Four Point Night for Zajac Leads Devils Past Senators

The Devils came into a crucial meeting with the Ottawa Senators at Prudential Center knowing that they had to put some distance between them and the team that was right on their tails in the standings. A win would also pull them within one of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

They got all of that and more in an offensive explosion in the first period that would propel them through a game that got a little bit dicey at the end. They did pull through though, and ended a long goal-scoring drought in the meantime.

The Devils started things off by activating Jacob Josefson off of injured reserve. Josefson had been out since getting injured at practice before the western road swing. He would come back and play a huge role in a revamped Devils power play. Healthy scratches for New Jersey were Bobby Farnham (serving the final game of his four game suspension), Tyler Kennedy and Stefan Matteau.

Ottawa announced prior to the game that Kyle Turris would not be in the lineup.

Getting the start in goal for the Devils was Cory Schneider. Cory made 29 saves on 32 Ottawa shots (the Senators outshot the Devils by a pretty wide margin). Starting for the Sens was Craig Anderson. He made three saves on seven Devils shots before being pulled in the first period in favor of Andrew Hammond, who saw 12 shots and made 11 saves.

Before recapping the first period, it should be noted that Ottawa had come into New Jersey off an extended road trip that took them from Washington to Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. They had just played the Sharks on Monday and they play again tomorrow at home against the Isles. This is a rough part of their schedule. That being said, the Devils had quite an outburst that allowed them blow away.

The avalanche started at 6:34 when Ottawa’s Chris Wideman went off for holding, giving the Devils a power play early in the first. Then, at 6:53, Travis Zajac fed the puck to David Schlemko at the left point. He fired and Joseph Blandisi tipped the shot past Anderson. It was Blandisi’s first career NHL goal and the Devils had a 1-0 lead. After a few false starts on the road trip and the Calgary game, Blandisi had his first. Congratulations to Joseph Blandisi.

A little over a minute later, at 7:57, the Devils broke through again when Andy Greene kept the puck in the Ottawa zone and Blandisi and Zajac cycled the puck to Kyle Palmieri, who fired, hit the pipe, gathered his own rebound and stuffed it past Anderson to give the Devils a 2-0 lead.

The Senators’ Mark Stone would go off for high sticking at 10:32 and Palmieri would strike again on the power play. At 11:23, Jacob Josefson would work it along the half wall to Blandisi behind the Sens’ net. He would move it back to Josefson, who quickly tipped it to Zajac who gave it Schlemko at the right point. He passed to Palmieri who fired a one-timer behind Anderson to make it 3-0 Devils. The Devils power play was now 2-for-2 and that was how it stay, as the Senators stayed out of the penalty box the rest of the night.

The next goal came at 13:56 when Blandisi played the puck behind the Ottawa net. He gave it up to Palmieri who gave it back to Blandisi. Blandisi centered to Zajac, who snapped one by Anderson. It was now 4-0 Devils, Anderson was chased and Travis Zajac had ended a 27-game goal scoring drought. It was also his fourth point of the night, he had assisted on the other three and scored the fourth.

Lee Stempniak would put the topper on a dream period for New Jersey when he scored on Hammond on a breakaway, sliding the puck five hole on Hammond. The Devils now had a 5-0 lead going into the second. The last time the Senators had given up five goals in a period was 1995 against the Quebec Nordiques, a long time ago for sure.

Ottawa started the long climb back when at 7:30 of the second, Mika Zibanejad tipped in a shot from New Jersey-native Bobby Ryan past Schneider. Erik Karlsson had the secondary assist. The Devils now led 5-1.

And that was how it would remain until the third. The Devils got into some penalty trouble late, taking four straight penalties in the final period. The last one was a Lee Stempniak tripping call against Wideman that resulted in Mike Hoffman scoring at 16:05 (assists to Cody Ceci and Karlsson). And then, a little over a minute later, at 17:14, Ceci slapped one past Cory to make it 5-3 (assists to Chris Neil and Max McCormick).

Things looked pretty bad for the Devils, as Ottawa was now in striking distance. They pulled Hammond to try to get the two equalizers, but Adam Henrique scored an empty net goal (from Stephen Gionta and Andy Greene) to ice the game for New Jersey. It was the first six-goal game for the Devils since the season opener in 2014 against the Flyers.

This was quite a show for the Devils in their final home game before the All-Star break. Their final two games before the mid-season classic in Nashville take them to Winnipeg and Pittsburgh.

They will face a Jets team in the freezer box known as Winnipeg on Saturday. In the Devils only trip to the Canadian prairie city, they will take on a Jets team that many feel should be in a playoff position in the Western Conference, but are not. They play in the tough Central Division and are a good team. The Devils have to keep up the onslaught against them. Unlike the Senators, they will be rested. Hopefully, New Jersey can come out with a “W” in Travis Zajac’s hometown.

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