Devils Unlucky in Colorado

It’s Friday the 13th and, like most dates this season for the Devils, it was unlucky. The Devils fell tonight to the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 at Pepsi Center in Denver.

The biggest news that came out of this one for New Jersey was that, just moments before puck drop, Taylor Hall was announced as a scratch for the Devils for what the team was calling “precautionary reasons.” Although no deal to move him was announced tonight, it seems his time of reckoning is at hand and could come any day now, although the team did not acknowledge that this was being done due to an impending trade. He joined John Hayden and Kevin Rooney as the healthy scratches.

The recently called up Michael McLeod took Hall’s place in the lineup. It was his season debut with the NHL Devils and finished the night with two penalty minutes (an interference penalty in the first period), registered two hits and had two takeaways in 10:26 of total ice time (including 31 seconds on the penalty kill).

In other roster news, Nico Hischier was back from the injured reserve – he missed three games with an illness. Colton White was sent back to Binghamton of the AHL after not getting in a game on his most recent callup. Also, defenseman Connor Carrick was recalled from his conditioning stint in Binghamton and practiced with the NHL club this morning. He, however, is not ready to return and remains on IR.

The start of the game saw a rare matchup of two right-catching goalies. Pavel Francouz went for the Avs, making 37 saves on 38 Devils shots for a .974 save percentage. Louis Domingue started for the Devils, making 15 saves on 17 shots for an .882 save percentage. Domingue left midway through the second period with what was deemed a lower body injury, possibly a groin injury, by head coach Alain Nasreddine in the postgame show. There was, of course, an emergency goalie on hand should Blackwood get injured. He played 30:48. Mackenzie Blackwood came in in relief and turned aside all 19 shots he saw in 29:05. With an empty net goal, the Avalanche ended the game with 37 total shots on goal.

Colorado is now 14-3-3 in games where they have been outshot by their opponents. This is one of the reasons they are one of the best teams in the NHL, finding a way to win games and overcoming adversity.

The Avalanche scored 11:37 into the game to break the seal on this one. It came off the stick of Gabriel Landeskog on the power play (McLeod’s penalty referenced earlier). It saw precision passing from Samuel Girard at the point to Nathan MacKinnon at the near half wall, centered to Landeskog. Landeskog took the puck and fired it over Domingue’s glove to make it 1-0 Avs.

The Avs went 1-for-5 on the man advantage with a total of four shots. They also notched two shorthanded shots. Curiously, all of the power play shots came on Domingue while all of the PK shots were on Blackwood. The Devils were 0-for-4 on the power play with seven shots to go with four shots down a man.

In the second period, Colorado doubled up their lead when Valeri Nichushkin scored at 7:56 of the second frame. The Devils attempted to dump the puck into the Avalanche zone to get a change. The Avs got the puck out quickly as Mark Barberio moved it up to Nichushkin. He skated it into the Devils zone and cut to the middle of the ice, wristing the puck by Domingue on the glove side again. It was now 2-0 Avalanche.

And that it would remain until the 15:48 mark of the third period when Mirco Mueller, of all people, broke the opponents’ shutout streak against the Devils. New Jersey had not scored since Hall scored in the third period of the Nashville game on Saturday and were shutout in Dallas on Tuesday. Mueller skated the puck down low and took a shot from a sharp angle, almost to the goal line. The puck deflected in off of a Colorado defender’s leg and by Francouz to cut the lead in half to 2-1. Pavel Zacha and Wayne Simmonds had the assists on the goal for the Devils.

But time would run out on the Devils, who largely played well against a team that could be considered a Stanley Cup contender. Blackwood was pulled with less than a minute to go in regulation and Colorado would add an empty netter courtesy of MacKinnon (assists to Mikko Rantanen and Matt Nieto) to make it 3-1, which was our final.

The Avs won a whopping 62-percent of the game’s faceoffs while the Devils dominated in hits (22-13) and blocked shots (19-15) as well as having less giveaways at four to the Avalanche’s nine.

Individually, shots were led by Nikita Gusev with five, hits by Blake Coleman with four, blocks by Will Butcher (who played his college hockey in Denver) with six and takeaways by Coleman and McLeod, who both registered two.

Time on ice was led by Sami Vatanen with 22 minutes even (including 4:23 on the power play and 2:47 shorthanded). Nico Hischier, in his return from illness, was wrong when he told MSG Network’s Erika Wachter in the pregame that his shifts would be short and his ice time limited. He led the forwards with 20:19 of time on ice (4:34 on the PP and 3:34 on the PK).

So now the Devils travel to Arizona to take on the Coyotes tomorrow. That game begins at 8 PM ET and we, of course, will try to get the recap up for you in a decent time, although I do have a previously scheduled family event to go to and it may be up a little later than usual.

Before I sign off for the night, I just wanted to extend a big congratulations to Brian Gionta, who won a Cup with the Devils and was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame last night in Washington, DC. Gio was an undersized player who played with heart and gave his all. We were lucky to have him in a Devils uniform. Congratulations again to him.

New Look Devils Top Colorado

Just a day and a few hours after the big trade that sent Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Sami Vatanen, the Devils were in Denver to take on the Colorado Avalanche. They would eke out a 2-1 win in what was a well played game by both teams, albeit one filled with penalties. With this win, the Devils won another one goal game (their tenth of the season so far) and swept the season series with Colorado – after also winning at home on opening day against them.

Vatanen actually got to the team hotel before his new teammates did and was there to greet them. He did play with a few former Ducks-turned-Devils in Ben Lovejoy, Stefan Noesen and Kyle Palmieri (who is injured right now and, thus, not on the trip) prior to the trade, so he did have some comfortability there. Vatanen is, according to his former/current teammates and MSG’s broadcast, a good puck possession defenseman and is very aggressive and physical. He played the night paired up mostly with Andy Greene as the top D pairing for the Devils.

With the new addition came some roster changes for the Devils. Dalton Prout and Steven Santini sat out on defense while Jimmy Hayes was a healthy scratch up front. The Devils were also getting back Marcus Johansson, who last played exactly one month ago when he was concussed in Vancouver. It was good to see Johansson make his return and he had quite an impact, especially early, when he took a penalty and then drew a penalty in almost complete succession.

The Avs were missing Gabriel Landeskog due to his suspension (he is on the second game of a four game ban) because of a cross checking incident on the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk. Although the Devils would not see him, they would be seeing plenty of Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche forward who was named the first star of the month for November.

The main story of the game was penalties. There was 22 minutes worth of power play time between the two teams. The Devils were 1-for-6 with the extra attacker, with six shots on goal. The Avs were 1-for-5 with three shots on goal.

One other item of note is that Will Butcher, the former Denver University Pioneer who was originally drafted by the Avalanche, but signed with the Devils instead, was not booed. The only thing that I could assume with that was that with the Avs signing Alexander Kerfoot, an original Devils draftee, it was all even in the fans’ minds.

After a scoreless first period, it was Jesper Bratt who got the Devils on the board at the 13:58 mark of the second period. That was his eighth of the year and was unassisted. He got it when Andy Greene stretched a pass into the Colorado zone that eluded a Devil, but was played by Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov. He left it for Colorado d-man Nikita Zadorov, who tried to pass to Erik Johnson, but had his pocket picked by Bratt. Bratt stole the puck nearly at the goal line and fired into an empty net from the sharp angle. That goal made it 1-0 Devils and showed the really good forechecking that this team now employs, forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them.

The Avs, however, would answer right back. At 17:11, Andy Greene would block a Kerfoot shot only to have the puck fall right on the stick of JT Compher, who beat Cory Schneider to make it 1-1. Tyson Barrie had the secondary assist on that one. That goal came on the power play while Ben Lovejoy was serving two minutes for hooking. The game would remain tied going into the third period.

A scary moment for the Devils early in the third period as Brian Gibbons blocked a shot and left the ice in extreme pain. He would return by period’s end, however.

The game winner would end up coming off of the stick of Brian Boyle (his fourth of the year) at 6:11 of the third. This was also a power play goal, with Colorado’s Mark Barberio in the box for holding Blake Coleman’s stick. It came when Taylor Hall skated the puck through the neutral zone and dished off to Bratt along the near wall. He gave back to Hall, who fired on net. That created a goalmouth scramble with Boyle eventually jamming home the puck to make it 2-1 Devils.

And that is how it would end. The Avs would pull Varlamov, but would see nothing come of it as the Devils won key faceoffs in their defensive zone and controlled the play. Lovejoy scored into the empty net just as time was expiring and, thus, the goal did not count. So 2-1 it ended.

The three stars of the game were Boyle (number three), Compher (two) and Bratt (first star). Vatanen immediately made an impact, leading the team in time on ice with 23:13. Hall led in shots on goal with five while John Moore, with Santini out, took over the hits lead with four. New Jersey won 56-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

As an aside, MSG’s Deb Placey mentioned an interesting story about how the Avalanche actually played a role in the Devils getting Vatanen. When Colorado’s Matt Duchene was up on the trading block, Anaheim was really pushing hard for him. When Ottawa ended up making the deal for him earlier this season, the Ducks, still in need of some forward help, picked up talks with Ray Shero and the Devils ended up getting Sami Vatanen.

The goaltending stats saw Cory block away 22 of the 23 shots he saw. Varlamov was equal to 19 of 21 Devils shots. The Devils had a single shorthanded shot sprinkled in there.

So next up, the Devils leave the Mile High City for the desert. They travel to Arizona for the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow night, the second game of the three game road trip. We will have that one for you right here.