouver would make things interesting when Henrik Sedin scored from his brother, Daniel, and Luca Sbisa at 3:58 of the third. Sedin had shot from an odd angle right after Markstrom had made a big save on Taylor Hall at the other end of the rink. The Devils were now up 3-2.
In the middle of the third period, it seemed that the ice was tilted in the Canucks’ direction. But the Devils weathered the storm. Markstrom was pulled with about 1:30 left in the game. But there would be no OT tonight. The Devils kept Vancouver from scoring and New Jersey came away with the two points.
The Devils remain unbeaten in regulation at home and, at 8-0-2, are off to their best start at home in franchise history. The Devils have still not won a game by more than one goal since mid-November, but this two game mini win streak sets them up to be in a good position for their next challenge.
On Thursday, they head up to the Bell Centre to take on the team with the best overall record in the league and a team that is extremely tough to play at home themselves: the Montreal Canadiens.
The Devils will be in for a tough one as they head up north to take on the Habs. But this team has shown a lot in the last few games, so getting one up on the President’s Trophy leaders should be no sweat to them, surely. We will find out on Thursday.