New Jersey Devils right wing Michael Ryder, left, moves the puck down the ice as Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O'Reilly covers in the third period of the Avalanche's 2-1 shootout victory in an NHL hockey game in Denver on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

NHL on NBCSN: Devils fight to stay in heart of playoff race vs Avs


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New Jersey Devils host the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Going into the season, not much was expected of the Devils or Avalanche. That’s where the similarities between their seasons end.

The Colorado Avalanche, fresh off making Joe Sakic the team’s executive vice president and Patrick Roy the head coach, became the talk of the league when they kicked off their campaign with a 14-2-0 run. They’ve hit a couple bumps in the road since then, but haven’t dramatically slowed down. They’ve only endured a single three-game losing streak and one four-contest slump on their road to a 35-14-5 record.

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Rookie Nathan MacKinnon has been everything they could have hoped for after being selected with the first overall pick, but their roster isn’t substantial different from the one that finished last in the Western Conference in 2013. Instead, they have succeeded largely by getting more out of the same guys and goaltender Semyon Varlamov in particular.

Varlamov has rebounded from a rough 2013 campaign thanks in part to Roy and goalie coach Francois Allaire’s guidance. Colorado recently rewarded Varlamov for his comeback with a five-year, $29.5 million extension.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils’ roster is substantially different from what it was even last season with far more mixed results. To be fair, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello can’t really be blamed for that. From a short-term perspective, the single worst thing to happen to New Jersey over the summer was Ilya Kovalchuk deciding to “retire” to get out of his contract and move to the KHL.

The Devils were forced to scramble to overcome the offensive void he left and while Jaromir Jagr has done a remarkable job, especially at the age of 41, they were struggling to find the back of the net even before Kovalchuk left.

Even a strong season out of goaltender Cory Schneider hasn’t been enough to turn the tide. All he’s been able to do is keep them afloat so that while they’re shy of a Wild Card spot, at least they’re still very much in the race.

In fact, given that only two points separate second and sixth place in the battle for Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference, every game is still critical for the Devils. At the same time, the Avalanche could use a win as they try to stay in the battle for the Central Division title against the formidable St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

Report: Rangers expect Dan Girardi back on Sunday

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13:  Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers in action in Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers will have defenseman Dan Girardi back in the lineup against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, according to’s Dan Rosen.

If that holds true, Rosen reports that Girardi will replace Adam Clendening in the Rangers lineup.

The Rangers are 3-2-0 to start the season without Girardi, including a nice 4-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

For plenty of Rangers fans, this is great news, especially since New York could probably use some fresh legs on a back-to-back. He hasn’t played so far this season thanks to a groin injury.

More than a few people wonder if the former All-Star is actually a hindrance to his team, however, so expect some jokes here and there.

These two tweets from earlier this season do a decent job of summarizing the dichotomy:

/Awkward laugh

Panthers’ Harper made a childhood dream come true last night

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 22: Shane Harper #38 celebrates his third period goal with Gregg McKegg #41 of the Florida Panthers against the Colorado Avalanche at the BB&T Center on October 22, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Avalanche 5-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

“Who is Shane Harper?”

Chances are, plenty of hockey fans – and maybe some members of the Colorado Avalanche – were uttering that question after Saturday night.

Well, we know this about Shane Harper: he scored his first two NHL goals at age 27, helping the Florida Panthers beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2.

You can watch both of Harper’s goals in the recap video:

Harper also drew enough ire from the Avalanche to get into a bit of a skirmish following a hit.

So, who is Shane Harper?

For one thing, he’s from Valencia, California and did not go drafted.

His best junior season came in 2009-10, when he scored 42 goals and 80 points for the Everett Silvertips. He’s become quite the seasoned AHL veteran since then, and while his numbers won’t wow you, he did do enough in 2014-15 to maybe turn a head or two. Harper scored 32 goals and 50 points for the Chicago Wolves that season.

You can tell his teammates were happy for him – gentle ribbing and all – when the media asked about his career milestone:

He was modest there, but acknowledged that even playing in the NHL was a dream come true, so scoring a goal must have been even better.

Ruff: Stars were ‘flat as flat could be’ vs. Blue Jackets

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On paper, you’d think even a wounded Dallas Stars team would handle its business against a tired Columbus Blue Jackets squad at home.

Instead, the Stars didn’t have much to show for their efforts on Saturday night beyond Jamie Benn fighting Brandon Dubinsky. They lost 3-0 and left their head coach shaking his head.

“That was as flat as flat could be,” Lindy Ruff said, according to the Dallas Morning News. “There’s no disguising it. For me there’s some concern because that’s really two games in a row where we were outskated …”

Ruff added that “there was no emotion inside that game.”


After falling to 2-2-1 on this young season, Ruff admits that he has concerns about the Stars’ “whole defense right now.”

While it’s true that the Stars fired 32 (unsuccessful) shots on Sergei Bobrovsky, this Natural Stat Trick graph illustrates Ruff’s case that his team didn’t play well.


Yeah, that makes a pretty compelling argument that Ruff saw the truth out there. John Tortorella concurred, opining that the Blue Jackets were in a total control.

While the Stars are picking up the pieces, the Blue Jackets beat the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday and Dallas on Saturday. Those teams are off to tough starts, but that’s still an impressive haul for an embattled Blue Jackets group.

Considering the sour feeling for Dallas and the renewed spirits for Columbus, it’s remarkable what a difference two losses or wins can make.

But, hey Stars fans, a Benn fight at least gives us an excuse to recall this great photo of his bout with Joe Thornton:

via Getty

Taylor Hall has been exactly what the Devils needed

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 22:  Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils takes the puck in the third period against Minnesota Wild on October 22, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The New Jersey Devils defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

As far as NHL roster move goes, June 30, 2016 was one of the craziest non-trade deadline/free agency days in recent NHL history.

That, of course, was the day P.K. Subban was traded for Shea Weber, the day Steven Stamkos decided to remain with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the day the New Jersey Devils picked up Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers for Adam Larsson.

Each one of those moves was significant in its own way and will have a huge impact on every team involved for the foreseeable future. Some of those impacts will be better than others.

But the one move that seemed to be perfect for the team making it in every possible way was the Devils’ ability to acquire Hall, one of the best players in the league at his position and the type of player the Devils desperately needed.

Just five games into the 2016-17 season and Hall is already showing why he was such a massive addition for the Devils.

Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, with a roster that was built around Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils have been unable to make a return to trip to the postseason due in large part to an offense that was gutted following that deep postseason run (Parise and Kovalchuk were both gone within two years) and has never been able to replace the top-line talent it lost. The only team that has scored fewer goals than the Devils’ 673 since the start of the 2012-13 season is Buffalo, while nobody has averaged fewer shots on goal per game.

It is an offense that has wasted most of the prime years of one of the best goalies in hockey (Cory Schneider) and has been desperate need of a game-breaking forward up front.

There are really only two ways to get that type of player when they are still in their prime years: The top of the draft, or hope that Peter Chiarelli is running a team that has one because you might be able to trade for him.

Enter Taylor Hall to New Jersey.

It’s only been five games at this point, but so far Hall has proven to be everything the Devils needed him to be. A game-changing forward. As of Sunday he has three goals and is pretty much directly responsible for all of the offense in the Devils’ two wins.

He scored both goals in a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week, and then on Saturday scored the overtime winner against the Minnesota Wild when he forced a turnover in the defensive zone, nearly went coast-to-coast with it, then finished the game with a wide open shot that beat Devan Dubnyk.

Hall on his own is not going to be enough to completely fix the Devils offense over the course of a full season (or from a long-term outlook). But he is a heck of a place to start, and he has given the Devils plenty of reasons to be excited over the first two weeks of the 2016-17 season.