There is life in the Devils afterall! After being the last winless team in the NHL for the 2019-20 season, they finally earned two points after defeating the rival New York Rangers 5-2 tonight at Prudential Center.
Things did not come without some changes. Tom Fitzgerald, the Devils’ Assistant General Manager, was called into assistant coaching service at the request of head coach John Hynes. According to Chris Westcott of the Devils’ official website, he was brought in to serve as “an extra set of eyes for the coaching staff” and will stay in this role “for the foreseeable future.”
This came with the news that Nico Hischier has not been skating with the team due to the injury he suffered against Florida this past Monday. Andy Greene, according to the same tweet sent out by the Devils on Nico, did skate yesterday. He remains on injured reserve.
Slotting in to the lineup tonight were Kevin Rooney and John Hayden up front. Connor Carrick and Jesper Boqvist were the healthy scratches joining Nico.
Things seemed like business as usual for the Devils when New York’s Tony DeAngelo scored 6:02 into the game. The Rangers got the puck on net from the point and were just able to swarm in on Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils had some defensive coverage issues here and there were just too many white jerseys around their net. DeAngelo put the puck in to make it 1-0 Rangers.
But the Devils would strike to tie things up before the period was through. Blake Coleman took an Adam Fox turnover in the neutral zone and skated in all alone on Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. He fired a shot that funneled through Georgiev’s equipment and in to tie it up at one. Travis Zajac and Matt Tennyson had the assists on the goal that came at 12:58 of the first period.
The second period saw a couple of firsts of the season for the Devils. First, at 2:13, the Rangers’ Brady Skjei took an interference penalty to put the Devils on the power play. New Jersey had yet to score on the man advantage this season, but Kyle Palmieri would put an end to that. Grabbing a loose puck off a Rangers’ zone faceoff, Palmieri skated around a New York defender and went top shelf over Georgiev to make it 2-1. The goal came just five seconds into the power play at 2:18 of the second period and was unassisted.
About midway through the second, Taylor Hall laid a huge hit on Fox that took him out of the game and gave Hall a roughing penalty. The Rangers ended the game 0-for-6 on the power play with seven shots. The Devils were 1-for-7 with 13 shots plus two shorthanded shots (including a Pavel Zacha breakaway in the latter part of the second period that was stopped by Georgiev).
Miles Wood made it 3-1 Devils before the end of the second at 12:25. This goal featured the first NHL point of one Jack Hughes. Matt Tennyson – who ended the night with a pair of assists for two points on the night – fired a puck from the point that was redirected in the slot by Hughes. His redirection then went in the goal off of Wood’s butt, giving Hughes the primary assist on the goal. Congratulations to Jack Hughes on his first NHL point and here’s to many more! Hughes was playing on the top line with Hall and Palmieri primarily.
The problem for the Devils this season so far has not been getting a lead, it has been keeping the lead. This situation reared its ugly head again when Jesper Fast hammered home a puck going through Blackwood’s crease just 2:22 into the third period to cut the Devils lead to 3-2.
The Devils seemingly made it 4-2 at 12:52 of the third when Hall, who was playing a really feisty game, tapped Georgiev’s glove as he covered the puck, knocking it into the net. Unfortunately for Hall, the whistle had already blown and the call on the ice was no goal due to goalie interference. The Devils challenged the call and it stood, meaning that they took a penalty on top of it.
But tonight, the Devils would not be denied victory. Nikita Gusev grabbed an errant Artemi Panarin pass in the Rangers’ zone and skated in all alone on Georgiev, putting the puck five-hole to double the Devils’ lead to 4-2.
With about three and a half minutes to go in the game, Wayne Simmonds took a hooking penalty to put the Rangers on the power play. They then immediately pulled Georgiev to make it a 6-on-4 advantage. The Devils were given an open gallery to shoot on the empty net due to the lack of icing. But it would be after the penalty was killed off that PK Subban scored into the empty net at 19:12 of the third to give the Devils a 5-2 lead. The goal was unassisted and was PK’s first as a Devil, so congrats to him too.
The Devils would finish the game on the power play with DeAngelo going off for a slashing penalty at 19:52. The 5-2 lead held up and the Devils had their first win of 2019-20.
In goal, Blackwood (who was named the game’s first star with Hughes the second and Tennyson the third) stopped 29 of the 31 Ranger shots he saw for a .935 save percentage. Georgiev turned aside 33 of the 37 shots the Devils peppered him with for an .892 save percentage.
The Devils won only 44-percent of the game’s faceoffs, but registered more hits than New York at 17 to 11. The Rangers had nine blocked shots to the Devils’ six and less giveaways at seven to the Devils’ eight.
Individually, Subban led in shots on goal with a whopping nine while Simmonds, Coleman and Palmieri each had three hits to lead in that category. Blocks were spread out over Rooney, Simmonds, Coleman, Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen who each had one apiece. Takeaways were led by Rooney, Zajac and Hughes with two each.
Next up, the Devils will continue their homestand as they take on the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday at 1 PM at the Rock. I will be attending this game live, so the recap will be up a little later than usual. Until then, have a great weekend and let’s go Devils!