There are those who say that the shift toward speed and finesse in hockey in recent years have all but eradicated physical play. Nobody told that message to the Vancouver Canucks and the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, as each side displayed a relentless style of aggression in Tuesday’s game. Both teams combined for 12 penalties and 44 minutes in a 3-2 Devils’ win.
“It was a very competitive game,” Devils’ head coach John Hynes said. One of the things we talked about going into this game was playing with a certain amount of passion and toughness and I think we did that in the way that we played. That is a step in the right direction for our team. The toughness and grit we need to be able to win games.”
Days removed from their character-building 4-3 victory in Nashville, the Devils returned home to the Prudential Center, where they have yet to suffer a regulation defeat this season. Taylor Hall opened play by notching his seventh goal of the year between the circles at the 3:42 mark of the first period.
Physical play eventually took over later in the stanza. After fighting majors to Damon Severson and Brendan Gaunce reached expiration, Canucks’ center Michael Chaput pushed Travis Zajac into the dasher as blood dripped onto the ice. Zajac suffered a broken nose on the play but remained in the game.
“He seems good,” Hynes said. “I think a lot of time you reevaluate everything in the morning, but after the game he seemed fine and obviously he finished the game real well. They are tough situations and you don’t want to see players get hurt. On both sides, it’s always emotional.”
The aggressive emotions continued intensifying as the game progressed and reached a controversial apex. With 14:29 remaining in the second period, Hall laid a heavy body check on Vancouver defenseman Philip Larsen.
The force of the hit caused Larsen to lay motionless on the ice for several minutes before paramedics carted him off to the locker room on a stretcher. Larsen was taken to an area hospital for observation and was awake and responsive. Hall was not penalized for the hit and expressed deep concern for the health of his opponent.
“I am looking to make contact there, but I never want to see a guy lying on the ice like that,” Hall said. It’s just I only know how to play the game one way and you gotta play hard. But like I said, I feel terrible. He was a former teammate of mine. I would have loved to have made a hit there and continued the play. I hope he is alright.”
“You always worry about your players and you always worry about your health,” Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said. You always have a problem when a guy gets hit that hard, even if it is a clean hit. I think all coaches would and all players would. From what I was told, he is moving all of his extremities.”
Cooler heads would ultimately prevail with the Devils scoring twice in the second period against former Florida Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom. Kyle Palmieri picked up his fourth goal of the season on the power play and Ben Lovejoy scored his first goal in a Devils’ uniform on a shot from the point with Markstrom screened in the crease.
Coming off a difficult 1-2-2 stretch, Cory Schneider was back in goal for the Devils against his former team and reverted to his stellar play with 22 saves on 24 shot attempts. Schneider allowed single goals to his ex-teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the second and third periods, but felt at ease between the pipes and credited the play of his defense for their part in securing the win.
“I thought we did a great job defensively,” Schneider said. I thought my teammates did a much better job. I was just trying to find pucks as best as I could there with a lot of traffic. It wasn’t overly busy, but I made some key stops at key times and overall, if I keep it under three (goals), it gives us a pretty good chance to win. I need to do that more often and just keep it going in the right direction.”
Despite the heavy extra-curricular activity on the ice, the Devils were able to keep their composure and not lose sight of the task at hand. Their confident play on home ice also reinforced the objective. In their first ten home games, the Devils collected 22 of a possible 24 points and maintain a positive mentality with the idea that each game at home is an attainable pursuit.
“I think we play with a lot of confidence here,” Hall said. “It is a good atmosphere where we are comfortable in this building, obviously and it has to continue. We have had some tough road games and some game where we need to be a lot better, but it gives us solace that can come home and play like we do.”