While the New Jersey Devils learned they could survive a brief absence from Jack Hughes, they also discovered they can score on the rare occasion their star does not produce a point.
Hughes produced two assists in his return Saturday and then was held without a point a night later, but the Devils earned a pair of wins anyway. Now they are seeking a third straight victory when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night in Newark, N.J.
The Devils went 2-1-1 in the four games Hughes missed with an upper-body injury sustained Feb. 6 in Vancouver. The final game of his absence was a 4-2 loss at St. Louis on Thursday night that marked New Jersey’s first regulation loss since Jan. 26.
Hughes came back Saturday and collected assists on goals by Dougie Hamilton and Jesper Bratt in a 5-2 win at Pittsburgh. On Sunday, Hughes was held without a point for the 12th time and the Devils improved to 6-6-0 in those instances with a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
Hughes took five of New Jersey’s 29 shots on goal Sunday but watched others step up.
Dawson Mercer scored the first of his two goals 19 seconds after Winnipeg netted its first goal during the opening period. Fabian Zetterlund and Miles Wood scored in a span of 1:51 to give New Jersey its 20th comeback win this season and sixth comeback in the third period — matching its total from last season.
“It’s great. We’re never out of a game,” Mercer said. “We’re a responsible team, we know we can protect the lead when we have it and we can also get it back when we’re trailing from behind. We stick to our game and that’s really been working for us lately. And we play the right way until the end.”
While New Jersey is 15-3-3 over its past 21 contests, Montreal is off to a disastrous start on its four-game road trip and hopes to avoid a fourth straight road loss overall.
The Canadiens opened the trip with a 6-2 loss to the Metropolitan-leading Carolina Hurricanes Thursday when they allowed four goals in the third period and coach Martin St. Louis was spotted by television cameras yelling at his team during a timeout.
On Saturday, Montreal allowed three goals in the second period and were handed a 5-1 setback to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Montreal’s nightmarish second period occurred after its defense forced Jake Allen to make 16 saves in the first 20 minutes.
“We had a good start,” Montreal captain Nick Suzuki said. “We had some 2-on-1 chances, some odd-man rushes, but we didn’t capitalize and then the floodgates opened.”
Montreal’s rough start to its trip occurred after it scored 14 goals on home ice during a three-game winning streak against the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks.
The Canadiens played without Kirby Dach due to a non-COVID illness and he will miss a third straight game. They have also placed rookie defenseman Arber Xhekaj on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season.
New Jersey is 10-1-1 in the past 12 meetings and cruised to a 5-1 win in Montreal on Nov. 15 when Hughes scored twice in the second period.
–Field Level Media