It had been a good run for the New Jersey Devils going into the NHL Christmas break. They have reeled off five straight home wins and four straight wins overall since the OT loss in Montreal. They are currently playing their longest homestand of the season and have never, in the franchise’s time in New Jersey, swept a homestand of six games or more. The question was, how would they respond coming out of the break?
The answer was a 3-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings to make it six straight at home and five on this homestand. Detroit got into town early this morning due to the NHL’s Christmas break, which puts a freeze on team travel prior to December 27. You could see the Wings were slow out of the gate due to this, but got their legs under them in the second period. Fortunately for Devils fans, the Devils were able to build up a substantial 2-0 lead in the first and that would largely sustain them through the game.
Good news for the Devils, as Kyle Palmieri and Brian Boyle were not injured long term. Palmieri was kept out of the later stages of the last game for precautionary reasons, as was Boyle, who caught a rut in the ice and “tweaked something” as per Deb Placey in the MSG pregame show. Both would play tonight. Healthy scratches for the Devils tonight were Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout and Drew Stafford. The Devils will also have to make a roster move if everyone is healthy, as the roster unfreezes on December 28. John Hynes said in his postgame press conference that he needs to check with the training staff to make sure everyone is healthy first, then the team will make the move.
Also, a congratulations to coach John Hynes, who was coaching his 200th NHL game tonight, all with the Devils. Not a bad time for the team, either, as they currently sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of Columbus and three ahead of Washington.
In goal, Cory Schneider was making his seventh straight start for New Jersey. He made 31 saves on 32 Detroit shots and was solid all night. This included his work on the penalty kill. More on that later. For the Red Wings, Jimmy Howard got the nod and made 29 saves on 31 total Devils shots. The Devils finished the game with 32 shots (they would get an empty net goal to cap the game off).
Nico Hischier notched his sixth goal of the year at 15:16 of the first period. It came when Taylor Hall skated the puck deep into the Wings’ zone, curled back toward the blueline and sent the puck over to Steven Santini at the far point. Santini floated one towards the Detroit net with Hischier right in front. Nico tipped the shot by Howard to give the Devils the 1-0 lead.
Nico (who would also be named the game’s first star) would then get his seventh goal a little more than three minutes later at 18:22 to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. It developed when Hischier and Hall kept the puck in on the Devils’ forecheck. The puck dribbled to Jesper Bratt along the far boards, he passed to Hall, who fed Hischier at the near faceoff dot for the one-timer that gave Hischier his second of the period and doubled the Devils’ lead.
Hischier, however, would also find himself on the wrong side of the scoresheet. He took three penalties through the first and second periods (a holding call in the first and a tripping penalty and a high-sticking penalty in the second). The Devils’ penalty kill – including Cory Schneider – was, simply put, awesome tonight. They kept Detroit’s power play unit off the scoresheet and spent a lot of time pinning the Wings in their own zone. The Red Wings went 0-for-5 on the night with 11 shots on goal while the Devils were 0-for-2 with four shots. The Devils penalty kill had two shorthanded shots as well. Both of the Devils power plays came in the third period.
Justin Abdelkader got the Red Wings on the board at 8:09 of the second period when he scored from Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin. For Bertuzzi, that assist was his first NHL point.
The Devils would weather a second period storm that saw the Wings outshoot the Devils 14-10. They also outshot them in the third period 11-9.
The Red Wings would pull Howard with about a minute remaining in the game and Sami Vatanen would capitalize. He scored into the empty net, notching his first goal as a Devil, at 19:37, to make it 3-1 Devils. And that was your final.
Stat-wise, John Moore narrowly edged Vatanen in ice time, 22:42 to 22:31. Taylor Hall was the shots leader with four while Santini ran away with the hits lead with five. Andy Greene and Santini tied with three blocked shots each. The Devils, as a team, won 53-percent of their faceoffs. In addition to Hischier being the first star of the game, Hall was the second star of the game, with his eleventh multi-point game so far this season and Steven Santini was the third star.
So the Devils have won five straight at home and will go for the team record – trying to sweep the homestand – on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres. That is the first half of a back-to-back that ends with a showdown with the Capitals on Saturday, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
In World Junior Championship news, there was one game that featured two Devils prospects. Canada took on Slovakia with the Canadians coming away with the 6-0 win. Slovakia featured Devils pick Marian Studenic and Canada Michael McLeod.
McLeod had the primary assist on the final Canadian goal of the night, notched by Jonah Gadjovich. In addition to that point, McLeod also had one shot on net and was a plus-1 all in 14:20 of ice time. Studenic played 13:12 of time on ice spread out over 21 shifts. Slovakia next plays the USA tomorrow night while Canada also plays the US in their next game, on Friday outdoors at New Era Field.
Canada has moved ahead of the US into first place in Group A due to having one more win (the USA has yet to play their second game) and six points, as well as a plus-8 goal differential.