Sami Vatanen

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Devils blow yet another 2-goal lead at home in crazy loss to Lightning

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After an ugly loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to bounce back 24 hours later and pick up two points in a wild 7-6 overtime win against the New Jersey Devils.

Even with the win they still looked to only be a fraction of the team that rolled through the regular season a year ago.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game.

1. Something still seems off with the Lightning.  Yes, they are dealing with some injury issues right now (Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli played, but have been banged up; Victor Hedman was out on Wednesday) and playing the second half of a back-to-back against a rested opponent is always a tough ask, but the Lightning were very fortunate to get two points out of this game. They gave up way too many odd-man rushes, they were again crushed in shot attempts (a disturbing trend for this team all season), and they gave up six goals. Lightning coach Jon Cooper thought the team needed to face a little more adversity during the regular season to get them ready for the playoffs, but he probably did not want to see them play as poorly as they have for such a significant part of the season at the start. Something is not quite right with this team yet.

2. The Devils still can not hold leads. When Sami Vatanen scored just one minute into the third period he gave the Devils a 5-3 lead with 19 minutes to play in regulation. An NHL team should be able to finish that out and get the two points in regulation more often than not. Instead, the Devils surrendered three consecutive goals and needed a Kyle Palmieri tally with seven seconds to play in regulation (his third goal of the game) to send the game to overtime. As an isolated game you can maybe let that sort of third period performance slide. Sometimes weird things happen in hockey, sometimes you fall asleep and let another team get back in a game. This is not an isolated game for this Devils team. Wednesday night was their seventh home game of the season, and it was already the fourth time in those games (and the second game in a row) that they LOST after holding a two-goal lead at some point in the game. In two of those games they had leads of at least three goals (including one four-goal lead). That is unacceptable and a bad sign for a team (and coach and general manager) that desperately needs to make the playoffs this season. The Devils are now 2-6-2 on the season.

3. This game was great to watch — unless you are a coach. The Lightning may not be where they want to be yet and the Devils can’t seem to get out of their own way at home, but the good news is that combination produced a whale of a game for everyone that isn’t John Hynes or Jon Cooper. Anytime you have 13 goals, a hat trick, a frantic third period rally, a game-tying goal in the final 10 seconds, and an overtime winner you have some pretty great theatre on your hands. NHL coaches hate games with so little structure and defensive play, but you know what? As a neutral third-party viewer it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. More games like that, please!

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils vs. Flyers livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Devils opened the 2019-20 campaign dropping their first two games of the season. They blew a 4-0 lead Friday night at home, falling to the Jets 5-4 in a shootout, and were dominated the following night in Buffalo, losing 7-2.

Last season the Devils finished tied for sixth for most goals/against per game (3.30), while starting three different goalies throughout the year. Through two games this season, the same problem remains as New Jersey has allowed 5.50 goals/against per game.

“We’re playing like we want to have an easy game,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We can talk about it nine different ways but that’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”

The Flyers dealt Wayne Simmonds to the Predators in exchange for Ryan Hartman and a 2020 4th round pick at the 2019 trade deadline. Now a member of the Devils, Simmonds makes his return to Philly and will play against his former team for the first time after spending the past seven-plus seasons with the franchise.

“In a perfect world maybe it could have worked, but for what my goal is and where I’m trying to get to, I think it was a bad fit to be quite honest,” said Simmonds. “With all the pieces they have there in place, there’s a reason why I did get traded. Obviously, I wasn’t a piece they needed anymore.”

Philly will be tacking on thousands of sky miles to start the season. The Flyers played a preseason game overseas in Switzerland against Lausanne HC of the Swiss Elite League, before traveling to Prague, Czech Republic, to open the regular season against the Blackhawks. They host the Devils Wednesday night in Philly before making their Western Canada road trip.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Devils-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS
Taylor HallNico HischierNikita Gusev
Jesper BrattTravis ZajacKyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanJack Hughes – Wayne Simmonds
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden

Sami VatanenP.K. Subban
Andy GreeneDamon Severson
Will ButcherConnor Carrick

Starting goalie: Cory Schneider

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin HayesJakub Voracek
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
James van RiemsdykScott Laughton – Carsen Twarynski
Connor Bunnaman – Michael RafflTyler Pitlick

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

On Wednesday night’s season debut of Wednesday Night Hockey on NBCSN, NHL fans will be able to get a sneak peek to a yet to be released Green Day song called “Fire, Ready, Aim”. The song will serve as the opening theme song of Wednesday Night Hockey throughout the 2019-20 season and will be featured on NHL on NBC Sports broadcasts throughout the season.

Produced by NBC Sports, the high-energy show open features the band playing their new song on a hockey rink interspersed with action shots of more than a dozen NHL players, including Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, among others.

What to expect from Jack Hughes’ Devils debut

In an era of instant gratification, it must be agonizing for New Jersey Devils fans to have to wait until the third night of the 2019-20 season to finally see number one overall 2019 NHL Draft pick Jack Hughes make his debut.

That wait is almost over, as the Devils are mere hours from hosting the Winnipeg Jets in Newark on Friday night.

Consider a few things as we await the speedy center’s first NHL game:

  • The Jets probably won’t be able to focus their greatest defensive attention on Hughes. Instead, the trio of Taylor Hall (top pick from 2010), Nico Hischier (first pick of 2017), and Kyle Palmieri (26th pick in 2009) will draw the greatest share of attention.

This takes a considerable chunk of pressure off of Hughes, as does the Devils debut of P.K. Subban.

Luckily, Hughes still gets some intriguing linemates. Nikita Gusev also makes his NHL debut with Hughes, and one would think that he’d complement Hughes’ skills nicely. Jesper Bratt rounds out the trio, as he should be able to hold his own.

  • As you can see from those impeccably written lineup notes, Hughes’ group is listed as the “third” line.

It doesn’t seem like Travis Zajac being listed in front of Hughes is all for show, though.

Via Left Wing Lock’s listings, Zajac will be on the Devils’ top power play unit with Hall, Palmieri, Wayne Simmonds, and Subban. Hmmm.

Maybe it’s just a matter of a philosophy other NHL coaches share about building two strong options, as Hughes combines with linemates Bratt and Gusev along with Hischier and Damon Severson to form an intriguing second unit. Personally, I’d want the most talent as possible on PP1 (replacing Simmonds and Zajac) and might lean more toward Sami Vatanen on that second unit than Severson, but these things can change pretty quickly, anyway.

Still, it would be exciting to see Hall, Hughes, and Hischier on the ice whenever the Devils need a goal, so maybe John Hynes will keep that option in his back pocket.

  • The stage could be set for Hughes to get some room to work with.

While this is only Winnipeg’s second game of the season, they did play on Thursday night, so they’ll be closing off a back-to-back set (feel free to throw in a “jet-lagged” pun if you’re feeling evil). It was what might have been an exhausting 6-4 loss to the Rangers, and 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko, so Winnipeg gets a look at the first two picks of the last draft on consecutive nights.

While it’s tempting to be greedy and ask for more Hughes with Hall, putting him on a lower line could really make for some chances, as the Jets defense is a mess, even when they’re fully rested (at least with Dustin Byfuglien off on a fishing boat, pondering retirement).

He makes the game look easy. It doesn’t look like his heart rate is too high when he’s out there because he’s so calm and poised with the puck. He’s never panicking. His stride is pretty effortless. I’m really impressed with his shot. He has a better shot than I saw two years ago when I first skated with him. I honestly thought he could barely shoot the puck when he was 15 years old. That’s only going to keep getting better.

Jack’s brother Quinn Hughes was pretty impressive in his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks back in March, so maybe some sibling rivalry will spur Jack to even greater heights?

(Note: Hughes and the Devils also take on Kakko and the Rangers Thurs., Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.)

MORE:
Hughes can take Devils to next level.
Hughes, Kakko ramp up Devils – Rangers rivalry
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils avoid salary arbitration with Will Butcher

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New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero has been busy this summer and he took care of some more business on Wednesday morning. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Will Butcher to a three-year deal. The contract carries an annual average value of $3.73 million.

Butcher and the Devils were scheduled to go to salary arbitration on Aug. 2, but that will no longer be necessary.

The 24-year-old just completed his second season with New Jersey. He had five goals and 44 points in 81 games with the Devils in his rookie year but his number came down slightly last year, as he posted four goals and 30 points in 78 contests.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The youngster is an important part of the Devils’ power play, as he picked up 14 points on the man-advantage in 2018-19. Only Kyle Palmieri (18) had more points on the power play than Butcher last season.

Butcher becomes the fifth-highest paid defenseman on his team behind P.K. Subban ($9 million), Andy Greene ($5 million), Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million), and Damon Severson ($4.166 million).

Shero only has one more restricted free agent to get signed before the start of the year and that’s forward Pavel Zacha. After the Butcher signing, the Devils still have $8.715 million in cap space, so they could probably make another move or two if they wanted to.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

***

Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.