Travis Zajac

Devils / EA Sports

Devils giving fans as true a simulated game-day experience as possible

It’s been nearly two weeks without hockey, but some NHL teams are trying to fill that void. You might have seen a few teams doing sims of their 2019-20 schedule via the NHL 20 video game. There was even an alumni game sim between the Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques.

But there’s just broadcasting a sim of a game and there’s what the Devils are doing for their fans.

Devils fans are getting a full game-day experience with help of not only their content team, but also the players.

New Jersey’s March 19 game against the Flames was postponed, but the Devils ended up with 6-4 simulation win. But before the victory and Cory Schneider’s 98-save(!) performance, there was a morning skate to take care of.

As with any morning skate, fans got the line combinations via team reporter Amanda Stein’s wonderful penmanship:

As the game went on that night goals were clipped and Tweeted out to the team’s 83,000-plus followers. Following the final horn, a full postgame recap was posted on their website and a highlights package was created.

“When the season was paused we got together to think about how we can continue to engage our fanbase in a unique way but also keep the same cadence the fans are used to throughout the season,” Stein told NBC Sports. 

“When the idea of the sim game came about, there was plenty of brainstorming on how we could incorporate some of our regular game-day coverage in this new and simulated world. As a team, we produce a ton on a regular real game-day, so there was a lot to work with.”

Getting players on board

Setting the Devils’ sim game experience apart from others is the inclusion of players. After Schneider’s 98-save night, Stein video chatted with him for post-game reaction, and he played along with it perfectly.

The buy-in from players to participate has created a more realistic game-day sim experience, even as we all isolate.

“Teams have all tried to engage their fans in different ways, but this felt like something unique to what we wanted to do,” Stein said. “Turns out, players were very into it.”

“They’re having fun with each other too,” she added, “whether it’s Cory saying his teammates need to be better defensively or Travis Zajac saying he hopes [Islanders defenseman and former Devils captain] Andy Greene turns into a pylon — they’re having fun with it and going along this ride with us. It makes my job easier and more fun too.

“Cory started the trend — he was the perfect guy for it. He really played into the idea and gave a straight-faced interview with some cheekiness after the first game and that just set the tone for the next couple of interviews. I haven’t had to explain to the players what we’re doing. When I connected with Miles Wood he was like, ‘Oh, yup, I’ve seen Schneids and Trav’s.’ So the guys are paying attention too, which is great.”

The Devils’ next sim featured a Wood hat trick against the Islanders. Fans responded as you’d expect by sharing videos of hats being tossed in their homes, adding to the experience.

“The response from fans has been fantastic,” Stein said. “It’s really heartwarming for us as a team to see people send messages through social media saying it put a smile on their face, or they laughed a lot, and even some people just saying it was great to hear from a player — even if it was about a simulated game.”

With hockey not returning anytime soon, the Devils’ content team has been using videoconferencing to brainstorm new ideas. It’s a time to get creative as fans are eager for their fix. 

“The world is a different place these days, but that doesn’t change that our fans are still fans and are missing the game as much as we are,” Stein said. “So it’s up to us as a content team to maintain that connection and have that interaction.

“We didn’t want to ‘go dark,’ we wanted to get as creative as possible and give our fans a distraction and a sense of normalcy during these odd times, and so far I think we’ve accomplished that.”

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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.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Dustin Brown; Saros shuts out Stars again

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have nothing to play for at this point, they traded several key players before the NHL trade deadline, and they are all of a sudden playing their best hockey of the season. With Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Minnesota Wild they are now 8-2-1 in their past 11 games and have won five games in a row. Those wins during that stretch have come against Calgary, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Florida, Vegas, Toronto, and Minnesota. All teams either in a playoff spot or competing for one. The big star for them on Saturday was veteran winger Dustin Brown who scored three goals, an assist, and five shots on goal

2. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators. The Predators picked up back-to-back massive wins against the Dallas Stars in their past two games, and it was Saros leading the way in both with consecutive shutouts. After stopping all 33 shots he faced in a 3-0 win on Thursday, he was even better on Saturday by turning aside 37 shots in a 1-0 win. Ryan Ellis scored the only goal for Nashville on Saturday. With the Predators fighting desperately for a playoff spot, Saros turned aside all 70 shots he faced in two games against one of the league’s best teams. That is called coming through when your team needs you most.

3. Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers. Koskinen was nearly flawless for the Oilers on Saturday, stopping 46 out of 47 shots from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-1 win. The win moved the Oilers back into first place (by tiebreaker ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights) in the Pacific Division as they have won four out of their past five games.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The Philadelphia Flyers extended their winning streak to nine games thanks to two goals from Claude Giroux and another huge game from Carter Hart. Read all about it here.
  • Nic Dowd scored two goals for the Washington Capitals as they dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • The New Jersey Devils played spoiler on Saturday by beating their arch-rivals, the New York Rangers, thanks to two-goal efforts from Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri.
  • The Florida Panthers kept their playoff hopes alive with a big 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins had a lot of chaos, including this stretch where they scored two shorthanded goals in 62 seconds. You can read more about the chaos from this game right here.

Blooper of the Night

Sabres goalie Carter Hutton had a bad time on this play.

Controversial play of the Night

The Carolina Hurricanes snapped their losing streak with a huge overtime win against the New York Islanders. It was not without its controversy. It sure looked like Andrei Svechnikov set up the game-winner with a high-stick, but after review it was ruled that he did, in fact, make contact with the puck below his normal shoulder level. Do you agree?

Playoff Push

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT)
Washington Capitals 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2
Nashville Predators 1, Dallas Stars 0
Los Angeles Kings 7, Minnesota Wild 3
Ottawa Senators 2, San Jose Sharks 1 (OT)
Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Boston Bruins 3
Florida Panthers 4, Montreal Canadiens 1
New Jersey Devils 6, New York Rangers 4
Philadelphia Flyers 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Edmonton Oilers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 1

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.

NHL teams get jump on deadline with flurry of early trades

Tom Fitzgerald changed teams twice at the NHL trade deadline as a player and knows how it feels.

As interim general manager of the New Jersey Devils, he didn’t wait until deadline day to trade captain Andy Greene or forward Blake Coleman. Beating the buzzer by more than a week, Fitzgerald recalled his own rough experiences of getting dealt late.

”I wish I was traded a week and a half before so I could get adjusted a little bit quicker,” he said.

Greene and Coleman are among more than a half-dozen players who are already adjusting to a new team because of an early trading flurry. The deadline isn’t until Monday, but some major moves are already done thanks to a clear definition between buyers and sellers, contenders interested in the same possibilities, and reasonable prices around the league.

”Over (last) weekend, a lot of things started to pick up,” said Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake, who has already made three trades and could still be active. ”It seems after the All-Star break, a lot of teams start finding their direction on where they’re going, what’s available and prices.”

Los Angeles got things going by dealing goaltender Jack Campbell and versatile forward Kyle Clifford to Toronto in early February, and this week traded winger Tyler Toffoli to Vancouver and defenseman Alec Martinez to Vegas. On Tuesday, Pacific Division rival San Jose traded defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington, and the Winnipeg Jets got blue liner Dylan DeMelo from Ottawa.

A couple of days earlier, the Devils traded Greene to the New York Islanders and Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning within hours of each other.

It isn’t taking much time to close the book on some big trades.

”I think there’s probably five or six teams talking to the same teams about the same players,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”And it sorts itself out for each team and then it happens quickly because then you’ve got to react to what happens with your other conversations.”

MacLellan didn’t rule out the Capitals making another move. But by getting Dillon early, he could be in the lineup for three extra games – which is significant given how tight the standings are.

It helps Dillon get acclimated, too. The 29-year-old who was considered the top pending free agent defenseman available didn’t have to sit around and wonder when San Jose would trade him.

”I’m sure you guys can read the papers just as much as we are, or social media,” Dillon said. ”It was definitely nice just from the mental side of things to get that done with.”

The NHL several years ago moved the trade deadline from March to February to give teams more time to benefit from acquiring players. Fitzgerald was traded in March each time and played 11 and 15 regular-season games, respectively, after getting moved.

Times have changed.

”A lot of teams like to get to things early,” Fitzgerald said. ”(Teams) want you to mesh with the team quicker rather than later. … A little bit longer runway is useful.”

DEADLINE DAY

All the early trades does not mean Monday might be quiet. The New York Rangers could wait until the last minute to trade forward Chris Kreider or one of their goaltenders. The Devils, Kings and Senators still have assets, too.

A few days after Montreal traded defenseman Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues, speculation continues to swirl around the Canadiens. Coach Claude Julien said, ”I don’t know that the noise is done,” and players involved in rumors are trying to block it out.

”Anything can happen, obviously,” winger Tomas Tatar said. ”I’m not too worried now. It’s just part of the business.”

WHO’S GONE

– Campbell and Clifford traded from Kings to Maple Leafs for Trevor Moore, 2020 third-round pick and conditional 2021 third-round pick

Jason Zucker traded from Wild to Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk, Calen Addison and conditional 2020 first-round pick

– Greene traded from Devils to Islanders for David Quenneville and 2021 second-round pick

– Coleman traded from Devils to Lightning for Nolan Foote and 2020 first-round pick

– Toffoli traded from Kings to Canucks for Tim Schaller, Tyler Madden, 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2022 fourth-round pick

– DeMelo traded from Senators to Jets for 2020 third-round pick

– Dillon traded from Sharks to Capitals for 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2021 third-round pick

– Scandella traded from Canadiens to Blues for 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2021 fourth-round pick

– Martinez traded from Kings to Golden Knights for 2020 second-round pick and 2021 second-round pick

WHO’S LEFT
– Rangers: F Chris Kreider, G Alexandar Georgiev, F Jesper Fast
– Kings: F Trevor Lewis
– Devils: F Wayne Simmonds, D Sami Vatanen, G Louis Domingue
– Senators: F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Vladislav Namestnikov
– Red Wings: F Andreas Athanasiou, D Mike Green, D Trevor Daley
– Canadiens: F Ilya Kovalchuk
– Sharks: F Patrick Marleau, F Joe Thornton
– Jets: D Dustin Byfuglien

WHO COULD STAY
– Rangers: G Henrik Lundqvist
– Devils: F Travis Zajac
– Senators: F Anthony Duclair
– Canadiens: F Tomas Tatar, D Jeff Petry
– Sabres: D Zach Bogosian
– Wild: D Jonas Brodin

Devils selling with the NHL trade deadline approaching

AP Images

NEWARK, N.J. — With the NHL trade deadline a week away, the New Jersey Devils may as well have a giant “for sale” sign hanging outside the dressing room.

Interim general manager Tom Fitzgerald gave a clear indication the Devils are ready to unload when he shipped defenseman and captain Andy Greene and forward Blake Coleman in separate deals Sunday for prospects and draft picks.

With New Jersey looking at a potential second straight bottom-five finish, expect Fitzgerald to move more players.

“I’m guessing my phone will ring a little more now because of what I did,” Fitzgerald said Sunday evening. “But I’m not looking to get rid of players. I’m looking to really move the organization, continue moving forward. And there are players here that will do that and help us.”

Fitzgerald said there are several players he will not trade. Centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall selections in 2017 and ‘19, respectively, are untouchable, as is rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, who has 19 of the team’s 22 wins. Centers Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac, who has a no-trade clause he is not going to waive, also are staying.

The rest of the roster seems to be on the market. The most interesting players on that list are forwards Kyle Palmieri and Wayne Simmonds and defensemen Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen.

Palmieri is the best player. He has a team-high 22 goals and is a legit top line forward who is good on the power play. Simmonds has struggled in his first season in New Jersey with seven goals, but he remains a net-front presence.

Vatanen, 28, is in the final year of his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He is currently on injured reserve with a foot injury so that would have to heal if he is to be moved.

The 25-year-old Butcher has slipped a little in each of the past two campaigns after having a 44-point season as a rookie.

Defense is the area the Devils need to improve. They have given up 204 goals, which is third worst in the league.

New Jersey has some young players who might be ready soon. Kevin Bahl, who was acquired in the December deal with Arizona for Taylor Hall, and former first-round pick Ty Smith have had very good seasons in junior hockey.

The deal that shipped Coleman to Tampa Bay on Sunday night gave the Devils a couple of assets. They picked up a first-round draft pick this year that belonged to Vancouver and prospect forward Nolan Foote.

Foote could be the find. The 6-foot-4 son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, has all the tools at 19 years old.

“I saw him in the summer at the world junior camp and was impressed with his size and hands around the net and definitely the shot,” Fitzgerald said. “So those type of players don’t grow on trees, so when that’s being offered to you, you have to think.”

If Vancouver makes the playoffs and Arizona does not get a top three pick in the draft lottery, their first-round picks will go to the Devils, giving them three in what is considered a good draft.

The problem is New Jersey has a long way to go. It has made the playoffs once since going to the Finals in 2012. Its coach, Alain Nasreddine, and general manager have interim tags.

Ownership has shown little patience this season. John Hynes was fired as coach in early December and Ray Shero was fired as general manager a month later.

“I don’t think we’re going to snap our fingers and next year we’re going to be contending for a Stanley Cup, or the year after,” Fitzgerald said.

New Jersey has three pillars for the future in Hischier, Hughes and Blackwood, and some young players with potential.

“If I can add things in the summer, I don’t see why this team can’t be competitive and scratch and claw to that point of playoffs (next season), but continue to grow it the right way,” Fitzgerald said.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

NHL on NBCSN: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues against Vegas

NBC Sports

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin is still searching for goal no. 700. Since scoring a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 4 (those three goals got him to 698), he hasn’t been able to find the back of the net since. Can he reach the milestone against Vegas tonight?

Ovechkin’s goal drought is at a season-long four games. Clearly, the offense was bound to dry up at some point because he couldn’t keep rolling at the pace he was on. The Capitals captain had scored 14 goals in his previous seven games before the slump. This is still unfortunate timing with the entire hockey world watching and waiting though.

Eventually, he’ll become the eighth player to hit the 700-goal mark. He’ll be joining: Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito and Mike Gartner.

If it doesn’t happen against Vegas, he’ll have an opportunity to get it on home ice against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll get a road game in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon and a primetime NBC matchup on Sunday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All we, as hockey fans, can do is wait patiently for him to get going offensively again.

By comparison, let’s see how long the other members of the 700-goal club waited to hit that mark:

• Wayne Gretzky:

He scored his 700th career goal while he was a member of the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 3, 1991. In a game against the New York Islanders, Gretzky managed to beat Glenn Healy with a backhander in the first period.

Gretzky’s 699th goal was scored against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum on Dec. 29, 1990. He only had to sit on 699 for two games before he finally hit the milestone.

• Gordie Howe: 

Howe scored his 700th goal of his career on Dec. 4, 1968 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Getting boxscores from the 60’s is a little difficult, but thanks to this Sports Illustrated article, we know that Howe scored no. 699 on Thanksgiving night in 1968 (Nov. 28) against Glenn Hall and the St. Louis Blues. So in all, it took him two games to score no. 700 (he was held scoreless against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 1).

• Jaromir Jagr: 

Jagr scored his milestone marker on Mar. 1 2014, while playing for the New Jersey Devils. He scored no. 700 against the New York Islanders on a Sunday. The goal, which was assisted by Travis Zajac and Andy Greene, was his 19th of that season. Goal no. 699 came against Columbus in the previous game, which means Jagr didn’t drag out the process at all.

• Brett Hull: 

Hull reached the 700 goal on Feb. 10, 2003 when he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings. The hall-of-fame sniper was going through a bit of a dry spell when he scored no. 700, as he was in the middle of a seven-game goal drought when he finally found the back of the net. That can’t be fun.

• Marcel Dionne:

On Oct. 31, 1987, Dionne beat New York Islanders goalie Kelly Hrudey from a very difficult angle to score his 700th career goal. Sure, the Rangers ended up losing the game 8-2, but that doesn’t really matter. Dionne’s goal came with just 33 seconds remaining in the game and it wasn’t the prettiest one he had ever scored. Dionne scored no. 699 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 23, 1987. It took him almost four full games to reach the milestone.

• Phil Esposito: 

Esposito was in the exact same position Ovechkin is in right now. He was two goals away from 700 heading into a game against the Washington Capitals on Feb. 2, 1980. Esposito, who was with the Rangers at the time, scored no. 699 on the power play in the second period. Early in the third frame, he managed to find the back of the net again. The difference between Esposito and Ovechkin is that Esposito scored his 698th goal in the previous game. He wasted no time getting no. 700 out of the way.

• Mike Gartner: 

Gartner, like Ovechkin and Esposito was two goals away from no. 700 on the night he reached that incredible mark. He did it against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 14, 1997. Gartner opened the scoring in the first period for 699 and he added the game-tying goal on the power play in the third frame. But like Esposito, Gartner didn’t waste any time once he hit 698, as he scored that one in the previous game.

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.