The New Jersey Devils tonight honored the man who brought the team to New Jersey and then proceeded to play a very strange game, falling 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Devils’ night started with a special ceremony to induct original team owner, Dr. John J. McMullen, the man who bought the Colorado Rockies and brought them east, as the first member of their new Ring of Honor.
It was a nice ceremony, with a video package narrated by former Devils broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick, appearances by Dr. McMullen’s family as well as Devils alumni. Those alumni included “Mr. Devil” Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver, current Maple Leafs president and former Devils’ player Brendan Shanahan, 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Claude Lemieux, Glenn “Chico” Resch, Stephane Richer, John MacLean, Randy McKay and Sergei Starikov – one of the first Soviet hockey players to play in the NHL, who was signed by Dr. McMullen. Also present was former Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, now GM of the Maple Leafs. After everyone was introduced, dignitaries from the City of Newark and the Devils, as well as Devils’ all-time leading scorer, Patrik Elias, dedicated a stretch of Lafayette Street near the Prudential Center as “Dr. John J. McMullen Way,” presenting a road sign to the late owner’s wife, Jacqueline and son, Peter.
After that, the in-arena dedication of a mural was unveiled in section 103 of the Prudential Center. This will serve as the actual “Ring of Honor” where McMullen’s name will live on. Following that, the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri and the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk took the ceremonial faceoff. This was significant since both men grew up in, and played their youth hockey in, New Jersey: Palmieri in Montvale and van Riemsdyk in Middletown.
After all of the pomp and circumstance was over, there was still a game to be played. The Devils would wear their white uniforms, as those were originally their home unis and what they were wearing when they clinched their first Stanley Cup in 1995 against the Red Wings at Brendan Byrne Arena. They also wore a small red, white and green patch in honor of Dr. McMullen, combining the logo of the Colorado Rockies and the Devils in the original Devils’ colors.
And that game would be the first time in 350 that would be played without Andy Greene. The Devils captain is out with what the team is calling an “upper body injury.” He left the ice in the first period in Carolina on Tuesday, clutching at what seemed to be his eye, but it turned out that it may have been a wrist injury.
So due to that turn of events, Seth Helgeson was called up from Albany to fill in on the blue line. Also scratched for New Jersey were Jacob Josefson and Luke Gazdic. Sitting for Toronto were Frank Corrado and Josh Leivo.
The goaltending matchup saw Cory Schneider start for the Devils. He was starting his third straight game, but only faced five shots, giving up three goals (including a puck handling gaffe on the power play that led directly to a Maple Leaf goal) before being pulled in favor of Keith Kinkaid who stopped eight of nine shots. In net for Toronto was Frederik Andersen. The Devils assaulted him with 32 shots on goal, but he was equal to 30 of them in being named the game’s first star.
The Leafs came out flying in the first period, scoring three different ways. First, Nazem Kadri scored on the power play at 9:26 after Jon Merrill was whistled for boarding. Kadri’s goal was assisted by Tyler Bozak and van Riemsdyk.
At 11:28, Toronto’s Mitchell Marner was called for hooking and the Devils were on the power play. The puck would be played back into the Devils’ zone and, eventually, to Schneider. Cory fumbled the puck and the Leafs’ Connor Brown jumped on it, putting it behind Schneider unassisted at 13:17. The shorthanded goal was a rare miscue from Cory, who has been getting steadily better at handling the puck. It was now 2-0 Maple Leafs.
Just 1:23 later, Maple Leaf super rookie Auston Matthews scored his 21st of the season from Zack Hyman and Jake Gardiner. That was when Devils coach John Hynes had seen enough and pulled Cory in favor of Keith Kinkaid.
But Toronto was not done with their onslaught. The first shot Kinkaid faced, from Tyler Bozak at the 15:15 mark of the first period, found twine and it was 4-0 Maple Leafs. Van Riemsdyk and Kadri had the assists. That one was a power play goal, as Kyle Quincey was serving a roughing minor.
Any Devils fan in the stands or watching at home could only assume that it would only get better from there. And it did. The Devils had numerous scoring chances in the second and early in the third periods, but missed all of them. It did not help that they went 1-for-4 on the power play while Toronto converted on two of three power play chances.
The Devils finally found life late in the third period when Toronto’s Roman Polak was called for hooking Sergey Kalinin. With him in the box, Michael Cammalleri dished from the near corner to Adam Henrique at the right point. He fired and PA Parenteau gathered the rebound, was stopped and then buried his own rebound for his 12th goal of the year to make it 4-1, Toronto. That goal came at the 16:36 mark of the third.
At the 17:31 mark, Devante Smith-Pelly broke the Devils out of their zone, giving the puck to Miles Wood. Wood gave to Jon Merrill, who shot, missed the net, gathered his own rebound behind the Toronto net and scored on a wraparound to make it 4-2.
The Devils would pull Kinkaid, trying to finish the rally, but it was not to be. Time ran out and the Devils’ brief win streak was halted.
But it is a quick turnaround for the Devils, as they cannot dwell on this loss. Adam Larsson and the Edmonton Oilers come to town on Saturday night. It will be Taylor Hall’s first shot at his former teammates. Hall was very upset with the Oilers trading him last summer. Can revenge be a motivating factor in Saturday’s game? We will find out Saturday night.