The Devils have a set of four games coming up against the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders that will be very crucial to their playoff hopes. Their first test came tonight against Ottawa at the Prudential Center and they ended up dropping the game, 3-0.
In addition to determining their playoff chances, the outcomes of these games will also decide if the Devils are to be buyers or sellers at the upcoming March 1 trade deadline which ties directly in to whether or not the team sees themselves as playoff contenders.
In some lineup news, the Devils were getting Beau Bennett back tonight. He would not, however, be playing with Jacob Josefson and Pavel Zacha, his usual linemates prior to his injury. Former Sens draft pick Stefan Noesen – who was picked in the first round (21st overall) by Ottawa in 2011 – had taken up his spot at right wing on that line and has been clicking with them. But Bennett is back while defenseman Kyle Quincey was placed on injured reserve earlier today. Healthy scratches for New Jersey were Joseph Blandisi, Seth Helgeson and Devante Smith-Pelly. Sitting for Ottawa were Marc Methot and the veteran Chris Neil.
The goaltending matchup saw Cory Schneider go for the Devils in his seventh straight start and for Ottawa, Princeton University grad Mike Condon was between the pipes. Condon was making his 32nd appearance for the Senators this season, with usual starter Craig Anderson dealing with his wife’s illness during the year. Condon has been steady this year for the Senators, coming into the game with a 2.53 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. He improved on those stats tonight, making all 21 saves for the Sens. Cory had 32 saves on 34 shots faced. The Senators finished the game with 35 shots.
Condon would factor into the Devils first (and only) power play of the game, which occurred just eight seconds into the game when he cleared the puck over the glass and was called for delay of game. The Devils went 0-for-1 on the power play while Ottawa was 1-for-2 on the night with the man advantage.
There was no scoring in the first period, but the Devils did get a few good chances. One puck was headed into the Ottawa net but was blocked in front by Kyle Palmieri, deflecting away off of his skate after the shot beat Condon. Zajac and Palmieri had a 2-on-1 in tight with about 4:37 left in the first period that would be turned aside by Condon in what was also a nice chance for the Devils.
The second period would begin with Bennett clanging one off of the iron right off the bat. The Devils had another great chance when Adam Henrique stole the puck from Senators’ forward Mike Hoffman and was in on a partial breakaway (he could not quite get fully clear of Hoffman). He was stopped too.
The breakthrough in the scoring was set up when Michael Cammalleri was called for tripping Derick Brassard at 16:19, setting up an Ottawa power play. On that man advantage, Dion Phaneuf rocketed one in under the crossbar that came in and out very fast. But the play was ruled a goal on the ice and replays showed that indeed it was. Assists went to Chris Wideman and New Jersey-native Bobby Ryan. That was the only goal the Senators would need.
The third period saw Taylor Hall with a nice chance for the Devils off of an odd man rush, but again, Condon made the save. The Devils just could not solve Ottawa through the neutral zone all night and when they did get a good chance, they were stopped by Condon, as he played a great game for the Senators.
Ottawa’s second goal came when an Erik Karlsson shot just trickled by Schneider and crossed the goal line. Henrique tried to clear the puck from the crease, but the puck had already gone in and was ruled a goal. It was 2-0 Sens. Brassard and Tom Pyatt had the assists.
Cory was pulled with about 2:20 remaining in the game, but to no avail. Ottawa added an empty netter from Kyle Turris (from Zack Smith and Hoffman) at 18:23 of the third.
And that was it, 3-0 Senators was your final. The Islanders, who the Devils will see in their next two games in a home-and-home, back-to-back over the weekend, defeated the Rangers 4-2 to gain some ground in the playoff race. This means that the next two games are very important.
The resurgent Isles will come to Prudential Center on Saturday and then the Devils will head to Brooklyn on Sunday. Those games will be four crucial points on the line as the race for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs (currently occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs – who Ottawa will play on Saturday) grows tighter.