The Ottawa Senators came into Prudential Center for the second time in less than a week to face the New Jersey Devils. Facing the Sens for the second time on home ice this month would be a good way to get back on track after their loss to the Islanders in Brooklyn. But the Senators play a tough defensive system – one very similar to the Devils in their heyday – that New Jersey knew would be tough to beat.
And, while the Devils did compete for the entire sixty minutes, keeping them in it, they still ended up falling to Ottawa 2-1.
The Sens came into the game without four of their top six forwards. There was even some talk that their Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, Erik Karlsson, might be moved up to forward. He was not, but Ottawa would still be without Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Bobby Ryan – all out with injuries. Fredrik Claesson was also a scratch for Ottawa.
For the Devils, things were shaken up big time by the coaching staff. Adam Henrique played on a line with Pavel Zacha and a returning Michael Cammalleri while only the Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac line stayed intact. Hall has discussed how playing with Zajac has made him a better all-around player, since he is now on the ice against the opponents’ top players and has to be more defensively responsible. That has also led to better offensive chances for the Devils’ 40 point man.
Kyle Quincey was also back in the lineup coming off of injured reserve. He was paired with Damon Severson on the blue line. Beau Bennett, Seth Helgeson and John Moore were the healthy scratches for New Jersey. Moore was just being given a break since he has played a good deal after his concussion.
The matchup between the pipes saw Cory Schneider go for the Devils and make 21 saves on 23 shots faced for a .913 save percentage. Craig Anderson went for the Senators, making 29 saves on 30 Devils shots for a .967 save percentage. Anderson was solid in net all night, as the Devils applied sustained pressure for the most of the night.
Miles Wood would be looked at to play a big role in this game. His speed through the neutral zone would be a good way to break the 1-3-1 system that Ottawa plays. This system is very similar to the trap that the Devils themselves employed for many years. Wood made his presence known. He got into a scrap with Mark Borowiecki early in the third period. That fight came after Borowiecki hit him in the neutral zone in what Wood felt was interference.
Ottawa got the scoring kicked off at the 59 second mark of the second period. Kyle Turris scored his 20th from Ryan Dzingel and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to put the Sens up 1-0. That goal came when the Devils could not clear the zone and Turris made them pay.
Some bad news for the Devils came midway through the second period when Pavel Zacha took a hit, driving his head into the glass, similar to the hit that John Moore took in the Washington game on New Year’s Eve. He would leave the game and not return. Hopefully, he was just taken out for precautionary measures and it is not too serious.
The Devils took a bench minor for too many men on the ice at the 3:59 mark of the third period which set up a power play for Ottawa which they would capitalize on. At 4:11, Karlsson scored from Dion Phaneuf and Derick Brassard to make it 2-0 Senators and put the Devils in a deep hole. On the power play for the night, the Sens went 1-for-2 while the Devils were 1-for-1. Karlsson was just given all kinds of time and space on this goal by the Devils penalty killers and he jumped on it.
Ottawa does not take many minor penalties, which speaks volumes to their team discipline. In their two games at New Jersey this month, they only took two (both delay of game penalties) including one by Tommy Wingels at 5:55 of the third period. This set up a Devils power play that seemed to be more of the same when Hall took a shot and Zajac, who gathered the rebound, was robbed by Anderson.
But the Devils kept at it and at the 6:37 mark, Zajac found the back of the net. It happened when Kyle Palmieri gathered a rebound and passed to Joe Blandisi down low. Blandisi tried to stuff the puck in from an odd angle and Zajac was there to put home the loose puck to make it 2-1 Ottawa.
That left one goal to get the Devils back into it. And they really poured it on, keeping sustained pressure in the Senators’ zone pretty much for the rest of the game. They pulled Cory with about one minute left in the game but were still unable to get anything by Anderson. They had one final chance with a faceoff deep in the Sens’ zone with about six seconds left. Zajac was able to win the draw, but the puck was cleared by the Ottawa defense just as it was dribbling to Palmieri in the slot. Time ran out and the Devils had lost their second straight game and their second to Ottawa in less than a week.
Next up, a big one, as the Rangers come into the Rock on Saturday. This continues the Devils stretch of games against teams that are in playoff position as of now, as the Rangers currently occupy the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. This rivalry game will have some added meaning as the Devils try to get off their current slide and get back in the race. We will find out if they can defeat New York at five o’clock on Saturday.