It has been a busy week with the (New Jersey) Devils playing four (4) games in the past 8 days; a home and home series against division rivals New York Islanders, and a small three (3) game home stand against the Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues (still yet to play).
The Devils have been playing a strong, fast style this season under new head coach John Hynes, however the home and home series against their division rivals the New York Islanders was always going to be a big test (as well as the next few games too), and this certainly showed.
The Devils looked tired against the Islanders. In the first game, the Devils managed to score twice to be 2-0 however the Islanders fought back in the second period tying up the game however neither team was able to score in the third period to win. Ultimately the game went to a shoot-out where the Devils once again impressed and won.
The second game against the Islanders the Devils fell behind 1-0 however tied it up in the third only to have the Islanders score late to win the game, splitting the home and home series.
Considering that the Islanders have been the stronger team over the past couple of seasons, and even to the point of the Islanders going 4-0 against the Devils last season, to see the Devils fight and get one win in the home and home series is a good start.
The Chicago Blackhawks came in to town to start a three (3) game home stand, and this really was one of the first big tests for the Devils this season, facing the 2015 Stanley Cup Champions.
The Devils did not give the Blackhawks any opportunity, scoring four (4) goals in a row. The first period was littered with three (3) goals, and the second period provided the fourth – however the Blackhawks did score one, the Devils going in to the final period leading 4-1.
Once the clock hit six (6) minutes remaining, I witnessed something I had not seen before – the Blackhawks’ coach decided to pull the goalie for the remainder of the game in an attempt to have the Blackhawks’ deep offense try and win the game.
This was worrisome for two reasons – the Devils have struggled to clear the defensive zone let alone score an empty net goal over the last season or so, and the fact that the Blackhawks’ offense is scary good.
The Devils, whilst not scoring an empty net goal, did an amazing job and only allowed the Blackhawks to score one further goal, winning the game 4-2.
At this point of the season, the Devils are 7-5-1 and actually looking good, and whilst early in the season, on the cusp of a wild card playoff spot (albeit with plenty of games to go). This is an accomplishment however considering that over the past two or so seasons the Devils have started slow, and in fact quite terribly. A good start to the season could mean a lot after the trade deadline and heading toward the March – April stretch of games.
The Vancouver Canucks have always been a tough opponent for the Devils, and their games have never disappointed, this one included.
The second game of the three game home stand started with a bang; Vancouver struck first 2:20 in to the game, however Adam Henrique scored a beautiful short-handed goal shortly after to tie the game. Mike Cammalleri scored late in the period to give the Devils a 2-1 lead heading in to the second period.
The second period saw Sergey Kalinin score his first NHL goal moving the Devils to 3-1, however the Canucks fought back and at the end of the period scores were tied at 3-3.
The third period was nothing short of intense. Both teams had plenty of chances, with the puck only being stopped by the iron, and both goal-tenders showing off their skills; Ryan Miller the veteran giving a master class to the somewhat younger Keith Kinkaid, but both matching one another on the highlight reel.
Adam Larsson had a mammoth hit on Jared McCann, and for all intents and purposes was legal, however McCann dropped to the ground visibly shaken, and the referees handed out a 5 minute interference penalty and a game misconduct. The fact alone of a 5 minute interference penalty was handed out when normally only 2 minutes, was a shock, but then to also receive a game misconduct when Larsson never left the ice nor hit McCann above the shoulders, is a controversial call.
As such, the Devils went on to kill a 5 minute penalty in spectacular fashion. This resulted in the game going to overtime, a position the Devils are becoming familiar with, especially with the new 3 on 3 overtime rules.
The Devils had luck on their side when the referees called an interference penalty against the Canucks during 3 on 3 overtime, which lead to an amazing set up for Kyle Palmieri to be the home town hero and score the overtime winner.
The Devils are now 3-0 in overtime and 2-1 shoot-out winners; a record that is a more pleasing sight to Devils fans than previous seasons, and whilst the Devils aren’t winning too many games in regulation, they are living up to their motto to never quit and are finding ways to win.
The Devils face the St. Louis Blues next to end their home stand, before venturing to Chicago, then returning to New Jersey to face the Penguins, before heading off on their somewhat regular early-season west coast road trip, which the Devils have also struggled with the last couple of seasons, and again will provide a good test for this new team.