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!