The Devils kicked off the new month of March by finishing up a back-to-back pair of games. They knocked off the Vancouver Canucks last night in a blowout 7-2 win at home.
Tonight, they traveled to Ohio to face Metro Divisional rivals the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Hoping to silence the cannon at Nationwide Arena, the Devils ended up getting taken out, falling narrowly to the Jackets 4-3.
The Devils went with the exact same lineup from last night in Newark. Ty Smith remained scratched with Colton White still dressed. Smith joined Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros again as healthy scratches for the Devils.
The lineup non-changes extended to the goal as Nico Daws got the back-to-back starts for the Devils, having played well last night.
He made 27 saves on 31 total Blue Jackets shots for a nightly save percentage of .871. He stopped both Columbus shorthanded shots and four of their five power play shots as the Jackets were 1-for-3 on the man advantage. At full strength, Daws made 21 saves on 24 Blue Jackets shots.
Columbus countered with Elvis Merzlikins who stopped 30 of the Devils’ 33 total shots for a .909 save percentage. He turned aside the Devils’ lone shorthanded shot and four of their five power play shots – the Devils were 1-for-4 as a team on the power play. Merzlikins had 25 saves on 27 even strength Devils shots.
The Devils got off to a flying start as Jesper Bratt, off the opening faceoff, charged towards the Columbus net and drew a tripping penalty on Vladislav Gavrikov just eight seconds into the game.
The Devils would convert right away too. Just 54 seconds into the opening period, Jack Hughes scored off of a mad scramble when the puck went behind Merzlikins. The puck was pinballing around the Columbus crease. Initially it looked like Nico Hischier or Nathan Bastian would get credit for the goal. It went to Hughes unassisted on the power play, eventually to make it 1-0 Devils.
It was as if the Devils were shot out of a cannon.
The Jackets would begin to respond following the Devils goal.
Boone Jenner shot wide on a partial breakaway moments later when Jenner stole the puck at the Columbus blue line. Yegor Sharangovich made a nice effort backchecking to break the chance up and help force Jenner’s shot wide.
Bastian and Gavin Bayreuther got into a scrap midway through the first after Bastian and Jimmy Vesey had crashed into Merzlikins’ net and the Jackets took exception. That tilt went down at the 10:58 gone by mark of the first.
Columbus would tie things while those guys were serving their five-minute fighting majors.
At the 13:08 mark, Justin Danforth laid a big hit on White deep in the Devils zone on the forecheck which began a series of events that saw the puck eventually kept in by Max Domi.
Cole Sillinger moved it to Jake Christiansen through a cross-ice seam that allowed Christiansen to score from the far faceoff circle to tie the game for the Blue Jackets and gave Christiansen his first NHL goal.
Before the end of the first period, Columbus would take the lead when, who else? Noted Devil-killer Oliver Bjorkstrand scored at 17:35 gone to make it 2-1.
Once again, the Jackets used their aggressive forecheck to keep the puck hemmed into the Devils zone. Jack Roslovic got the puck to Jakub Voracek at thet near wall. He centered to Bjorkstrand who was camped in the slot. The pass was perfectly teed up for him to launch a one-timer by Daws to give the Blue Jackets the 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.
The Devils would get into some penalty trouble towards the end of the first period and the beginning of the second.
Domi took a high-sticking penalty against Dawson Mercer at the 17:39 mark of the first to give the Devils a man up. That was canceled out at the 18:47 mark when Dougie Hamilton was called for a trip against Jenner to give the teams 52 seconds of 4-on-4 until the Jackets went on the power play.
That was changed to ten seconds of a 5-on-3 and then a 5-on-4 when Damon Severson got two-minutes for slashing 38 seconds into the second frame.
Columbus capitalized 46 seconds into the second period with a goal – with one second left on the Hamilton penalty.
On that goal, the Jackets won an offensive zone faceoff and quickly moved the puck around up high. From Voracek to Patrik Laine at the far faceoff circle. He hit the post on his initial shot and Jenner was there as Johnny-on-the-spot to slide it home and make 3-1.
The Devils got that one back later on in the second when Hischier scored an amazing goal.
At the 16:00 mark of the second, Severson hit Hischier with a stretch breakout pass that he banked off of the boards to Nico from behind the Devils net.
Hischier gained the Columbus zone and shot himself as he had another Devils attacker with him. He roofed the puck off the 2-on-1 to make it 3-2 Blue Jackets.
Severson had gotten the puck off of a clean faceoff win by Michael McLeod in the Devils defensive zone. McLeod was awarded the secondary assist on the goal.
As amazing as the play that led to the Nico goal was, nothing much was going to top Laine’s goal 1:18 into the third period that put the Blue Jackets up 4-2.
Laine took a pass from Jenner in the neutral zone and used his slick hands to make a beautiful move through two Devils defenders, splitting the defense and cutting in on Daws. He finished one of the prettiest goals you will see all year – almost Mario Lemieux-esque – and Columbus had doubled their lead once again. Gabriel Carlsson had the secondary assist on the goal.
The Devils seemed to be breaking down again early in the third again when Hamilton kicked the puck up and over the glass just inside the New Jersey defensive zone.
No delay of game was called with ESPN’s “Rules Analyst” Dave Jackson explaining that the delay of game penalty only pertains to shooting the puck out of play with your stick.
In reality, it was a pretty heads up play by Hamilton by allowing the puck to clear out off of his skate. And yes, there was a distinct kicking motion.
The Devils would make things interesting from there. At the 7:07 mark of the third, New Jersey was just coming off of a power play – with Gavrikov called for tripping Tomas Tatar at 5:06 of the period.
The Devils had numbers coming into the Columbus zone after Mercer was able to corral a loose puck just before the Blue Jackets blue line.
Sharangovich kind barreled towards Merzlikins’ net, giving space to Pavel Zacha, who took a feed from Mercer. Zacha was trailing and scored. Hamilton got the secondary and the Devils had cut the lead to 4-3.
Head coach Lindy Ruff would pull Daws with just over two-minutes to go in regulation for the sixth attacker.
When Gavrikov was called for high-sticking Mercer with less than a minute to go in the game, putting the Devils on the power play to finish the game, the Devils kept Daws out and were up two men.
But the Devils could not even the score. They kept the Jackets from scoring into the empty net, despite Columbus having a shooting gallery while killing Gavrikov’s penalty, but the Blue Jackets got the full two points out of the game.
The Devils outshot Columbus 33-31 but won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs. McLeod led all Devils regular centers with a 50-percent personal winning clip in the faceoff circle.
As a team, the Devils took 11 penalty minutes while the Blue Jackets accumulated 13. The Devils were badly out played physically, being outhit by a margin of 30 to five for the game. Columbus also had 24 blocked shots to the Devils’ six. Each team only had one team giveaway.
In terms of ice time, Severson led all Devils skaters with 23:27 of total ice time logged – which included 3:37 of power play time (which led the defensemen) and 2:34 of shorthanded time. Ryan Graves led in PK time with 3:32 on the penalty kill out of his 21:35 of total time.
Hughes led the forwards with 22:56 of total ice time (which included 3:37 of power play time and one second pf shorthanded time). Special teams-wise, Bastian led the forwards with 3:41 of power play time out of his 13:19 of total TOI. McLeod led the forwards in shorthanded time with 2:50 out of his 13:42 of total ice time for the night.
Hughes led in shots on goal with five. Hits were led by Andreas Johnsson, Bastian, Sharangovich, Tatar and White who each had one. Graves led in blocks with two. Personal giveaways were led by Sharangovich with one and personal takeaways by Jimmy Vesey with one.
Next up, the Devils come back east and travel to Manhattan to take on their arch-rival New York Rangers on Friday.
Puck drop for that one is 7 PM and the Devils television feed will be shown on MSG+. We will have coverage for that rivalry game for you following the conclusion on Friday.
See you then and enjoy the rest of your week everyone!