Things just keep going from bad to worse for the New Jersey Devils.
Exhibit A (or C, D, E?), as they traveled to Detroit to the Little Caesars Arena to take on the Detroit Red Wings and word came down that they were going to be without another defenseman… and their starting goaltender… and their leading scorer
But hey, at least their entire coaching staff was intact, unlike the Red Wings. That’s good, right?
Combined, the two teams had 13 players and personnel in COVID Protocol. The Devils added defenseman PK Subban to their list while the Wings needed to call up a head coach to take over because Jeff Blashill was on their list.
Yes, you read that right. The Red Wings needed to recall Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Ben Simon from the AHL and one of his assistants to stand in behind the bench. Chalk that one up to 2021, folks.
Detroit was also without their starting goalie Alex Nedeljkovic as he was put into COVID Protocol.
Not to be outdone, the Devils’ starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood did not even make the trip to Michigan as he is day-to-day with a neck injury suffered Thursday against Vegas when teammate Tomas Tatar ran into him.
As for the Devils’ leading scorer? Jesper Bratt missed tonight’s game with what the team is calling a non-COVID illness.
All-in-all, these teams were decimated. However, the Red Wings were a lot better equipped to deal with that decimation partly because the Devils were not able to call reinforcements up from the Utica Comets.
Utica is dealing with COVID issues of their own, so when the Comets tweeted this morning that two players had been recalled to New Jersey and then the Tweet was quickly deleted, there was good reason.
The Devils could not call those players (originally identified as defensemen Reilly Walsh and Nikita Okhotiuk) up due to Utica’s problems with COVID and wanting to contain the virus and not further spreading it between Utica and New Jersey.
So this led to the Devils needing to dress Mason Geertsen as a defenseman again (pairing him with Kevin Bahl) and going with just 11 forwards and six defensemen. Having a short bench would not be kind to the Devils.
In goal, without Blackwood, the Devils gave Akira Schmid his second NHL start and his third appearance. He made his first start against the Islanders on Long Island last weekend and played the third period against the Flyers in Philly in mop up duty early this week. Newly acquired Jon Gillies backed Schmid up.
He made 25 saves on 30 Detroit total shots for an .833 save percentage on the night. He stopped the Red Wings’ only power play shot. He turned aside 24 of Detroit’s 29 shots at full strength.
The Wings also had to juggle their goaltending and recalled Calvin Pickard from AHL Grand Rapids. However, tonight Detroit started Thomas Greiss. Greiss made 31 saves on 33 total Devils shots, notching a .939 save percentage on the night. He made two saves on three total Devils shorthanded shots. At even strength, he turned aside 29 of 30 Devils shots.
Each team put up an ofer on the power play with the Devils 0-for-2 and the Red Wings 0-for-3.
Of note was that Devils wee wearing their new black third uniforms for the second time in history and the first time on the road, with the Wings in their road whites on home ice.
This is the first of three meetings between the Devils and the Wings, which will equal the amount of times the Devils played the Flyers this season. It is also the first time the teams have played since February 25, 2020 – a 4-1 Devils win – which occurred right before the shutdown in the 2019-20 season.
The NHL saw five games postponed due to COVID Protocol tonight alone. How would this game fare with what was going on between the two participants in Motown?
Detroit ended up with the 1-0 lead 16:39 into the game on a strange one.
Filip Hronek dumped the puck into the near corner. The puck took a weird bounce as Schmid came out of his net to play it. Instead of riding the bottom of the dasher around, it hopped back out to Dylan Larkin, who was coming in on the forecheck. Larkin put the puck into the now-empty Devils cage.
Everyone’s first thought – myself included – turned to Joe Louis Arena and the springy end boards. Devils’ MSG+ studio analyst Bryce Salvador had a more reasonable explanation, though.
Where Hronek’s dump in hit was the Zamboni entrance door area. Schmid, being new to the NHL and inexperienced, did not know where the gate was located and, when it hit the lip at the bottom, he assumed he would get a true bounce. That was not the case and, instead, Detroit had the early lead.
But the Devils, at this point, had an answer. With less than a minute to go in the first period, 49 to be exact, the Devils would equal the score.
Michael McLeod got a pass from Jimmy Vesey and cut into the middle of the Wings zone, just inside the blue line. McLeod unleashed a “knuckleball” shot that fluttered in on Greiss, handcuffing the Detroit goalie and beating him.
This was McLeod’s first non-empty net goal of the season and the secondary assist went to Jonas Siegenthaler.
The Devils got into some penalty trouble in the beginning of the second period. Kevin Bahl was off for holding Vladislav Namestnikov at 5:23 and then Dougie Hamilton was called for a cross check against Tyler Bertuzzi at 6:34 to put Detroit on a 5-on-3 for 49 seconds.
This was the second straight game where the Devils faced a substantial 5-on-3 kill. But, unlike against the Golden Knights, the Devils were able to hold on to finish this one off and kill the whole thing.
Detroit, though, would get their goal. At even strength at the 11:48 mark, Larkin got his second of the game.
Pius Suter passed down low to Namestnikov, who then followed with a great pass to Larkin in the slot. Larkin snapped the puck by Schmid to give the Wings back the lead, 2-1.
They would strike again very fast.
Less than a minute later, at 12:27 gone by, Moritz Seider gained the Devils zone, patiently waited and made a backhand pass to Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi took the pass and snapped a shot upstairs over Schmid to make it 3-1 as the Devils were simply caught puck watching the rookie phenom Seider.
Devils coach Lindy Ruff elected to use his timeout after the Bertuzzi goal in order to attempt to settle the Devils down.
But the game was broken completely open by the Red Wings at the 15:47 mark of the second when Larkin completed his hat trick.
Southampton, New Jersey native Kyle Criscuolo chipped the puck to Larkin, who gathered it in stride through the neutral zone. Larkin cut in on Schmid and went to his forehand to score his third of the night.
This was the second hat trick scored on the Devils in three games – Cam Atkinson of the Flyers did so last week – and the third hat trick of the year. Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets had the other.
Off of the ensuing faceoff and following some cross checks thrown between Hronek and McLeod, those two went at it in a scrap.
What resulted was a bit weird. Although the gloves were dropped by both players and punches were thrown, neither received a five-minute fighting major. Instead, Hronek was assessed two for roughing while McLeod got a double minor for roughing.
This put the Devils down without another forward – remember they were already playing with only 11 – for four minutes, including a power play for Detroit.
It was good thinking by McLeod to try to spark the Devils to something – anything – after falling behind 4-1. An odd choice of calls by the officials would put the kibosh on that.
The penalty, which started at the 16:07 mark of the second. At the 17:25 mark, the Devils would exact a bit of revenge.
Damon Severson made an alley-oop pass to Dawson Mercer out of the Devils zone. Mercer took the pass and cut in on Greiss. His shot went off of the Detroit goalie’s blocker, banked off of the near post and into the net. It was in and out fast but had entered the net for a Devils’ shorthanded goal.
This was Mercer’s first career NHL shorthanded goal, congratulations to him – a bright spot in what has been a rough early season for the Devils.
It was 4-2 as the third period began with the Devils still somewhat within striking distance.
Hope of getting back into the game was closed when Bertuzzi notched his second of the game 14:07 into the final frame to give us our final score of 5-2.
Another of Detroit’s good young players, Lucas Raymond, kept the play going in the Devils zone as Larkin was able to dig the puck out of the far corner for Bertuzzi. He fed a pass to Bertuzzi at the far faceoff circle down low. Bertuzzi then roofed his shot by Schmid in a similar way to his first goal.
When the final horn sounded on this one, there were no fireworks as in the Vegas game. It simply petered out and New Jersey had dropped their fifth consecutive in regulation.
The Devils outshot the Wings 33-30 and won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Yegor Sharangovich led Devils centers with a 67-percent winning clip personally.
The Devils ended the game with eight total team penalty minutes while the Red Wings accumulated six. The Devils outhit the Wings 21-10. Detroit had 16 total hits to New Jersey’s 14. The Devils actually only a single team giveaway to the Wings’ 17 in a surprising and welcoming stat.
Time on ice saw Severson far-and-away total the most minutes with 29:01 (including 1:45 on the power play and 4:01 on the penalty kill). With Ryan Graves out, it is falling on Severson to eat up some valuable minutes on the blue line.
Jack Hughes led the forwards with 20:45 of total TOI – which included just 15 seconds of PP time on the special teams. Mercer led forwards in power play time with 1:47 while Vesey led in PK time amongst forwards with 2:45.
Elsewhere, shots on goal were led by McLeod, Mercer, Hughes and Hamilton who each had four. Nate Bastian was a hit machine, leading the way with seven. Siegenthaler led in blocked shots with three. Hamilton had the Devils’ lone giveaway while, according to NHL.com, no Devils player registered a takeaway.
Next up, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Devils return home to Prudential Center for the back half of a back-to-back – the first game of a home-and-home with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The still depleted Devils will have no choice but to soldier on. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM tomorrow on MSG+.
We will have a recap for you right here following the game. Here’s hoping your turnaround goes a lot better than the Devils’ does. Have a great Sunday everyone!