The word to best describe the Devils matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday would be “frustrating.” The Devils were looking for their first five-game winning streak since February of 2013 and they were playing a weak Jackets team that had one win in their first nine games. In fact, Columbus’ 0-8-0 start to the season – before getting their first win in Colorado – was the longest losing streak to start a season in the NHL’s modern era (since expansion). In the end, though, John Tortorella’s club was able to persist through a Devils’ onslaught and emerge victorious.
It was Hockey Fights Cancer night at Prudential Center. The Devils wore special lavender warmup jerseys which would be auctioned off for charity along with their sticks, which were taped using lavender tape. Even the ads on the dasher boards were in lavender for the occasion.
Jon Merrill was back in the lineup for New Jersey. He had been ill for the last few games and John Hynes wanted to get him back in without taking out any other defensemen, since he had only lost his spot due to illness, so the Devils were playing with an extra d-man on the night. One Devil who will be out for a while is Tuomo Ruutu, who will miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured foot.
The Devils would be facing Columbus in the first of five meetings on the year. This is important because if the Devils want to contend for a playoff spot, they need to take advantage of this unbalanced schedule. The Blue Jackets are a weaker team currently and New Jersey needs to take games against them when they will only be facing stronger teams like the Rangers four times this season.
The Devils came out looking like a team that was on a four-game winning streak trying to beat up on a weaker opponent. New Jersey got a quick chance when a Lee Stempniak pass through the Columbus crease just missed off the stick of Adam Henrique, who had an open net, but missed wide. Minutes later, Sergey Kalinin also missed a wide open net. Kalinin also had a chance just after a Columbus penalty was ending mid-third period. He tried a power move towards the net – something he has shown a penchant for and something that helps the Devils create chances in front of the net.
Columbus had a rough first period overall. They only had one shot on Cory Schneider (who would make 11 saves on the night) with 1:08 left in the period and finished the first frame with only two shots total. But they were still in the game, with the score still 0-0.
The second period kicked off with a Devils chance from Damon Severson, whose point blank shot was saved by Jackets’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with traffic in front of the net.
The penalties in the first period had been slanted towards Columbus, with the Jackets taking two in the first 1/3rd of the game. Though things would get chippy late in the second when Columbus’ Jack Johnson hit Stephen Gionta late after a Kalinin shot on goal. It was in retaliation for a Gionta slash and both men went to the box (Johnson for roughing and Gionta for slashing) with coincidental minors.
We now went to the third and early in the final frame, Brandon Saad would gain the Devils’ zone with a clear breakaway only to be hauled down by John Moore to put the Blue Jackets up a man. The Devils’ penalty kill (which ended up perfect on the night) killed that off.
Back at even strength, Stempniak would miss a clear shot on net as the Devils ramped up the scoring chances. The Devils pressured in the Jackets’ zone throughout the early part of the period, as Bobrovsky was forced to make a spectacular save, clearing the puck from the goal line with the paddle of his goal stick. At this point, the (rather sparse – announced at 12,847 – largely due to the New York Mets starting the World Series tonight in Kansas City against the Royals and fans likely staying home to watch that on a weeknight) crowd began to come alive. They were very vocal as the Devils continued to pressure through most of the third.
It was at this point that Tortorella made a genius move, calling a timeout at the right time, sacrificing a coach’s challenge in trying to shift momentum.
Things were still knotted at zero when, at 9:03 of the third, Columbus’ Boone Jenner found the back of the net off a feed from former Devil David Clarkson. The Devils’ Eric Gelinas had hit the post about a minute before and Columbus was able to go into the Devils’ zone and just throw pucks at the net.
A little more than thirty seconds later, the culmination of a very physical game would come as tough work in the corners led to Columbus’ Cam Atkinson giving the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead.
Columbus would add an insurance goal when Scott Hartnell scored at 14:47 to give them a 3-0 lead. His goal would come just as a Devils penalty (John Moore had taken a minor for interfering with Hartnell) was ending. The Blue Jackets had been playing a very cautious power play, not wanting to give the Devils a chance at a short-handed goal, something they have had a lot of success with this short season so far.
Kyle Palmieri would draw a holding the stick penalty and then break the shutout with a power play goal at 17:32 (assists to Jiri Tlusty and Travis Zajac), but it was too little too late. The Devils would fall for the first time in five games.
Two factors led to the Devils downfall tonight: they could not solve Bobrovsky, who stood on his head and looked like the Vezina Trophy winner he was two seasons ago and Tortorella’s timeout, which was called at exactly the right time and cut off a Devils surge in the third. Both are intertwined, because the Devils could not finish at any point during that surge on Bobrovsky.
Next up, as the Devils try to regroup, the team travels down the Turnpike to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Philly. The Flyers have been playing better of late and that game, on Thursday, will be key to getting the Devils back on the right track.