It’s Friday the 13th and, like most dates this season for the Devils, it was unlucky. The Devils fell tonight to the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 at Pepsi Center in Denver.
The biggest news that came out of this one for New Jersey was that, just moments before puck drop, Taylor Hall was announced as a scratch for the Devils for what the team was calling “precautionary reasons.” Although no deal to move him was announced tonight, it seems his time of reckoning is at hand and could come any day now, although the team did not acknowledge that this was being done due to an impending trade. He joined John Hayden and Kevin Rooney as the healthy scratches.
The recently called up Michael McLeod took Hall’s place in the lineup. It was his season debut with the NHL Devils and finished the night with two penalty minutes (an interference penalty in the first period), registered two hits and had two takeaways in 10:26 of total ice time (including 31 seconds on the penalty kill).
In other roster news, Nico Hischier was back from the injured reserve – he missed three games with an illness. Colton White was sent back to Binghamton of the AHL after not getting in a game on his most recent callup. Also, defenseman Connor Carrick was recalled from his conditioning stint in Binghamton and practiced with the NHL club this morning. He, however, is not ready to return and remains on IR.
The start of the game saw a rare matchup of two right-catching goalies. Pavel Francouz went for the Avs, making 37 saves on 38 Devils shots for a .974 save percentage. Louis Domingue started for the Devils, making 15 saves on 17 shots for an .882 save percentage. Domingue left midway through the second period with what was deemed a lower body injury, possibly a groin injury, by head coach Alain Nasreddine in the postgame show. There was, of course, an emergency goalie on hand should Blackwood get injured. He played 30:48. Mackenzie Blackwood came in in relief and turned aside all 19 shots he saw in 29:05. With an empty net goal, the Avalanche ended the game with 37 total shots on goal.
Colorado is now 14-3-3 in games where they have been outshot by their opponents. This is one of the reasons they are one of the best teams in the NHL, finding a way to win games and overcoming adversity.
The Avalanche scored 11:37 into the game to break the seal on this one. It came off the stick of Gabriel Landeskog on the power play (McLeod’s penalty referenced earlier). It saw precision passing from Samuel Girard at the point to Nathan MacKinnon at the near half wall, centered to Landeskog. Landeskog took the puck and fired it over Domingue’s glove to make it 1-0 Avs.
The Avs went 1-for-5 on the man advantage with a total of four shots. They also notched two shorthanded shots. Curiously, all of the power play shots came on Domingue while all of the PK shots were on Blackwood. The Devils were 0-for-4 on the power play with seven shots to go with four shots down a man.
In the second period, Colorado doubled up their lead when Valeri Nichushkin scored at 7:56 of the second frame. The Devils attempted to dump the puck into the Avalanche zone to get a change. The Avs got the puck out quickly as Mark Barberio moved it up to Nichushkin. He skated it into the Devils zone and cut to the middle of the ice, wristing the puck by Domingue on the glove side again. It was now 2-0 Avalanche.
And that it would remain until the 15:48 mark of the third period when Mirco Mueller, of all people, broke the opponents’ shutout streak against the Devils. New Jersey had not scored since Hall scored in the third period of the Nashville game on Saturday and were shutout in Dallas on Tuesday. Mueller skated the puck down low and took a shot from a sharp angle, almost to the goal line. The puck deflected in off of a Colorado defender’s leg and by Francouz to cut the lead in half to 2-1. Pavel Zacha and Wayne Simmonds had the assists on the goal for the Devils.
But time would run out on the Devils, who largely played well against a team that could be considered a Stanley Cup contender. Blackwood was pulled with less than a minute to go in regulation and Colorado would add an empty netter courtesy of MacKinnon (assists to Mikko Rantanen and Matt Nieto) to make it 3-1, which was our final.
The Avs won a whopping 62-percent of the game’s faceoffs while the Devils dominated in hits (22-13) and blocked shots (19-15) as well as having less giveaways at four to the Avalanche’s nine.
Individually, shots were led by Nikita Gusev with five, hits by Blake Coleman with four, blocks by Will Butcher (who played his college hockey in Denver) with six and takeaways by Coleman and McLeod, who both registered two.
Time on ice was led by Sami Vatanen with 22 minutes even (including 4:23 on the power play and 2:47 shorthanded). Nico Hischier, in his return from illness, was wrong when he told MSG Network’s Erika Wachter in the pregame that his shifts would be short and his ice time limited. He led the forwards with 20:19 of time on ice (4:34 on the PP and 3:34 on the PK).
So now the Devils travel to Arizona to take on the Coyotes tomorrow. That game begins at 8 PM ET and we, of course, will try to get the recap up for you in a decent time, although I do have a previously scheduled family event to go to and it may be up a little later than usual.
Before I sign off for the night, I just wanted to extend a big congratulations to Brian Gionta, who won a Cup with the Devils and was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame last night in Washington, DC. Gio was an undersized player who played with heart and gave his all. We were lucky to have him in a Devils uniform. Congratulations again to him.