Devils Come Back, Beat Flyers in Shootout

Taylor Hall had two goals versus the Flyers. His second came after missing 16 minutes of the second period. Photo:

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.

Drew Stafford had the GWG in the shootout. Photo:

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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Devils Fall to High Powered Caps

The Metropolitan Division still runs through Washington, DC. Despite the Devils great play recently, they will still need to be able to beat Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and the Washington Capitals if they want to be considered real contenders.

Unfortunately, last night they were unable to get that done. Ovechkin had three assists, Backstrom had two assists and a goal and John Carlson had a goal and two assists as the Caps beat the Devils 5-2 at Capital One Arena. The Devils’ second half of the season will feature more and more Eastern Conference, and especially, Metro Division opponents, so they need to get things going now if they are going to stay in contention. The loss last night put the Capitals ahead of the Devils by one point into first place in the Metro.

A trade to talk about before we get to the game, as the Devils sent Dalton Prout to the Calgary Flames in exchange for goalie Eddie Lack. Prout will report to the Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, while Lack will report to Binghamton. A good move to trade Prout, as he was just not getting playing time with the Devils, a more speedy skill team now. This move will allow him to get some playing time while getting back a veteran goaltender for the Devils. Prout had cleared waivers on Friday and had been sent down to Binghamton. Good luck to him and I hope he gets some playing time with Calgary.

As for last night for the Devils, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford were the healthy scratches.

Marcus Johansson was making his return to Washington last night, his first such regular season trip (he played them there in the preseason and one regular season game against them in New Jersey). He got the special video tribute treatment and a standing ovation by the Washington crowd. One other milestone is that Travis Zajac played in his 800th National Hockey League game (all with the Devils) last night. Congrats to him.

In the nets, Cory Schneider was making his ninth straight start for the Devils. Coach John Hynes said that they went back to him basically because Cory is playing well, did not see much work against Buffalo and it was an important game for the Devils, as well. Cory has all the confidence of the coaching staff and is back to being the team’s workhorse. He made 30 saves on 34 shots faced. Braden Holtby, who has been one of the top goaltenders in the league for the past four or five years, including winning a Vezina Trophy, went for Washington and made 25 saves on 27 shots against.

Tom Wilson got the scoring off to a start just 2:26 into the game, getting assists from Christian Djoos (who pronounces his name as “juice”) and Jersey-native John Carlson. Washington quickly took the 1-0 lead.

They would go up by a deuce when Djoos scored at 11:09 of the first from Backstrom and Ovechkin. The Devils were not out of the first period yet and were in a bit of a hole.

But John Moore cut that lead in half at 17:35 of the first when he pushed the puck deep in the Caps’ zone, giving it to Johansson behind the Washington net. The former Cap gave it to Zajac, who found Moore setting up at the far faceoff circle. He passed across to him and Moore snuck it between the pipe and Holtby’s left arm, making the score 2-1.

The Capitals would retake the two goal lead at 7:01 of the second period when Carlson, from Colonia, New Jersey (who grew up a Scott Stevens and Devils fan) scored from Backstrom and Ovechkin on the power play. It was set up by Pavel Zacha taking a holding penalty against Djoos. The Caps’ power play on the night was 1-for-2 with four shots while the Devils were 0-for-2 with a pair of shots.

Some controversy on the Capitals’ fourth goal, which came at 4:25 into the third period. Matt Niskanen scored that from former Devil Devante Smith-Pelly and Ovechkin, but replays would show that the Capitals had six men on the ice. How four officials all missed that is anyone’s guess, but the goal counted and Washington had the 4-1 lead.

The Devils would get one back when Zajac scored at the 9:00 mark of the third. It came when the Devils got the puck down low and Sami Vatanen eventually got it at the near half wall. His pass rebounded off of a Capitals player’s skate right to Johansson. He found Zajac on the near side of the net and he just shoveled it in to make it 4-2 Caps.

Unfortunately, Backstrom would put the game away at 19:19 of the third, making it 5-2 and finishing the Devils off. He got a lone assist from Carlson on that goal.

So with that, the Capitals move slightly ahead of the Devils into first place in the Metropolitan Division with 51 points. The Devils fall to second with 50 points. The Devils also become the lastest team to get to double digit losses. Now only Tampa Bay and Vegas remain with less than 10 losses.

And now the Devils are done with the 2017 calendar year, their next game coming in 2018, on Tuesday at the St. Louis Blues. This will be yet another test for the Devils and hopefully they can get back on a winning track. The Devils will just need to shake the loss in Washington off and move on. Hopefully they are able to shake the Capitals buggaboo at some point before the playoffs start.

Happy New Year everyone and here’s to a very happy and healthy 2018!