Devils Edged in Columbus as Jackets Take Second Half of Home-and-Home

The Devils completed their home-and-home series with the Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio tonight with a severely shorthanded lineup. Despite this, they were able to stay in the game until the end, but ultimately lost 4-3.

Roster issues to start with. Dougie Hamilton is still out for the foreseeable future with a broken jaw that he had successful surgery for last week. However, he was also added to the team’s COVID Protocol earlier today. He was not alone.

Hamilton, Yegor Sharangovich and Pavel Zacha (the latter two of which were already on the list) were joined on the COVID list by Nate Bastian, Mason Geertsen and Devils leading scorer Jesper Bratt.

Losing Bratt is obviously especially hard for the Devils to overcome. He and Jack Hughes had been rolling and this just completely kills momentum for them. Bratt was missing just his second game of the season.

Columbus saw the opposite end of the COVID list issue. They got defenseman Zach Werenski back out of Protocol, a player the Blue Jackets did not have for the game at New Jersey on Thursday.

With the chunk taken out of the Devils lineup, some creative changes were in store for fans. Forward AJ Greer and defenseman Colton White slotted into the lineup with Greer making his season debut with the Devils. They had been available on the Taxi Squad. The Devils would go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen which would lead to some mixing and matching along the way.

Dawson Mercer moved up to the first line, playing right wing with Jack Hughes centering and Tomas Tatar at left wing.

Greer played left wing on a line with Michael McLeod centering and Marian Studenic at right wing.

Goaltender Jon Gillies was the Devils’ lone healthy scratch.

And with that, the one place that things have stayed pretty consistent for the Devils has been in net. Mackenzie Blackwood made his sixth straight start tonight and made 30 saves off of Columbus’ 34 total shots. He finished the night with an .882 save percentage. He stopped the Jackets’ one shorthanded shot and four of their five power play shots. The Blue Jackets were 1-for-3 on the man advantage. At even strength, Blackwood stopped 25 of the Jackets’ 28 shots.

Joonas Korpisalo went for the Blue Jackets again tonight and was equal to 27 of the Devils’ 30 total shots he had thrown at him for a .900 save percentage on the game. This included saving both New Jersey shorthanded chances and all six of their power play shots. The Devils went 0-for-3 on the power play.  At five-on-five, he saved 19 of the Devils’ 22 shots.

The Jackets had a pregame ceremony tonight honoring Jakub Voracek, who played in his 1,000th NHL game against the Devils on Thursday at Prudential Center.

The Devils have also dropped their last five visits to Nationwide Arena – including their last trip there, January 18, 2020, a 5-0 Blue Jackets win. The Jackets were in the temporary Central Division last season and did not play the Devils.

The Blue Jackets wasted no time in getting on the board.

Just 42 seconds into the game, Damon Severson was called for a hook, which put the Jackets on the power play early.

And, though the Devils dodged this particular bullet at Prudential Center on Thursday, Oliver Bjorkstrand, who has become a true Devil killer, would put Columbus up in front.

It happened with 2:01 gone by in the first when Patrik Laine recovered a save made by Blackwood on Boone Jenner. Laine passed to Voracek (who had drawn the penalty in the first place) on the right side. He quickly moved it to Bjorkstrand at the left side of Blackwood’s net and Bjorkstrand tapped the pass in to make it 1-0 Columbus.

Jenner did not get a point out of that goal but would notch the Jackets’ second one. This came 2:02 after the Bjorkstrand goal and it was a weird one.

Jenner was behind the Devils net and threw it in front sort of out of desperation. Hughes was coming back, back checking through the slot and the puck deflected off of his right skate and in past Blackwood. Adam Boqvist (secondary) and Gustav Nyquist (primary) had the assists on the goal and it was now 2-0 Blue Jackets.

The Jackets had taken control of the early part of the period and jumped out to the quick 2-0 lead.

The Devils, however, would come roaring back at the end of the period and tie things before the intermission.

At the 14:41 mark, the Devils won the puck out of the far corner and Jimmy Vesey guided back to Severson at the point. Severson found Nico Hischier in the middle of the ice wide open. Nico’s shot snuck through Korpisalo’s arm and in as the Columbus goalie could not squeeze it and hold on. That cut the Jackets lead in half at 2-1.

And the Devils’ come back was in full force. With 20 seconds to go in the first, Vesey struck again. A Blue Jacket player knocked down a Devils pass and inadvertently kept the puck in his zone. Mercer grabbed it and passed through a seam to Vesey, who got off a quick shot that defected and changed direction on Korpisalo and went in. The Devils had tied the game up at two heading into the second period.

For Vesey, this was his first multi-point game since March 3, 2021 according to MSG+ and Steve Cangialosi. At that point, he was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and accomplished the feat at the Edmonton Oilers.

In a back-and-forth game, the momentum would shift right back to the Blue Jackets in the second period.

At 9:31 gone by in the new period, the Jackets dumped the puck into the Devils zone. It went into the near corner and Sean Kuraly, on the forecheck, hit the Devils’ defenseman hard, taking him off the puck and out of the play for a second. Kuraly then centered to Bellmawr, New Jersey-native Eric Robinson, who sept the puck towards Yegor Chinakhov, who then scored into the empty side of Blackwood’s cage to put the Jackets back in front 3-2.

The Devils would respond on this one, though, when Marian Studenic scored at the 13:32 mark. That one came when Jesper Boqvist cut up the right side and into the Blue Jackets zone. He shoveled it on net with a backhand with Studenic driving to the front of the net, fighting through a check. Studenic would hammer the puck home after one or two hacks at it. That would tie the game again, this time at three apiece.

The second period would end on a deflating note for the Devils.

While on the power play, with Max Domi having gone off for hooking Greer – a power play for the Devils that would finish out the second period and continue on to the third if the Devils did not score – Hischier had a chance stopped by Korpisalo as the Columbus goaltender made an amazing glove save on him, going right to left across his crease.

It was a great save and the Devils were visibly knocked out by it. Columbus would eventually kill the rest of the power play in the third.

They probably did not lose the game because of that save, but it sure did not help the Devils’ mentality for sure.

And then the dagger, brought down by, who else? Oliver Bjorkstrand.

With five minutes gone by in the third, the Devils won a faceoff deep in their defensive zone. The puck, however, instead of going back towards the corner, the Devils’ defense and safety, went forward to Adam Boqvist at the near point. Boqvist moved it to Voracek at the near half wall. Voracek quickly found a seam across to Bjorkstrand, set up at the far side of Blackwood’s net. Bjorkstrand blasted a shot that went in and made it 4-3 Blue Jackets.

With the puck being pushed forward off of the faceoff, the draw actually functioned as a faceoff win for Columbus for all intents and purposes, despite the Devils officially winning it.

The Devils would pull Blackwood with just about over two minutes remaining in regulation. They would fight hard but just could not get the equalizer and 4-3 was our final as the final horn (and cannon shot) fired.

It was another normal Devils-Blue Jackets game as Bjorkstrand ended up victimizing New Jersey with two goals in the end.

Columbus outshot the Devils 34 to 30. The Devils won 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod leading personally with a 52-percent win percentage.

Each team ended the game with six total penalty minutes while the Jackets outhit the Devils 24-13. Columbus also edged the Devils in blocked shots with ten to New Jersey’s nine. Team giveaways saw the Jackets with 12 while the Devils only registered one.

Severson led all Devils skaters with 26:42 of total ice time (which included 4:38 of power play time and 2:17 of shorthanded time). Ryan Graves led the defensemen in PK time with 3:25 of shorthanded time out of his 20:10 of total ice time. He also played 19 seconds on the power play.

Hughes led the forwards with 25:48 of total ice time – including 4:59 on the PP and eight seconds on the PK. Hischier led the forwards in penalty kill minutes with 2:42 out of his 21:35 of total time. He also played 3:57 on the man advantage.

Vesey led the Devils in points with two (one goal and one assist) as Jack Hughes’ point scoring streak ended at five games. He did not register a point tonight.

Hughes did lead the Devils in shots on goal with five. Defenseman Christian Jaros led the Devils in hits with three. Severson, Graves and Jonas Siegenthaler led in blocked shots with two each. Vesey had the Devils’ only giveaway with one to lead there while Janne Kuokkanen had two takeaways to lead in that category.

And with that, the Devils will try to get back to their winning ways while also hoping to get relatively healthy again next week.

This will be another tall order as their next game comes Monday at home in Newark against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM at Prudential Center and the game will be shown on MSG+.

We will have coverage of that game for you right here then. In the meantime, have a great end of the weekend everyone!

Devils Give Update on Injuries/Illnesses

The Devils updated fans on injuries and the team’s COVID list today on their official app.

According to Sam Kasan, forward Nico Hischier, who was out with a lower body injury for yesterday’s loss at Boston, “skated on his own Wednesday and could return to the lineup Thursday when New Jersey hosts Columbus.”

Kasan quoted head coach Lindy Ruff as saying that “Nico was back this morning. Skated lightly on his own. He’s going to participate in tomorrow’s morning skate. The likelihood is if things go well, he should play for us.”

Kasan also updated on the status of defenseman Dougie Hamilton. He said that Hamilton had surgery for his “broken jaw and will be out of the lineup indefinitely.”

According to Kasan, “Hamilton’s return will be dependent upon many factors and the team hopes to have an update sometime in the future.” Ruff noted that it everything “depends on the severity and type of procedure they have to do.”

Finally, Kasan mentioned goaltender Jonathan Bernier and his season-ending hip surgery. He mentioned that Bernier had dealt with the hip issue since training camp and, although he attempted to battle through things, he had “exhausted every option to recovery” and “surgery ended up being the final outcome.”

Ruff spoke on Bernier saying that the goalie knew his hip was not “quite right, to where he ended up needing to have surgery.” Ruff also mentioned that Bernier wanted “to make a difference” wanted “to help win hockey games. He really felt the injury was holding him back from making a difference in the game.”

Kasan mentioned that Ruff gave credit to Bernier trying to play “through pain and discomfort early in the season when the Devils really needed him with Mackenzie Blackwood out. Despite his best efforts, the hip prevented Bernier from playing at the level of his true ability.”

Ruff told Kasan that the hip is “a pretty important joint for a goaltender. When you look at some of the struggles he had, you can understand, playing with pain, playing with aggravation, the effect that can have on your game. It’s a physical effect, but mentally you have to battle through all of that.”

Kasan also reported that Ruff is out of NHL COVID protocols. The coach told him that he had been staying in contact with the team while watching at home through Zoom. Ruff also “was on headset with coaches during games and communicated at every aspect with his coaching staff.”

He told Kasan that he “experienced ‘minimal symptoms’” while in protocol.

He commended his team and coaching staff Alain Nasreddine – who took over “head coaching duties”, Mark Recchi (who worked with the forwards along with Nasreddine) and Chris Taylor, who was on the bench overseeing the defense during Ruff’s absence.

The Devils ended up winning in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers and the Washington Capitals before falling to the Boston Bruins last night in their games without Ruff behind the bench.

Kasan, in a separate article, also mentioned another return from COVID Protocol. Forward Jimmy Vesey practiced this afternoon with the club.

Vesey had missed four games while in protocol.

Vesey, Kasan is reporting, “expects to be in the lineup Thursday when the Devils host Columbus.” However, Kasan did mention that “the lack of conditioning and exercise due to the COVID restrictions were noticeable” when he returned to skate on Tuesday on his own.

Vesey told him “I tried to do some activity, but not much you can do. To be honest it didn’t feel great (Tuesday). It felt a lot better (Wednesday) with more bodies and structure to the skate. I actually felt good today and I think I’m good to go for tomorrow.”

Vesey “had no symptoms” according to the article by Kasan.

Vesey noted that while he missed five days, the team also “just had four days off for Christmas, so I’ve been off for quite a few days. That’s the biggest thing, physically feeling in game shape so to speak.”

Kasan said he will try to simplify things when he gets back in the lineup “while gauging how COVID and the time off effected his play.”

Vesey told him “I’ll definitely try to play simple tomorrow. There will be some rust. I’m sure my legs won’t feel great at certain points of the game. That’s just part of the process of getting back. It wasn’t like it was long-term absence. Hopefully it comes back quick.”