The result was a disheartening 2-1 loss to the visiting Minnesota Wild.
Clayton Stoner’s dump-in attempt from center ice redirected off the padded edge of the glass near the Devils' bench and slid into a vacated goal to break a 1-1 tie 1:14 into third period.
Johan Hedberg, who had skated behind the net to play the puck, scrambled to get back, but couldn’t recover in time to make the save.
“I think it hit the glass part right just by our bench,” Hedberg said. “When it hit, I lost track of it. I thought it was coming down and around. When I saw it, it was on its way to an empty net. I get back there and I dive for it, but then it takes another bounce; it bounced over me.”
Hedberg has worked to make better decisions on when to come out of his net. He finished with 16 saves.
“I have to be more selective,” he said. “(Goaltending coach) Chris (Terreri) has been talking to me, too, to be aware of the partitions in the glass. I have to learn.”
Ilya Kovalchuk’s team-leading 10th of the season was the Devils’ lone goal, and tied the contest in the second period. Cal Clutterbuck gave the Wild a 1-0 lead in a first period that saw the Devils outshot 8-1.
Jacques Lemaire was frustrated with what he saw in the opening 20 minutes.
“What start?” Lemaire asked. “I’m just (ticked). I’ll try not to talk too much.”
They recovered to put 14 shots on Minnesota starter Jose Theodore in the second period, and outshot the Wild 22-18 for the game. With the score tied entering the third, Stoner’s first career goal tipped the scales for Minnesota.
“He was unlucky on that second goal there,” Lemaire said. “He played good. It’s good that we see Heddy starting to play with confidence. It’s good.”
He was unlucky on that second goal there. He played good. It’s good that we see Heddy starting to play with confidence. It’s good.- Jacques Lemaire on Johan Hedberg
It’s been a season of bad bounces for the Devils (10-27-2), who open a home-and home with Philadelphia at Prudential Center on Thursday.
“When things are not going your way, everything goes wrong,” Hedberg said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s rebounds or posts or whatever it is, it’s not going our way most of the nights. They played extremely disciplined. We had to fight to get through, but defensively, I think we played a very strong game. It’s going to come down to a fluky goal, and it did.”
Clutterbuck opened the scoring in the first, taking a Kovalchuk turnover and stepping around Anssi Salmela inside the Devils’ blueline. Clutterbuck raced down the right side and deposited his 11th of the year over Hedberg’s shoulder at 11:48.
Kovalchuk knotted it up in the second. Travis Zajac found him for a wrister from the left circle that went through Nick Palmieri’s screen and inside the right post at 3:07. Kovalchuk now has three points in four games (2g-1a).
“We have to score more,” Kovalchuk said. “We can’t play a first period like that, one shot. You’re not going to win a lot of games when you score one goal.”
Kovalchuk had a hard time seeing the game decided on a fluke.
“Who’s going to predict that?” he said. “(Hedberg) played an unbelievable game. He didn’t give a lot of rebounds. He was definitely solid.”
Fraser back Mark Fraser returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 13. He suffered a broken hand during the preseason that required surgery.
He got 18:28 of ice time, registering one shot and four of the Devils’ 28 hits.
“As the game went on, I got a little more comfortable, got some of the nerves out,” Fraser said. “But overall, felt pretty good.”
Fraser reported no discomfort in his hand.
“Haven’t thought about it at all,” he said. “It’s been so comfortable. It’s strong now. I’m not even aware of it when I’m out there.”
Lemaire thought Fraser had a solid first game back.
“OK. You see that he’s not in shape, but he wasn’t bad,” said the coach. “He wasn’t bad. He was determined, wanted to play hard, try. He made some mistakes but at least he tried.”
Rolston returns Brian Rolston played in his first game since clearing re-entry waivers last Thursday. He skated on a line with Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner to start the night, recording two shots in 17:36 of ice time.
“A little rusty at first, but I got into the swing of things,” Rolston said.
As for the Stoner goal, Rolston said, “It’s tough to have that one be the difference.”
Zajac has six points in his last seven games (3g-3a). … Vladimir Zharkov backchecked to break up Clutterbuck’s shorthanded breakaway on the Devils’ first power play of the night. They finished 0-for-3 on the man advantage, including one with 8:42 left in regulation when Martin Havlat slashed Adam Mair. … Theodore, who made 21 saves, entered the game 6-14-2 in his career against the Devils. Many of those starts came during Theodore’s seven-plus seasons with Montreal when he went head-to-head, often unsuccessfully, with Martin Brodeur. … The Devils have allowed the first goal in seven of their last nine games and are 2-21-0 when their opponent scores first. … Matt Corrente, Mattias Tedenby and Dainius Zubrus were scratched. … When asked, Lemaire declined to name a goalie for Thursday's meeting with the Flyers. … The Wild earned a regulation in New Jersey for the first time in their history. At home, the Devils are 4-1-1 vs. Minnesota all-time.