So, following the news earlier today of Patrik Elias announcing his retirement from the NHL, the Devils also had a game to play later at Barclays Center against the New York Islanders.
The Devils have never won a game in Brooklyn, but the Islanders were coming off of a loss last night in Philadelphia that put them six points back of the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Could the Devils catch the Isles in the second half of a back-to-back and after a difficult loss in Philly where they were simply blitzed by the Flyers? The answer to that is “no.” They fell 2-1, but were taken down by penalties, some deserved and some, as we shall see, that were probably not so deserved.
The Devils may have seen the retirement of someone from their storied past, but debuted a new face in their lineup tonight. That would be Michael Kapla, a 6-foot, 200-pound defenseman from Eau Claire, Wisconsin that played at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. He is 22 years old and was a captain at UMass-Lowell. He wore number 3 in college, but for obvious reasons wore number 32 in his Devils debut.
The Devils also welcomed back Michael Cammalleri to the lineup after his long time out of the lineup due to injury. Cammalleri was a minus-1 and had a shot on goal in 13:38 of ice time, including 2:01 on the power play.
Jacob Josefson was still out injured, but coach John Hynes did say that he may be ready next week. Devante Smith-Pelly is also out, but longer term. Jon Merrill and Dalton Prout were healthy scratches. The Islanders were without Jean-Francois Berube, Casey Cizikas and Travis Hamonic (both injured in last night’s Philly game), Nikolay Kulemin, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Strome.
Between the pipes, New Jersey went to Keith Kinkaid, as the two netminders alternate starts. Kinkaid made 36 saves on 38 New York shots for a .947 save percentage. Jaroslav Halak made his triumphant return to the Barclays Center tonight. He had not started in the building since late December, having spent the majority of the season with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He made 26 saves on 27 New Jersey shots for a .963 save percentage.
The story of the night for the Devils was penalties. The Islanders had ten power play opportunities to the Devils’ three. Both teams scored a goal on the power play, but some of the whistles on the Devils seemed unwarranted at times. In particular, a Beau Bennett hooking call late in the game on Adam Pelech in which replays showed that Pelech actually grabbed and held Bennett’s stick and pulled it up towards him. It was frustrating for the Devils, especially in the final moments of the game when the Devils could not get Kinkaid out of the net due to penalty calls on them.
Now, you cannot blame the officials, they have a rough job and have to make split second decisions. But, when it seems that the officials are looking to make calls instead of letting the game play itself out and ruining the flow of the game, then it becomes a problem. The Devils penalty kill definitely came up big tonight, only allowing one goal in ten chances (including some 3-on-5’s) so that is a positive that the Devils can take from this game.
One of the key saves of the game came very early in the first period. The Islanders were shorthanded, killing a Dennis Seidenberg tripping penalty, when John Tavares broke in on a chance. His shot hit the post, bounced off of Kinkaid and landed right in front of the goal line where it was swept away by Kyle Palmieri.
The Islanders would find the back of the net when Joseph Blandisi was sitting for delay of game, giving the Isles a power play. New York’s Anders Lee scored from Johnny Boychuk and Tavares to make it 1-0 Islanders at 5:44. The Devils challenged for goalie interference on this goal, saying that Lee stepped on Kinkaid’s stick, impeding him from making the save. The officials reviewed it and did not feel that way, with the call on the ice standing as a good goal.
Damon Severson blocked a Tavares shot midway through the second period and left the ice, but would return. Tavares himself would leave the game late in the third period with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. He did not return. His loss long term could negatively affect the Islanders and their playoff chances.
In the second period, Blake Coleman took a delay of game penalty and, just as the penalty was expiring, the Isles rang one off the post. Coleman came out of the box and grabbed a pass and was off on a partial breakaway. He was hauled down on the play in the Islanders zone, but no penalty or penalty shot was called.
The Islanders would double their lead at 17:54 of the second period when Anthony Beauvillier scored off a nice feed from Josh Ho-Sang. Jason Chimera had the secondary assist. It was now 2-0 New York.
The Devils finally got on the board at the 11:23 mark of the third period. It came on the power play, with Thomas Hickey was called for holding against Coleman. The goal itself came when the Devils worked the puck methodically up the ice and to the Islanders zone. Pavel Zacha took a shot from the slot, with the rebound coming to John Quenneville. He tried to slam it home and the rebound came to Adam Henrique, who did lay it in, cutting the Isles’ lead in half, 2-1.
And that was basically it. Save for a fight at the 19:13 mark between Lee and Ben Lovejoy, when tensions on the Devils’ end simply boiled over. Lovejoy, for the record, was given an extra cross checking minor to go with the fighting major. The Devils already had Steven Santini in the box serving an interference minor, so that meant the Devils ended the game, fittingly enough, killing off a 5-on-3 power play.
Next up, the Devils head to Philadelphia tomorrow for a date with the suddenly surging Flyers. The Devils usually play Philly hard, how will they react tomorrow? This is the beginning of a home-and-home with the Flyers too, so they will want to set a tone going in to Wells Fargo Center.
In Devils prospect news, one series finished up while another was extended at least one more game.
Blake Speers had a pair of assists in a 6-1 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds win over the Flint Firebirds. Sault Ste. Marie won the game and the series, finishing off Flint 4 games to 1. The game took place in Sault Ste. Marie.
Meanwhile, the Mississauga Steelheads lost 5-3 to the Ottawa 67’s, extending life for Ottawa to a game six. The game took place in Mississauga and both Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian had a goal in the loss. Game six will take place at TD Place in Ottawa on April 2. Mississauga leads the series 3 games to 2.