For the first time since March 8, the New Jersey Devils were looking to win two consecutive games. Last night Nico Hischier’s team faced the Arizona Coyotes who were looking to build on their victory against the Dallas Stars on Saturday. The team welcomed back depth forward Nathan Bastian who returned from an injury he suffered against the New York Islanders while Andreas Johnsson found himself listed as a healthy scratch. While things did not exactly start as planned, the team rallied back to win the second game of their road trip.
An Unfortunate Yet Not Unexpected Start
It is not uncommon to see the Devils concede the first goal of the game, so when the Coyotes scored on their first shot 1:13 into the contest, it was not exactly a surprise. New Jersey’s opponent controlled the game early as Jesper Bratt’s team began the game at a slow pace. Forward Michael McLeod drew the first penalty early in the period, but goaltender Nico Daws stood tall and the team escaped the first 20 minutes tied at one thanks to one of their callups from the Utica Comets.
Zetterlund Plays on the Top Line & Scores First NHL Goal
Towards the end of the game against the Stars head coach Lindy Ruff moved Fabian Zetterlund to the top line alongside Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich. He must have liked what he saw because he opted to keep that line together against the Coyotes. Ahead of the contest, Zetterlund met with the media and talked about his new linemates.
“They’re really good players. I think I fit in there good with my strength and my pace,” Zetterlund said. “[Hischier] is really good. He’s one of the best centers in the league. It’s really nice to have him out there.”
It did not take long for his line to get on the scoreboard as Zetterlund scored his first-career NHL goal in the first period to tie the game at one apiece. He received a beautiful pass from Hischier and wasted no time getting the puck past Karel Vejmelka. His goal also came on his first shot of the game. The night got better as he earned an assist on Sharangovich’s goal in the third period marking his first two-point night. By the end of the game, New Jersey’s top line combined for eight points at Gila River Arena.
Kevin Bahl Scores His First NHL Goal
It was a night of firsts as defenseman Kevin Bahl also scored his first NHL goal in his 15th career game. It seems fitting that the milestone came against the team that drafted him 55th overall in 2018. If fans remember, the 6-foot-6 defender came to New Jersey as part of the Taylor Hall trade. When Devils reporter Amanda Stein asked about his goal, he gave a true hockey answer crediting his teammate for setting him up.
“It felt great. Bastian made a great play off the wall,” said Bahl. “I probably would not have gotten that type of shot off if he didn’t throw it off the wall like that so it was a great play by him. I put everything into it to get it to the net.”
Bahl was called up from the Utica Comets on April 8. It marked his third stint with the club this season as he played four games in December and two in March. The blueliner has two points (one goal, one assist) in his last two games, and has been solid defensively along with partner Dougie Hamilton. After the game, it was hard to miss the smile on his face as he talked about his big night. Even Devils head coach Lindy Ruff, who hardly smiles, had the biggest smile on his face after Bahl lit the lamp.
Devils’ Dominant Second Period Performance
Throughout the season fans have realized that the Devils’ Achilles heel has been the middle frame. Last night it was where the team found the most success, scoring three goals including two unanswered. Coyotes goaltender Vejmelka faced 17 Devils’ shots in the second period including three from Dawson Mercer.
Tomas Tatar scored the eventual game-winner with 45 seconds left in the middle frame and 22 seconds later, Jesper Boqvist provided insurance giving his team a 4-2 lead going into the second intermission. Both forwards were buzzing all game as they combined for five shots and three hits. The tides turned in favor of New Jersey in the third period when they limited their opponent to seven shots, securing two points and the victory.
Prior to this five-game road trip, the Devils had troubles on the road only winning eight games away from Prudential Center. With two games in the books so far, they are a perfect 2-0-0. Their play has been a pleasant surprise, but what has not been is the team being led by Hischier, as the 23-year-old has five points in his past two games. Rookie goaltender Nico Daws has provided stability, and the team has been able to play meaningful games as they close out the 2021-22 campaign. Their next stop is Denver where they will face the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
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.