Devils, Jets both seek return to early-season form

NHL Hockey

Fast starts have quickly become faded memories for the New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets.

On Friday night, when the Jets host the Devils in the first game between the teams in more than two years, both sides will try to bounce back from discouraging defeats.

The Jets haven’t played since Monday, when they were blanked 1-0 by the visiting Arizona Coyotes. The Devils will be completing a road back-to-back set after trailing wire-to-wire on Thursday in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Winnipeg’s defeat to the rebuilding Coyotes — who have the fewest points among all Western Conference teams — was frustrating in multiple ways. The Jets outshot Arizona 46-15 yet couldn’t overcome a second-period miscue turnover in the neutral zone that led to the game’s lone goal by Antoine Roussel.

The loss was the sixth in seven games for the Jets (1-5-1) following a 9-3-3 start. Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice tinkered with the lines at Thursday’s practice, when he moved Nikolaj Ehlers up to the second line with center Andrew Copp and left winger Pierre-Luc Dubois and dropped right winger Kristian Vesalainen to the third line with left winger Paul Stastny and center Adam Lowry.

That was the second- and third-line alignment the last time the Jets recorded points in back-to-back games on Nov. 16-18, when they beat Edmonton 5-2 before falling to the Oilers 2-1 in a shootout.

“If you’re going to make an adjustment, depending on who you’re playing and how you’re playing, move as few people as possible,” Maurice said.

The Devils’ latest lopsided defeat left coach Lindy Ruff once again bemoaning how dramatically his team has been outplayed by opponents lately. New Jersey opened 7-3-2 but is just 2-5-2 in its past nine games, a span in which it has lost five games by at least two goals.

On Thursday, the Devils gave up a pair of goals in a span of 2:20 around the midway point of the first period and fell behind 3-0 just 2:28 into the second period.

Tallies by Ryan Graves and Tomas Tatar in the middle period, both off assists from Dougie Hamilton, weren’t enough for New Jersey.

The loss to the Wild came six days after a 4-2 defeat to the Nashville Predators that Ruff called the worst game he had seen the Devils play since he became head coach at the start of last season.

“We got smoked on the compete,” Ruff said Thursday night. “(The Wild) won the compete game. There’s no doubt. That’s all we talked about (at Wednesday’s) practice and today. Got to give them credit, they’re a good team. they’re quick, they’re fast. We didn’t handle their speed very well, and the result looked like it did.”

The Jets and Devils didn’t oppose each other last season, when the NHL had all teams playing a schedule consisting solely of division foes. New Jersey earned a 2-1 shootout victory in the most recent game between the clubs, at Winnipeg on Nov. 5, 2019. Each of the past three meetings between the sides went beyond regulation.

–Field Level Media

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