Devils Dealt First Regulation Loss of Season by Islanders

The Devils played their first game this season in which they did not collect at least a point. They were defeated 4-1 by the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum tonight.

Just an hour before game time, there was word from the New Jersey camp that goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has been lights out this season so far, had been placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. This does not necessarily mean that he has the virus, there are many reasons players are put on that list, including showing symptoms similar to COVID or being in contact along the line with someone who was a carrier.

All this meant right now is that the Devils had to do some shuffling. Goalie Gilles Senn was reassigned to Binghamton of the AHL, defenseman Kevin Bahl was moved to the taxi squad and goalie Eric Comrie was added to the NHL roster. He was the backup tonight.

And who did he backup? None other than Scott Wedgewood, Wedgewood was getting his first NHL start since February 13, 2018 and his first Devils start since the 2015-16 season.

He did not get the win though, as the Devils were outshot by the Islanders 35 to 31 and Wedgewood only stopped 31 of them. It was not entirely his fault, as we shall see. He was equal to three of the Isles’ five power play shots and stopped the one shorthanded shot he saw (a Josh Bailey shot on a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush by New York, no less). He stopped 27 of the 29 even strength shots he faced.

For the Isles, Semyon Varlamov was bringing a shutout streak into the game – he had not let a goal in in this first two starts of the year. The Devils would break through on him, as he stopped 30 of 31 shots against. He got the lone power play shot the Devils mustered and their only shorthanded shot. He stopped 28-of-29 at even strength.

The Devils were also facing their former captain for the first time. Andy Greene, Devil-turned-Islander, did not play the Devils last year after his trade. The final two games against the Isles were canceled when the season was put on pause due to the COVID pandemic. The teams last met on January 20, 2020, when Greene was still on the Devils.

Team stat-wise, the Devils, as mentioned, were outshot 35-31, won a paltry 37-percent of the game’s faceoffs, had six total penalty minutes and had less blocked shots at 14 to New York’s 22. They did lead in hits 24-21 and were even in giveaways at 11 for both teams.

The Isles got on the board first when Mat Barzal scored just 4:43 into the contest. He took a pass from Bailey and was off, flying up the right-wing side and wristing a puck by Wedgewood to make it 1-0.

Behind, but not unmanageable for the Devils. But then, with 21 seconds to go in the first period, Jordan Eberle would score his first of two. The goal came after the Devils had exerted sustained pressure on the Islanders in their end all period. A Michael McLeod drop pass was intercepted by Barzal, and Anders Lee fired a pass up to Eberle. Eberle walked in on Wedgewood all alone and scored. It was the first time this season the Devils had gone down by two goals.

You generally do not want to give up a goal in the opening or closing minute of a period, as it can demoralize.

However, the Devils would fight back in the second to make it 2-1. The goal came with just 2:10 elapsed when Nate Bastian took a pass from Ty Smith and crossed just into Islander territory in the middle of the ice. He shot by Varlomov to end the Islander goalie’s impressive shutout streak and cut the Islander lead in half. It was Bastian’s first goal since April of 2019.

With the lone assist on the goal, Smith became just the 11th defenseman in NHL history to begin his career with a four-game point streak. Former Devils and Islanders blueliner Marek Zidlicky was the last to accomplish that feat (with the Minnesota Wild).

A scary moment with 45.8 seconds to go in the second when the Islanders’ Brock Nelson fell into PK Subban’s stick, jamming his face shield into his face and cutting him open. He would leave for repairs but return to do some damage to the Devils.

The Islanders, under head coach Barry Trotz, are 58-3-6 when taking a two-goal lead in a game. They would make that 59 wins when all was said and done.

Eberle restored the two-goal lead at the 1:56 mark of the third when he scored his second of the game. It came when Barzal (who had three points on the night) curled around just inside the Devils blueline. He won a puck battle and got it over to Noah Dobson at the point. Dobson passed from the middle of the ice to Eberle, who was at a weird angle near the Devils’ goal line but found his spot and made it 3-1 Islanders. That goal came on the power play – an area the Isles have struggled in this early in the season, but one they would get going.

Nelson capped off the scoring when he returned, putting a dagger in the Devils’ efforts.

His goal came at the 5:16 mark of the third when JG Pageau got the puck to Nick Leddy at the point. He wound up and fired with Nelson redirecting it by Wedgewood to make it 4-1. That goal also came on the power play as the Devils tried to play a more disciplined game, but had trouble.

And that was the final: 4-1.

According to NHL.com, Jack Hughes led the Devils forwards in ice time with 17:16 while Subban led defensemen and all skaters with 22:40 of time on ice. Subban also led in shots with six with Damon Severson trailing closely with five. Hits were led by Matt Tennyson (who got into it with some Islanders players in front of the New York bench to set the tone for the teams’ next meeting on Sunday) with five. Blocks were led by Kyle Palmieri, Ryan Murray, Dmitry Kulikov and Subban with two each.

Travis Zajac again led in faceoff percentage by winning 46-percent of his faceoffs, edging Pavel Zacha, who won 45-percent.

Next up, the Devils will finish off this home-and-home series with the Islanders at Prudential Center this Sunday. We will see you then, and until then, have a great weekend everyone!

Devils Hold on to Edge Rangers

The Devils nearly shot themselves in the foot with penalties, but were able to hang on to defeat the Rangers at Madison Square Garden tonight, 4-3.

Firstly, some roster news to get to.

Yesterday, the Devils claimed goaltender Aaron Dell off of waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dell is a good addition to the Devils’ crease following the retirement of Corey Crawford, who was expected to share time with Mackenzie Blackwood in net.

Dell has 87 starts and 107 games played in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks. He has a 48-34-12 all-time record and a career 2.76 goals against average and .908 save percentage.

If nothing else, he is a good NHL goalie who should take some of the workload off of Blackwood as the season wears on.

Now on to the game. Tonight was the first of eight meetings this season between the Hudson River Rivals. It marks the first time since 2007-08 that these teams will battle eight times over a season. Four will come at the Garden while four will be played at Prudential Center. It was also the Devils’ first road game of the season, although only being played about ten miles away from Newark.

The lineup once again remained the same for Lindy Ruff’s Devils. Why shake things up when they’ve been working well? Connor Carrick and Will Butcher remained out of the lineup as healthy scratches. Former Devils legend Kevin Rooney and Tony DeAngelo did not play for the Rangers.

In goal, the aforementioned Mr. Blackwood started his third straight for New Jersey, making 47 saves on a whopping 50 New York shots. Fourteen of those saves came on the power play, as the Devils beat a path to the penalty box and the Rangers got 16 shots on the man advantage.

The Rangers started Alexandar Georgiev and he stopped 16 of 19 shots faced. Igor Shesterkin came on in relief in the third period and stopped all eight shots he saw. The Devils had a total of 28 shots, including one of the power play, which Georgiev did not get.

The Devils were 1-for-2 on the power play while the Rangers were 2-for-6! Hey, I told you the Devils played with fire tonight. The Devils as a team had 12 PIM to the Rangers’ four minutes.

The Devils edged New York in faceoff wins with 51-percent over the Rangers’ 49-percent. The Rangers led in hits, 25-21 while the Devils led in blocks 18-10. The Devils played the sounder game, with only ten giveaways to the Rangers’ 19.

The Devils wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet. Just 32 seconds into the game, PK Subban stretched a pass along the boards from behind the Devils’ goal line to Miles Wood. Wood, who has been hot, barreled into the Ranger end, getting a shot off on Georgiev. The Blueshirts’ netminder could not control the rebound and a trailing Travis Zajac potted it to give the Devils the 1-0 lead.

For Wood, it continued a point streak, with a point in all three games to start the season. He is the seventh player in Devils history to begin a season with a three-game point streak.

The Devils would go into the intermission with the lead, but the Rangers would tie things 2:50 into the second. It came on the power play when Artemi Panarin backhanded a pass, after an Adam Fox shot rebounded to him, to Chris Kreider. Kreider put the puck past Blackwood to tie things at one apiece.

The Devils would retake the lead at 4:13 gone by in the second. Jack Hughes began a hot streak when Yegor Sharangovich won a faceoff in the Ranger end back to Ty Smith at the point. He shot and the puck bounced over Georgiev and landed just against the far post flat just outside the goal line. Hughes dove into the crease, behind Georgiev, to put the puck in and give the Devils the 2-1 lead. Smith’s assist made him the first defenseman in Devils franchise history to score at least a point in his first three career NHL games.

Hughes would complete his first career two-goal game and it would only take 4:19. At the 8:39 mark, Hughes blocked a shot by Jacob Trouba just inside the Devils’ blueline. He grabbed the now loose puck and was off to the races. He cut in on a full breakaway on Georgiev and put the puck five-hole past him. That made it 3-1 Devils.

But on this night, things would not be that easy. Again on the power play, at 12:09, Mika Zibanejad shot from just below the Devils’ goal line. He kind of flubbed the shot and the puck fluttered over Blackwood’s blocker and in. Fox and Panarin had the assists and it was now 3-2 Devils.

But the Devils would respond with a power play goal of their own at the 16:00 mark of the second. Kyle Palmieri found a seam to Hughes at the near faceoff dot. He looked to shoot, but instead passed to Wood at the side of the net. He seemingly kicked the puck into the Rangers’ net. However, because his skate was already in the position it was in and the puck kind of deflected in without a distinct kicking motion, the Rangers did not challenge and the goal stood. It was now 4-2 Devils on New Jersey’s first power play goal of the season.

The Devils nearly made it 5-2, but this goal would be challenged by New York.

It came a few minutes after Wood’s goal when Andreas Johnsson dropped the puck to Hughes just inside the Rangers’ blue line. Hughes skated the puck behind the Ranger net and passed to Subban at the point. Subban shot through a Palmieri screen and scored. This would seemingly give Hughes a four-point night.

However, Ranger coach David Quinn chose to challenge this one due to Palmieri seemingly being offside as he was entering the Ranger zone, just before passing to Johnsson.

The call on the ice was good goal but replay found Palmieri about two steps offside without control of the puck. The goal was waived off and it was back to a 4-2 Devils lead.

The third period saw New York’s Filip Chytil tie cut the Devils’ lead to one seven minutes into the frame. The period also saw Shesterkin come on in relief in the Rangers’ net.

Pavel Buchnevich dropped the puck to Phillip Di Giuseppe and he shot. Blackwood could not control the rebound and there was a mad scramble in front of him with Chytil eventually putting it behind him. This was the first even strength goal surrendered by the Devils in this early season so far.

The Devils nearly handed the Rangers the game with power plays when Smith took a holding call at the 10:45 mark and Nathan Bastian took a hooking call at 16:36. It should be noted that Brenan Lemieux (Claude’s son) drew both of those penalties for the Rangers.

But the Devils persevered, killing both power plays and winning a key faceoff when Shesterkin was pulled and Subban shot for the empty net, resulting in icing and faceoff in the Devils’ zone with about 11 seconds to play.

With that, the Devils get their first regulation win of the season, against their archrivals in a tightly contested game.

Stats-wise (and again, grain of salt – NHL.com has been wonky), Palmieri led in time on ice with 17:33, Zajac won 59-percent of his faceoffs, Wood led in shots with four, Bastian led in hits with four, Damon Severson led in blocks with five and Hughes led in takeaways with two. Severson also led all defensemen with 26:15 time on ice.

So, next up, the Devils will remain in the state of New York, heading to Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum to take on the Islanders on Thursday at 7 PM. We will, of course, have that for you right here.