It was a very busy day for the Devils, as they traded their captain earlier in the day to the Islanders, played a game that they won, and during it, they traded one of their most popular players.
More on the Andy Greene trade as it was said by interim GM Tom Fitzgerald in the pregame show that Greene needed to waive his no trade clause in order to be dealt to the Isles.
Because of the Greene deal, there were some changes to the Devils’ lineup. Firstly, Nico Hischier returned after missing six games with a stitches in his knee. He wore an A on his jersey at home, something he was only doing on the road while Kyle Palmieri served that role at home. Now, with no captain, the Devils will have three alternates (Hischier, Palmieri and Travis Zajac). Nico also centered the top line of Jesper Bratt and Palmieri. Mirco Mueller essentially replaced Greene on the top defensive pairing with PK Subban while Colton White slotted in on D as well. John Hayden was a healthy scratch for the Devils with the return of Nico.
In another interesting move, Blake Coleman was held out for “precautionary reasons” and Miles Wood took his place on the second line with Zajac centering him and Nikita Gusev. Coleman, before the end of the night, would see an end to his Devils career. He was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Fitzgerald’s second move before the February 24 trade deadline.
We will have more for you right here in a separate post on the Coleman trade. There was a lot going on and I want to hash out the details in a dedicated post.
The goalie matchup saw the Devils try to crack Elvis Merzlikins, who ended the night stopping 23 shots of the 26 total that the Devils peppered him with for an .885 save percentage. He also made five saves in the shootout.
Then there was Mackenzie Blackwood’s night. For a goalie that made 115 consecutive saves (according to MSG Network’s Steve Cangialosi) during his two game plus shutout streak, this was just another night at the office. He stopped 52 of 55 shots fired at him for a .945 save percentage. Those 55 shots were the most a Devils goalie has faced since March 10, 1984 at the St. Louis Blues when Chico Resch faced 57 shots (info from hockey-reference.com). He came up big too, also making three saves in the shootout.
On special teams, Columbus went 0-for-2 with seven shots. The Devils did not have a power play opportunity, but did register a shorthanded goal that Merzlikins stopped.
The Devils had not beaten the Blue Jackets in nine tries and had not beaten Columbus at the Prudential Center since 2014, but they got it done tonight.
It seemed that trend was going to continue too, when Andrew Peeke scored his first NHL goal just 2:28 in. The Devils turned the puck over and Sonny Milano took a shot that was saved by Blackwood, but he gave up the rebound right in front that Peeke pounced on and potted. Pierre-Luc Dubois had the secondary assist on the goal. That made it 1-0 Jackets right away.
Zach Werenski made it 2-0 with 6:19 gone in the first. Markus Nutivaara and Eric Robinson worked the puck around the perimeter before Robinson found Werenski near the near faceoff circle. He ripped a shot that Blackwood got a piece of but found its way in anyway. It was 2-0 Blue Jackets.
This game marked the kickoff to the dad’s trip for the Devils and they were not liking what they were seeing as their sons were down 2-0 early. The dad’s trip will continue as they follow the team to St. Louis next week.
But if the first period belonged to the Jackets, the second was all Devils.
Joey Anderson kicked things off when he scored 1:20 into the new frame. It came when Kevin Rooney came with speed through the neutral zone, pushing the Columbus defense back a little. He then dished to Anderson on the right wing. Anderson took a shot and beat Merzlikins to cut the Blue Jackets lead in half at 2-1.
Immediately after, though, at the 18:14 mark of the second, Dubois had seemingly scored to make it 3-1. However, it was waived off on the ice right away. He had kicked the puck in with a distinct kicking motion. No goal and things stayed where they were.
The Devils responded to that too. With 3:51 gone in the second, Nick Merkley scored the first of his NHL career when Anderson came in on the forecheck. He got the puck to Rooney, who shot. That was saved but the rebound came to Merkley and he put it behind Elvis to tie the game up at two.
Palmieri gave the Devils a 3-2 lead at 11:55 gone by in the second when he grabbed the puck off the boards in the Devils’ end. He got it right to Jesper Bratt and they were off as Bratt skated it into the Columbus zone. He gave a tape-to-tape pass to Hischier, who dropped the puck to Palmieri trailing. Palmieri shot just under the crossbar with a pinpoint rip to give New Jersey the 3-2 lead.
Things remained that way, until the third period. Just after the Coleman trade was announced, Kevin Stenlund tied things for Columbus. It came at 8:45 when the Devils were unable to clear the zone. Palmieri was checked just inside the Devils’ blue line to keep the puck in the zone for the Jackets. Columbus worked the puck up the boards and noted Devils killer Oliver Bjorkstrand centered to Stenlund who was all alone in front of the Devils’ net. He scored to make it 3-3. Gustav Nyquist has the secondary assist on the goal.
And 3-3 is where things ended when regulation could not settle things.
We were off to overtime and, although that did not officially settle things either, the Devils looked good. Damon Severson was stopped on a breakaway early in OT. Merzlikins was brilliant as he stopped Jack Hughes on multiple chances too. The Devils almost dominated the extra session, just could not finish.
And so to a shootout we went.
Round one saw Palmieri’s shot stopped and Nyquist get turned aside by Blackwood. In round two, Severson was stopped by a nice glove save by Elvis and Dubois scored.
Round three saw Gusev needing to score to extend things. He scored and it was on to Stenlund. He shot wide to keep things going.
In round four, Hughes hit the post and Merzlikins fell on the puck before it could trickle over the goal line. Bjorkstand was stopped with a nice left pad save by Blackwood. It was on to round five where Pavel Zacha lost control of the puck. He tried to get a shot off by spinning around, but play was already dead when he lost the handle. Nathan Gerbe hit the post and we moved to round six. Nico was stopped trying a backhand on Elvis and Werenski shot wide.
Round seven saw Jesper Bratt step up for the Devils. He scored off a nice deke and it was up to Milano to continue things for Columbus. He shot wide and the Devils had their first victory over the Blue Jackets since December 5, 2017. Mackenzie Blackwood had also had his fourth straight win, his first such streak at the NHL level.
So, the Devils won despite getting out shot by a huge 55-26 margin. They also won just 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Rooney winning 58-percent personally to lead the centers. The Devils did outhit the Jackets, 26-11. Despite losing Andy Greene, they also had more blocked shots at 20 to the Jackets’ six. Kudos to Subban for blocking a shot early in the game on the power play. He seemed shaken up by the blast, but did not miss any time.
The Devils did have 12 giveaways to the Jackets’ four, however.
Individually, Subban led all New Jersey skaters in time on ice with 25:16 logged (including 1:40 on the penalty kill – where the aforementioned shot block took place). Zajac led the forwards with 18:04 including 1:38 on the PK.
Anderson, with two assists for two points (Rooney and Palmieri also had two points on the night) was named the game’s third star. Merkley, with his first NHL goal, was the second star and Bratt, with the game-winner in the shootout, was the first star.
Hughes led in shots on goal with four, hits were led by Rooney with five, blocked shots by Subban with five and takeaways by Zajac, Zacha, Wood, Will Butcher and Severson with one each.
Next up, the Devils travel to the home of the Stanley Cup champs on Tuesday. It’s off to St. Louis to take on a very good Blues team. Puck drop for that game is 8 PM ET and we will have coverage for you right here. We will also have the full post on the Blake Coleman trade coming up later tonight.