Wednesday night was supposed to be a showdown between two of the top rookies in the National Hockey League. The New Jersey Devils' Adam Henrique and the Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, separated by just one point in the Calder Trophy race, were going to meet for the first - and only - time this season.
A shoulder injury, however, knocked Nugent-Hopkins out of tonight's game. With him out of game action, Henrique has a chance to surpass him and take over as the rookie points leader as the Devils battle the Oilers tonight at Rexall Place. Puck drop is 9 p.m., and the game can be seen locally on MSG Plus.
In 39 games, Henrique has collected 34 points (13g, 21a) and cemented his position on the top line with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. He also earned Rookie of the Month honors in December, and could be the Devils All-Star representative.
Nugent-Hopkins began the season with Edmonton, scoring 35 points (13g, 22a) before his injury. He'll miss three to four weeks after hurting his left shoulder sliding into the boards in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks January 2.
The Devils will look to Henrique to give them a bounce back performance after last night's 6-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. New Jersey allowed four straight goals in the first period, their worst defensive performance in one period this season. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Henrique scored goals, but it wouldn't be enough to overcome the deficit. The tandem of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg allowed the six scores on just 14 shots.
Hedberg, who was slated to start in tonight's game, said he wouldn't hide behind the team's poor play.
"It wasn't a very good night," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "Personally, if I think I can hide behind bouncing pucks or something, then I'm cheating myself and cheating my teammates. My job is to stop the puck and I didn't do that. I have to take it upon myself to be better and correct whatever I can and come back strong tomorrow."
It was the third time New Jersey allowed six goals in a game this season. They've lost their last five games on the road to Western Conference teams by a combined score of 25-15.
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer didn't have an explanation for the team's road woes.
"I don't have an answer," he told Gulitti. "We came out West here about a month ago and started with the same type of game the first game in Colorado (a 6-1 loss on November 30). We talked about that. We didn't want a reproduction of that and that's pretty much what we got."
After starting the season on a hot streak, Edmonton has cooled off and enters the game under NHL-.500 (16-22-3) and last in the Northwest Division. The Oilers return home after a subpar seven game road trip. They only managed to win one of those games and ended the trip with a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars Saturday afternoon. Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro scored two goals apiece as the Stars scored four straight goals in the win. Taylor Hall was the lone goal scorer for Edmonton.
Edmonton is just 2-8-0 in its last ten games.
This is the first and only meeting of the season between the two teams. New Jersey won the last matchup, 4-3, in overtime on November 12, 2010. The Devils are 5-1-1 in their last seven visits to Rexall Place.