The Colorado Avalanche keep continue to pile up the wins. Tonight was a franchise record 54th of the year for them as they downed the Devils 3-1.
The Avs are just rolling right towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs and can do it anyway they seem to want to at will.
Case in point: this was the backend of a back-to-back. On Wednesday, they defeated the Los Angeles Kings 9-3 with Nathan MacKinnon pouring in a hat trick and gaining five points total.
Tonight, it was an Eastern Conference team visiting Ball Arena. The only Eastern team that has even won a game this season in Denver has been the Columbus Blue Jackets (November 3, 2021) and they needed overtime to do so.
The Avs needed only three to take care of the Devils and got just that.
One of the main highlights of watching the broadcast of the game on MSG was getting to see former Devil David Clarkson on the pregame show with Bryce Salvador and Erika Wachter.
Clarkson has retired to Colorado where he now coaches youth hockey. He had tried his hand at scouting but felt that he was not up to the job and deciding that teaching the future generations is something that really intrigued him.
He ended up in Colorado due to training that he would do in the offseason, with a select few other NHL players when he was active, in Vail. He later had surgery on the back injury that had ultimately ended his NHL career in Vail as well.
This led to permanent residence in the Rocky Mountain State, where he has been for the last four or five years or so.
Right now, he is basically living in the center of the hockey universe. With the Avs gearing up for a run at the Stanley Cup and the University of Denver Pioneers winning the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship last week, things are looking good for the sport there.
The Devils tonight went with the same lineup that largely brought them victories on their first two games of this five-game Western trip. That meant no Andreas Johnsson again up front.
In goal, the Devils did make a change where they gave Andrew Hammond a rare start (soon to possibly be even rarer as Mackenzie Blackwood remains on the comeback trail). Hammond made 27 stops on 30 total Colorado shots for a .900 save percentage on the night. He stopped two of the three power play shots the Avalanche had (they were 1-for-2 on the man advantage as a team). At five-on-five play, Hammond turned aside 25 of the Avs’ 27 shots.
Colorado countered with Pavel Francouz, who made 26 saves on 27 total New Jersey for a .963 save percentage. He stopped the long Devils shorthanded shot and both of their power play shots. As a team, the Devils were 0-for-2 on the power play. At even strength, he got 23 of the Devils’ 24 shots.
The Devils were making their first trip to Denver since December of 2019 and their first trip to the Ball Arena. The last time they were here the arena was still under its original name of the Pepsi Center.
Although the Devils were up against it in the thin Mile High altitude, they did have an earlier season win over the Avs under their belt from this year at Prudential Center and were, thus, looking to sweep the season series.
As mentioned, the Denver Pioneers won the NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship this past weekend in Boston. They were being honored as a team by the Avalanche in the pregame with each member of the squad gathered at center ice with the NCAA trophy and their captain dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff.
What followed was a first period where the Avs played well but the Devils were largely able to skate with them and keep their big guns in check. The Devils actually outshot the Avs in the first by a 13-12 margin.
About the only thing of note was former Colorado defenseman turned Devil Ryan Graves getting a video tribute and a round of applause from the fans.
Graves was traded to the Devils last summer and, although he has had a fantastic first season in New Jersey, his night in Denver would not end so well.
The second period was where the Avs took over the game.
It began 3:07 into the proceedings when Colorado’s Josh Manson took the puck through the neutral zone. In the Devils zone, he passed it over to Darren Helm, who threw the puck to Logan O’Connor at the bottom of the far faceoff circle. O’Connor quickly spun around and shot as he was doing so.
Ty Smith was defending in front and, as both color analyst Ken Danekyo and studio analyst Bryce Salvador (both former elite NHL defensive defensemen, mind you) noted, his stick blade was at an angle that allowed O’Connor’s shot to redirect into the empty side of the Devils goal cage.
A very minor mistake by Ty, but a costly one against a team with the offensive skills of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs would double their lead at the 7:45 mark of the second when their point man, Valeri Nichushkin, passed down low to Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen skated the puck behind the Devils net and wheeled to the near side and centered to Andre Burakovsky in the slot. Burakovsky’s shot went in before the net literally caved in on Hammond.
The goal had come off of its moorings and fell on top of him, but a review from Toronto found that the puck had already crossed the goal line prior to the net getting toppled and the call on the ice of good goal was the correct one.
Colorado would cap off their second period scoring spree with a power play goal scored at 14:35 gone by.
New Jersey took the only penalty of the frame when Michael McLeod was called for a hook against O’Connor and the Avs had the extra attacker.
They capitalized to make it 3-0 when their man at the point made a slap pass to Cale Makar at the near half wall. He quickly found a seam to Mikko Rantanen and it was down to Artturi Lehkonen at the far post and he tapped the puck in to triple up the Avalanche scoring.
That score took us into the final period but it would not be the final.
The Devils played possibly their finest sequence of hockey midway through the third period. They would get on the board shortly following a big save made by Hammond at their end.
Following that save by Hammond, Nico Hischier would skate the puck into the Colorado zone and took it down to the far corner. He lost it briefly but was able to regain possession and tap it to Pavel Zacha along the far wall.
Zacha then skated it back down to the far corner and made a no-look pass to Jesper Bratt in the slot, who finished and made the score 3-1 Avs.
This had followed a few minutes of back-and-forth, end-to-end action from both teams but also saw a potentially bad injury to Graves in the Devils zone.
When Hammond made the save just prior to the Bratt goal being scored, Graves had his face cut by an errant Colorado skate blade. He left the game with about 8:36 remaining and did not return.
In his postgame presser, head coach Lindy Ruff mentioned that Graves’ cut was to the chin and it could have been much worse than it was. Hopefully he is okay and no damage or long-term injury was suffered. It always has the potential to end up really horrific in those situations, but hopefully all is good for him.
Following the Bratt goal, Hammond made another big save (with a little help from the inside of the post) to keep the Devils in things.
Nichushkin hit the inside of the inside of the far post on him on a shot in front that was waved off by the referee on the ice and was shown to not have gone in anyway, so it was the correct call in the moment.
Following that play, the Devils regained possession and were able to get Hammond off of the ice for the extra attacker with a little over two minutes to go in the game.
The Devils would keep the play largely in the Colorado end with Nathan MacKinnon finally scoring into the empty net just a split second after the final buzzer so that the fourth goal did not count.
But the Avs did get the 3-1 victory and that was all they needed: the two full points for their 54th win of the season – a Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise record. It was also their eighth straight victory on their current winning streak.
In the end the Devils were outshot 30 to 27 and won a paltry 36-percent of the game’s faceoffs. McLeod again did his job as the Devils personal faceoff percentage leader with 89-percent won over 10:02 played largely at even strength with 45 seconds of that on the penalty kill.
Each team accumulated four penalty minutes per team. The Avs outhit the Devils 24-23 while the Devils had more blocked shots at 16 to Colorado’s dozen. Each team had seven turnovers as a team.
When it came to ice time, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 23:12 logged (including 1:23 on the power play and 2:11 on the penalty kill). Dougie Hamilton led in power play time for the d-men with 2:37 out of his 21:52 of total time. He also had 39 seconds of shorthanded time.
Nico Hischier led the forwards in total ice time with 19:27. He also tied Zacha in PP time with 2:35 and played 50 seconds on the PK. Zacha led the forwards in shorthanded time with 1:05 which was part of his 18:21 of total TOI logged.
Hamilton led in shots on goal with four. Nathan Bastian, AJ Greer, Hamilton and Kevin Bahl all led in hits with three. Smith and Graves led in blocked shots with three each. Personal giveaways were led by Dawson Mercer with two while personal takeaways were led by Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist, Tomas Tatar, Hamilton, PK Subban and Bahl with one apiece.
Next up, the Devils’ trek across the west continues as they go to the Pacific Northwest for the first time and visit the Seattle Kraken in a rematch from the second game of the Devils’ season back in October.
Both teams have since been eliminated from playoff contention and that seemed like such a long time ago.
Puck drop for that game is, of course, at 10 PM ET on Saturday night and we will have a recap for you right here following the conclusion of the game on MSG+.
One more thing until then and that is a congratulations to Devils head equipment manager Chris Scoppetto, who Sam Kasan is reporting via the Devils official website will be a part of the Team USA equipment staff at the upcoming 2022 IIHF World Championship.
He was named to the post on Thursday as per Kasan.
Kasan reports that “Scoppetto will be one of three equipment managers for Team USA, which will compete for the 2022 IIHF Men’s World Championship May 13-29 in Tampere and Helsinki, Finland.” He also served in this capacity in 2019 and 2017 at the same tournament.
The US Men’s National Team will be coached by David Quinn next month.
Scoppetto, according to Kasan, won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 when he was an assistant equipment manager with them. He was with Detroit from 2005 to 2008 and was also an assistant with the Nashville Predators from 1999 to 2005 and the then-Phoenix Coyotes from 1997 to 1999.
Following that, he was the Florida Panthers’ head equipment manager from 2008 to 2016 before joining the Devils’ staff in 2016. He was promoted to head equipment manager of the Devils in 2017.
Once again, congrats to Chris Scoppetto on his honor. the rest of the week everyone, we will see you on Saturday!