The New Jersey Devils left the snow and cold behind, traveling to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was their second meeting of the season and the first of a three-game road trip. While head coach Lindy Ruff’s team played well overall, they were unable to score a late goal to force overtime in a 3-2 loss.
Jack Hughes lined up against Anthony Cirelli for the puck drop. Hughes was successful off the draw, and the Devils got the start they wanted. What happened next did not result in a blowout but was still a frustrating loss. Here are three takeaways from the Devils’ loss.
A Game Decided by Special Teams
The Positive: The Power Play
The game began in the Devils’ favor; they were awarded a power play within the first five minutes. They have been successful on the man advantage, and last night, they kept possession in the Lightning’s zone for 1:20 until Damon Severson’s snapshot made it through to put the Devils up by one. As Steve Cangialosi noted during the broadcast, it was probably New Jersey’s best power play of the season.
Jesper Bratt registered the only assist on Severson’s goal, and he now leads the team with nine power-play points, while Severson, who has been successful quarterbacking the man advantage in Dougie Hamilton’s absence, is second on the team with eight power-play points.
The Negative: The Power Play
With a little over seven minutes left in the second period, Jan Rutta was called for a double-minor against Jonas Siegenthaler. The Lightning’s penalty kill was extremely aggressive, and they managed four shorthanded shots on goaltender Jon Gillies. The fifth went in courtesy of Mathieu Joseph, scoring on his own rebound.
“It was a moment in the game where we could have taken control and got a second power-play goal,” Ruff said after the game. The Devils also gave up a penalty shot during their four-minute power play.
Hughes, Severson and Bratt’s Point Streak Continues
Bratt earned two primary assists last night for 39 points in 39 games this season, making him a point-per-game player for the first time in his career. He has points in his last seven games (5 goals, 5 assists) and 14 more points than the next player on the team. Hughes has also become a point-per-game player with 25 points in as many games. His third-period goal momentarily tied the game before Cirelli scored the winner. The former first-overall pick has points in his last five games.
Severson leads all Devils defensemen with 21 points. Last night, he registered a goal and an assist making his second two-point night in five games. He’s also averaging over 23 minutes of ice time per game with six points in his last four games.
Gillies Provides Stability in the Crease
Gillies played a strong first period, making 18 saves on 18 shots. Last night was his sixth start for the Devils, and he kept his team in it until the very end. After the game, he met with the media and said he felt they played a good game but was he was frustrated with his play.
“I know I’m capable of coming up with the extra save,” said Gillies after the game. “Not making them the last few games is frustrating, but it’s a long season. Just got to keep going the way we’re going as a whole, and for me personally, just keep going and keep getting better.”
Ruff could go back to Gillies tomorrow night when the team faces Carolina Hurricanes. With Mackenzie Blackwood on injured reserve with no timetable for his return, fans might be seeing plenty of Gillies in the weeks ahead, who admitted he won’t be happy if they don’t find ways to win. He noted that he hasn’t been repeating the little mistakes, and he wants to get better every game.
It’s easy to look at the score and write it off as a bad performance, but Ruff, Gillies, and Hughes agreed that the team played a 60-minute game that had many positives, including their puck movement. Despite a 26-point difference in the standings, New Jersey kept up with the Lightning the entire game, and Hughes told the media that the Devils need to keep playing the way they did last night.
“It’s a 60-minute game,” Hughes said. “Ups and downs throughout the game. They’re the best team in the league until someone knocks them off. They’re a really good team and know how to win. We’ll get to that point one day. That’s a better hockey team than us, but we played a really good game tonight. Disappointed to not get the two points. If you take a step back, it’s encouraging. But at the end of the day, we played a hard 60 minutes. To come up short with no points is frustrating. When you play like that and play hard, you want to come out with at least one and most of the time two, but it’s a good team. It’s a frustrating loss, but we played a good game, and we have three more games before the break. Just need to keep playing like that.”
The Devils face the Hurricanes on Saturday night at PNC Arena as they try to get a win under their belts before a back-to-back series against the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of the All-Star break.