NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey Devils welcomed fans to their arena for the first time in almost a year. Their recent problem scoring goals continued, which wasn’t surprising against Semyon Varlamov and the New York Islanders.
Varlamov made 28 saves and came within 14 seconds of his fourth shutout, and the red-hot Islanders beat the slumping Devils 2-1 on Tuesday night.
“He’s a great player,” said Devils forward Miles Wood, whose goal with 13.2 seconds to play prevented the Islanders from picking up their second straight shutout. “He played extremely well tonight. We have to get more traffic in front of them for sure. That helps. But at the end of the day, he stood on his head and great job to him.”
The Islanders, who are 9-2-2 in their last 13, got a shutout from rookie Ilya Sorokin on Sunday against Pittsburgh. They came into the game with the NHL’s third best goals-against average.
“Both goalies have been outstanding for us all year so far and we expect them to be, and we’ll be great in front of them,” New York defenseman Nick Leddy said.
Varlamov was at his best in the second period, stopping 13 power-play shots in a period where New Jersey outshot the Islanders 16-5. The Devils had three of their four power plays in the period.
That kept the game scoreless and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom broke through with a wicked wrist shot early in the third period. Anders Lee knocked in his own rebound just under seven minutes later.
Aaron Dell made 18 saves in his second start for New Jersey, which has lost six of seven. Pavel Zacha had his current NHL-leading 10-game point streak snapped.
“I think that there comes a point where you can’t be satisfied with playing well and losing,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “Determination has to lead to more goals. I think the one thing I said is we’ve struggled scoring. Our success will come when we hit that three mark more often in games.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, last week gave permission for fans to attend sports and entertainment events starting in March. Indoor venues with a seating capacity of 5,000 or more were allowed to have 10% capacity, meaning 1,800 could attend the game.
“It was great and there’s the cardboard cutouts as well, it makes it look kind of full,” Dell said. “You can hear the fans and, you know, it’s great to have them there. So I was pretty excited. It was nice to have that presence back.”
Wahlstrom took a pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau near his own blue line, skated all the way to the Devils’ zone and snapped a shot between the legs of defenseman Dmitry Kulikov into the net 70 seconds into the third period. It extended his point-scoring streak to five games (two goals, four assists).
“I’m kind of falling in love with the details of my game, the little details,” Wahlstrom said. “I feel like that’s helping. It’s bringing me more enjoyment to the game and I’m thinking less about production and everything. I’m just focusing on the little details.”
A SPACED-OUT SELLOUT
The game was the first with fans for the Islanders and Devils since March 10, 2020 — two days before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to suspend its season. New Jersey was home against Pittsburgh and New York was at Vancouver.
The club offered its ticket allotment first to season-ticket holders for 24 hours. A public sale followed. Within 48 hours, the Devils sold out their first eight games.
Fans entering the Prudential Center had their temperatures taken at the door. Protocols meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus included designated, distanced seating; contactless transactions; and enhanced cleaning procedures.
NOTES: Devils captain and C Nico Hischier missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. … New Jersey wore its reverse retro jerseys — green shirts, gloves and helmets and red pants. … Islanders RW Cal Clutterbuck returned to the lineup after missing two games with an undisclosed injury. … New Jersey had one of its best games in terms of faceoffs, winning 37 of 65 (57%).