Despite having a 1-0 lead after the first period, the Devils (23-22-10, 56 pts) fell to defending Western Conference Champion San Jose Sharks (34-18-5, 73 pts) 4-1 on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
This was the first game back for the Devils after their bye week. The Devils started off the first period tallying up four penalties. In turn, this allowed an onslaught of shots on goal for the Sharks. However, The Devils did strike first, winger P.A. Parenteau knocked in a backhanded shot attempt from winger Taylor Hall past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones, giving the Devils the 1-0 lead (assisted by Hall and winger Jacob Josefson). Despite leading at the end of the first period, the Devils were being outshot 19-3.
After the start of the second period, the shots on goal differential finally played a factor, this time in the Sharks’ favor. 2:27 into the second period, Sharks high scoring defenseman, Brent Burns, handled the puck on the blue line, dancing it on the line to prevent an off-sides penalty, and unleashed a nasty wrist shot past Devils goaltender, Cory Schneider, for the tying goal (assisted by center Joe Thornton and defenseman Paul Martin). Five minutes later, Burns would strike again with another wrist shot deep from in front of the blue line, 7:46 into the second period (assisted by wingers Kevin Labanc and Joe Pavelski). The pummeling would continue, as Thornton would join in on the scoring with a slap shot to the left side of the net, going past Schneider to make it a 3-1 lead (assisted by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Labanc), 11:22 into the second period.
Entering the third period, the Devils had chances to cut into the Sharks’ lead, but Jones had an answer for every shot coming his way. Later on in the third period, the Devils pulled Schneider out of the net to allow the extra skater, However, it was all for naught, as Sharks winger Tomas Hertl scored the empty net goal (assisted by defenseman Justin Braun and winger Joel Ward), sealing the Sharks 4-1 victory.
“We knew this was going to be a tough one coming in,” said Schneider. “…They’re a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They have a core group of veteran guys that have been around for a long time. They lost their last two [games], so they know the importance of today’s game for them.”
When looking at the loss, the key contributor to why the Devils lost and why the Sharks had so many shots on goal was due to the amount of penalties against the Devils. The entire first period, the Devils only managed three shots on goal, due to the fact that they were on the penalty kill for eight out of the twenty minutes. This is something the Devils say that they cannot allow to happen again.
“The shot totals were skewed because of the power plays,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We battled and survived in the first period but that wasn’t what we wanted…We found a way to get ourselves in penalty trouble, really throughout the game…Trip, hold, high stick, hook, trip, high stick. Those aren’t good penalties.”
Brent Burns proved to be a thorn in the Devils’ side, as the bearded defenseman had eleven shots on goal (tied for a career record). Not only that, but he singlehandedly gave the Sharks the lead, one in which they would never look back on.
“There’s not many like [Burns], especially from the back end, who can change the course of a game,” said Schneider. “He can join the rush, stickhandle through the whole team. There are point shots he can make that very few, if any defenseman in the league, can make. We wanted to key on him and make sure he didn’t have an impact on the game. But he did.”
This game also marked the return of defenseman John Moore, who missed twelve games after suffering a concussion on December 31 against the Washington Capitals. The injury came off a questionable boarding hit from winger Tom Wilson. The injury proved to be serious for Moore, who has been outspoken in saying that he hasn’t felt the same after that hit.
“I definitely want to improve on my game,” said Moore. “I take pride in the fact that I was able to compete alongside my teammates today.”
The Devils look to get back in the standings, with their next game coming February 14 against the Colorado Avalanche (15-36-2, 32 pts), who are last place in the entire league.