As the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins began to unravel in the third period on Friday, coach John Hynes made the decision to pull Mackenzie Blackwood from the Devils net. Hynes made it clear, the decision wasn't a reflection of Blackwood's play.
"Louis is going to go tomorrow so get him some action for tonight. Get some shots, stop the bleeding and we'll take a look at him tomorrow," Hynes noted.
"The pull was not regarding Mackenzie, it was 4-1. They had two quick ones. Different look in net. He hasn't played in the NHL this year, so we gave him some action."
With the switch, Louis Domingue entered the game for his first appearance as a member of the Devils. The NHL action was the first he had seen since March 21st while with the Lightning. He stopped the five shots he faced from Pittsburgh.
"I was excited, it's a long time coming for me," he said. "I felt like I should have started the year in the NHL but things went the way it did and now I'm here so I'm going to take it one day at a time and try and stay in the league.
Just one night later, Domingue was making his first start of the year. The 17:30 minutes he played against Pittsburgh proved the be beneficial heading into his first start of the year.
"I think so," Domingue said. "It just gets the nerves out of the way. I've played a hundred and some games now and you still get the little nerves sometimes, especially when you play in front of a new team, you always want to do well. It was good to get that out of the way."
Domingue was confident and sound against the Detroit Red Wings in the 4-1 Saturday night victory. He stopped 24 out of 25 shots, in both his debut and first game for a 0.77 GAA and .960 save percentage. Though the sample size remains very small, Hynes was pleased to see the performance from his new goaltender.
"Two things I noticed with him," Hynes said. "He's good at stopping the puck and he's really good at moving the puck."
The moment Domingue stepped foot onto the ice for game action, he became the ninth goaltender to suit up for New Jersey since the departure of Martin Brodeur in April 2014. He joins Cory Schneider, Mackenzie Blackwood, Keith Kinkaid, Scott Wedgewood, Eddie Lack, Ken Appleby, Scott Clemmensen and Yann Danis.
The following night, against the Red Wings, Domingue became just the sixth goaltender to start a game for New Jersey since Brodeur's final game.
The competition at this year's Devils training camp ran deep, with several players who spent plenty of time in New Jersey unable to crack the opening night roster for the 2019-20 season. As comeptitors, sure there was disappointment, but an 82-game season is long, and injuries do happen that allow for call-ups from the farm system.
The first forward to be called up this season is Brett Seney. He arrived in New Jersey on Saturday and played his first game with New Jersey just hours later. Seney played on a line with Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev, making for an easy transition having played several games last season with Zajac as his center.
"I played a couple games with Trav last year. He's so smart and always knows where to be. Real easy guy to play with. He's a very comfortable guy to play with. Same with Goose, I don't know him as well but he's a really smart player and knows how to make plays.
"I gotta be ready whenever he has the puck. There's a couple times last game when he makes a play that you're not really ready for. Moving forward, that's something I've gotta keep an eye on."
This week, the Devils host a special guest at practice. Alex Chatelain is the general manager of SC Bern, the Swiss club where Nico Hischier made his professional hockey debut, as well as the team that the Devils played while in Switzerland prior to 2018 NHL Global Series. SC Bern is one of Europe's most successful franchises, with a passionate fan base and having won two of the last three league championships.
Alex was in town to meet with Devils general manager Ray Shero and hockey management to gain insight into how the NHL club works. He sat down with members of the coaching staff, team operations, scouting, analytics, communications and building operations. He is looking to spend his time observing the team's operations to take some best practices back home to his club.
Taylor Hall would be the first to admit, statistically the beginning of this season has not been his best. When I spoke to Hall earlier last week, he was sitting on just two goals. The chances were there, the breakaways were happening, but the puck just wasn't crossing the line.
When I spoke to Hall last week following the loss to the Boston Bruins, he publicly challenged himself to be better and match up to the top players on opposing teams.
His words were actually that he "needs to step up and produce."
The Devils have played just two games since that statement, and in that span Hall has scored goals in both those games, while also adding an assist.
"If I think I'm one of the best players on this team, it's going to have to be guys like me to step up and produce so that's really what I'm looking to do," Hall said. "When you're looking to go mano-a-mano against the other teams' best players, guys like myself have to play better if we're going to win games and if we're going to start to really make a climb in the standings."
Hall's goal against Pittsburgh ended a nine-game drought and also marked his first road goal of the season.
Devils assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald has moved back to his office in Prudential Center, putting away his skates for now. Fitzgerald joined the teams coaching staff about six weeks ago, to help assist with the coaching duties and gain a better perspective on what has been ailing the Devils through the first 22 games of the season.
"We'll continue to use him as a resource," coach Hynes said. "But it was the right time for him and for us, to have him back to what he was actually hired to do."
With Fitzgerald on the bench, the Devils penalty kill saw a major improvement. The penalty kill at the time he joined the staff was 57.1%, which ranked last in the NHL. From that date until present, the Devils penalty kill has ranked seventh in the NHL at 85.2%.
"It was great having Fitzy around. He's been around for awhile, so he knows what's going on and he's seen the players," John Hynes said. "We know this wasn't going to be forever. It's a different voice, different observations. It's kind of run its course and he's done a fantastic job."
When Fitzgerald made the move to the bench, the Devils were 0-4-2. They went 8-6-2 with him on the bench.
So why were Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt scratched against the Detroit Red Wings? I know it caught some fans off-guard, so here's the explanation:
"With Zacha and Bratt, it's consistency, it's competitiveness," Hynes said prior to the Red Wings game. "Those guys aren't rookies anymore. We're expecting more consistency from them," he said. "They're three- and four-year pros. Both have been in this situation before and both have had good responses."
Zacha has just three points in his past 10 games; all assists. He also hasn't scored since October 25th.
Bratt has four points in his last 10 games, with two goals and two assists and has also been a minus player in 7 of his last 10.
Grace Eline was the Devils latest free-agent signing to join the team. On Saturday, the 10-year-old brain tumor survivor met with general manager Ray Shero to sign her NHL contract. Grace was this year's honoree for the Devils Hockey Fights Cancer night.