Shero Out; Devils End Tampa Win Streak

Wow. What a day and a half for the New Jersey Devils.

Hot on the heels of defeating the top team in the league, the Washington Capitals, the Devils were set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, easily the hottest team in the league with a ten-game winning streak.

Then, about an hour before game time, word came down that the Devils and General Manager Ray Shero had parted ways. Josh Harris of the Devils’ ownership group, stated in a press conference before the game on MSG Network that there was a difference of philosophy basically on how the Devils should handle the upcoming trade deadline.

Shero was let go and Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald would step in as interim General Manager with Martin Brodeur acting as an adviser for hockey operations to Fitzgerald. Brodeur had previously served as Assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues and was most recently the Devils’ executive vice president of business development.

Devils managing partner Josh Harris said that he and Ray “are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team.” He also said that the “organization remains deeply committed to creating a sustainably winning franchise.”

The Devils currently stand in last place in the Metro Division with a 17-21-7 record (as of tonight’s game) with 41 points. Over Shero’s five seasons in charge of the Devils, the team posted a record of 157-167-48 and had one playoff appearance. Not a knock on Shero at all, of course, the team was a mess when he took over. He made some moves to improve the team, no doubt. If you had told me before the season that all three of Shero, John Hynes and Taylor Hall would be gone before the All-Star break, I would not have believed you at all.

“Our fans deserve nothing but the best hockey. We thank them for their continued support as we work toward our goals” said Harris. These goals include a search for a new GM, which will be commencing immediately and will include Fitzgerald being interviewed.

Oh yeah, and following all of this turmoil, all the Devils needed to do was take down the Lightning, one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference and winners of 10 straight.

There was one small other news item that slipped past with the news of Shero’s departure. Cory Schneider, last seen in the NHL losing to the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, made his return from the American Hockey League. He was called up from Binghamton and backed up starter Louis Domingue – making back-to-back starts for the first time as a Devil – with Evan Cormier being sent back to the AHL.

So, how did the Devils fare after all of this? They won, 3-1, handing Tampa their first loss in 11 games tonight at the Prudential Center.

The Devils did get some good news prior to the game. Jack Hughes came back after five games out with an upper body injury. It was his first game of the 2020 calendar year, as he got hurt on New Year’s Eve against the Bruins.

They were, however, subtracting someone from the lineup. Leading goal scorer Kyle Palmieri was out with a lower body injury as he got hurt blocking a shot last night in Washington. He joined Mackenzie Blackwood on the sidelines and Mirco Mueller was the healthy scratch with Connor Carrick back in again.

The goalie matchup, as mentioned, featured Domingue, a former Bolt traded to the Devils earlier this season – making a back-to-back start and he was great again, making 26 saves on 27 Tampa shots for a .963 save percentage. Opposing him was Tampa backup Curtis McElhinney, who stopped 17 of the 19 shots he saw for an .895 save percentage. The Devils ended up with 20 shots due to an empty net goal later on in the game.

The game started out feisty. At the 9:33 mark of the first period, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov hit Jesper Boqvist from behind and Kevin Rooney took exception. He was taken down by Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli, who administered a few rabbit punches to the head of Rooney while he was down on the ice. Cirelli went off for roughing, but things would stay chippy all night.

On the power play, the Devils went 0-for-4 with ten shots. They also held the vaunted Lightning power play to 0-for-2 with just three shots.

Things started out normal enough. Tampa got on the board first just 37 seconds into the second after a scoreless first period. It happened when New Jersey could not get the puck out of their own end and Victor Hedman passed to Tyler Johnson on Domingue’s doorstep. He scored the 15th goal of Tampa’s ten-game winning streak. But it would also be the last.

Later on, at the 3:10 mark of the second, Andy Greene scored his first goal of the year when Miles Wood dropped the puck to Greene just as he was entering the Tampa zone. He ripped a slap shot that beat McElhinney clean and ended the shutout streak the Lightning had going at 169:05. That tied the game up at one. Hughes had the secondary assist on the goal.

The game-winner for the Devils came a little less than four minutes after Greene’s goal when Nikita Gusev took a pass from Damon Severson, then faked passing back to him. He instead shot quickly on net and Travis Zajac tipped the shot by McElhinney to give the Devils the 2-1 lead.

Late in the second, with a little over a minute left, Yanni Gourde and Carrick got into a scrap. It was a spirited fight and saw both players fall to the ice in a draw.

The third period seemed to yield a third goal early for the Devils when, with 8:21 left, Gusev made a great move around Cirelli, had him fall down and skated around him to put the puck in the net behind McElhinney.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper then used his coach’s challenge, arguing goalie interference from Blake Coleman. While initially, it seemed that Cirelli had fallen into McElhinney when Gusev beat him, it was actually Coleman that impeded the Tampa goaltender from making the save and the goal was called back after review.

The Lighting pulled McElhinney with 2:19 left in regulation and the Devils took their aim at the empty net, complete with Zajac skating down the rink, nullifying icing and trying to wrap the puck around and into the net. Unfortunately for him, Coleman and Lightning player tangled together and tumbled into the net, dislodging it before Zajac could score.

Miles Wood would eventually get the empty net goal with one second to go in the game for New Jersey, marking the second straight game where Wood has scored into an empty net. Wayne Simmonds and Greene had the assists, marking two points for Andy Greene on the night. Wood also had a goal and an assist for two points on the evening.

That made it 3-1 with two of the Devils’ oldest veterans combining to score the most important goals that would sink Tampa.

The Devils dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61-percent of the game’s draws, with Pavel Zacha winning 75-percent of the faceoffs he took.

The Bolts outhit the Devils, 23-19, but the Devils had more blocked shots at 14-12 and only two turnovers to Tampa’s six.

Individually, PK Subban led all Devils skaters in ice time with 26:03 with 5:45 on the power play and 1:51 on the PK. Zacha led the forwards with 19:52 including 5:15 on the power play and 1:03 shorthanded.

Shots on goal were spread pretty evenly with Nico Hischier, Zajac, Wood, Hughes, Gusev, Will Butcher, Severson and Subban all registering two to co-lead. Coleman once again led in hits with four. Kevin Rooney and Greene each led in blocks with four each. Takeaways were co-led by Hischier, Zacha and Sami Vatanen who had one apiece.

Greene was the third star, Zajac the second and Domingue the first on the night.

So the Devils will try to go for the trifecta, defeating another highly offensive team in the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday north of the border. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM and we will have a write up for you right here when the game is done.

Devils Put Forth Great Effort, Beat Caps 5-1

So, show of hands. Who expected them to beat the top team in the league? The Devils put forth a complete effort – one of their best of the year – and got timely goaltending from Louis Domingue in the nation’s capital to defeat the Caps 5-1.

This comes off of the heels of a horrible outing in Manhattan where the Devils were killed by the Rangers on Thursday.

First off, a scoring change from that game against the Rangers. On the second Devils goal that was reviewed and originally credited to Blake Coleman, that has been changed and given to Damon Severson. Also, Travis Zajac was awarded the secondary assist on the goal. The NHL announced the scoring change about an hour following the end of the game on Thursday.

Some injury news as Mackenzie Blackwood was out tonight with an upper body injury. Evan Cormier was recalled from AHL Binghamton to back up Domingue. Ben Street was also place on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday with an upper body injury. Jack Hughes remained out and did not make the trip to Washington. He is progressing according to MSG Network’s Erika Wachter. Mirco Mueller was also a healthy scratch with Connor Carrick slotting in on defense for the Devils. The Devils also got Jesper Bratt back from injury up front. He basically slotted in for Street and played on the top line with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri.

As mentioned, Louis Domingue started for the Devils and he was brilliant tonight. He was looking for his first win since November 23 (at home against Detroit) and his first win in Washington since December 29, 2016. That was a streak that, according to MSG Network, encompassed five games.

And he got it, making 33 saves on 34 Capitals shots for a .971 save percentage. Opposing him was NHL All-Star Braden Holtby, who stopped 17 of 21 for an .810 save percentage on the night.

The Caps were in their throwback uniforms and the crowd was pumped, but the Devils killed that enthusiasm off early when Hischier scored 5:27 into the game. It came when Nico came rushing up the left-wing boards and made a power move to cut towards the Washington net. He then got a shot off that kind of fluttered through Holtby’s five-hole to make it 1-0 Devils. Will Butcher and Carrick had the assists.

The second period featured a flurry of goals from both teams, but began with Coleman hitting the post early in the period. Nikita Gusev did hit the back of the net 3:28 into the frame when he made it 2-0 Devils. It came right after a Devils power play ended and saw Butcher take a drop pass from Wayne Simmonds inside the Caps’ zone. Butcher then threw a quick wrister from the top of the far faceoff circle on net and Holtby made the save, but gave up a huge rebound that came right to Gusev at the near side of the net and he shoveled it into the wide-open net as Holtby tried to get across his crease to score.

At the 6:17 mark of the second, Miles Wood took a double minor for high-sticking, putting the Caps’ dangerous power play on for four minutes.

However, it started out nicely for the Devils when Andy Greene poked the puck up to Travis Zajac and he and Coleman were off on a 2-on-1. Zajac passed and Coleman went in with a forehand to backhand move on Holtby for the shorthanded goal at 6:48 to make it 3-0. It was Coleman’s 15th goal of the year.

The Devils used that momentum to kill off the first half of the double minor, but during the second half, the Caps got on the board. At 8:28, Domingue made a save on a Washington shot. He could not handle the rebound and there was a scramble around the cage. Jakub Vrana finally found the loose puck and put it in to make it 3-1 Devils. John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom had the assists. This would be the only goal Washington would muster all night.

Later in the second, Hischier scored his second of the night when Jesper Bratt created space, drew the Washington defenders to him and dropped the puck to Palmieri. Palmieri made a nice cross-ice pass to Nico, who was all alone on the other side of the ice. He simply walked in and scored. Bratt created the play but did not get credit for an assist, as Palmieri had the lone one on the goal that made it 4-1 at the 12:11 mark.

In the third period, the Devils got into a little more penalty trouble when, at 9:48, Hischier took what was a pretty weak elbowing penalty on TJ Oshie. Then, at the 11:05 mark, PK Subban, while trying to clear the puck down the ice, threw it directly over the glass. This was a cut-and-dry delay of game penalty and the Devils would be down 5-on-3 for 43 seconds.

But they killed this off, keeping the second-highest scoring team in the NHL to 1-for-5 on the power play with six shots. New Jersey did not muster a single power play shot in going 0-for-1 on the man advantage. They did, however, get four shorthanded shots through to Holtby.

Washington pulled Holtby with a little over five minutes to go in regulation down by three and the Devils wasted no time. Wood scored into the empty net to give us our final of 5-1.

The Devils finished the game with 22 shots on goal with the empty netter to the Capitals’ 34. They also won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs, with Nico winning 71-percent of his. They had 13 hits to the Caps’ 19, 18 blocked shots to Washington’s 14 and only nine turnovers to the Caps’ 13.

The Devils also gave the Capitals two straight regulation losses (they were beaten by Philly earlier this week) for only the second time this season. Washington is a true powerhouse and a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, so this was no small feat for the Devils.

Greene led all skaters in total ice time (22:08, including 5:11 on the penalty kill) while Coleman led the forwards with 18:56 (including 3:52 on the penalty kill). Nico’s two goals and Butcher’s two assists helped them lead in points with two apiece. Coleman led in shots by a large margin at eight. Hits were led by Butcher and Severson with three each. Blocks were led by Carrick with four. Takeaways by Simmonds and Gusev with two each.

Hischier was the game’s first star while Domingue was the second and Butcher the third.

Next up, the Devils face another strong test in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have won ten straight games, seem to be back on a roll and will be visiting Prudential Center tomorrow at 7 PM. Do the Devils have another upset in them facing one of the NHL’s elite teams? We will find out tomorrow and, of course, we will have a write up for you following the game.