MSG+ play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi put it perfectly when he mentioned that Damon Severson had one of the toughest 24-hour stretches of his career in Los Angeles last night and early tonight in San Jose.
But as so often happens in sports, Severson got a chance at redemption, and he came through. The Devils won in a shootout, defeating the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Severson’s shootout winner.
First, the defense situation for the Devils. Last night saw them so depleted that Mason Geertsen needed to be moved to the blue line to fill out the D.
Tonight, reinforcements arrived in the form of Colton White. White was recalled from AHL Utica yesterday and arrived in California yesterday as well. Dougie Hamilton was out again tonight with a lower body injury – for which he is day-to-day – but he did participate with the team at the morning skate.
Christian Jaros, who was acquired from the Sharks back on July 26, was placed on Injured Reserve retroactive to November 4 with a hand injury.
Geertsen and Marian Studenic were the scratches. White (who was also a game-time decision for coach Lindy Ruff) played for the Devils for the first time since he was sent back down to Utica on October 23, when Ty Smith came off of IR.
In net, with the Devils playing the second half of a back-to-back, it was back to Jonathan Bernier. Bernier made 25 saves on 27 shots against for a .928 save percentage. He stopped all three Sharks shorthanded shots and three of their four power play shots as the Sharks finished 1-for-3 on the night. He had 19 saves on 20 shots at even strength.
The Sharks countered with James Reimer, who was equal to 26 of the Devils’ 28 shots for a .929 save percentage. He turned aside all three of the Devils’ power play shots (the Devils’ power play was 0-for-4 on the night as their special teams continue to struggle mightily) and he was 23-for-25 at even strength.
The Sharks are simply decimated by COVID Protocol right now. They are missing seven players and coaches, including head coach Bob Boughner. With Boughner out, San Jose was being coached by none other than former Devils’ player and coach John MacLean. Although Johnny Mac’s coaching stint here in New Jersey will likely live in infamy for all eternity, there is no denying the type of player that he was for the Devils in the franchise’s first decade-and-a-half here in New Jersey.
Also of note is John Leonard, a left winger for the Sharks wearing number 43. He is a Westwood, New Jersey native and played hockey at UMASS-Amhearst.
The pregame on MSG+ was delayed about 15 or so minutes as the Islanders-Winnipeg Jets postgame went a little bit later and pushed the Devils pregame back.
The Devils were finishing their three-game California road trip and looking for their first win of the trip. San Jose was completing a five-game homestand at SAP Center.
Following a scoreless first period, one of the teams finally broke through in the second.
At the 4:48 mark of the second period, Rudolfs Balcers scored for the Sharks to put them in front 1-0. It game when Mario Ferraro carried the puck up the left wing boards while Balcers got loose on the other side and was not picked up by the Devils’ defense. Balcers cut in behind the play. Ferraro made a nice pass in front through the crease as Balcers cut in towards net. Balcers tapped the puck into the open side of the Devils goal to give San Jose the lead. Brent Burns had the secondary assist on the goal.
The Devils would get the equalizer before the end of the period, however.
It came at the 16:45 mark when Michael McLeod came up the right wing boards and dropped a pass to Nico Hischier. Hischier made a nice pass as he found a seam to Ryan Graves pinching in behind the play. Graves got the pass and put the puck behind Reimer to tie at one the game and notch his first tally as a Devil.
The third period saw the Sharks again take the lead and the Devils again play catch-up.
At the 4:21 mark of the third period, the Sharks took a 2-1 lead when Jonathan Dahlen scored. It came on the power play. Janne Kuokkanen was called for high-sticking Nicolas Meloche at 4:04 to put San Jose on the man advantage.
While blocking a shot on the penalty kill, Severson’s stick broke leaving him without a stick and, essentially, putting the Devils down at a 5-on-3 disadvantage. The Sharks worked the puck to Severson’s side to Dahlen. With Severson unable to get a stick in the lane, he was a dead duck. Dahlen shot and scored. Burns had the primary assist – his second point (both assists) of the night – and former Devil Nick Merkley, who was dealt to San Jose in the Jaros trade, had the secondary assist.
The Devils were once again behind the eight-ball. But one thing you can say about this team early on is that they never seem to be out of a game late.
It began with about eight minutes to go when Bernier made a huge save on Jonah Gadjovich. Bernier went for the poke check as Gadjovich was cutting in on him. Gadjovich got around him and shot, but Bernier made a nice right pad save on him as Gadjovich had an empty net to shoot at. This save had the potential to be a game-changer should the Devils come back.
And sure enough, at the 17:04 mark, Janne Kuokkanen tied things at two. The Devils kept firing shots on net, getting as much rubber as they could on Reimer. The puck caromed around and finally came out to Kuokkanen in the slot. His shot went under Reimer and in to tie the game at two. Jimmy Vesey had the primary assist while White, in his first game back in the NHL, got the secondary.
Coach Ruff immediately called his timeout following the goal in order to settle his team down and get them focused on the final three minutes plus of the game.
And the Devils held on. When the final horn sounded, New Jersey was going to be playing in their fourth overtime game of the season and their second in two night – following Saturday’s loss to the Kings in Los Angeles.
When OT expired with nothing settled, we were off to a shootout, the Devils’ second shootout of the year. They dropped their first to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Halloween.
In round one, Logan Couture shot first for the Sharks. He scored when he beat Bernier five-hole and Jesper Bratt was up for the Devils. Bratt also scored by deking around Reimer and just getting the puck over the goal line.
In the second round, Balcers went for San Jose first. He missed, hitting the post. This brought up Alexander Holtz, in just his second NHL game and taking his first NHL shootout attempt. Holtz skated in wide to the left and cut in, shooting into Reimer’s chest.
Round three saw Tomas Hertl go for the Sharks and shoot wide on Bernier. This brought up a gamble for Lindy Ruff. He decided to go to Severson, who while a defenseman, does have good hands and would show them off on this chance.
Severson won the game for the Devils when he made a nice move coming in on Reimer and then roofed one top shelf once he had the San Jose goaltender beaten. And that was it. Redemption for Severson and two points for the Devils in California.
The Devils ended up outshooting the Sharks, 28-27 and winning 54-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hischier and Dawson Mercer both led the Devils with 63-percent personal winning clips in the faceoff circle.
The Devils actually stayed out of the penalty box a little bit less than San Jose, accumulating six total penalty minutes to the Sharks’ six – although, as has been covered, the Devils’ special teams have not been good, so there was no real advantage on either side of the power play/penalty kill divide for New Jersey.
The Sharks outhit the Devils 22-17, playing the more physical game. The Devils did end up with a slight edge in blocked shots with 21 to San Jose’s 20. Each team ended the game with six turnovers.
In terms of ice time, Graves logged 23:53 to lead the team. He spent 2:10 of that on the PK. Bratt narrowly beat out Hischier to lead the forwards in total time on ice with 23:35 to Hischier’s 23:24 logged. Bratt played 3:18 on the power play and six seconds on the PK.
Mercer and Jonas Siegenthaler each led the Devils with four shots on goal. Hits were led by Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha and Bratt each with three. Blocks were led by Severson with four. Giveaways were spread out with Hischier, Vesey, Tomas Tatar, Smith, Severson and Graves each having one to lead. Takeaways saw Bratt lead with two recovered turnovers.
Next up, the Devils return home to face a tall order in Newark on Tuesday. The NHL-leading Florida Panthers come calling and the Devils will have a real test. The Cats are 10-0-1, the last team to not suffer a regulation loss this season in the league. They beat the fellow unbeaten Carolina Hurricanes earlier today to improve.
That game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and we will have a recap here for you as well. See you then!