Devils Fall to Coyotes After Return from Layoff

Ken Daneyko had the understatement of the season during tonight’s MSG+ broadcast of the Devils-Coyotes game when he said that this was certainly “frustrating” for the Devils and their fans.

While Dano’s restraint is applauded (he could have called tonight’s performance a few other, more choice, things) “frustrating” is an apropos word.

The Devils fell 4-1 to the Arizona Coyotes at Prudential Center this evening following a layoff of a little under seven days.

The Devils last played on Thursday, January 13 at the Islanders, falling 3-2 in that game. In the meantime, with two games postponed in Canada on Saturday (at Montreal) and Monday (at Toronto), the Devils had plenty of time to get healthy, completely clearing out their COVID list. Everyone who was in quarantine has now returned, including Dougie Hamilton – who will remain out with his fractured jaw.

The Devils had reinforcements for their ranks and almost all of them had gotten some practice time in as well. Mason Geertsen, Marian Studenic and Jesper Boqvist were the scratches for New Jersey. In other roster news, defenseman Colton White was placed on waivers today with the intention of sending him to AHL Utica.

With their available goaltenders back, coach Lindy Ruff went right back to the Mackenzie Blackwood well. Although this is a necessary evil at this point due to lack of depth between the pipes, Blackwood is clearly not 100-percent healthy (what with COVID, a concussion and his offseason heel surgery all catching up to him) and will now need to bear the load for the Devils going forward. It’s a dangerous game to play, but do not be surprised when things like this happen as a result.

Blackwood made 13 saves on 17 total shots against for a nightly save percentage of .765. He turned aside all four of Arizona’s power play shots (the Coyotes were 0-for-2 on the man advantage) while stopping nine of the Coyotes’ 13 five-on-five shots against.

Facing him was Karel Vejmelka – a right-hand catching goalie – who has been a bit of a story for the Coyotes. He was drafted by the Nashville Predators, never played for them and was signed by the Coyotes as a free agent last May. He played last year with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech Extraliga.

He’s been playing well for the Yotes and tonight he singlehandedly kept them in the game when the Devils came out flying in the first period. He ended up stopping 35 of the Devils’ 36 total shots for a .972 save percentage on the game. He turned aside both of the Devils’ shorthanded shots with the only goal he let in coming on the power play. He stopped four of the Devils’ five power play shots as the Devils were 1-for-2 with the extra attacker overall. He got all 29 of the Devils’ shots at full strength.

These teams had not met since December of 2019. That game was in Glendale and was resulted in 2-1 win for the visiting Devils. It was a few weeks before the trade that sent Taylor Hall to the desert as well.

Tonight’s game was kicking off a four-game homestand for the Devils at Prudential Center with things getting progressively more difficult for them from here.

In addition, it was Hispanic Heritage Night at the Rock with the Devils wearing special “Los Diablos de New Jersey” warmup jerseys that will be autographed and auctioned off to benefit the Devils Youth Foundation. For the game itself, the team was in black and white their third uniforms.

As mentioned above, the Devils came out flying. Nico Hischier hit the post just about 1:30 into the game as New Jersey pressed early on.

The Devils were further in business when Arizona’s Christian Fischer was called for holding Janne Kuokkanen 5:22 into the first period. Fischer ended up almost horse collaring Kuokkanen to the ice leading to referee Dean Morton being caught on an ice-level mic as joking that Fischer was making his first call of the night “an easy one.” It was the truth and pointed out by Devils play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi.

The Devils would capitalize on that power play at the 6:09 mark of the first when Jack Hughes got behind the Coyotes’ defense, cut in on Vejmelka. Hughes lost control of the puck and it drifted off to the far corner where Jesper Bratt recovered it and made a nice pass to Hischier in the high slot. Nico snapped off a quick shot that Vejmelka could only get a small piece of as it went into the Arizona net to make it 1-0 Devils.

The Devils scored on their first official shot of the game (and the first shot of the game for either team for that matter) and Nico had his ninth point in his last nine games on the goal.

The Devils would continue on through the first, getting chances but failing to finish. Vejmelka came up with save after save as the Devils outshot the Coyotes 12-1 in the first period. This performance by the Arizona goalie let the Yotes hang around and that would come back to bite the Devils later on.

And “later on” did not take that long to get here, all things told. Just 6:50 into the second period, Loui Eriksson would move the puck against the grain, banking it from behind the Devils net off the boards right to Dysin Mayo at the near side point. Mayo was able to tee up a one-timer from the perfectly placed pass and fired from just inside the Devils blue line. He scored, beating Blackwood cleanly and tied the game at one. Alex Galchenyuk had the secondary assist.

It was a little bit annoying that the Devils had had their chances, could not take advantage and the game was now tied, but there was still plenty of time remaining.

Then, what would go down as the game-winner for Arizona 11:32 into the second when Anton Stralman got the puck to Eriksson at the near point. Eriksson took a shot on Blackwood and Arizona was able to funnel down, collapsing on the Devils net. Devils defenseman Ryan Graves fanned on a clearing attempt with Lawson Crouse falling to his knees right in front of the Devils net. Crouse got the puck and took a shot from his knees that beat Blackwood to give the Coyotes the 2-1 lead. They would not relinquish that lead the rest of the night.

The Coyotes would pad their lead a little heading into the second intermission when Travis Boyd scored at 14:13.

That goal saw Jakob Chychrun move the puck to Clayton Keller at the point. Keller switched up with the other pointman to get a clearer shot and ended up just throwing a bit of a seeing eye shot towards net that was tipped by Blackwood by Boyd to make it 3-1 Arizona.

Now things were starting to look bad for the Devils. Vejmelka was playing well enough to keep the Yotes in things and they had build up a two-goal lead heading into the third period.

Only it would not stay a two-goal lead for long. The Coyotes made it a three-goal lead 8:27 into the final frame when Phil Kessel chipped the puck from behind the Devils net to Crouse in the slot. Crouse was not in a good position to shoot and made a nice backhand pass to a wide open Johan Larsson a little higher up the middle of the ice. Larsson was on his forehand and had a clear shot, snapping one by Blackwood to make it 4-1.

Jimmy Vesey bookended the night by beating Vejmelka cleanly glove side (being one of the few Devils who had seemingly solved a right-hand catching goalie) and hitting the post square on late in the game. It complemented Hischier’s hit post early in the opening minutes very well.

Blackwood was pulled with 3:05 left in regulation but to no avail. Our final score was 4-1.

How well did Vejmelka actually play? The Devils outshot the Coyotes 36-17 for the game, including 12-1 in the first period and 15-7 in the second. Things evened out in the third with each team logging nine shots apiece, but Vejmelka had a lot more work early in the game and was equal to the task. Blackwood, with a relatively lighter load tonight, was not.

Vejmelka was named the game’s first star as a result of this.

The Devils won 48-percent of the game’s total faceoffs with Hischier leading Devils centers with a 67-percent personal winning percentage.

Each team accumulated four penalty minutes as a team. The Devils were outhit 24-16 and Arizona also had 16 blocked shots to New Jersey’s nine. The Coyotes had three more giveaways as a team at 17 to the Devils’ 14.

Damon Severson again logged big minutes, leading Devils skaters in ice time with 24:06 (including 1:59 on the power play and 1:58 killing penalties). Graves spent the most time on the PK amongst Devils defensemen with 2:31 of PK time out of his 20:40 total ice time.

Hughes led the forwards in ice time with 21:04 (which included 1:52 of PP time). Vesey led in forward shorthanded time with 2:12 logged out of his 10:52 of total TOI.

Severson led the Devils in shots on goal with five. Nate Bastian was again the hits leader with four. Dawson Mercer had two blocks to lead in that category. Hughes led in personal giveaways with three while takeaways were led by Hischier, Mercer and Hughes, who each had three.

Remember how I said things would be getting tougher for the Devils on this homestand? Well, Saturday they go from the worst team in the Western Conference in the Coyotes to the second-best team in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes paying a visit.

(To put things a bit in perspective, tonight was just Arizona’s tenth win of the season. The Canes have not lost ten games yet. We are in mid-late January here.)

That game begins at 7 PM in Newark and will be televised on MSG+. We will have coverage for you here afterwards.

Until then, try to have a good rest of the week Devils fans.

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!