The Devils’ next two games, both against the Columbus Blue Jackets, are tests to see just how good of a team they really are and could move them back into first place in the Metropolitan Division as a bonus. Tonight, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, the Devils passed test number one. They came away with the 4-1 victory over a Blue Jackets team that had not lost at home in five tries. They also stand atop the division, leapfrogging the Jackets and the Islanders (who lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight as well).
This game marked only the third Metropolitan Division game the Devils have played this year, with a loss to Washington and a win over the Rangers both coming earlier in the season. The team’s next three games will come against their divisional foes (two against the Jackets – including this one and one against the Rangers) this week.
Devils coach John Hynes held a veterans only meeting yesterday where he said that they would be going into a hostile environment – a loud, enthusiastic crowd for a good team and an amped up atmosphere between two teams battling for first place in the division – and that the veterans needed to keep the rookies and young players grounded for the game. They did just that, showing leadership in getting the win for the Devils.
In addition to all of that, Cory Schneider’s next victory would be his 100th as a New Jersey Devil, so congratulations to him on that milestone, as he notched it tonight. He made 41 saves on 42 shots on net. The Blue Jackets threw out reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky who made 32 saves on 36 Devils shots on net. Taylor Hall mentioned before the game that the Devils would need to pepper Bobrovsky with 30-plus shots in order to get a few past him because he does not give up many. Cory would go on to be named the game’s first star.
Roster news to pass along saw Steven Santini slot back in on defense. Ben Lovejoy was taken out of the lineup while Dalton Prout was a healthy scratch again. Somewhat controversially, Pavel Zacha was a scratch up front. The coaching staff still wanted to see more from him and are trying to give him another perspective on the game.
The Devils kicked off the scoring just 4:24 into the first. Stefan Noesen got stood up in the Columbus zone, taking the hit to give the puck up to Travis Zajac, who kept banging at the puck in front of the Jackets’ goal and knocked it home. Marcus Johansson had the secondary assist on the goal, marking his first point since October 19 (at Ottawa; but remember that he was injured for a good portion of this young season). It was 1-0 Devils. Prior to that goal, Columbus had really been pushing the play and yet the Devils were up early on.
The Blue Jackets would tie things up before the end of the first period when Nick Foligno tipped in a Oliver Bjorkstrand shot to make it 1-1. Seth Jones had the secondary assist on that goal, which came at 13:46 of the first period. The goal was an even strength goal, as a Zajac tripping penalty had just expired. Columbus’ power play is ranked dead last in the NHL and that showed tonight, as they went an amazing 0-for-6 with the man advantage. They did have seven shots on goal, however. New Jersey was 0-for-1 with two shots on goal. The Jackets do not take many penalties (they are the second least penalized team in the NHL) and that was also evident tonight.
The Devils would jump out to a 2-1 lead early in the second period when Taylor Hall dug the puck out of the near corner in the Devils’ zone and headmanned it to Nico Hischier. Hischier streaked through the neutral zone and into the Blue Jackets’ zone. He drew in the Columbus defenseman and gave it back to Hall, who was calling for the puck on the rush. Hall got the puck and buried it to extend the Devils’ lead. This would go on to be the game winning goal and Hischier would be the game’s second star while Hall was named the third star of the game. Jesper Bratt had the secondary assist on this goal.
The Devils would get another one late in the second period when Stefan Noesen scored from Miles Wood and Hischier. Notable on that, was Cory making a good outlet pass to Hischier. Also, Bobrovsky lost his mask on the goal and Columbus coach John Tortorella thought about challenging for goalie interference, but ultimately did not. At the end of two periods, the Devils had a 3-1 lead. That goal came at 19:14. The Devils were 11-0-1 when leading after two periods and that streak would continue after tonight.
They would get one more in the third to ice the game when Bratt scored from Hall to make it 4-1 at 11:06 of the third. The Blue Jackets, in addition to being good at home, are also a good defensive team. Yet the Devils had lit them and a very good goalie up for four goals in their win.
One place, as noted, where the Blue Jackets failed was on the power play. They ended the game with a two man advantage (with Sami Vatanen off for hooking and Brian Gibbons for slashing) for about 39 seconds and were unable to score at all.
Overall, the Travis Zajac led the Devils with five shots on goal, Andy Greene led in time on ice with 24:27 and Santini’s triumph return to the lineup yielded six hits, which led the Devils there. New Jersey won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
Next up, the Devils finish up their home-and-home with the Blue Jackets at Prudential Center on Friday. I will be at that game and will get the post up as soon as I can. A win on home ice against Columbus would help keep the Devils in first place in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division, something that would be very much needed going forward.