Matthews, Coleman Each Score Hat Tricks; Devils Fall to Leafs

The Devils could not continue their streak of taking down elite Eastern Conference teams as they lost tonight to the host Toronto Maple Leafs 7-4 despite Blake Coleman’s three goal effort.

To begin with, we have some All-Star Game news as Nico Hischier will be going after all. He will be taking Kyle Palmieri’s place. Palmieri is currently out with a left foot injury suffered last weekend against the Capitals. Nico will be making his first NHL All-Star appearance.

Palmieri did not make the trip with the Devils up to Toronto. He is recovering as he could not even get his foot in his skate boot. He could join the team sometime on the rest of the road trip according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter.

Like Palmieri, Mackenzie Blackwood is still out with his injury and Cory Schneider served as the Devils’ back up tonight, more on that later. Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch and Connor Carrick slotted in on defense again tonight. Toronto was also missing some key parts of their defense as Morgan Reilly and Jake Muzzin are out with injuries. Also, for the Devils, Jack Hughes would leave the game midway through as, according to Wachter, he felt ill. There was no injury.

The goaltending matchup saw Frederik Andersen make 25 saves on 29 shots for the Maple Leafs for an .862 save percentage. For the Devils, Louis Domingue made his third straight start and it did not go his way. He stopped 14 of the 19 shots he saw for a horrid .737 save percentage. Schneider came in after Domingue gave up his fifth goal of the evening and stopped 13 of 14 for a .929 save percentage. The Leafs, with an Auston Matthews empty net goal later in the game, had 34 total shots on goal.

The Devils knew that the Leafs would be angry coming into this game, having given up eight goals to the Florida Panthers in an 8-4 loss to them down in Sunrise on Sunday.

And sure enough, Toronto jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period starting when 5:18 in when John Tavares scored. The Leafs won the faceoff and eventually worked it back to Rasmus Sandin, who walked the blue line, wristing the puck on net. Tavares was camped out in front and tipped it by Domingue for the first goal of the game. William Nylander had the other assist.

The Leafs made it 2-0 at 9:10 when Frederik Gauthier took a puck in the slot and shot it cleanly by Domingue unassisted to double up the Toronto lead.

Zach Hyman ended the Leafs’ first period onslaught when he scored with about five seconds left in the frame on the power play. PK Subban was called for interference on Dmytro Timashov to put Toronto on the man advantage. The Devils could not clear the zone and, similar to the first goal, Sandin just threw it on net with Hyman in front, tipping it by Domingue as he was falling down. Jason Spezza got the secondary assist.

The second period saw the beginnings of two hat tricks and the Devils climb back in to things.

First, Nylander made it 4-0 Leafs when, 2:12 into the frame, Domingue tried to clear the Devils’ zone on his own around the boards. It came to Tavares, who played tic-tac-toe with Pierre Engvall. He shot and Nylander tipped the puck through Domingue.

The Devils had only given up a goal each to both Washington and Tampa Bay in their last two games, but had now given up four in less than two periods of play tonight.

Coleman broke the shutout when he scored at 6:56 of the second. It saw Coleman make a nice individual effort, driving to the net through the middle. He stayed on the puck, got position on the Toronto defender as he drove on Andersen and chipped it over the Leafs’ goaltender to make it 4-1. Miles Wood and Will Butcher had the assists on Coleman’s 16th of the year. That tied him with Kyle Palmieri for the team lead in goals.

That was the start of Coleman’s three, but, at 10:39 on the power play, Matthews would begin his. Ironically, it was Coleman who went off for high-sticking Alexander Kerfoot setting this up. It saw Mitch Marner made a pass to Matthews at the top of the faceoff circles. He faked a shot and tapped it over to Matthews at the side of the New Jersey net. Matthews simply laid it up and the Leafs had the 5-1 lead. Tavares, who had three points on the night, had the secondary assist.

Following the first play stoppage after the goal, the Devils made the decision to pull Domingue in favor of Schneider. It would be Cory’s fist NHL action since November 8, a 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. And he held Toronto off the board for the rest of the period.

It was only 3:58 into the third that Cory gave up his only goal of the night. This one came when Marner grabbed a puck off of the left-wing boards, cut up ice and passed to Matthews at the far faceoff circle. Matthews shot and beat Schneider to make it 6-1. Hyman had the other assist.

But the Devils would make things very interesting as Coleman would complete his hat trick and they would make a mini comeback.

At 12:00 of the third, Coleman scored his second when Nikita Gusev gathered the puck up on the wing and was off with Coleman on a 2-on-1. Gusev chipped the puck over to Coleman, who backhanded it by Andersen to make it 6-2. Carrick had the secondary assist.

Coleman would complete his first career NHL hat trick 3:35 later when Will Butcher put the puck on net as he was cutting down low. Coleman chopped at the rebound, beating Maple Leafs’ defenseman Travis Dermott to score and cut the lead in half at 6-3.

Then things got really interesting. AT 15:55, about twenty seconds after Coleman’s third goal, Toronto’s Cody Ceci was called for a hook. That put the Devils a man up. They then pulled Schneider to make it 6-on-4. At 17:40, Martin Marincin also got a hooking penalty to make it 6-on-3 with Schneider still pulled. But they would only have about 15 seconds of the 6-on-3.

At the 18:02 mark of the third, Subban took a pass from Jesper Bratt, after he faked the shot, and blasted a slap shot from the point to make it 6-4. Wayne Simmonds had the secondary assist. It came on the power play, but after the Ceci penalty had expired. That meant that the Marincin penalty was also canceled because of when they scored. If they had scored a few seconds earlier, they would have had the rest of the Marincin penalty at 6-on-4.

Unfortunately, that was not to be and, at 18:40, with Schneider out of the net, Matthews scored into the vacated cage to complete his hat trick and give us our final of 7-4.

The Devils ended the night 1-for-4 on the power play with five shots. They also had a single shorthanded shot. Toronto was 2-for-4 with nine shots (six on Domingue and three on Schneider – who did not give up a power play goal). They also had one shorthanded shot on Schneider.

The Devils lost out in the faceoff circle, winning just 41-percent of the draws with Nico winning 44-percent of his. The Devils did lead in hits at 20-17, but Toronto had 17 blocks to the Devils’ 12. True to form, the Leafs led in turnovers by a wide margin, turning the puck over 16 times to the Devils’ eight.

Individually, Coleman led in points with three (all goals), Coleman and Subban, the two goal scorers, co-led in shots with six each, Coleman led in hits with four, Andy Greene led in blocks with three and Damon Severson led in takeaways with two.

Ice time was led by Severson with 23:33 total (including 4:06 on the power play and 3:17 on the penalty kill). Hischier led the forwards with 19:20 total ice time (3:56 on the power play and 1:45 shorthanded included).

So next up, it’s a return date with the Washington Capitals on Thursday in DC. Do the Devils still have any magic in them for the 7 PM start? We will find out on Thursday and will have it for you right here then.

Shero Out; Devils End Tampa Win Streak

Wow. What a day and a half for the New Jersey Devils.

Hot on the heels of defeating the top team in the league, the Washington Capitals, the Devils were set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, easily the hottest team in the league with a ten-game winning streak.

Then, about an hour before game time, word came down that the Devils and General Manager Ray Shero had parted ways. Josh Harris of the Devils’ ownership group, stated in a press conference before the game on MSG Network that there was a difference of philosophy basically on how the Devils should handle the upcoming trade deadline.

Shero was let go and Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald would step in as interim General Manager with Martin Brodeur acting as an adviser for hockey operations to Fitzgerald. Brodeur had previously served as Assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues and was most recently the Devils’ executive vice president of business development.

Devils managing partner Josh Harris said that he and Ray “are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.” He also said that the “organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise.”

The Devils currently stand in last place in the Metro Division with a 17-21-7 record (as of tonight’s game) with 41 points. Over Shero’s five seasons in charge of the Devils, the team posted a record of 157-167-48 and had one playoff appearance. Not a knock on Shero at all, of course, the team was a mess when he took over. He made some moves to improve the team, no doubt. If you had told me before the season that all three of Shero, John Hynes and Taylor Hall would be gone before the All-Star break, I would not have believed you at all.

“Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals” said Harris. These goals include a search for a new GM, which will be commencing immediately and will include Fitzgerald being interviewed.

Oh yeah, and following all of this turmoil, all the Devils needed to do was take down the Lightning, one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and winners of 10 straight.

There was one small other news item that slipped past with the news of Shero’s departure. Cory Schneider, last seen in the NHL losing to the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, made his return from the American Hockey League. He was called up from Binghamton and backed up starter Louis Domingue – making back-to-back starts for the first time as a Devil – with Evan Cormier being sent back to the AHL.

So, how did the Devils fare after all of this? They won, 3-1, handing Tampa their first loss in 11 games tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils did get some good news prior to the game. Jack Hughes came back after five games out with an upper body injury. It was his first game of the 2020 calendar year, as he got hurt on New Year’s Eve against the Bruins.

They were, however, subtracting someone from the lineup. Leading goal scorer Kyle Palmieri was out with a lower body injury as he got hurt blocking a shot last night in Washington. He joined Mackenzie Blackwood on the sidelines and Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch with Connor Carrick back in again.

The goalie matchup, as mentioned, featured Domingue, a former Bolt traded to the Devils earlier this season – making a back-to-back start and he was great again, making 26 saves on 27 Tampa shots for a .963 save percentage. Opposing him was Tampa backup Curtis McElhinney, who stopped 17 of the 19 shots he saw for an .895 save percentage. The Devils ended up with 20 shots due to an empty net goal later on in the game.

The game started out feisty. At the 9:33 mark of the first period, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov hit Jesper Boqvist from behind and Kevin Rooney took exception. He was taken down by Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli, who administered a few rabbit punches to the head of Rooney while he was down on the ice. Cirelli went off for roughing, but things would stay chippy all night.

On the power play, the Devils went 0-for-4 with ten shots. They also held the vaunted Lightning power play to 0-for-2 with just three shots.

Things started out normal enough. Tampa got on the board first just 37 seconds into the second after a scoreless first period. It happened when New Jersey could not get the puck out of their own end and Victor Hedman passed to Tyler Johnson on Domingue’s doorstep. He scored the 15th goal of Tampa’s ten-game winning streak. But it would also be the last.

Later on, at the 3:10 mark of the second, Andy Greene scored his first goal of the year when Miles Wood dropped the puck to Greene just as he was entering the Tampa zone. He ripped a slap shot that beat McElhinney clean and ended the shutout streak the Lightning had going at 169:05. That tied the game up at one. Hughes had the secondary assist on the goal.

The game-winner for the Devils came a little less than four minutes after Greene’s goal when Nikita Gusev took a pass from Damon Severson, then faked passing back to him. He instead shot quickly on net and Travis Zajac tipped the shot by McElhinney to give the Devils the 2-1 lead.

Late in the second, with a little over a minute left, Yanni Gourde and Carrick got into a scrap. It was a spirited fight and saw both players fall to the ice in a draw.

The third period seemed to yield a third goal early for the Devils when, with 8:21 left, Gusev made a great move around Cirelli, had him fall down and skated around him to put the puck in the net behind McElhinney.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper then used his coach’s challenge, arguing goalie interference from Blake Coleman. While initially, it seemed that Cirelli had fallen into McElhinney when Gusev beat him, it was actually Coleman that impeded the Tampa goaltender from making the save and the goal was called back after review.

The Lighting pulled McElhinney with 2:19 left in regulation and the Devils took their aim at the empty net, complete with Zajac skating down the rink, nullifying icing and trying to wrap the puck around and into the net. Unfortunately for him, Coleman and Lightning player tangled together and tumbled into the net, dislodging it before Zajac could score.

Miles Wood would eventually get the empty net goal with one second to go in the game for New Jersey, marking the second straight game where Wood has scored into an empty net. Wayne Simmonds and Greene had the assists, marking two points for Andy Greene on the night. Wood also had a goal and an assist for two points on the evening.

That made it 3-1 with two of the Devils’ oldest veterans combining to score the most important goals that would sink Tampa.

The Devils dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61-percent of the game’s draws, with Pavel Zacha winning 75-percent of the faceoffs he took.

The Bolts outhit the Devils, 23-19, but the Devils had more blocked shots at 14-12 and only two turnovers to Tampa’s six.

Individually, PK Subban led all Devils skaters in ice time with 26:03 with 5:45 on the power play and 1:51 on the PK. Zacha led the forwards with 19:52 including 5:15 on the power play and 1:03 shorthanded.

Shots on goal were spread pretty evenly with Nico Hischier, Zajac, Wood, Hughes, Gusev, Will Butcher, Severson and Subban all registering two to co-lead. Coleman once again led in hits with four. Kevin Rooney and Greene each led in blocks with four each. Takeaways were co-led by Hischier, Zacha and Sami Vatanen who had one apiece.

Greene was the third star, Zajac the second and Domingue the first on the night.

So the Devils will try to go for the trifecta, defeating another highly offensive team in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday north of the border. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will have a write up for you right here when the game is done.