The Devils returned home after a quick jaunt to Detroit hoping to make it three in a row during this hectic November schedule. Unfortunately, they were dealt a defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers – one of the weaker Eastern Conference teams – for their first regulation loss to an Atlantic Division team this season in ten tries. They lost 3-2.
It was the seventh game in twelve days for New Jersey, although they get a bit of a respite this week before they head west again for a road trip that will take them through Colorado and Arizona among other stops. Speaking of that road trip, Marcus Johansson has been cleared to play and will be joining the team on that excursion.
Roster-wise, the Devils’ lineup looked much the same as Detroit with the exception of the goaltender. The Devils were back to Cory Schneider. Dalton Prout was a healthy scratch for the 12th straight game tonight. Jimmy Hayes was the scratch up front.
Florida had only won eight of their first 20 games this year but looked good tonight against the Devils. They came out and midway through the first period, Derek MacKenzie managed a shorthanded breakaway in on Cory. Schneider made the right pad save on him in what would foreshadow the first two periods with Cory making big save after big save and keeping the Devils in it while the team in front of him got outshot 31 to 10 through the first two frames.
But the Devils did create some scoring opportunities. John Moore would hit the post mid-first and the puck would just sit right in the blue paint before being cleared by a diving Panther. Brian Gibbons also had a near scoring chance on a penalty kill after he came on for Travis Zajac, whose skate blade broke, necessitating him going off for repairs. Moore also forced Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo to make a nice glove save as time expired in the first period, to keep it 0-0.
The second period was a little more action packed. It began with Miles Wood on a 2-on-2 along with Pavel Zacha. Zacha could not handle the pass from Wood and play continued on. There was also a play in front of Cory’s crease that saw him doing the snow angel to smother the puck on a Florida power play. Toronto had to review the play just to make sure that it never actually entered the net. It did not according to the replay and the game stayed 0-0.
The Panthers finally broke through at the 17:20 mark when Aleksander Barkov scored shorthanded on a 2-on-1 with Mike Matheson. The Panthers grabbed the lead and, with the way they were piling on the shots, it seemed that the Devils had dug themselves into a hole.
Thanks to a Gibbons holding the stick call at 18:53, the Panthers would be beginning the third period on the power play with fresh ice. They would not score on that one, and in fact went 0-for-3 on the night on the power play with five shots. The Devils were 0-for-2 with a single power play shot.
With the Devils down by one, they would start the chase to get back in it. They would get it just 2:20 into the third when Nico Hischier scored his fifth of the season. It came when Hischier fought for the puck along the boards. He squibbed it out to Zacha in the slot. Zacha one-touched it back to Hischier, who was skating into the slot. Hischier fired and beat Luongo to make it 1-1.
Right after that came a truly strange play, as Florida had seemed to take a 2-1 lead. The puck had ricocheted off of the rounded glass at the end of the bench and into the Devils’ net. The goal was immediately waved off by the officials, who noticed that the puck had gone off of the glass, which is out of play, and in. The Panthers could not have that play reviewed, as it is not reviewable and the faceoff came out to center ice.
But, about a minute or so after that, Vincent Trocheck would give the Panthers the 2-1 lead for real when he beat Cory at 4:07 unassisted. The Devils were behind the eight ball once again.
But they would respond when Jesper Bratt scored his seventh of the season at 8:19 unassisted to tie things at two. It happened when the Devils dumped the puck into the Panthers’ zone and Florida wound it around the boards. It popped up and Bratt gloved it down, then fired from a sharp angle. The puck went off of the skate of Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and into the Florida net. The Devils had battled back to tie things up again.
But Florida would finally put things out of reach when Jared McCann scored at 12:45 of the third to make it 3-2. He got assists from Dryden Hunt and Matheson. For Hunt, the assist was his first NHL point.
That set up a mad finish where, at 17:15, Taylor Hall and Ekblad took coincidental minors, making the game a four-on-four affair. The Devils pulled Schneider with about 1:30 remaining in the game, looking to tie things at five-on-four. When the penalties expired, it became six-on-five, but the Devils could not finish it. The Panthers came away with the 3-2 win.
The good news for the Devils is that Columbus lost too, meaning that the Devils remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division at the moment. But Zajac had mentioned pregame about the need to put points “in the bank” and this was an example of one that got away. This is only the Devils’ second regulation loss to an Eastern Conference rival this season.
Goaltending-wise, Cory made 35 saves on 38 shots while Luongo made 23 saves on 25 Devils shots. With the win, Luongo becomes just the second goalie in NHL history to get 200-plus wins for two different franchises. He has done it for Florida and Vancouver. The other player was Patrick Roy, who did it for Montreal and Colorado.
Individual stats saw Moore leading the team in ice time with 23:44. Shots on goal were led by Zacha and Damon Severson, who each had three. Brian Boyle was the hits leader with three. The Devils won only 35-percent of their faceoffs on the night, which may have played a huge part in the Devils loss.
Next up, the Devils get some time off to get acclimated to their next opponent’s environment. They head to Denver on Friday, December 1 to take on the Avalanche. It will be a rematch of the Devils opening night, which the Devils dominated. Will the outcome be similar this go around at the Pepsi Center? We will find out on Friday. Enjoy the week everyone.