The Devils have had a rough October to say the least. Tonight, they held Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos off the scoresheet, outshot their opponents 42 to 23 and Kyle Palmieri scored his first hat trick as a New Jersey Devil, but they still fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime 7-6.
Some roster moves to get to first. Jesper Bratt was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch in the last game way back last week. Sitting in his place was Nikita Gusev, who the Devils felt could use some time up in the press box watching the game with team legend Patrik Elias, who would help him see the NHL game a little bit better. Mirco Mueller and Jesper Boqvist were also scratched.
Connor Carrick will be out for four to six weeks following having surgery on his broken right pinkie finger. However, the Devils did bring Will Butcher back into the lineup following his activation off of the IR the other day. It was his first game since October 17. Butcher would be on the third pairing with Matt Tennyson.
One player who rewarded his being reinserted into the lineup was Bratt. He played primarily on a line with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha as the second line combo. He would reward the coaching staff’s decision to bring him back in by scoring two goals tonight and playing a good overall game.
Tampa, on the other hand, would be without some key parts of their lineup. Victor Hedman and Patrick Maroon were both injured last night in the Lightning’s game at the Garden against the Rangers.
The Devils got on the board early – just 1:10 into the game when Palmieri scored his first of the game on the power play. Kevin Shattenkirk had taken a delay of game penalty just 33 seconds in and the Devils capitalized when Taylor Hall shot from the far faceoff circle and Wayne Simmonds grabbed the rebound on the side of the net. He calmly passed to Palmieri in front. He buried it and the Devils had the 1-0 lead.
But with an offense like Tampa’s, no matter how slow a start they have gotten off to, no lead is safe. At the 9:28 mark of the first, Ondrej Palat, on a delayed penalty against the Devils, took a cross ice pass from Shattenkirk and beat Cory Schneider. Brayden Point had the other assist. The game was now knotted at one.
Tampa would grab a lead in the draining minutes of the first on the power play. Nico Hischier was called for a hold and the Lightning power play went to work. Alex Killorn took a pass from Shattenkirk in the skates and, in one motion, turned and fired, giving the Bolts the 2-1 lead going into the first intermission. Tyler Johnson had the secondary assist on the goal.
The Devils would start the second period with about 10 seconds of overlapping power play time, but could not convert. They would finish the night 1-for-5 with nine shots on the power play and one shorthanded shot. Tampa was one-for-one on the power play with one shot. They also had a shorthanded shot that was turned aside by Cory.
And New Jersey would get another goal, 6:05 into the second, that, while not officially counting as a power play goal, did come as a penalty was expiring. Jesper Bratt swooped into the high slot to put a rebound in after Lightning goalie Curtis McElhinney made several stops on Nico right in front. That tied the game at two and was the first of two in the period for Jesper Bratt. Zacha and Hischier had the assists.
Damon Severson made a nice defensive play midway through the second period. Johnson had a partial breakaway and Severson cut down the angle, avoided a penalty and swept the puck to safety.
Just after that, at the 11:48 mark of the second, Point scored on a fortuitous bounce for the Lightning. Nico lost his stick and Tampa quickly got the puck on net. Cory made the initial save but the rebound bounced right to Point and he scored to give the Bolts back the lead at 3-2. Johnson and Mikhail Sergachev had the assists on this one.
But, less than a minute later, the Devils tied the game up once again. At 12:17, Palmieri scored his second of the game when Butcher wristed one from the point and Palmieri redirected it in. Taylor Hall had the secondary assist for his second point of the night as well.
The Devils retook the lead for the first time since the first period 59 seconds later when Bratt got his second of the night at 13:16. Nico won the faceoff deep in the Tampa zone cleanly back to Andy Greene (who was celebrating his 37th birthday) and he gave the puck to Bratt. Bratt then curled at the half wall and shot. He beat McElhinney cleanly, although at first it appeared that Hischier had redirected it in. It was now 4-3 New Jersey.
Late in the second, Cory made a nice save on Sergachev as he was coming out of the penalty box on a breakaway. That kept the score 4-3.
Just 1:13 into the third period, Sami Vatanen gave the Devils a 5-3 lead. It was all hard work by Simmonds as he got the puck to the net, grabbed the rebound, boxed out the Tampa defender and passed it to Vatanen. Vatanen then simply walked right in and beat McElhinney to make it 5-3 Devils.
The Devils seemed to be in the driver’s seat, but, especially in this season and especially with the Lightning, no lead is safe for New Jersey.
The comeback began when Anthony Cirelli scored at 2:45 of the third. Tampa got the puck to the point to Jan Rutta. He shot on Cory and seemed to beat him, but replays showed that Cirelli had tipped it by him. Mathieu Joseph had the other assist. It was now 5-4 Devils.
The Devils continued to apply sustained pressure in the Tampa zone, but all it took was a Joseph shot redirecting in off of Hall’s skate and stick to tie the game at five. That goal came at the 7:45 mark of the second and Cirelli had the lone assist.
Then disaster struck when PK Subban’s stick failed him on a shot attempt from the Tampa blueline. The Lightning grabbed the puck and were off to the races. Point got it to Ondrej Palat, who roofed it over Schneider for his second of the game and made it 6-5 Tampa.
The stunned Devils could not seem to catch a break. Severson hit the post late in the third and they seemed headed for another regulation loss.
But, with about eight seconds left in regulation, with Cory pulled for the extra attacker, it was Palmieri to the rescue. He completed his first hat trick as a Devil (he has a second NHL hat trick that came with the Ducks) when Simmonds, again with great work along the boards, got the puck to Butcher at the point. He fired and McElhinney gave up a big fat, juicy rebound in front that Palmieri was able to clean up and, miraculously tie the game at six.
Once the next seven or so seconds expired, we were headed to OT.
Unfortunately, all it takes in OT in the NHL is to lose possession and things can change in a heartbeat. And that is exactly what happened when Palat took a shot that rebounded right to Johnson’s stick. He beat Cory to give the Lightning the 7-6 win in overtime. Ryan McDonagh had the other assist on the game-winner.
In the end, seven Devils had a multi-point night (Hall, Hischier, Simmonds, Palmieri, Bratt, Greene and Butcher). Palmieri was named the game’s first star while Bratt was the second (Tampa’s Palat was the third).
In goal, Schneider made 16 stops on 23 shots total for Tampa for a .696 save percentage. McElhinney turned aside 36 of the 42 pucks the Devils threw on net for a .857 save percentage.
The Devils won 59-percent of the game’s faceoffs, had 19 hits to the Bolts’ 16, blocked 12 shots to Tampa’s 10 and had seven giveaways to two for the Lightning.
Vatanen led all New Jersey skaters in ice time with 24:04 (4:58 on the power play and 1:24 shorthanded) while Hall led the forwards with 21:21 (5:21 with the man advantage). Palmieri led in shots on goal with eight, Simmonds led in hits with four, Greene led in blocks with three and Jack Hughes and Severson were the leaders in takeaways with two apiece.
So the Devils finish up October with a paltry 2-5-3 record (seven points) putting them last in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully things can begin to change on November 1 when the Flyers come to town to take on the Devils.
The Devils will now be settling into a more normal schedule, playing 16 games over the next 32 days (or roughly every other day). Maybe that will be enough to get things rolling for them. We will find out starting on Friday.