The New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes are, at the moment, very similar teams. Neither team could buy a win lately. Both teams traded away key parts of their team at the trade deadline (the Devils sent leading scorer Lee Stempniak to Boston while Carolina – among other deals made – dealt captain Eric Staal to the Rangers). And both teams were just on the bubble of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Something had to give in the first game coming out of the trade deadline for both sides.
They were almost parallel. Which is what made the 3-1 loss tonight at The Rock particularly hard to swallow for the Devils faithful.
The two teams had met three times previous this season, with all three meetings coming in December (12/3 at Carolina, 12/26 at Carolina and 12/29 at Prudential Center). They will meet one more time down at PNC Arena in Raleigh later this month. The Devils had taken two of three against the Canes.
For the Devils lineup, it was exactly the same as the previous game against Tampa Bay, minus Stempniak, of course. Devante Smith-Pelly and David Warsofsky were in the building, but management chose not to play them. Smith-Pelly had come over on the red-eye from San Jose where Montreal was at the time of his trade. Both may be in the lineup later this week against Nashville and Dallas.
The starting goaltenders saw Cory Schneider going for the Devils. He made 16 saves on 18 shots faced. Carolina had a game total of 19 shots. Getting the nod for the Hurricanes was young Eddie Lack, who saw a whopping 30 Devils shots and grabbed 29 of them.
MSG+ had an interview with general manager Ray Shero prior to the game that included some interesting parts, including that he had to call David Schlemko to tell him that he had not been traded (a first for Shero’s career) and that he is taking the same stance on the rumors of Ilya Kovalchuk wanting to return to the NHL as Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly: by dealing with it as it comes.
John Hynes spoke pregame about the loss of Stempniak, saying that other will be able to basically step in to step up, but they are not looking to replace what Stempniak brought to the team immediately. Essentially that the offense will work itself out over time as players get accustomed to new roles, if I am reading what he said correctly.
The Devils scored the first goal of the game when Andy Greene fired a shot from inside the Hurricanes’ blueline that ricocheted off of Tyler Kennedy and then Adam Henrique. Henrique eventually got credit for the goal at 10:54, and MSG+ analyst John MacLean attributed it to the Devils just winning the battles in front of the net, calling it a “bumper pool” kind of goal.
The Devils remained with the 1-0 lead until early in the second period. John Moore took a slashing penalty against Carolina’s Phillip Di Giuseppe and the Canes went on the power play. With about four seconds left in the kill, 29-year-old Hurricanes rookie Derek Ryan scored his first NHL goal off an assist from Jaccob Slavin. The game was tied at one and Ryan had scored what would go on to be the pivotal goal of the game in his initial NHL contest.
The Devils continued to apply pressure for the rest of the game – as the lopsided shot tallies would attest to. Henrique hit a post mid-second and the hances piled up.
A scary moment occurred in the second period when a Jeff Skinner shot hit Cory in the mask right before Skinner took a holding penalty against Kyle Palmieri. The Devils were primed to go on the power play, except that they got caught in a bad line change and were whistled for too many men on the ice. Instead of a New Jersey power play, it was coincidental minors and two minutes of four-on-four. Nothing would come of this.
Things seemed to be going fine, tied at one, sailing along to overtime until the Hurricanes’ Joakim Nordstrom scored at 18:31 of the third. He got assists from Elias Lindholm and Slavin. That knocked the wind right out of the Devils. The late stunner conjured up images of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoff loss to the Hurricanes that also ended on a last minute goal from the Canes in game seven of the opening round.
It was not pretty. That goal, with only about a minute and half left in the contest triggered a smattering of boos from the Prudential Center crowd.
Suddenly the team had to scramble to tie things. Cory Schneider was pulled on the ensuing faceoff, but the Devils never got things going.
Nathan Gerbe would steal the puck from Schlemko at the point and skated it down the rink, depositing it in the Devils cage and giving the Canes a 3-1 lead. The empty net goal came unassisted.
It is not going to be easy for the Devils from here on out. They lost Michael Cammalleri, one of their leading scorers to injury, and then traded away the guy who overtook him as the team’s leading scorer in his absence in Lee Stempniak. If the offense could just get a spark going, the team would still have a chance to make the playoffs.
Unfortunately, those hopes are fading fast. New Jersey just needs to get the younger guys some ice time and groom them to be able to help the Devils next season at this point. Smith-Pelly and Warsofsky, while reinforcements, will not likely be wearing out the red lamp, so they just need to get prepared for the future.
The immediate future for the Devils is a road trip that will take them to Nashville on Thursday and Dallas on Friday. Back-to-back against two of the Western Conference’s best just about twenty-four hours between puck drops. It’s not going to be easy and, at this point, would be a minor miracle should the Devils be able to even stay relevant in the playoff race for much longer.