Drew Stafford will be back for next season with the Devils. But only if he makes it out of training camp. The 32-year-old right winger today agreed to a professional try out (PTO) with the Devils and has been invited to training camp.
Stafford did not exactly set the world on fire last season with the Devils. He had eight goals and seven assists (15 points) over 59 games in 2017-18. He played in two games of the Devils’ five game loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the playoffs as well.
According to the press release on the matter, the Devils initially signed him to a one-year, one-way contract on August 25, 2017. He was a free agent following this past season.
He has played in a total of 784 games at the NHL level with the Sabres, Jets, Bruins and Devils. The press release notes his career totals as 191 goals and 224 assists for 415 points to go along with 397 penalty minutes.
While some fans might not be happy with this, feeling that Stafford is done as an NHL player, you never know what you are going to get with a PTO. He could conceivably have something left in the tank and last year could have been an aberration. But you take a flyer on someone and if he makes the team, that means he showed management something. Otherwise, he does not make the team and likely retires. We will find out when training camp kicks off next week.
The Devils needed this, no doubt about it. They came into Philadelphia on a four game winless streak, were victimized (again) by a rough call in the Boston game (the second Bruins’ goal – late in the first period – that may or may not have crossed the goal line) and were taking on a hot divisional opponent. The Flyers were winners of four straight and 20 of their last 30.
But the Devils, who did play well against the Bruins on Sunday, had some fight in them and were able to come back from being down a couple of times, including by two goals twice, to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat in a shootout, winning 5-4.
Some injury news for the Devils. First, Cory Schneider has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to January 23 with a groin/hip issue. He will resume skating next week, but will not be available for this stretch of games. Brian Boyle (shoulder) and John Quenneville (knee) are also out. Nick Lappin was called up from Binghamton as a result of the injuries. Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch for New Jersey while John Moore slotted back in on defense.
The Flyers were without their starting goalie as Brian Elliott had surgery on an injured core muscle and will miss a few weeks. The goaltending woes continue for Philadelphia. Michal Neuvirth got the start for them, making 32 saves on 36 shots and grabbing one of two shots in the shootout.
The Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid after the debacle in Columbus last weekend. He would stop 31 of 35 and get all three Flyers attempts in the shootout. He played well, coming up big at key times in the third period and overtime.
One other item of note for the Devils was that the NHL awarded Taylor Hall an assist on the lone Devil goal from Saturday in Columbus. That meant that his point streak was intact, putting him at 14 games coming into tonight. He would extend that further.
The Devils got behind the eight-ball early once again in a Keith Kinkaid start when Travis Konecny scored from Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere at 1:54 into the game. The goal was scored on a partial breakaway following a nice tape-to-tape backhand pass from Giroux. It would remain 1-0 Flyers for more than twenty minutes, as the score held up into the intermission and then the Devils would get on the board 4:06 into the second.
Taylor Hall had hit the post twice in the first period and things did not seem to be going his way tonight. This was soon to change.
The goal came when Sami Vatanen hit Hall with a pass through the neutral zone. Hall sped into the Philly zone and skated behind the goal line. He fired a shot that bounced in off of Neuvirth’s backside and in. There was initially no referee signal on the play, and they would review it, but Toronto said that the goal was good and it was 1-1. Hall was hit hard by Radko Gudas behind the net after the goal went in. Hall mentioned in the postgame that the hit was clean, Gudas was just finishing his check and as he (Hall) fell back, his head it the boards and Hall lost his helmet.
Hall would leave the game for 16 minutes in the second period, going off for concussion protocol. Once he was deemed OK, he would return for the third period to play a huge role.
In the meantime, the Flyers would score the next two goals to take their first two goal lead of the night. Scott Laughton scored at 4:49 of the second to make it 2-1. He got assists from Michael Raffl and Andrew MacDonald. Gudas would score at 10:36 from Valtteri Filppula and Dale Weise to make it 3-1.
Following the third Philadelphia goal, a scary moment as Miles Wood took a slash to the foot and seemed to be injured. He was not and continued on.
The Devils would start chopping away at the Flyer lead beginning at 13:17 of the second when John Moore scored just after a power play had expired to make it 3-2. It came when Travis Zajac skated the puck from down low along the near boards. He gave to Moore at the near point as he was coming up. Moore fired a slap shot that found its way into the net with Lappin providing a screen in front.
Following that goal, Giroux would put the Flyers back up on top by two. His power play goal at 15:59 from Jakub Voracek and Gostisbehere would make it 4-2. Zajac was serving a cross checking penalty to setup the power play. Overall, The Flyers were 1-for-5 on the man advantage with four shots while the Devils were 0-for-3 with three shots.
The Devils would cut the lead to one before the end of the period when Nico Hischier scored at 16:09 of the second. It came when Nico grabbed a Philly turnover in the neutral zone and broke in with Jesper Bratt on a 2-on-1. They played give-and-go and Nico finished by beating Neuvirth over the glove side to make it 4-3, Flyers. It was a beautiful goal and had the Devils feeling good about themselves heading into the final minutes of the period.
Then a setback. As has become requisite for a Devils game: controversy. Travis Zajac was hit with a Flyer high stick and was bleeding from the mouth. That would usually net a high sticking minor at least, a double minor because there was blood. Instead, both referees somehow missed the play and no call was made. Never before, it seems, has a team been this affected by bad officiating as the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils.
But the Devils pushed on. They had numerous chances to tie things up throughout the third period but could not execute. Keith Kinkaid was pulled with about 1:30 left in the game for the extra attacker and it would pay off.
At the 18:39 mark of the third, Hall would net his second of the game, making his grand comeback, to tie things up at four and force an overtime period. It developed when Zajac won a faceoff deep in the Philly zone. He won it to Will Butcher, who went low with it and gave to Hall behind the goal line. Hall centered to Hischier, who shot. Neuvirth made the save, but left the rebound just to his right and Hall jumped on it, firing it home to tie the game with 1:21 left in the game.
It was a nice play, Hall’s team-leading 23rd goal of the year. The Devils were able to weather a final onslaught from Philly to go to OT, gaining at least a point in a game that seemed at times to be all but lost. Once in the extra session, the Flyers pushed the play, keeping control of the puck and not giving the Devils much possession time. That is where Kinkaid came in, as he stoned the Flyers on a few plays, closing the door and forcing a shootout once time expired in the OT.
Jordan Weal went first for the Flyers and was stopped by Kinkaid. Kyle Palmieri missed for the Devils to complete the first round. In the second round, Konecny was stopped by Kinkaid and Drew Stafford scored for the Devils. This made Voracek’s try on Kinkaid crucial to keep the game going for Philadelphia. Kinkaid stopped him and the Devils came away with the two points. It was New Jersey’s 28th win of the year, equaling their output from last season.
Stat wise, Hall led in shots by a large margin with seven, despite missing most of the second period, which proves his impact as a player for the Devils. Vatanen led in time on ice with 27:53, Moore led in hits with three, Andy Greene led the pace in blocks with five and Zajac had the most takeaways with three. The Devils won 48-percent of faceoffs.
Next up, the Devils return home on Thursday for another key divisional matchup, this time with the suddenly-surging Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils have yet to see the Canes this season and will be looking to take another two points in a big Metro Division showdown.
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