Devils Get Three Players Back from COVID List

Going once again to Sam Kasan reporting for the “Inside the Devils Blog,” the Devils got three players back today from the COVID Protocol list: goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood and forwards Mason Geertsen and Janne Kuokkanen.

With that, Kasan points out, the Devils are beginning to get a full roster of healthy players for the first time in about five weeks.

Kasan noted that the three players released from COVID Protocol “rejoined the club for practice on Monday afternoon at Prudential Center.”

It should be mentioned that, as per Kasan, these players did not have “particularly bad symptoms to their illness” and were “mostly dealing with boredom.”

The thing that really stands out is that the players were out of commission for a little over a week and could only condition through body-weight exercises. Kasan then relayed how being “tossed back into practice can be jolting” for the players who were out.

Blackwood said “It felt more like a training camp day for me, getting my wind back, my legs back. It didn’t get me like it did last time. I feel like I’ll be good to go.”

Blackwood had battled COVID in January of last year as well.

Geertsen added “I was a little bit stiff. I made sure to do a little extra in warmup to make sure I was bit limber and ready to go. I was breathing hard in the drills, but it felt good.” He continued, “I feel like I’m good to go. I was a little rusty (Monday). (Tuesday) will be another tune up and if they call me on Wednesday, I’ll be ready to rock.”

Kasan said that the Devils had 17 players on the NHL roster having tested positive for COVID throughout the season.

Devils Outlast Oilers in Crazy New Year’s Eve OT Thriller

Well, you stick around long enough and you’re bound to see everything eventually, I guess.

In a nutty one at Prudential Center to end the 2021 calendar year, the Devils won, no survived is probably the better word, the Edmonton Oilers to take an overtime win 6-5 and string together a two-game winning streak.

The game started with the announcement that head coach Lindy Ruff tested positive for COVID this morning – just about an hour before game time – and would be replaced behind the bench by assistant coach Alain Nasreddine for the game. Assistant coach Chris Taylor came down from the press box and behind the bench to coach the defense.

MSG+ pregame host Erika Wachter reported that Ruff may have been able to stay at the building in a private room to communicate with the coaching staff on the bench.

Other than that, no changes to the lineup occurred. Goaltender Jon Gillies remains in COVID Protocol and Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches.

In goal, the Devils were back to Mackenzie Blackwood, who they are going to have to lean on going forward with the turmoil and injuries/illnesses that they have endured with the goaltending this season.

Blackwood made 32 saves on 37 total Edmonton shots for an .865 save percentage on the afternoon. He stopped both Oiler power play shots as the Devils were able to hold the high-powered Edmonton power play unit to 0-for-1 on the day. He stopped 30 of the Oilers 35 shots at even strength.

For the Oilers, Mike Smith (who just came back from an ankle injury and played his first game of the season last week in St. Louis) made 35 saves on 41 total Devils shots for an afternoon save percentage of .854. He was equal to three of the Devils’ four power play shots – New Jersey was 1-for-2 on the man advantage – and made 32 saves on 37 Devils shots at five-versus-five.

Of note in this game was Michael McLeod facing his younger brother Ryan for the first time in the NHL. The two were teammates in the Ontario Hockey League for two years with their hometown Mississauga Steelheads. Their parents were in attendance, one wearing an Oilers jersey and Devils cap and the other in a Devils jersey and an Oilers cap.

Things began with a bang in this game.

Just 1:27 into the contest, Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi was called for holding Marian Studenic putting the Devils on their first power play of the afternoon very early.

It would only take 11 seconds for Jack Hughes to respond.

Jesper Bratt got the puck from Nate Bastian down low. Bratt passed to Dougie Hamilton up high at the point. Hamilton made a pass to Hughes at the near faceoff circle, setting him up for a one-timer. Jack blasted a shot by Smith with Bastian providing the screen in front of the Oilers goalie to make it 1-0 New Jersey very quickly.

But in a sign of things to come, that lead would not last.

Exactly 1:10 later, Ryan McLeod would cut into the Devils zone and play give-and-go with Connor McDavid. McDavid went backdoor and took the puck back, scoring on Blackwood to tie the game at one. Cody Ceci had the secondary assist.

However, 17 seconds after the McDavid goal, Nico Hischier would give the Devils back the lead.

A Jesper Boqvist shot took a bounce towards Hischier, who was at the near side of the Edmonton net. Nico just threw the puck on net and Smith could not find the shot. The puck bounced off of his back as he kind of flailed at it and ended up pushing it over the goal line to make it 2-1 Devils. Ryan Graves had the secondary assist on the goal.

We had only played 3:05 of total elapsed time and the Devils now led 2-1. And things were not done yet.

The Oilers tied the game again at the 6:00 mark when the Devils turned the puck over in their own zone to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins got it to Slater Koekkoek, who quickly got a shot on the Devils net. Kailer Yamamoto was cruising through the front of the crease and tipped Koekkoek’s shot past Blackwood to make it 2-2.

And still the scoring in the first period wasn’t done!

The Devils retook the lead beginning on a good defensive play by Jonas SIegenthaler in his own end. A well-timed poke jarred the puck loose from an Edmonton puck carrier to Damon Severson. Severson moved it to Andreas Johnsson, who hit Dawson Mercer with a beautiful saucer pass as Mercer was cutting behind the Oilers’ defense. Mercer got into the Edmonton zone alone and finished the play with a shot that trickled between Smith’s arm and the far post to make it 3-2 Devils at 11:10 gone by.

So, for those keeping score at home, by the time we got to the first intermission, the Devils had a 3-2 lead and nine different Devils players had recorded a point.

After all of that, the second period saw just one goal scored 7:57 into the frame on a play only an elite player like Connor McDavid could properly execute.

The Devils got caught in full change at that time as the unit on the ice was caught in a long shift. McDavid, knowing that it was the second period – the period of the long change for the Devils – was able to time himself getting on the ice from the bench so that he was alone behind the play at the moment the Devils changed. Duncan Keith made a long pass to him through the middle and McDavid split the Devils’ defense and walked in alone on Blackwood. There was no stopping him and he scored to the game at three. Yamamoto had the secondary assist.

As MSG+ analyst Bryce Salvador, who pointed all of this out after he reviewed the tape at the intermission, said, there was just nothing the Devils could do except throw their hands up at that one. McDavid simply beat them and they were too tired to do much about it.

And this took us to the final period as the combatants tried to get things settled.

The Devils found themselves back in front 5:14 into the third period off of another nice one.

Mercer hit Johnsson with a long pass at the left-wing boards. Johnsson gained the Oilers zone and found a trailing Janne Kuokkanen, who fired a shot and roofed the puck by Smith to make it 4-3 Devils.

A scary moment following that goal, however, when Hamilton blocked a Yamamoto one-timer and left the ice gingerly as it hit his foot in an unprotected place. He was okay and would return.

The tide turned once again at the 7:06 mark of the third when Ryan McLeod got into the Devils zone and chipped the puck towards the far corner through a Devils defender’s feet. He recovered the puck in the corner himself and made a nice centering pass to Devin Shore, who was in front and chipped the pass by Blackwood to tie the game again, this time at four. William Lagesson had the secondary assist.

Then, the game defining goal.

Just before the 8:18 mark of the third, a delayed tripping penalty was called on Graves in front of the Devils net. Almost immediately, Hamilton, as he was falling down, kind of swept the puck towards the blue line. It was kept in and Keith got it to Leon Draisaitl down low.

As the puck was going to Draisaitl, Hughes kind of briefly got a stick on the pass to him. Again, no whistle to stop play.

The Devils, however, had a collective brain fart and assumed that the whistle would blow there.

When it did not, Draisaitl got the puck and made a pass to Yamamoto cutting backdoor. With no one picking him up, he simply tapped the puck into the Devils cage for the go-ahead goal to make it 5-4 Oilers.

New Jersey argued that the play should have been whistled when Hamilton touched the puck following the referee’s arm initially going up for the delayed penalty. Eventually, Nasreddine decided to use his coach’s challenge to review if Hamilton had complete control of the puck at that point and if play should have been dead then.

The reasoning was that the Devils were going on the penalty kill either way. Either on the Graves penalty or the failed challenge.

After about a five-minute review by referees Francois St. Laurent and Dean Morton, the decision came down: there was no decision.

The Devils actually could not challenge the play because it was a call that could not be challenged! The NHL clarified that the only way the Devils could have challenged a touch up on a delayed penalty was if they were the offensive team in the Oilers zone. Since they were the defending team, there could be no challenge.

Strange, but true!

Because of all this, the Oiler goal counted and the Devils would not go on the PK. The delayed penalty on Graves was negated when the Yamamoto goal was scored and, since the Devils could not actually challenge, they could not get the challenge wrong and there was no delay of game if they were wrong.

And the game was still not done!

The Oilers now had a 5-4 lead and the Devils pulled Blackwood with just over a minute to play in regulation.

With 32 seconds to go, the Devils would score their fourth goal this season with the goalie pulled.

It came when Hischier won a faceoff deep in the Edmonton zone and Hughes nudged the puck to Hamilton at the point.

He got a shot on net that Yegor Sharangovich redirected past Smith and in to tie the game at five goals each.

The Devils had fought back from adversity to tie the game and force overtime. Therefore, we were still not done!

It was the Devils’ fourth OT game of the year as they came in at 2-1 and the Oilers’ second (1-0).

At the 2:55 mark, Jesper Bratt got the puck out of the near corner and skated it up top towards Hughes at the blue line. Bratt dished to Hughes and Jack took a few strides, moving to the top of the near faceoff circle.

Hughes stepped up and shot, handcuffing Smith, who fell backwards, and the puck trickled by him and in. For Hughes, his second OT winner of the season and his second straight three-point game. Damon Severson had the secondary assist.

And with that 6-5 win, the Devils had strung together a two-game winning streak for their first win streak since early November.

Whew! Deep breath.

The Devils outshot Edmonton 41-37. The Oilers won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs with New Jersey taking 45-percent of the draws. Sharangovich won 75-percent of his personal faceoffs to lead the Devils centers.

The Oilers had four total team penalty minutes while the Devils only logged two. Both teams finished with 16 hits. The Devils had one more blocked shot at 16 to the Oilers’ 15. The Devils had more team giveaways at 13 to Edmonton’s six.

Severson led all Devils skaters in total time on ice with 26:19 (23 seconds on the power play and 1:07 on the PK included). Hughes led the forwards with 19:40 of total ice time (which included 1:48 on the PP). Kuokkanen led the forwards in shorthanded time with 1:10 logged out of his 15:32 of total ice time.

Six Devils had multi-point games with Hughes and his two goals and one assist for three points leading the way.

Hughes also led in shots on goal with seven. Bastian and Severson led in hits with three each. Blocks were led by Hughes, Hamilton, Graves and Siegenthaler with two each. Pavel Zacha and Hughes each had two giveaways to lead in that category while Severson led in takeaways with three.

And with that, we will finally wrap things up and tell you that the Devils’ next game is on Sunday when they travel down to DC to take on the Capitals in a 3 PM matinee.

This game – the Devils’ first in the 2022 calendar year – will be televised on MSG+ and will see the Devils try to string three wins together against improbable odds.

We will have coverage for you right here on Sunday afternoon and, in the meantime, have a great new year everyone!