In a quirk of the schedule, the Devils would be done with the Tampa Bay Lightning season series before even haven taken on a divisional opponent in 2016-17.
After tonight, New Jersey can breathe a sigh of relief. Tampa, simply put, outplayed and outskated the Devils tonight. The Devils came into the game looking for their first road win of the season and they will still be looking for it when they travel to Carolina for a game tomorrow at the Hurricanes. The Lightning defeated the Devils 4-1 tonight at Amalie Arena.
Some roster changes for the Lightning since the last time these teams met up a week ago at The Rock: in for the Bolts was Ryan Callahan, who the Devils have not seen this year due to his being injured. Out for the Lightning was Jonathan Drouin, who was out after being hit high by the Islanders’ Calvin de Haan. Also scratched for Tampa was Nikita Nesterov. Sitting for the Devils was Reid Boucher, Jacob Josefson and Vojtech Mozik – who has been traveling with the club, but has not gotten in the lineup yet.
On the ice, the Devils would switch PA Parenteau to his natural right wing side, starting him off on the first line with Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac.
Goaltending wise, we finally got a battle of Team USA goalies as Cory Schneider started for the Devils and turned away 31 of 35 Tampa Bay shots, faced Ben Bishop, who stopped 37 of 38 Devils shots faced. It was, of course, Bishop’s first start this year against the Devils.
In a bit of an oddity, defenseman Damon Severson is the Devils leading scorer coming into the night with one goal and seven assists for eight points. And he would factor into this game’s scoring as well. He added a goal when, at 14:39 of the first period, Hall fired the puck towards the Tampa net. Zajac was able to tip it to Severson, who was creeping into the slot and fired a hard shot that beat Bishop cleanly. It was 1-0 Devils. With that goal, Severson doubled his goal output of all of last season in just the tenth game of this year.
The first period saw the Devils continue their strong game from last Saturday against Tampa; early on Hall had a big hit on Anton Stralman that really seemed to rattle the Lightning.
But it would not last. The Lightning tied things up at 2:25 of the second when Victor Hedman made a nice tape-to-tape pass to Brian Boyle, who buried the puck behind Schneider. JT Brown had the secondary assist.
A few minutes later, Tampa had seemingly taken the lead off a goal by Nikita Kucherov, but it was waved off on the ice. Replays showed that the shot hit the crossbar, came down in front of the goal line and Cory reached back to grab the puck, smothering it before a Lightning stick could get on it.
But immediately off of that at 8:27, Victor Hedman scored off of the faceoff, as the Devils won the draw, but it dribbled forward to Hedman, who took advantage with a big slap shot that beat Cory.
The Lightning really asserted themselves and took control of the game in the second period. Tampa had 21 shots on goal in the middle frame, but Cory really kept the Devils in the game, making some great stops to keep New Jersey close.
The third period was where it all fell apart. First, at 4:57, Travis Zajac took an interference penalty against Stralman. That set up a faceoff in the Devils’ zone with Valtteri Filppula winning the draw back to Nikita Kucherov. He fired a shot that was tipped in by Brayden Point. It was Point’s first NHL goal and it gave the Bolts a 3-1 lead at 5:01 of the third period.
Tampa then put the game out of reach when Kucherov scored his fourth goal of the year on a breakaway with Steven Stamkos and Stralman getting the assists.
Each team had some trouble with penalties; the Devils went 0-for-4 on the power play, but the Lightning were able convert on one of their chances with the extra attacker, going 1-for-4 on the power play. Special teams need to be addressed by the Devils going forward as they have not been setting the world on fire on the power play and have been letting teams back in games by scoring on the penalty kill – although Tampa’s power play is the third ranked power play unit in the NHL right now.
New Jersey does have some good to build on, though. This is the only game this year that they have lost by more than one goal. All of their other losses this season have been by a single goal, and this is hardly a 10-0 blowout like Montreal experienced on Friday night in Columbus.
Next up, the Devils will travel to Raleigh to play their first divisional game this year. Keith Kinkaid will get the start in net against the Hurricanes as the Devils will try to put this loss behind them as quickly as possible tomorrow. Keep in mind, the puck drop is 6 PM tomorrow in Carolina, an earlier start time than normal.