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 Rout Blackhawks 7-1

If there was one team the Devils wanted to be playing going into the NHL’s Christmas break, it was the Chicago Blackhawks. In one of those strange statistical anomalies, the Blackhawks have lost the last six times they played their final game prior to Christmas, as per Steve Cangialosi of MSG Network. The Devils extended that streak to seven games as they routed Chicago 7-1 tonight at United Center.

This was the second meeting of the season between the teams, as Chicago took the last game at Prudential Center in a shootout earlier in December. It would also be the first meeting between Jesper and Adam Boqvist as the younger Adam was in the lineup tonight (he was not for the game in New Jersey). This marked the third time this season a Devil has faced his brother in a game, following Jack Hughes (brother Quinn – Vancouver) and PK Subban (Malcolm – Vegas). Their mother, father and aunt were all in attendance from Sweden. Unfortunately, things did not end well as both brothers got injured in the first period and neither one returned for the rest of the game.

Jesper Boqvist began the game on the Devils’ top line along with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri and Adam Boqvist was on the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing with Duncan Keith, which meant that the two would have matched up a lot had they stayed healthy.

Another Devil with family in attendance was John Hayden. His mother’s family is from the Chicago area and his 82-year-old grandfather was in the building to watch him. He would be good luck for John as we shall see later on. Hayden was playing against his former team in the Hawks and was facing John Quenneville, the player he was traded for. Quenneville was making his Blackhawks debut tonight, having been called up from Rockford of the AHL.

The Devils were back to 12 forwards and six defensemen as Connor Carrick, Kevin Rooney and Michael McLeod were the scratches.

In goal for the Devils was Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped 32 of the 33 shots the Blackhawks fired at him for a .970 save percentage. The Blackhawks started with Corey Crawford who stopped 16 of 20 shots for an .800 save percentage. He was relieved by Robin Lehner who made 21 saves on 24 shots against for a .875 save percentage. The Devils ended the game with a total of 44 shots.

The game began with Jesper Boqvist taking a high-sticking penalty against his brother Adam just 37 seconds into the game. The Devils would kill it off, as they did seven times tonight. Chicago was held to 0-for-7 on the power play with eight shots. The Devils ended the game 0-for-3 with four shots. They also managed three shorthanded shots.

The Hawks got on the board first when Blackwood made two saves on Blackhawks shooters and the puck squibbed behind the net. Zack Smith picked it up and used the wraparound to bury it behind Blackwood and make it 1-0 Chicago. David Kampf and Matthew Highmore had the assists on the goal that came at the 3:21 mark of the first period.

It seemed like the Devils would have their work cut out for them. But, from there, Blackwood settled in and the Devils went to work. The Hawks’ Dennis Gilbert laid big hits on both Jesper Boqvist (resulting in the injury that he left the game for) and Miles Wood and Hayden had seen enough. Gilbert and Hayden went at it 8:22 and Hayden was given the fighting major plus a misconduct and the extra two for instigating. The Devils finished the first period with 25 penalty minutes and the game with 31 total. From here, the Devils comeback was beginning.

It began at the 14:46 mark of the first when Sami Vatanen pushed the puck up ice to Jack Hughes. Hughes lost it just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line and Wayne Simmonds grabbed it. He passed back to Hughes in the near corner. He skated out of the corner, made a nice move around the Chicago defense, and beat Crawford to make it 1-1. This goal also ended an 18-game goal drought for Jack Hughes.

The Devils took the lead on what would be the game-winner just 51 seconds into the second. PK Subban absolutely ripped a shot by Crawford through a few screens that beat the Chicago goaltender cleanly. Jesper Bratt and Palmieri had the assists on the goal that would go down as the clincher.

At the 7:22 mark, Damon Severson made it 3-1 when he came up the left-wing boards, took a pass from Nikita Gusev and cut towards the net. He shot and beat Crawford five-hole. Travis Zajac had the secondary assist on the goal.

The Devils made it 4-1 when Hayden got his first as a Devil and in his hometown against his former team to boot. It came at 10:40 of the second period when Will Butcher took a hit just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line while making a nice behind-the-back pass to Hayden, who was skating up the left-wing side. He beat Crawford to come within an assist of a Gordie Howe hat trick. Pavel Zacha had his other helper.

It was after this goal that Crawford was pulled in favor of Lehner.

And the Devils were not done in the second. Zajac scored shorthanded at 17:22 to make it 5-1. Vatanen had gone off for a hold against Quenneville at 16:47 and on the penalty kill, Zajac and Blake Coleman were off on a two-on-one. Coleman made the smart play and shot at Lehner. Lehner could not handle the rebound and it came right to a crashing Zajac, who put it home to put the Devils further up on top. Andy Greene had the secondary helper.

Blake Coleman would get one of his own just 18 seconds into the third period when Severson used a stretch pass to spring Coleman and Coleman broke in, shooting at Lehner’s five-hole while falling down. The puck went in and the Devils had scored a touchdown, making it 6-1. Nikita Gusev had the other assist.

Midway through the third, Chicago would hit a crossbar. The play was reviewed from Toronto and confirmed to be no goal, a sure sign that what could go wrong did go wrong for the Hawks tonight.

The Devils added the extra point when Gusev came up the right-wing boards, toe dragged around a Blackhawks defender and passed to a trailing Pavel Zacha. Zacha shot and beat Lehner to make it 7-1 which was our final. Severson had the secondary assist on this goal.

In the end, 14 different Devils registered a point with Zajac (2), Coleman (2), Zacha (2), Gusev (3) and Severson (3) all registering multiple points. Coleman (first), Severson (second) and Hayden (third) were the three stars of the game.

In the end, the Devils won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Blackhawks, 38 to 32, had more blocked shots at 22 to 21 and less giveaways at five to the Hawks’ seven.

Severson led the Devils skaters in ice time with 25:12 (ten seconds on the power play and 7:22 shorthanded) while Zacha led the forwards with 18:09 – nine seconds more than Hischier – with 1:48 on the power play and 4:48 on the penalty kill.

Stats-wise, Hayden led the Devils with 17 total penalty minutes. Wood led in shots with six and in hits with six. Mirco Mueller, Vatanen and Subban all led in blocks with three. Takeaways were led by Zajac and Greene, the vets, with two apiece.

Next up, the Devils will enjoy the Christmas break until Friday, the 27th when they will welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to The Rock. We will see you then and, in the meantime, if you are celebrating, have a very merry Christmas!