The Devils lost 5-3 to the Calgary Flames on Thursday night at the Rock. They did a lot right offensively but had a hard time keeping the puck out of their net. With the loss, the Devils dropped to 25-21-3, while Calgary improved to 24-22-5.
The Devils mounted a strong first ten minutes of the period. Jack Hughes, in his return to play, didn’t miss a beat, and his line forced Jacob Markstrom to make some big early saves. The Flames were outshot 8-1 through the first half of the period.
New Jersey was rewarded for the effort with the opening goal of the game. Nico Hischier sprung Jesper Bratt and Ondrej Palat on a 2 on 1 break, where Palat found the back of the net at 15:39.
However, at 18:10, the Flames answered with a goal from Mikael Backlund, who beat Vitek Vanecek from a sharp angle before he could seal off the post. Andrew Mangiapane and Blake Coleman collected the assists.
The period ended tied at one apiece, with the Devils leading the shot count 12-10.
The Devils had more heavy pressure to begin the second period. After a flurry of chances in their end, the puck went the other way and Calgary scored at 3:53 to gain a 2-1 lead. Connor Zary found the puck sitting in the blue paint after Vanecek thought it was smothered. Nazem Kadri and Martin Pospisil tallied assists.
The Devils were outshot 11-10 in the middle frame.
The Flames got a goal from their 4th line early in the third to go ahead by two. At 2:55, Kevin Rooney scored his first goal since 2021 from Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev.
Immediately after, the Devils found themselves killing off a four-minute power play when Tanev took a high stick from Erik Haula and went down the tunnel.
New Jersey quickly found some momentum with a shorthanded breakaway goal from the captain, Hichier. Bratt added the only assist.
The Devils killed the rest of the penalty backed by excellent stick work from the penalty kill unit that led to numerous shorthanded attempts. Vanecek came up huge in the dying seconds of the kill to keep the deficit at one.
However, their momentum was stifled at 9:56, when Andrei Kuzmenko grabbed a rebound and fired it past Vanecek. Hanifin and Zary had the assists.
New Jersey continued to push with some extended zone time, and they were eventually rewarded. At 13:46, Palat netted his second goal of the night, redirecting a shot from Colin Miller to beat Markstrom.
Despite the late rally, Calgary iced the game at 18:26 with an empty net goal from Mangiapane.
The Devils outshot the Flames 41-29.
Goaltending was the story of the night at both ends of the ice. New Jersey thoroughly outplayed the Flames for extended periods, especially in the first and third frames, but was faced with above-average goaltending and backed by a below-average performance.
The Devils didn’t have a perfect game, but they put a lot of pucks on Markstrom and forced him to make some stellar saves. Of the 40 shots he faced, he put up a .75 GSAx and was the best player on the ice all night for Calgary. He also demonstrated strong rebound control to prevent second and third attempts in dangerous areas.
On the other end of the ice, Vanecek finished with a .862 SV% and a -1.11 GSAx on 29 shots faced. Positioning and rebounds were his major ailments on the night. On the Backlund goal, he wasn’t sealed to his post, and the puck ricocheted off him and in. The Zary goal snuck through and sat behind him in the blue paint, and neither he nor any Devil could react in time to recover. The Kuzmenko goal is one where the shot from the point should have been covered but instead was knocked into the slot, allowing for a quick spin-around tally. Regardless of what the team does offensively, they will continue to struggle if they can’t find some stability between the pipes.
Lost in the goaltending discussion is the power play, which has gone ice-cold over the past month. The Devils began the season with the best power play in the league by a wide margin. Since then, it has dropped to 8th in the league at just 24.8%. Since the beginning of 2024, the Devils have just three power-play goals in 36 attempts, with one against the Washington Capitals on January 3rd and two against the Montreal Canadiens on January 17th. Jack Hughes’ return to the lineup should give it a spark in the coming games, but they must quickly find a way to capitalize on their opportunities.
The Devils look to get back in the win column on Saturday night in Raleigh against their division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes sit second in the Metropolitan Division with a 29-16-5 record. They are 7-3-0 in their past 10 games, including a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night.
This is the second meeting of the year between the Devils and Hurricanes. Carolina took the first contest 3-2 on January 25th.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. EST.