Well, if the Devils had to have just one nationally televised game this season, I’m glad it was this one. The New Jersey Devils (5-1-0) defeated the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (5-2-0) in a shootout last night, snapping their four-game winning streak. This was the first game that has gone past regulation for the Devils. New Jersey has won five of six games to start the season for the first time since 2008-09; they also did so in 1995-96 and 2002-23 (sound familiar, anyone?).
This was a hard-fought game on both sides and was one of the best games we’ll probably see all season. Both teams got off to fast starts and were put to the test tonight. Fortunately, the Devils were able to outlast their opposition and pick up two points. They were outshot 34-37. Drew Stafford, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos were named the three stars of the game. The Devils won 53.8% of faceoffs and registered 20 hits; Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman both had good nights in the faceoff circle.
Drew Stafford got New Jersey on the board first just two minutes and 45 seconds into the game; rookies Nico Hischier and Will Butcher picked up the assists. Vladislav Namestnikov tied things up about five minutes later, with assists from his top line teammates Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, two guys you might have heard of. Onrej Palat scored to give Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead but as the Devils have proven time and time again this season, they won’t go down without a fight. Kyle Palmieri tallied his second goal of the season, with assists from Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique on the man advantage to tie things up again. Brian Gibbons gave the Devils their second lead of the game with 52 seconds to go in the first period; the score was 3-2 in favor of the Devils heading into the first intermission.
Kucherov opened the scoring in the second by scoring his eighth goal of the season, and has scored in each of his team’s first seven games of the season, becoming the sixth player in the NHL’s modern era to do so; a guy named Wayne Gretzky is the most recent. Stamkos gave Tampa Bay the lead late in the second and would head into the intermission with a 4-3 lead. But again, the Devils aren’t done yet. Stafford ties things up on the power play with his second goal of the night with less than five minutes left in regulation after Nico Hischier drew a tripping penalty.
So now the game is tied heading into the last few minutes of regulation. Jake Dotchin “punches” Brian Gibbons, no penalty is called, and Pavel Zacha takes matters into his own hands, going after Dotchin. Zacha receives a roughing penalty and Tampa Bay goes on the power play for the rest of regulation. The Devils’ penalty kill (and Cory Schneider) comes up huge and manages to send the game into overtime. I’d applaud Zacha for protecting his teammate but also wish that a penalty had originally been called on Dotchin.
Both teams manage a pair of shots on goal in overtime, which was played 4-on-4. Then with 48 seconds remaining, Adam Henrique takes a clear, ill-timed tripping penalty against Palat and once again, the Devils go on the penalty kill and again, they somehow miraculously kill it off and send the game into a shootout.
Okay, stick with me. We’re almost there. Both goaltenders had great nights, especially in overtime, and that continued in the shootout. The Devils’ Kyle Palmieri was the only shooter to successfully score and thus win the game. Stafford (NJD), (Brayden) Point (TBL), Hall (NJD), Kucherov (TBL), and (Ryan) Callahan (TBL) also took shots.
Nico Hischier had a great night; he picked up a pair of assists and became the youngest player in Devils history, at 18 years and 286 days old, with a multi-point game since Brendan Shanahan in October of 1987 (18 years and 266 days), per StatsCentre. Hischier had one hell of a game tonight; he had multiple excellent scoring chances but Peter Budaj made big saves each time. He’s doing all of the right things and the goals will come.
As mentioned earlier, NHL rookie scoring leader Will Butcher also picked up his ninth assist of the season, becoming the first rookie defenseman in NHL history to record at least nine assists in his first six career games. Butcher has been in all the right places at all the right times and he’s another player who’s been fun to watch.
It’s also hard to state just how important Cory Schneider is for this team, especially against teams who are offensive juggernauts like the Lightning. The Devils never looked like they gave up after giving up a goal or two. As soon as they fell behind, they worked even harder to score the equalizer or to chip away at the lead. And having Schneider in net gives the team that confidence.
Defenseman Steven Santini also had a really good night. He led all skaters in ice time at 25 minutes and 40 seconds; Andy Greene came second with 21 minutes and 50 seconds. He and Stafford led the team in shots on goal with five each. He made the right plays and the right passes, and it felt like he has a ton more confidence on the ice. He had a few big hits as well.
Special teams also played a big role tonight. The Devils were able to score on half of their four power play opportunities, and currently have the best power play in the entire league, at 30.8% successful. Yeah, I know. It’s crazy. Their penalty kill still isn’t great (they also keep taking numerous penalties) but they managed to kill all but one of Tampa Bay’s five power plays, including two huge kills at the end of regulation and the end of overtime.
It was a great game between two teams who are fun to watch. They went back and forth, and gave the fans at The Rock (and those watching at home) a real treat. Here’s to hoping they can continue to do so.
The Devils will be back in action later this week with back-to-back games against the Senators and the Sharks on Thursday and Friday.
(I wanted to apologize for this blog post being super late; I have an econometrics midterm today and didn’t get a chance to write the recap while attempting to study).