Getty

With 13 games in February, Devils enter ‘make-or-break time’

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) After missing the playoffs the previous three seasons, the New Jersey Devils shook up their organization.

They moved Ray Shero into the general manager’s job, made John Hynes the NHL’s youngest coach and made a couple of offseason moves that didn’t seem all that earthshattering.

Fast forward to the All-Star break, and the Devils (25-20-5) are threatening to end their playoff drought. They are on the cusp of a postseason berth heading into Tuesday night’s game at the Prudential Center against the rival New York Rangers.

It is the very beginning of a challenging February for New Jersey, which plays 13 games this month, including eight against teams above the Devils in the standings. Five of those eight games are against either the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals or the Rangers, who are 6-0-2 against the Devils dating to December 2013.

“It’s sort of make-or-break time for us to make the playoffs this next stretch,” said Devils forward Lee Stempniak, who came to camp on a tryout basis and now has 14 goals. “It’s in division games so those are points where you beat the teams you’re chasing and you close the gap pretty quickly, and if you lose, it can run away from you pretty quickly. We know the importance of the games coming up.”

While the Devils have picked up their scoring slightly this season, the backbone of the team is All-Star goaltender Cory Schneider and a young defense mentored by veteran Andy Greene.

Schneider is 22-15-5 with a 2.03 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. New Jersey’s total of 114 goals allowed is tied for the sixth fewest in the league, only 11 more than No. 1 Washington.

The Devils have scored just 112 goals, fourth fewest in the league, but they remain in contention.

It’s something few expected looking at the Devils in training camp.

Forward Mike Cammalleri was coming off a 27-goal season, Schneider had emerged as a top goaltender and there was a lot of potential with the young defense that featured Adam Larsson and Damon Severson. But there also were a lot of questions that have been answered.

Kyle Palmieri, acquired in a trade with Anaheim, has a career-high 20 goals, six more than his previous best. Stempniak is considered one of the top free-agent additions, and defenseman David Schlemko, who signed in September, has been steady. Even pesky former Penguin Bobby Farmham scored his first seven NHL goals after being claimed on waivers.

“I think we looked in training camp and we knew we had the guys to do it,” Palmieri said. “I think early on it was us accepting how our team needed to play and how we need to compete to win games. We were able to use some of that momentum from early success and build our way into still being in the race. Thirty-two games is a long way and it starts with tomorrow night’s game.”

Hynes is downplaying the big picture and telling his team to focus on the present.

“We’re going to do what we have done all year long, which is try to get better every day, and make sure we are doing the right things,” Hynes said.

If the Devils can keep that approach they can remain competitive every night.

“For us it’s not a fluke,” Stempniak said. “We have gotten better each week of the season and I think we are right there. We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s certainly not a fluke and we have a lot of belief that we are a playoff team.”

Related: Cammalleri on IR with hand injury

Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

Getty Images
2 Comments

While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Helm fined $5K for slash on Flames’ Lindholm

Getty Images
1 Comment

Darren Helm and Elias Lindholm had a little battle in the third period of Thursday’s 5-1 Flames win and it has resulted in a $5,000 fine for the Red Wings forward.

It all began during a face-off when Lindholm got taken down by Helm. The Flames forward took exception and skated after Helm as the puck entered the Calgary zone. The tiff continued on with Lindholm throwing an elbow at Helm, who responded by getting up off the ice and slashing Lindholm in the back of the leg.

“Their guy comes with an elbow that should have probably been called right away,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Then Darren reacts to that as most guys would, you get an elbow to the face for no reason you’re going to react. We got to be more disciplined in those situations, but he slashed him. I don’t think the slash was that super-hard, but it sure looked hard the way he went down.”

The fine is the maximum amount allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Helm was given a major for slashing and a game misconduct, while Lindholm got off with just an interference minor. Lindholm was helped to the dressing room and there’s been no update yet on his condition.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

LA Kings set Guinness World Record for ‘Largest Laser Show’

Los Angeles Kings/Juan Ocampo
3 Comments

The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped their third in a row Thursday night and fell to 2-5-0 on the season, but they set a world record during the first intermission.

The Kings’ game presentation department used 642 lasers as part of the Guinness Book of World Records “Largest Laser Show” at STAPLES Center. So, yeah, they were shutout, but they made history.

For the record, the first-period goals by Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary did not, in fact, count toward the final laser total.

With Thursday being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the arena, which featured a Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band concert back in 1999, the Kings wanted to do something special, so they went and shattered the previous record of 342, per the team.

Now, if only one of those lasers could have destroyed the “cursed” Taylor Swift banner

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kempny returns to Capitals’ blue line for first time since March

Leave a comment

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer doing the ceremonial puck drop honors won’t be the only thing Capitals fans can look forward to Friday night. Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his long-awaited return to the ice against the Rangers after tearing his hamstring in March.

Kempny, who was paired with Radko Gudas during Friday’s morning skate, was given a four-to-six month timeline after undergoing surgery right before the end of last season.

“Yeah, I’m playing tonight. It’s been a long time. I’m very excited,” Kempny said. “There was a lot of hard days, especially from the beginning of the rehab, small steps make me happy. I think it’s part of rehab and all the bad is behind me and I’m just focusing now [on] today’s game.”

Kempny knows he won’t be logging heavy minutes just yet and wants to focus on getting back into the normal routine of a regular player. How his ice time is managed will be something his head coach has to worry about.

“We have a range we’d like to have him in and we’ll see how the game goes,” said Todd Reirden. “Obviously he’s fresh, he’s skating really well, he’s in unbelievable condition, so now it’s just to see how it transfers into game action and how his wind is and his conditioning.”

Braden Holtby is back between the pipes are being given a one game “reset,” as Reirden put it. How he fares against the Rangers will either pause the goalie controversy talk with Ilya Samsonov for now or only add more fuel to the fire.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.