The New Jersey Devils just completed their four-game homestand and unfortunately have nothing to show for it. Head coach Lindy Ruff’s team suffered four straight losses to the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens. During the stretch, fans saw multiple players leave the game due to apparent injuries, and a couple of call ups who seamlessly stepped into the lineup. Let’s break down what happened this past week at Prudential Center.
New Jersey’s Injury Report
Devils Shut Jack Hughes Down for the Season
The biggest news on Tuesday night had nothing to do with the Hudson River rivalry. During the first intermission, the team announced that Jack Hughes had been shut down for the season as the medical staff determined he suffered a low-grade MCL sprain of his left knee. The 20-year-old sustained the injury during Sunday’s matchup against the New York Islanders.
Hughes only appeared in 49 games this season but led the team with 26 goals and had six points in his last five games. On Nov. 30 he signed an eight-year extension with New Jersey for $64 million. Night after night he has given fans hope for the future and has emerged as a young star in the league and everyone is taking notice.
“I see a young superstar,” said New York Rangers head coach Gerald Gallant. “He is taking control and playing big minutes. He looks like the real deal. He’s got a lot of skill and a lot of talent.” (from ‘Rangers will be without Kevin Rooney for at least a week’, New York Post, 03/03/22)
Fans will miss what Hughes brings to the ice, but with only 11 games left in the 2021-22 campaign, it makes sense to keep him out. Fans will have to wait until October to see if the former first overall pick can pick up right where he left off for his team.
Devils Lose Depth Forwards in Back-to-Back Games
On the same night, New Jersey lost Jack Hughes, they lost 6-foot-4 forward Nathan Bastian. Coach Ruff advised Bastian was considered day-to-day and ended up missing the last two games played at Prudential Center. His injury is undisclosed but fans noted that with under four minutes left to play in the first period, he blocked a shot from Islanders’ defenseman Grant Hutton. The Kitchener native only played 4:55 on Sunday but seems to be doing well.
“Nate’s doing better,” said coach Ruff. “Hopefully he can skate tomorrow, but I don’t think he’ll be available to play [against the Canadiens].”
The Devils lost another bottom-six forward on Tuesday against the Rangers in the form of Jimmy Vesey. He appeared to hit Braden Schneider and fall awkwardly to the ice. The Massachusetts native needed assistance from a trainer and teammate to leave the ice. He did not return and after the game, I spotted him on crutches. Coach Ruff confirmed that an MRI would be needed and the imaging was done on April 6. It seems that Vesey may return to play in a week or two.
New Jersey Temporarily Loses Sharangovich
If there was one forward that had a successful homestand it would have been 23-year-old Yegor Sharangovich. He had four goals in the past four games including a hat trick against the Panthers. He also stepped up for teammate Jesper Boqvist after he was hit by Rangers’ defenseman Schneider. Sharangovich wasted no time dropping the gloves and stepping in for his linemate.
The Devils forward received three penalties for his actions including a two-minute instigator penalty, five minutes for fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct. The 6-foot-2 forward did not return to the game but played a meaningful 2:06 as he scored the Devils’ lone goal prior to the fight. He did not miss a game and ended up playing last night against the Canadiens on the top line alongside Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt.
Devils Call Up Reinforcements
With the losses of so many players, the team had no choice but to turn to the Utica Comets for reinforcements. Forwards A.J. Greer and Fabian Zetterlund joined the team yesterday at the morning skate and were two standouts in last night’s game.
At 22-years-old, Zetterlund made his NHL debut back on Nov. 18 against the Panthers. He played minimal minutes and after three games was sent back down to the American Hockey League (AHL). Last night he was on the ice for a little over 15 minutes and registered four shots on goal, two hits, and two blocks playing alongside Janne Kuokkanen and Jesper Boqvist.
Greer slid into Bastian’s spot alongside Michael McLeod and Andreas Johnsson. This marked his fifth game with the club this season, and along with Zetterlund, was one of the better players on the ice against Montreal. He played a little over 12 minutes and scored the Devils’ second goal of the night. After the game, he met with the media and talked about the game and his role.
“I thought I brought a physical presence down low,” Greer said. “I tried to create as much room for my linemates as possible and get in front of the net, drive the play down low and make the plays when I can.”
Michael McLeod picked up an assist on Greer’s goal which was his first point since March 1. The Devils’ fourth line combined for one goal and seven shots on Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen. At 6-foot-3, Greer is a big body who brought a physical presence the team was otherwise missing.
What’s Next for the Devils?
The Devils will have practice later this morning and then they will hit the road for a five-game road trip. It was not confirmed if Bastian and Vesey will make the trip, but I wouldn’t be surprised to have at least Bastian join his team and potentially jump back into the lineup. The Devils have only won eight games on the road and they are facing teams like the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights who are fighting for a playoff spot. With New Jersey’s precarious goaltending situation, fans are expecting a rough week ahead as the team begins their trip against Scott Wedgewood and the Stars on Saturday night at American Airlines Center.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.