Shero Out; Devils End Tampa Win Streak

Wow. What a day and a half for the New Jersey Devils.

Hot on the heels of defeating the top team in the league, the Washington Capitals, the Devils were set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, easily the hottest team in the league with a ten-game winning streak.

Then, about an hour before game time, word came down that the Devils and General Manager Ray Shero had parted ways. Josh Harris of the Devils’ ownership group, stated in a press conference before the game on MSG Network that there was a difference of philosophy basically on how the Devils should handle the upcoming trade deadline.

Shero was let go and Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald would step in as interim General Manager with Martin Brodeur acting as an adviser for hockey operations to Fitzgerald. Brodeur had previously served as Assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues and was most recently the Devils’ executive vice president of business development.

Devils managing partner Josh Harris said that he and Ray “are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.” He also said that the “organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise.”

The Devils currently stand in last place in the Metro Division with a 17-21-7 record (as of tonight’s game) with 41 points. Over Shero’s five seasons in charge of the Devils, the team posted a record of 157-167-48 and had one playoff appearance. Not a knock on Shero at all, of course, the team was a mess when he took over. He made some moves to improve the team, no doubt. If you had told me before the season that all three of Shero, John Hynes and Taylor Hall would be gone before the All-Star break, I would not have believed you at all.

“Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals” said Harris. These goals include a search for a new GM, which will be commencing immediately and will include Fitzgerald being interviewed.

Oh yeah, and following all of this turmoil, all the Devils needed to do was take down the Lightning, one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and winners of 10 straight.

There was one small other news item that slipped past with the news of Shero’s departure. Cory Schneider, last seen in the NHL losing to the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, made his return from the American Hockey League. He was called up from Binghamton and backed up starter Louis Domingue – making back-to-back starts for the first time as a Devil – with Evan Cormier being sent back to the AHL.

So, how did the Devils fare after all of this? They won, 3-1, handing Tampa their first loss in 11 games tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils did get some good news prior to the game. Jack Hughes came back after five games out with an upper body injury. It was his first game of the 2020 calendar year, as he got hurt on New Year’s Eve against the Bruins.

They were, however, subtracting someone from the lineup. Leading goal scorer Kyle Palmieri was out with a lower body injury as he got hurt blocking a shot last night in Washington. He joined Mackenzie Blackwood on the sidelines and Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch with Connor Carrick back in again.

The goalie matchup, as mentioned, featured Domingue, a former Bolt traded to the Devils earlier this season – making a back-to-back start and he was great again, making 26 saves on 27 Tampa shots for a .963 save percentage. Opposing him was Tampa backup Curtis McElhinney, who stopped 17 of the 19 shots he saw for an .895 save percentage. The Devils ended up with 20 shots due to an empty net goal later on in the game.

The game started out feisty. At the 9:33 mark of the first period, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov hit Jesper Boqvist from behind and Kevin Rooney took exception. He was taken down by Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli, who administered a few rabbit punches to the head of Rooney while he was down on the ice. Cirelli went off for roughing, but things would stay chippy all night.

On the power play, the Devils went 0-for-4 with ten shots. They also held the vaunted Lightning power play to 0-for-2 with just three shots.

Things started out normal enough. Tampa got on the board first just 37 seconds into the second after a scoreless first period. It happened when New Jersey could not get the puck out of their own end and Victor Hedman passed to Tyler Johnson on Domingue’s doorstep. He scored the 15th goal of Tampa’s ten-game winning streak. But it would also be the last.

Later on, at the 3:10 mark of the second, Andy Greene scored his first goal of the year when Miles Wood dropped the puck to Greene just as he was entering the Tampa zone. He ripped a slap shot that beat McElhinney clean and ended the shutout streak the Lightning had going at 169:05. That tied the game up at one. Hughes had the secondary assist on the goal.

The game-winner for the Devils came a little less than four minutes after Greene’s goal when Nikita Gusev took a pass from Damon Severson, then faked passing back to him. He instead shot quickly on net and Travis Zajac tipped the shot by McElhinney to give the Devils the 2-1 lead.

Late in the second, with a little over a minute left, Yanni Gourde and Carrick got into a scrap. It was a spirited fight and saw both players fall to the ice in a draw.

The third period seemed to yield a third goal early for the Devils when, with 8:21 left, Gusev made a great move around Cirelli, had him fall down and skated around him to put the puck in the net behind McElhinney.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper then used his coach’s challenge, arguing goalie interference from Blake Coleman. While initially, it seemed that Cirelli had fallen into McElhinney when Gusev beat him, it was actually Coleman that impeded the Tampa goaltender from making the save and the goal was called back after review.

The Lighting pulled McElhinney with 2:19 left in regulation and the Devils took their aim at the empty net, complete with Zajac skating down the rink, nullifying icing and trying to wrap the puck around and into the net. Unfortunately for him, Coleman and Lightning player tangled together and tumbled into the net, dislodging it before Zajac could score.

Miles Wood would eventually get the empty net goal with one second to go in the game for New Jersey, marking the second straight game where Wood has scored into an empty net. Wayne Simmonds and Greene had the assists, marking two points for Andy Greene on the night. Wood also had a goal and an assist for two points on the evening.

That made it 3-1 with two of the Devils’ oldest veterans combining to score the most important goals that would sink Tampa.

The Devils dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61-percent of the game’s draws, with Pavel Zacha winning 75-percent of the faceoffs he took.

The Bolts outhit the Devils, 23-19, but the Devils had more blocked shots at 14-12 and only two turnovers to Tampa’s six.

Individually, PK Subban led all Devils skaters in ice time with 26:03 with 5:45 on the power play and 1:51 on the PK. Zacha led the forwards with 19:52 including 5:15 on the power play and 1:03 shorthanded.

Shots on goal were spread pretty evenly with Nico Hischier, Zajac, Wood, Hughes, Gusev, Will Butcher, Severson and Subban all registering two to co-lead. Coleman once again led in hits with four. Kevin Rooney and Greene each led in blocks with four each. Takeaways were co-led by Hischier, Zacha and Sami Vatanen who had one apiece.

Greene was the third star, Zajac the second and Domingue the first on the night.

So the Devils will try to go for the trifecta, defeating another highly offensive team in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday north of the border. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will have a write up for you right here when the game is done.

Devils Prevail in OT, Finally Beat Washington

The Devils wanted to give the Washington Capitals “a game.” The team felt that they had not played the Caps well at all in their twin 5-2 losses in two games against them this season and for the most part, they were right. Tonight, the Devils conceded a point to the Metropolitan Division leaders, but took the full two by defeating the Capitals 4-3 in overtime. Washington is definitely one of the elite teams in the NHL and the Devils wanted to show that they could skate with them.

The Capitals had had some travel problems getting into Newark. They had just come off of their bye week and could not get into New Jersey in time for a practice yesterday, due to weather problems in DC. They just got in a morning skate earlier today.

Some roster moves for the Devils first, as the lineup remained largely the same as the one that defeated the Islanders Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Some good news for the Devils on the injury front as Mirco Mueller is back and was sent to Binghamton of the AHL on a “conditioning assignment.” Blake Coleman and Jimmy Hayes were the healthy scratches along with Steven Santini, who had been optioned to Binghamton to make room for backup goalie Ken Appleby. But Cory Schneider was back – although he did not play tonight – and, thus, so was Santini.

Cory did not start tonight, not because he was still sick, he is better, but because he had lost five pounds in one-and-a-half days and has not skated. So Keith Kinkaid made a back-to-back start coming off of his win in New York Tuesday. It was a relatively light night for him as he made 16 saves on just 19 shots total against. Going against him was Braden Holtby, one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL right now to be sure. He made 28 saves on 32 shots against. Kinkaid was the last Devils goalie to defeat Washington with a 2-1 shootout win last season.

One of the main themes of the night was the special teams. In their two other games against the Devils this season, the Caps were 4-for-7 on the power play total. Tonight the Devils certainly gave the Capitals the chances, but limited them to 0-for-5 on the night with just five shots. The Devils were 0-for-3 with three shots on goal. It was dicey, but the penalty killing unit really came through for New Jersey.

The Devils took the early lead 8:01 into the first period when alley-ooped a pass to Drew Stafford behind the Washington defense. Stafford skated in on Holtby, went backhand and beat him with Devante Smith-Pelly backchecking hard all over him. Just like that, the Devils had the 1-0 lead.

However, it would only take about four minutes and nine seconds for the Caps to respond. Brett Connolly scored at 12:10 from TJ Oshie and Brooks Orpik to tie the game up.

The next goal came within a milestone game. Andy Greene was playing in his 750th NHL game (and coming off of his first NHL fight in his 749th game) and would put the Devils up by one just 3:33 into the second period. It came when Taylor Hall gained the Capitals’ zone before stopping and putting the puck on Nico Hischier’s stick in front of the Caps’ net. Hischier had the presence of mind to simply tap it over to Greene, cutting in back door and Greene put it between Holtby’s left arm and the goal post to make it 2-1 Devils.

New Jersey got a lift when Brian Boyle came to the aid of Brian Gibbons. Gibbons had absorbed a hard hit from Capitals’ tough guy Tom Wilson. Boyle dropped the gloves with Wilson and the two had a spirited bout. Unfortunately, Boyle took the instigator penalty along with five for fighting plus a ten minute misconduct. The Devils would be killing off the instigator penalty and be without the services of Boyle for ten minutes. Wilson only got a five minute major for fighting.

The Devils would kill that penalty off and tack on an insurance goal at the 10:55 mark of the second when Miles Wood used his speed to create a goal. It happened when Hischier won a defensive zone draw back to Sami Vatanen. Vatanen looped the puck up ice to Wood, who snuck in behind the Washington defense on a breakaway. His shot trickled through Holtby’s five hole to put the Devils up 3-1.

The Washington comeback began quickly, however. Dmitry Orlov scored less than a minute after the Wood goal. He got assists from Alex Chiasson and Jay Beagle. That would make it 3-2, New Jersey.

Then the other shoe would drop. It would take until the 16:12 mark of the third period, but Connolly scored his second of the game from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Wilson to tie things up at three. The Capitals had spent a lot of offensive time in the Devils’ zone at that point and the ice certainly looked tilted in their favor.

Time would expire in regulation and, although the Devils had gained at least a point against Washington for the first time this year, there was still a bit of a let down throughout the Prudential Center. But all it would take was 34 seconds of overtime to end things.

Vatanen chipped the puck free to Hall, who slipped past Kuznetsov and was off to the races. He beat Holtby glove side on the breakaway and the Devils had gotten the 4-3 win. Hall notched his team-leading 17th goal of the year on that play and the Devils got two points against the Capitals for the first time this year. Hall was also named the game’s first star, Connolly the second and Wood the third.

Stat-wise, Greene led in time on ice with 23:39 while Hall and Wood tied for the shots lead with four each. Ben Lovejoy led in hits with six and in blocks with three. The Devils won 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

So the Devils pick up a point on the Caps, but Washington still leads the Metro Division by four points with 60, but the Devils closed the gap a little bit by getting points 55 and 56.

Next up, the Devils take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. This will be the second meeting between the Turnpike rivals this month. The Flyers have been coming on strong in the Metro. How will the Devils fare in this 1 PM matinee? We will find out Saturday afternoon.