The New Jersey Devils became the first team to defeat the Minnesota Wild in regulation last night since the Columbus Blue Jackets halted their 12-game winning streak on New Year’s Eve. It was also the first time New Jersey scored more than three goals in a game since December 22nd (4-0 shutout over the Flyers), and did so in regulation for that matter. The win currently leaves the Devils three points out of a playoff spot, a deficit that was at eleven points just a few weeks ago.
While the astonishing victory against the top team in the Western Conference brought about many encouraging signs, it didn’t come without its painstaking and downright discouraging moments. The Devils trailed 2-0 more than halfway into the game before rookie forward Pavel Zacha opened the scoring for New Jersey with a power play goal 13:19 into the second period. It was the 19-year old’s first goal in 17 games, and second time in three games the Devils were able to convert on the power play. In what was perhaps the team’s best third period in 2017, Adam Henrique tied the game 5:23 into the third off a beautiful setup play by Taylor Hall. For Henrique, the goal was his 11th of the season and snapped a six-game goal drought. The Wild briefly regained the lead less than four minutes later when Erik Haula scored his seventh of the year after backhanding in a rebound that Schneider failed to control. Kyle Palmieri tied the game back up 22 seconds later for his tenth of the year, which was his second point of the game and fifth in his last four contests. Beau Bennett scored the game-winner for the Devils after burying a feed from Blake Coleman for his third of the season, and first goal in seven games.
The Devils scratched and clawed their way in this hard-earned victory despite being outshot by a relatively large margin (35-26), and having to rally from being down two goals. Aside from the aforementioned pointers, this game had a few other notable takeaways that point to the Devils showing signs of potentially righting their ship as they get underway with the second-half of their season.
Improved road play…Last night’s victory over the Wild was the Devil’s fifth road win in their last six matchups away from the rock, over which they’ve earned eleven out of twelve possible points (5-0-1). This stretch of improved play on the road is preceded by an abysmal showing back in the first few weeks of December when the Devils went 1-5-2 in eight contests. After struggling mightily when playing away from the Rock, the Devils are inching closer to evening their road record, and their last six road contests has been their best stretch of play in away games all season.
AHLers are making a difference…Since the spike in injuries, New Jersey has been forced to call up several players from their AHL affiliate in Albany. A lot of them have contributed immensely in New Jersey’s recent stretch of play, especially last night. It was Blake Coleman’s half-wall pass to Beau Bennett that set up the game-winning goal, which Miles Wood earned the secondary assist on. Wood also had three shots on goal and was utilized on the Devils only power play, an indication that the coaching staff is slowly trusting the young left wing in selective game situations. The entire fourth line of Wood, Coleman, and DSP had a strong game, providing solid pressure in the offensive zone, generating multiple scoring opportunities, and maintaining level shot attempts for/against when they were on the ice. Defensemen Steve Santini and Karl Stollery also contributed. Stollery assisted on Zacha’s power play goal, which was the 29-year old journeyman blue liner’s second assists in three games while Santini continued his sound playing since being called up. The 21-year old Westchester, New York native played almost 17 minutes of ice time, during which he earned a shot on goal, blocked shot, but had a -7 shot differential when he was on the ice (along with Stollery).
Flashes of early-season play…As previously mentioned, last night’s win was New Jersey’s third in a row and extended their current point streak to four games. This was the first time the Devils strung together three or more wins since mid-November when they collected five victories in a row. The first six weeks was when the Devils played their best hockey of the season before their steep downward spiral began that put them in the hole they’re trying to claw themselves out of. If the Devils want any shot at becoming relevant in the playoff race, they need to turn this three-game winning streak into a seven or eight-game run.