And so it continues. The Devils remain winless through six games as the nightmare to begin the 2019-20 season goes on. This time, they blew a 4-1 lead to the Florida Panthers on home ice to ultimately lose 6-4.
It was the first matinee of nine for the Devils overall on the year as they celebrated Kid’s Day at Prudential Center. With many kids off from school for the Columbus Day holiday here in the US, there were many families in attendance.
The Devils came into the game being outscored by opponents 21-9 over their first five games. That led to some lineup changes including Jesper Boqvist slotting in up front for Kevin Rooney. He played on a line centered by Jack Hughes and with Wayne Simmonds on the other wing. In addition, Matt Tennyson slotted in on defense for Mirco Mueller. This was Tennyson’s Devils debut.
The Devils fell behind the eight ball just 16 seconds into the contest. Jonathan Huberdeau went to the net as the puck bounced around behind it. Florida eventually worked it in front and he put it behind Devils goalie Cory Schneider. Evgenii Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov had the assists on the goal. The Panthers jumped out to the 1-0 lead just like that.
This has been a problem for the Devils this season: giving up goals early and late in periods. It would not be the last time this particular problem would rear its ugly head today either.
The Devils would respond quickly to the early Florida goal. Taylor Hall, at the 2:28 mark, scored his first of the season when Pavel Zacha dropped a pass for him just inside the Panthers’ blueline. He went to the high slot and wristed the puck by Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. That tied the game at one apiece. Sami Vatanen had the secondary assist on this goal.
Remember that bit I wrote about the Devils giving up goals late in a period? Well, that role would be reversed when Jesper Bratt scored with 47 seconds to go in the first period. Zacha created a turnover to Bratt in the Panthers’ zone and he cut to the front of the net and scored. The goal was Bratt’s first of the year and Nikita Gusev had the secondary assist. This made it 2-1 Devils. Zacha was already working on a two-point afternoon.
Cory Schneider, playing in his 400th NHL game, had made a huge save on Dadonov just prior to the Bratt goal.
As the first period came to a close, one person missing from the Devils’ bench was Nico Hischier. He left following the first period and did not return. Coach John Hynes did not have an update on him in the postgame presser on MSG. Hischier ended the game with a shot on goal in just 5:22 of ice time.
Will Butcher would get his first of the year just 32 seconds into the second frame to give the Devils a two goal lead. The Devils chipped the puck into the Florida zone, coming in with a strong forecheck and forcing a turnover. Travis Zajac gave the puck to Butcher at the point and he fired a shot that redirected off of a Panthers player in front, getting by Bobrovsky to make it 3-1 Devils. Miles Wood had the other assist on the goal.
The Devils would build up a three goal lead when Zacha scored 36 seconds later. Hall took a pass from PK Subban at the near wall and he threw the puck towards the net. Zacha then cut in and redirected the shot by Bobrovsky to make it 4-1 Devils. It was Zacha’s first goal of the season too and his third point on the afternoon.
Then things began to implode.
Sami Vatanen took a hooking penalty at 7:43. The Devils technically killed it off, but at 9:50, just as Vatanen was getting back on the ice, Brett Connolly took a pass from Frank Vatrano in the high slot, the same place Taylor Hall scored from, and roofed the puck by Cory to make it 4-2 Devils.
The Devils had a chance to pad their lead when Hughes hit both posts with a shot on the power play late in the second period.
With just seven seconds to go in the second period, Connolly struck again when Vincent Trocheck caused a turnover in the neutral zone and got it to Mike Hoffman. He dropped the puck to Connolly just inside the Devils’ blueline and he again roofed it by Cory from the faceoff circle to make it 4-3 Devils.
The Devils were hanging on to a slim one-goal lead – down from three – going into the third. But the nightmare wasn’t over.
Just 30 seconds into the third, Aaron Ekblad kept the puck in the Devils’ zone on a clearing attempt. He got it to MacKenzie Weegar, who shot it towards the net. It seemingly was tipped by Schneider, but Weegar did get credit for the goal, tying the game at four. Trocheck had the secondary assist.
The Panthers had fought back from three down to score three unanswered and tie it up. But, unfortunately, they were not done.
At the 7:30 mark of the third, Ekblad and Weegar went point-to-point with Weegar firing the puck towards the Devils’ net. Noel Acciari tipped the shot by Cory to give the Cats the 5-4 lead. The Panthers had fought back to score four unanswered now.
At 12:38, Jesper Boqvist took a high sticking double minor and put the Panthers on the power play for four minutes. And Florida would capitalize.
After killing off the first two minutes of the double minor, the Panthers scored at the 15:32 mark of the third. Dadonov got knocked down in front of the Devils’ net and fired a loose puck by Cory from his knees. Mike Matheson and Keith Yandle had the assists on the Panthers’ lone power play goal of the afternoon. Florida had scored five unanswered to come back and take a 6-4 lead.
And that was our final as the Devils used their timeout with 1:31 left in regulation and pulled Schneider at that time, but could muster no more.
The Panthers ended up 1-for-5 on the power play with five shots. They also had a shorthanded shot. The Devils remain with an ofer on the power play for the season as they were 0-for-3 this time with a trio of shots. They also had one shorthanded shot.
In goal, Bobrovsky continued to stymie the Devils, just as he did with the Blue Jackets. He made 17 saves on 21 shots against for an .810 save percentage. Schneider turned aside 28 of the 34 shots he faced for an .824 save percentage.
Statistically, the Devils won 52-percent of the game’s faceoffs, got outhit 30 to 25 and blocked 12 shots to the Panthers’ ten.
Individually, Butcher led all skaters in ice time with 22:22 (including 3:25 on the PK). Kyle Palmieri led the forwards with 19:56 (including 3:50 on the power play and 3:21 shorthanded). Hall led in shots with three on target for the afternoon. Damon Severson and Palmieri led in hits with four each, Connor Carrick blocked three shots to lead that category and Travis Zajac had two takeaways to lead there.
Following this, the Devils will need to regroup as they take on the rival New York Rangers on Thursday next. That game is on NBCSN too, so it is a nationally televised game. Here’s to hoping we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of a national audience.
On another note, more positive note, congratulations to former Devils coach Robbie Ftorek as Steve Cangialosi noted on Saturday that he will be inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame this winter. Congratulations again on a well-deserved honor for Ftorek.