Devils Frozen Out in Minnesota, Fall 5-2

The Devils’ recent struggles continue as they dropped their second straight game and fourth of their last five. Playing for the first time in the month of December, they fell to the Minnesota Wild 5-2 in St. Paul.

This loss snapped the Devils’ four-game win streak at the Xcel Energy Center at Minnesota and represented the Devils’ second loss to the Wild in a little over a week. They lost in a shootout last Wednesday to the Wild back home in Newark. Minnesota now sweeps the season series.

Coach Lindy Ruff was understandably not happy with the Devils’ effort against in their loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and worked the team hard in practice yesterday.

Jack Hughes was back for his second game in his return from injury and Janne Kuokkanen joined Colton White as a scratch. Mason Geertsen slotted back in on defense.

Hughes, of course, is also coming off of signing his new contract extension. It was an eight-year extension that was the maximum allowed under the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Hughes again mostly played winger on the night largely to ease him back into the lineup. Playing wing has less responsibilities than center so that makes it a little easier to get his footing back into the lineup.

In goal, the Devils started Mackenzie Blackwood, as he is largely emerging as the team’s number one goalie. He was not as sharp tonight, but to be fair, did not get much goal support from the guys in front of him.

He made 33 saves on 39 total Minnesota shots for a save percentage of .868 on the night. He saved all six Wild power play shots (Minny ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play) and made 27 saves on 32 even strength shots.

Blackwood suffered just his second regulation loss of the season on Tuesday versus the Sharks, he now has three after this loss at Minnesota.

For the Wild, Kaapo Kahkonen started, making 29 saves off of 31 Devils total shots. He finished the night with a .935 save percentage. He stopped all five Devils power play shots – the Devils ended the night perfect on the penalty kill, but also 0-for-3 on their power play. He made 24 saves on 26 Devils even strength shots.

Of note and something to watch for: Devils’ play-by-play man on MSG+2, Steve Cangialosi mentioned that Devils goaltending coach Dave Rogalski is in COVID protocol. Hopefully this does not have any bearing on the team moving forward, but a few teams (including the Senators and the Islanders) have had some postponements this season already due to COVID outbreaks. These unscheduled breaks in the season for teams may end up putting the NHL’s involvement in the Winter Olympics in jeopardy as well.

The Devils got into a hole very early. Minnesota (who had points in their last five games prior to this one – this is the best 22-game start in Wild franchise history as they stand at first place in the Central Division) came out with jump, as evidenced when Kevin Fiala hit the post off of a backhand while one-on-one in the Devils zone with Dougie Hamilton early in the first period.

The Wild would get on the board for real just 8:49 into the game. Minnesota goaltender Kahkonen wound the puck up the boards to Ryan Hartman in the neutral zone. He made a nice cross-ice pass to Kirill Kaprizov in stride. Kaprizov got it along the right-wing boards and beat Devils defenseman Ryan Graves with a shifty move, then cut in on Blackwood and scored to make it 1-0 Wild.

Kaprizov is a dynamic player and just had way too much room on the play, going one-on-one with Graves and he made him pay.

Minnesota would double up their lead before the end of the first period when Rem Pitlick scored at the 11:09 mark.

Victor Rask got the puck out of the corner as the puck rolled off of Graves’ stick as the Devils were already off on their transition. Nobody was back when Rask got the puck to Pitlick in front of the Devils’ net. Pitlick cut back and skated around Blackwood to deposit the puck in the Devils goal and put the Wild up 2-0.

That took us to the second period as the Minnesota assault continued unabated.

Just 2:28 into the new period, Kaprizov scored on a goal that was originally credited to Hartman.

Mats Zuccarello got it down low to Kaprizov near the Devils goal line. He threw it towards net and it banked in off of a Devils’ skate to make it 3-0 Wild. It initially looked like Hartman had shot the rebound in after it went off of the Devils players’ skate, but it went in off of Kaprizov’s shot, giving him two goals on the night. Alex Goligoski had the secondary assist on the goal.

But the Devils have been more resilient in this season than recent years and that showed in this second period.

It began at the 2:52 mark, just 44 seconds after Kaprizov’s second goal.

Michael McLeod got the puck to Hamilton at the far point. He went D-to-D with Graves. Graves stepped up and blasted a bomb past Kahkonen to make it 3-1 Minnesota.

The Devils took longer to respond in this game than it did in the Sharks game on Tuesday. They got down in a 4-0 hole in that game before starting a modest comeback. This game only took them going down by three before they started to get back in the game.

The Devils would add another one as well, at the 7:40 mark of the second. Hamilton got the puck off of a turnover at the Devils blue line and made a stretch pass to Tomas Tatar. Tatar got behind the Wild defense and was all alone in on Kahkonen. He scored five-hole to make it 3-2 as the Devils got within one goal.

For Tatar, this was his second goal in two games and his third in four games. For Hamilton, his second assist of the night gave him two points and a hand in both Devils goals on the night.

However, Minnesota would jump right back out to a two-goal lead at the 10:47 mark of the second.

Hartman took a shot from the point. Blackwood made the save on the initial shot, but former Devil Dmitry Kulikov was there on the doorstep to sweep the rebound in past him and make it 4-2 Wild. Kaprizov had the secondary assist on the goal, giving him three points on the night (two goals and the assist).

Blackwood made a big save just as time expired in the second period when Matt Dumba made a nice move around the Devils defense and got a shot off as the horn sounded.

The third period began with a scary moment for the Devils and their fans.

Marcus Foligno hauled Jack Hughes down as Foligno was backchecking on a play in the Minnesota zone. As Hughes went down, he went into the end boards awkwardly, landing with his left shoulder hitting the boards first. He was okay, but it could have been a very costly play for the Devils and Hughes.

At the 6:16 mark of the third, a stranger moment occurred. Andreas Johnsson and Hartman squared off to fight after jostling in front of the Devils net. Johnsson dropped his gloves, as did Hartman. But Johnsson also took off his helmet.

This is now an occasion for the linesmen to jump in right away. A player cannot intentionally take his helmet off on the ice anymore. Both men received roughing minors with Johnsson getting an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct. Hartman, who was visibly annoyed by Johnsson’s actions, immediately signaled to the referee that Johnsson should receive an extra two.

Keep in mind, however, that Johnsson has not actually had a fight at the NHL level yet. His last scrap came in the American Hockey League and the rule about removing your helmet is relatively new. For a guy not accustomed to fighting, it was simply a lapse in his thinking and not something he likely did to get out of the fight.

The Devils would kill off that penalty, as well as a tripping penalty to Dawson Mercer just as the Johnsson penalty was up, putting Minnesota right back on the man advantage – which the Devils would kill as well.

The Wild, however, would get one at even strength when Hartman scored at the 16:05 mark of the third. Goligoski moved it up to Hartman, who weaved through the Devils’ defense in their zone and snapped a shot by Blackwood’s stick side to make it 5-2, our final.

Just as time expired in the game, Nick Bjugstad got a shot off and beat Blackwood. However, time did expire just as he got he shot off and before it entered the net.

The Devils took offense and there was some pushing and shoving to end the game, but everyone cleared the ice eventually without incident.

The Devils were outshot 38-31 in the game. They won 45-percent of the game’s faceoffs with McLeod leading the regular centers as he won 74-percent of his draws – leading the Devils centers by a large margin.

The Devils finished with ten total penalty minutes while Minnesota had eight. The Wild outhit the Devils 14-10 and also had more blocked shots at 15 to the Devils’ 13. Each team ended the game with five giveaways.

In time on ice, Damon Severson led all Devils skaters with 22:18 of total time (including 3:15 on the PP and 4:39 of time killing penalties). Nico Hischier led the forwards with 20:17 of total ice time – which included 2:45 on the power play and 3:42 on the PK.

Hamilton had assists on both Devils goals (both the primary assist) to lead the Devils in scoring with two points. Johnsson led with four total penalty minutes (the roughing call and the unsportsmanlike conduct minor on the same play).

Jesper Bratt led the team in shots on goal with seven. Johnsson and McLeod tied for the lead in hits with three each (of note that the only defenseman to register a hit was Severson, who had one – which just tells you generally how the Wild were running around on the Devils, who were not getting physical with them). Blocks were led by Ty Smith with three. Johnsson led New Jersey with three giveaways while Hischier led in takeaways with two.

Next up, the Devils will finish up this two-game road trip as they head further north to Winnipeg to take on the Jets tomorrow. Puck drop for this game will also be 8 PM on MSG+. This game will mark the Devils’ first trip to Canada in over 22 months.

With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the remainder of the 2019-20 season three-quarters of the way through it the Devils did not go back to Canada that season (remember, they did not qualify for the postseason tournament which was played in Toronto and Edmonton). And last season featured no cross-border play between the American or Canadian teams until Tampa Bay met Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Devils will make their return north of the border on Friday and we will have coverage for you right here.

Until then, we’ll see you in about 24-hours!

Devils Comeback to Earn Point, Fall to Wild in Shootout

The Devils returned home following their Florida road trip that saw their big comeback win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday.

Tonight, in a wild one, they were the Comeback Kids again as they took on the Minnesota Wild at Prudential Center. They clawed back in the third period to tie a game that they had fallen behind in early and earned a point before ultimately falling 3-2 in a shootout.

The evening began very strangely as the Wild were late in arriving to the building. They played on Sunday in Tampa (losing in a shootout there) and stayed in New York City before taking a team bus into Newark for this game.

They got stuck in traffic going through the Holland Tunnel and, according to Erika Wachter of MSG+, it took them two and a half hours to make the trip across the Hudson River.

When they did arrive, the teams hit the ice at around 7 PM for a 7 PM game. With that, puck drop was delayed until 7:31 PM. All in all, there ended up being a 24-minute delay to start the game.

It was a weird situation, but with pre-Thanksgiving traffic, plus usual New York Metro area traffic, you can easily see how it could happen.

But there was good news for the Devils. The team is reporting that Jack Hughes has been on pace to return from his dislocated shoulder and practiced yesterday morning. The Devils will be happy to have him and his scoring touch back without a doubt.

Who Devils fans did see tonight, for the first time, was Wild phenom Kirill Kaprizov. It was the Devils’ faithful’s first look at him since the Devils and Wild did not meet during his rookie season last year due to the pandemic. In fact, the last time these teams had met was November 26, 2019 – almost two years to today. That was a Devils loss.

Devils fans also saw Mackenzie Blackwood as he got the nod in net for this fourth straight start. He made 25 saves on 27 Wild shots for a .926 save percentage. He let in Minnesota’s only shorthanded shot but got all five of their power play shots (Minny was 0-for-3 on the power play for the night). He stopped 20 of the 21 shots the Wild threw his way at even strength. This game was Blackwood’s first start against the Minnesota franchise.

The Wild countered with Cam Talbot. Talbot ended up seeing a lot of rubber. He stopped 40 of the Devils’ 42 total shots for a .952 save percentage. This included all nine of the Devils’ power play shots – the Devils were 0-for-4 – and 31 of their 33 shots at even strength. His 40 saves ended up being a season high for him so far this season.

The Devils did make a pretty major lineup change, scratching defenseman Ty Smith in favor of Colton White. White played primarily with Damon Severson on the third pairing. He joined Mason Geertsen and Jesper Boqvist as scratches. Hughes was also present in the press box with them.

The Devils came out flying in the first period. They got through to Talbot a lot, but he was equal to each chance and kept the Wild in the game early.

The Devils nearly lost Jonas Siegenthaler as well, as he took a big hit early on and seemed shaken up. He was none the worse for wear, though, and ended up playing 19:36 total ice time (including six seconds on the power play and 2:51 killing penalties).

With Talbot keeping Minnesota in things, the Wild would end up jumping in front in the first period, notching two goals in the opening frame.

The first one came at the 12:10 mark when former Devil Dmitry Kulikov took the puck from Mats Zuccarello and skated into the Devils zone. The Devils defense backed off of Kulikov a bit, giving him some time and space. Kulikov had a ton of time and space and blasted a shot that ricocheted off of a Devils players’ skate and was put back in by Minnesota’s Ryan Hartman.

Blackwood had been sharp for the Devils, and after the sheer amount of chances the Devils had at the other end, to go down 1-0 was a bit demoralizing.

They would be down 2-0 before the period was over.

At the 17:38 mark, the Devils went on the power play as Matt Dumba was called for a high stick against Janne Kuokkanen.

However, at the 19:06 mark, the Wild got a clear from Jonas Brodin that took a fortuitous bounce and allowed Fredrick Gaudreau and Nico Sturm to break into the Devils zone on a 2-on-1. Gaudreau passed to Sturm, who was able to lay the puck in as he is a left hand shot and was facing the net on the odd man rush. Blackwood got a piece of the shot but could not get all of it and the puck went in for a 2-0 lead for the Wild to take into the first intermission.

The second period was a parade of the Devils hitting the post and missing great scoring chances.

Severson hit the post early when he had a clear shot on Talbot with Jimmy Vesey in front as a screen.

Talbot stopped Andreas Johnsson after Dawson Mercer made a beautiful saucer pass that cleared two Wild players sticks to get to Johnsson.

Following that, Severson again hit the post as he took a pass from Tomas Tatar after the Devils killed a Nico Hischier tripping penalty. Severson took the pass and made a nice move around a Wild defender at the point to get clear and wrist a shot towards net. That shot hit the post, negating yet another glorious Devils chance.

However, the Devils have been nothing if not resilient this season and were about to do it again.

In the third period, they finally got on the board just 2:08 in.

Tatar dug the puck off of the end boards behind the Minnesota net. Hischier took it from him behind the net and curled around to get free from his check. He then centered to Pavel Zacha in front. Zacha snapped it top shelf stick side by Talbot to cut the Wild lead in half at 2-1.

Late third, Severson set up Dougie Hamilton with a chance, but his pass rolled on end to Hamilton at the far side of the Wild net and Hamilton ended up shanking the shot wide.

The Devils would get another opportunity when Hartman was called for tripping PK Subban at 12:48 gone by in the third. At the 13:38 mark, Dumba was called for cross-checking Zacha to put the Devils on a 5-on-3 power play for about 1:08.

They would fail to score and, in the end, Hischier and Joel Eriksson Ek took matching roughing minors at 14:53 to eventually kill off the Devils’ momentum.

But the Devils were not done yet. With about 1:30 to go in regulation, Blackwood was pulled for the extra attacker.

At the 18:53 mark, or about just over a minute to go in regulation, Jesper Bratt took a shot from the near wall. The puck was collected by Hischier at the near side of the Wild net. Hischier then made a slick pass to Yegor Sharangovich, who was in the slot. Sharangovich got a shot off and buried his chance, tying the game at two.

It was clutch Sharangovich and clutch Devils as the team scored for the sixth time this season with the Devils scored with the goalie pulled and the extra attacker on.

When time expired, we were off to overtime.

OT ended up being a slightly frustrating experience for the Devils and their fans.

The Devils controlled most of the play, keeping the puck for the majority of the five minutes. The Wild controlled the puck for about a minute or so late in the OT, keeping the Devils in their zone and switching up and cycling, trying to get a good shot on Blackwood. This followed Blackwood stopping Minnesota on a 2-on-1 late in the extra time.

However, they ultimately did not get a shot on goal (the Devils outshot the Wild four to one in overtime) and the Devils took over on a turnover and got a change. In the end, though, New Jersey could not covert on the great chances that they had in OT and we were going to a shootout.

In the shootout, Hamilton was up first in round one and made a nice move on Talbot. He cut to his right and tried to reach back against the grain and tuck the puck by Talbot but could not.

Zuccarello went for the Wild and hit the post.

In round two, Jesper Bratt also made a nice move, deking around Talbot, who made the save.

Kevin Fiala rounded out the second inning, scoring on Blackwood.

It was then up to Sharangovich in round three to keep things alive for the Devils. He could not as his shot went right into the chest of Talbot and the Wild got the two points.

The Devils ended up outshooting the Wild 42-27 on the night, nearly doubling them up. The Devils also won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

Hischier won 71-percent of his faceoffs to lead the Devils centers. Michael McLeod, one of the Devils’ top faceoff men, won 67-percent of his draws.

The Devils took eight total penalty minutes to Minnesota’s ten. The Devils were outhit 35 to 27 by the Central Division leaders. The Wild also had more blocked shots at 19 to the Devils’ ten. Minnesota had one more giveaway at nine to the Devils’ eight.

Ice time saw Hamilton led all Devils skaters with 24:32 of total time (including 4:02 on the power play). Bratt led the forwards with 21:04 of total TOI (which included 3:18 on the power play and four seconds of shorthanded time).

Hischier led the Devils in total points with two (both assists – the primary ones on both Devils goals) and penalty minutes with four. Bratt led the Devils in shots on goal with seven. Hits were led by Zacha with five. Chase DeLeo (who was, as reported previously, just called up from AHL Utica yesterday when Alexander Holtz was sent back down) was second with four in his sixth NHL game.

Siegenthaler led the Devils in blocks with three. Bratt and Hamilton led in giveaways with two each while Kuokkanen led in takeaways with two as well.

Next up, the Devils will travel to Nashville on Friday to take on the Nashville Predators. That game begins at 6 PM and will be on ESPN+. We will have a recap for you right here Friday night.

And, in one final note, the Utica Comets were finally taken down tonight. They lost 4-2 to the Rochester Americans tonight in Utica to halt their AHL-record season-starting win streak at 13 games.

The Comets, like all AHL teams, needed to deal with players coming and going up to the big club in New Jersey all during their streak. This makes their achievement even more impressive. What they accomplished was an amazing feat and good luck to them the rest of the way.

And that’s it for me. Have a great Thanksgiving Day tomorrow to all of those in the United States!