Devils Edged by Jets Following Strong Effort

Well, it was definitely a different game than the Devils trip to Winnipeg in early December was, even if the ultimate outcome was the same.

The Devils fell to the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 tonight in a game that they largely dominated.

It was Travis Zajac Night at the Prudential Center with a celebration of the career of the long-time Devils forward. It was a way to honor Zajac both for 1,000 NHL games played back in 2021 – something that could not be properly acknowledged with fan restrictions due to the pandemic at the time followed by Zajac being traded to the New York Islanders late last season.

It was also a way to let the fans pay homage to Zajac for his career as a whole. He decided to retire this past summer and signed a one-day contract as a free agent with the Devils to finish his career where it started.

Zajac came out onto the ice in full gear and uniform, skating a final lap around the Prudential Center rink before going to center ice for the ceremonial faceoff. His family – his wife and three children – dropped the puck as Travis himself took the draw against Jets captain Blake Wheeler.

The timing of the game was, of course, no accident as Zajac is a native of Winnipeg and made for a great way to celebrate a player who may not have always grabbed the headlines, but who was as steady and reliable as they came.

The guests on the MSG+2 broadcast saw Devils Assistant General Manager/General Manager of the Utica Comets Dan MacKinnon on the pregame show. He discussed the AHL prospects and the success of the Comets with Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador. Zajac was the second intermission guest, as gracious and humble as ever as he answered questions and talked about some memories with Salvador.

As for the current Devils on the ice, the lineup remained exactly the same as the win over Colorado from Tuesday. Nico Hischier remained out with injury for the second straight game. Head coach Lindy Ruff reported that he has not skated but is working out off the ice. He joined Colton White and Christian Jaros as scratches.

The Devils did go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen as Mason Geertsen was dressed as a blue liner.

In goal, it was right back to Nico Daws. The young netminder suffered his first loss at home as he stopped 28 of the Jets’ 30 total shots for a .933 save percentage on the night. He stopped Winnipeg’s lone shorthanded shot while the Jets did not register a power play shot en route to going 0-for-2 on the man advantage. At five-on-five he made 27 saves on 29 shots.

The Jets countered with Eric Comrie (who coincidentally started one game for the Devils last season – January 31, 2021 – against the Buffalo Sabres that I just do not remember at all). Anyway, Comrie stopped 33 of the Devils’ 34 shots for a .971 save percentage. He turned aside five of the six New Jersey power play shots with the Devils only goal of the evening coming on the man advantage. The Devils finished 1-for-3 on the power play as a team. Comrie stopped all 28 shots he faced at even strength.

The Winnipeg Jets made their last appearance at the Prudential Center on opening night 2019. That was the infamous night that the Devils blew a lead and ended up losing in a shootout to kick off the “less-than-successful” 2019-20 season.

The Jets kicked off the scoring just 3:22 into the game when Brenden Dillon connected to make it 1-0.

The Devils were caught deep in the Winnipeg zone with the New Jersey defenseman pinching in a bit too much on the far side. Wheeler recognized this and flipped an outlet saucer pass to Mark Scheifele. Scheifele and Dillon were into the Devils zone on a 2-on-1 with Dillon taking the pass and finding the back of the net.

It would take almost the entire length of the first period, but New Jersey would tie things before the time was up.

Dillon was called for cross checking Jesper Bratt at the 17:57 mark to put the Devils on their second power play of the night already.

With the 5-on-4 advantage, Jack Hughes tied things when he converted at 18:27 gone by.

Damon Severson was positioned up top as the quarterback and moved the puck to Bratt down along the left side wall. Bratt made a slight move of a stutter step to gain some space. That allowed him to have room to slide the puck across to Hughes stationed at the near faceoff circle. Hughes used his quick release while shooting off one knee and scored to tie the game at one.

The Devils seemed to be right back in control and things would get great, then weird for them in the following period.

To begin with, Hughes was not on the bench to start the second period for the Devils. He returned very quickly though, as play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi noted that it was merely a skate repair issue and not injury related. He played the rest of the game for the Devils.

The second period for the Devils was, simply put, dominating.

It was nonstop action for the good portion of the frame as the Devils just ran the show. In the end, the second period 7:09 straight without a whistle in the middle of the period. Most of the time saw the Devils applying that pressure in the Winnipeg zone.

That is why the Jets goal that came within the final minute of the period, the one that would go on to be the game winner, was so heartbreaking in the end.

With 54 seconds left in the second period, Winnipeg got their best scoring chance of the period – and made good on it.

Bratt was controlling the puck just inside the Jets blue line and got legally hooked by the Winnipeg player defending him and ended up losing one of his gloves in the process. Due mostly to this, he also lost the handle on the puck and turned it over to Kyle Connor.

Connor was off on a partial breakaway. He went to his backhand shot and hit the crossbar. The puck bounced down and in, getting stuck behind the goal camera inside of the net. The referee lost sight of the puck in the immediate moment and initially signaled no goal. However, when the whistle was blown, it was revealed where the puck actually was and the goal counted without much controversy.

MSG+2 was set to head to a commercial break but came right back as it was apparent that the goal was good. Connor scored unassisted and the Jets had a 2-1 lead heading into the final period.

And that would be it for the scoring on the night.

The Devils continued getting chances, including a 3-on-1 early in the period that involved Bratt, Tomas Tatar and Pavel Zacha. Zacha was stopped by Comrie as he moved right to left through his crease. The Devils did end up on the power play when Dylan DeMelo was called for hooking Bratt on the same play.

The Jets would kill that off and things continued on.

Eventually, as we ticked down and the Devils were still down by one, Daws was pulled with about two minutes left in regulation.

Dougie Hamilton would take a tripping minor with 1:36 remaining in the game to prevent an empty net goal by Scheifele.

With that, the Devils would finish the game killing off a penalty. Daws would be pulled with about 1:16 remaining int the game after the Devils controlled the defensive zone faceoff. With Daws out of his crease, things were evened out at 5-on-5 again.

But the Jets just kept denying the Devils. Time ran out and Winnipeg had the 2-1 win to bring  the Devils two-game home winning streak to an end.

The Devils outshot the Jets 34 to 30. The Devils were badly out played in the faceoff circle, winning only 38-percent of the game’s draws. Jesper Boqvist led the Devils centers with a personal 50-percent winning clip.

The Jets accumulated six penalty minutes on the night while the Devils had four. Winnipeg outhit the Devils 17 to ten. The Jets also had 13 blocked shots to the Devils’ nine. As a team, Winnipeg had six giveaways to New Jersey’s 11.

Severson once again led all Devils skaters with 23:49 of total ice time (which included 2:38 of power play time and 1:52 of shorthanded ice time). Those times also allowed Severson to lead the defensemen in special teams time as well.

Amongst the forwards, Hughes led in total time with 21:45 (including 3:05 on the PP and 1:35 on the PK). These special teams times were also tops among forwards in that category.

Hughes led in shots on goal with five totaled. Hits were led by Hamilton with two. The big blue liner also led in blocked shots with two as well. Ty Smith led in personal giveaways with three while personal takeaways were led by Yegor Sharangovich and Severson with two each.

Next up, the Devils will welcome the Anaheim Ducks to Prudential Center for a 7 PM game on Saturday.

We will have coverage for you following the MSG+ broadcast then.

Can’t wait to see you then and I hope everyone has a great Friday in the meantime.

Devils Take it on the Chin in Winnipeg, Lose 8-4

This was not pretty to say the least.

The Devils surrendered eight goals – including a hat trick to Mark Scheifele – to fall to the Winnipeg Jets 8-4 tonight at the Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg.

Both the Devils and the Jets came into this game struggling. The Devils had dropped back-to-back games by a score of 5-2 (to the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota Wild) this week. But while the Devils showed some signs of life tonight, including a comeback that was completed in the second period where they briefly took the lead after falling behind 3-0 in the first period, they ultimately played very bad tonight.

Maybe it was the change of scenery? The Devils had not played a game in Canada in almost two years since before the pandemic (a 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa on January 27, 2020). We may never know, but either way, the Devils just have not been good of late and this may (hopefully?) be rock bottom.

Anyway, the Devils and coach Lindy Ruff made a few changes to the lineup. Colton White, Yegor Sharangovich and Mason Geertsen were the scratches while Jesper Boqvist returned to the lineup from Injured Reserve. It was his first action since November 18 as he was out with an upper body injury. Janne Kuokkanen slotted back in up front as well – he as a healthy scratch at Minnesota.

In addition, Ruff juggled the lines a bit. He put Nico Hischier between Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt on the top line while moving Jack Hughes to center on the second line with Dawson Mercer on the right side and Andreas Johnsson on the left side.

In addition to that, the Devils gave Mackenzie Blackwood the night off to start as they went to Jonathan Bernier to begin the game.

Bernier stopped 28 of the 32 total Jets shots he saw for an .813 save percentage on the night. He stopped five of the six Winnipeg shots he saw on the power play and 21 of their 26 shots he saw at even strength.

He ended up getting yanked at the beginning of the third as Blackwood would take over for the last 20 minutes. He did not fare much better, stopping six of the eight total Jets shots he saw for a putrid .750 save percentage in the game. All of those shots came at even strength as he did not face a power play or shorthanded shot from the Jets.

Winnipeg ended the game with 40 total shots on both New Jersey goaltenders.

The Jets started Connor Hellebuyck, who has largely played well despite the Jets’ recent struggles. He turned aside 33 of the Devils’ 37 total shots, posting an .892 save percentage in the game. He was equal to the Devils’ lone shorthanded shot and got three of their four power play shots. He stopped 29 of their 32 shots at even strength.

The Devils were 1-for-2 on the power play for the night, as they finally notched their first power play goal since November 14 at the New York Rangers. Winnipeg was 1-for-4. The Devils spent a lot of time in the penalty box, as bad penalties basically hamstrung them tonight.

Ruff wanted more compete out of the Devils while the Jets felt they were well-rested. Winnipeg had not played since Monday (a home loss to the Arizona Coyotes by a 1-0 score).

The Jets scored early and often in this game.

Just 1:52 into the game, Mark Scheifele got them out to the 1-0 lead when he got the puck from Neal Pionk and sliced through the middle of the Devils zone, walking right through the Devils defense, going to his backhand and shooting top shelf to beat Bernier and make put Winnipeg up fast. Blake Wheeler had the secondary assist and this was the start of a wild ride for these teams.

The Jets kept it up at the 3:52 mark of the first. Brenden Dillon gave the puck to Pierre-Luc Dubois along the left-wing boards in the Devils zone. Dubois hit Nikolaj Ehlers as Ehlers was streaking past him. Dubois was at the near half wall and Ehlers took the puck and wristed it by Bernier to double up the Winnipeg lead at 2-0.

A third goal for the Jets in the first period came at the 7:39 mark. Bernier was behind the Devils net, playing the puck and tried to pass to Damon Severson, who was in the near corner looking to start the Devils’ breakout.

Unfortunately, Severson bobbled the puck in his skates and Adam Lowry forced a turnover to Paul Stastny. Stastny quickly centered to Kristian Vesalainen, who scored to make it 3-0 Jets. This three-goal deficit represented the third time in their last three games that the Devils had fallen behind 3-0 early in the game. The only difference is that they had a bit more time to work with now, as Winnipeg had built the three-goal lead up in the first eight or so minutes of the game.

And sure enough, the Devils would begin an improbable comeback.

It started with the aforementioned power play goal. At the 7:46 mark of the first, Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey took what would end up as the only penalty of the first period. It was a holding call against Bratt, putting the Devils on the first power play of the game.

On that man advantage, Ty Smith got the puck down low to Tomas Tatar. Tatar was in the far corner in the Jets zone and saw Severson cutting in from the point on the near side. Tatar hit Severson with a pass and the Devils’ blue liner snapped a shot by Hellebuyck to get the Devils on the board and score the first Devils’ power play goal in their last 19 power play opportunities.

That goal came at the 9:08 mark of the first.

At the 19:38 mark, with less than 30 seconds to go in the first frame, the Devils would strike again.

This one came off of the stick of Jack Hughes when Dougie Hamilton went D-to-D with Ryan Graves at the point. Graves drove the puck on net and Hellebuyck made the save off of his pads, but gave up a juicy rebound right in front. Hughes was all over it, putting the rebound past Hellebuyck to make it 3-2 Jets.

That goal was Hughes’ first since opening night against the Blackhawks and his first point since returning from his injury last night against the Wild. He was quick, only notching that goal in his second game back and his third full game of the 2021-22 season. This was also his third shot on goal since his return to action.

But the Devils were not done once the second period opened.

Just 37 seconds into the middle period, The Devils tied the game at three. The Jets won a faceoff deep in their zone and Kyle Connor turned the puck over to Bratt in front of the Winnipeg net. Bratt spun around as if he was preparing to shoot, but instead found Nico Hischier in front of him and passed. Hischier shot from the high slot and scored his third goal of the season.

The Devils had come all the way back to tie the game up and seemingly had all of the momentum.

It continued for them at the 1:16 mark of the second when Boqvist dug the puck out of the corner. Kuokkanen got it back to Ryan Graves at the point. Tomas Tatar had been support in the corner as the Devils were engaged in the board battle.

Tatar went to the front of the net to provide a screen as Graves unleashed a shot that hit Morrissey in front and went in past Hellebuyck. Tatar did not get credit, as he did not redirect het puck in, but did provide the screen for Graves, who did get credit for the goal.

The Devils had stormed back with four unanswered to take the lead on the Jets in a weird turn of fortune.

Then the wheels fell off and the game went completely off the rails for the Devils.

It began innocently enough. In the middle portion of the second period, Zacha hit the inside of the post of the Winnipeg net off the rush. The Devils had failed to convert on a chance that would have put them up by two.

Then, at the 10:39 mark, the Jets would tie the game back up at four. A minute or two following the hit post by Zacha, the Devils turned the puck over just outside of their zone. Winnipeg cut in on a partial 2-on-1 as Dubois had Ehlers with him. He passed and Ehlers buried it for his second goal of the game. Andrew Copp had the secondary assist on the goal and, though the Devils did not realize it at the time, this was the beginning of the end of their night.

At the 15:26 mark of the second, the Devils again turned the puck over, this time in their end of the ice. Scheifele got the turnover and got it to Wheeler at the point. He took a shot from the point and the puck double deflected in off of Morrissey, who was in the high slot and Jonas Siegenthaler, as the Devils defenseman was battling to clear the front of the New Jersey crease.

The Devils just could not clear the puck up the boards effectively, resulting in the turnover and the goal which gave the Jets back the lead at 5-4.

And there was one more to go for Winnipeg before the second period was up.

Scheifele got his second here with about six seconds to go in the period. This one came on the power play as Michael McLeod had just gone off at 18:20 for tripping Adam Lowry.

Pionk dropped the puck for Scheifele in the Jets zone. Scheifele saw that the Devils were caught in a change and decided to take this himself.

He sped up the right side and wristed a shot between Siegenthaler’s legs, using Siegenthaler as a screen, and the shot squeezed by Bernier’s arm and trickled by him to make it 6-4 Winnipeg.

It was a demoralizing goal for the Devils to give up that late in the period. Hellebuyck had the secondary assist, as this is the second straight game that the opposing goalie has notched an assist against the Devils.

And speaking of goalies, Blackwood made an appearance in the third to play the last third of the game for the Devils. His 20 minutes of work would not go much better than Bernier’s first 40.

With 9:36 gone by in the final stanza, Scheifele competed his hat trick when Connor broke into the Devils zone and crossed with Wheeler. Wheeler took the puck and found Scheifele on the left-wing side. Scheifele scored to notch his third goal of the night – his fourth career hat trick – and make it 7-4 Jets.

At seven goals, this was officially the most the New Jersey had surrendered so far this season.

But Winnipeg was not done.

At the 18:33 mark of the third, just after the Devils had just finished killing a Hamilton slashing penalty, Jansen Harkins had the puck deep in the New Jersey zone. He curled back towards the blue line as he came out of the near corner. He passed to Logan Stanley at the near point. Stanley shot with Lowry as a screen in front of Blackwood.

Lowry got a piece of the puck as it was going in and would get credit for Winnipeg’s eight goal of the night, giving us our final of 8-4.

The Jets had scored five unanswered to win the game after the Devils scored four unanswered over the middle part of the game. Add to that that Winnipeg scored three unanswered to begin the game and this was just a weird one that saw extreme shifts in momentum back-and-forth.

The Devils were outshot by the Jets 40-37. New Jersey won just 37-percent of the game’s faceoffs. McLeod led Devils centers by winning 67-percent of the draws that he took.

The Devils doubled up the amount pf penalty minutes taken as a team with eight to Winnipeg’s four. The Jets played the more physical game with 30 hits to the Devils’ 20. Each team had 11 blocked shots and 13 giveaways.

Hamilton led all Devils skaters with 22:33 of ice time logged – including 1:48 in power play time and 41 seconds of shorthanded time. Graves spent the most time killing penalties amongst the defensemen with 4:40 logged on the PK.

Hischier led the forwards with 19:31 of total ice time (including 2:06 of PP time and 2:42 on the penalty kill). Bratt got the most power play time with 2:19 and Jimmy Vesey the most PK time with 3:39.

Hischier led the Devils in shots on goal with six. McLeod led in hits with five. Smith led in blocks with three. Siegenthaler led in turnovers with four while Vesey led in takeaways with three.

Next up, the Devils will try to put this debacle behind them when they return home this weekend. They do not have a game this weekend, and will next play on Monday, December 6 when they host the Ottawa Senators.

This is the makeup contest from the game rescheduled from November. It was canceled due to Ottawa being hit with a COVID outbreak. The Sens will visit with puck drop at 7 PM ET. That game will be televised on MSG+.

We will have coverage for you right here on Monday. Until then, have a great weekend everyone!