What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Devils did not get their 18th win until January 15, this year, they notched it exactly one month to the day earlier, on December 15. They defeated the Dallas Stars in what was a real wild game tonight at Prudential Center.
Some trade news to begin the day, as the Devils traded forward Ryan Kujawinski yesterday to Arizona for forward Michael Latta. This is a pure AHL move, as Latta will report to the Binghamton Devils. Latta does have some NHL experience with Washington, so that is a plus if they call him up.
In injury news, Taylor Hall (knee contusion), Kyle Palmieri (broken foot) and Marcus Johansson (bruised ankle) could all return as early as this coming Monday against Anaheim. The Devils would love to have their entire group together and healthy for what amounts to the first time this season and that could be happening a lot sooner than later. That is a good thing, since, as a graphic shown on the pregame by MSG showed, 50.5-percent of the Devils’ goals have come off the sticks of those three men. The lineup tonight remained largely the same as the last game, with Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout being the healthy scratches for New Jersey. Nick Lappin remained in for Hall.
The Devils kicked off what would be their longest homestand of the season (six games) on a snowy night in Newark. Coach John Hynes had not liked the way the Devils had played in the backends of their last two back-to-backs, so tonight would be a test. Hynes also said that the goaltending would now “be a competition” and that Keith Kinkaid would not automatically start the second half of the back-to-backs.
In that regard, Cory Schneider got back in nets, stopping 28 of 30 shots he faced. He made some key saves, including a big one late in the game when Dallas had pulled their goaltender with about 3:30 left in the game. He would go on to be named the game’s second star. That Dallas goaltender was Kari Lehtonen, who was making his third straight start for the Stars. He had defeated the Rangers in a shootout and the Islanders in regulation to earn the start tonight against the Devils. He ended up with 21 saves on 25 Devils shots.
The Devils got the scoring started just 4:28 into the game when Steven Santini found the twine to make it 1-0 Devils. That goal came when Brian Gibbons dug the puck out of the far corner and sent a rolling puck back to Santini at the point. Santini fired the knuckle puck and scored to give New Jersey the early lead.
But Santini’s moment of triumph was quickly dashed when he got called for closing his hand on the puck behind the Devils’ net at the 5:00 mark of the first. The Stars were on the power play and they responded. Martin Hanzal scored from Tyler Seguin and Esa Lindell at 6:42. That goal was actually on Dallas’ very first shot of the game. That would tie things up at one.
In what was a penalty filled game, the Stars ended up 1-for-3 on the power play with eight shots while the Devils were 1-for-7 with ten shots. As we shall see, penalties would play a large part in what was a pretty chippy game for two teams that only see each other twice a year.
The Devils retook the lead with less than a minute left in the first period when Plano, Texas-native Blake Coleman scored at 19:06. The goal came when Coleman won the faceoff to Gibbons at the far hashmarks. Gibbons dropped to Andy Greene at the point, who fired on goal and the rebound came right to Coleman in front of the Stars’ net. He scored his fourth of the season and what is his second career goal against the team he grew up rooting for. It was 2-1 Devils.
Pavel Zacha would seemingly give the Devils a 3-1 lead as time expired, but the replay showed that time had run down just before the puck crossed the goal line. The call was no goal and the score remained 2-1 going into the first break.
The Stars would tie things back up at the 8:09 mark of the second period when the big Russian Alexander Radulov made a power move at a weird angle to get by Will Butcher and score on Schneider. Assists on that goal went to Mattias Janmark and Lindell. That tied things back up at two.
And then things started to get really crazy. First, John Klingberg was called for a vicious cross check on Brian Boyle at 10:56. That penalty was ultimately killed off by Dallas, but just as that penalty was about to expire, at 12:48, Stephen Johns was called for high sticking Miles Wood and ended up drawing a double minor. The Devils would have a few seconds of a 5-on-3 and then four minutes for their power play to get to work. Just as the double minor was about to expire, at 16:39, Brian Boyle would score to give the Devils back the lead. It came when Jesper Bratt worked the puck along the far half wall. He passed to Zacha at the far point. Zacha corralled the puck with his feet and passed over to Butcher at the opposite point. He one-timed it on net and, after a few whacks, Boyle was able to put it home to give the Devils the 3-2 lead. it was his 100th career NHL goal.
Following that goal, during the celebration, Boyle exchanged words with Klingberg (whom he had not forgotten had given him a hard cross check into the boards when he was vulnerable earlier on) and, eventually, Dallas’ Greg Pateryn stepped in. They went at it for awhile and when the dust settled, Pateryn was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, as was Boyle. However, Boyle also drew a ten minute misconduct penalty. He would be unavailable for the rest of the second period and the first half of the third.
The pushing and shoving continued throughout most stoppages, with Pavel Zacha taking a roughing penalty at the end of the second period during one such scrum. Dallas would have the man advantage going into the third period, on fresh ice.
That one was killed off and the Devils would end up doubling up Dallas at the 12:57 mark of the third period. Recent callup Nick Lappin got that one when he took the puck in the far corner and fired on net. The rebound came out to Jimmy Hayes, who guided it back to Lappin, who shot and scored to make it 4-2. Boyle had the secondary assist on that goal. Lappin was named the game’s third star.
Boyle would end up capping off a three point night with an empty netter at 18:00 of the third period. As mentioned, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock had pulled Lehtonen with about 3:30 left in the game and the Devils worked really hard to keep getting the puck out of their zone. It finally paid off when Boyle scored to make it 5-2. Boyle would go on to be named the game’s number one star.
Lappin and Stars pest Antoine Roussel got into a shoving match with about 7.5 seconds remaining in the game on a neutral zone faceoff to top things off, but the Devils pulled out the two points. It should also set up an interesting rematch between the two teams when the Devils go to Dallas on January 4.
Stats saw Sami Vatanen lead in ice time with 23:04, Drew Stafford (who was essentially playing the Taylor Hall role on his line with Nico Hischier and Bratt) lead in shots on goal with six, Coleman lead in hits and Brian Gibbons, Steven Santini and Damon Severson all tie for the lead in blocks with two each.
The Devils now stand in a virtual three-way tie with Columbus and Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. They have the same 41 points as the other two teams, but are technically listed as second place due to the fact that they have played less games than the Blue Jackets. It is a real dog fight in the Metro Division right now and the Devils are keeping pace for the moment.
Next up, Monday, the Devils will see a familiar face in their building when Adam Henrique and the Anaheim Ducks come to town. I will be attending that game and will hope to get a post up as quickly as I can. It is sure to be an emotional night as Rico returns with his new Ducks teammates.