Bennett & Lappin Give Devils Depth
The New Jersey Devils are still a work in progress, and with their top gun Taylor Hall sidelined for at least two more weeks after knee surgery, they need contributions on the scoresheet from everyone until he comes back. In their most recent win, a wild 5-4 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was Beau Bennett who finally netted his first goal as a Devil and rookie Nick Lappin who was elevated to the top line mid-game providing the spark that coach John Hynes was looking for.
“They tested us early obviously, with us going down 3-0,” Bennett would say after the crazy comeback win over Toronto. “It’s not ideal; but little things like that could change the season around. Not that we’ve been going bad, but we’ve been going bad as of late (three consecutive losses in regulation in California). To come back like we did, going into Thanksgiving, it feels really good.”
“The game isn’t won or lost in twenty minutes, we put it behind us. You just have to focus on winning each period, and each shift. We did that well in the second period,” the soon-to-be (November 27) 25-year-old said. “I thought we came out in the third and sustained a lot of good pressure. It was a big gutsy win for us.”
Beau Breaks the Seal
“Beau’s had all kinds of opportunities the last five or six games. He’s played well but just hasn’t been able to find the back of the net,” said Hynes. “For him to get that first goal tonight I think was a relief for him and everyone, and obviously it got the power play off the schneid.”
Bennett had gone 17 games without a goal but was getting glorious chances – especially recently – and finally broke through amidst the Devils three-goal second period that erased a three-goal deficit in under five minutes. It was also the first power-play goal for New Jersey in 29 tries – a streak of futility that started before the presidential election.
“I was just coming through the slot, the puck went around the horn up to Cammy (Mike Cammalleri) and he shot it; it went off of Devante (Smith-Pelly) in front and…if I missed that one I was honestly going to sprint off the ice,” Bennett explained with a joker’s smile. “It was nice to get that one. It was a good boost, mentally for myself and obviously our team.”
Bennett is one of the easiest going players you will ever meet, and as much as he wouldn’t admit that his goalless drought wasn’t bothering him, it was evident by his demeanor – and smile – that he was happy to contribute a goal to the team that took a chance on him after four injury-plagued seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He’s been playing well, all year really to be honest with you,” said Travis Zajac of Bennett. “He’s really skilled and makes a lot of good plays, but I don’t think he gets credit, enough credit, for how hard he is in battles and he wins a lot of them. Good for him and hopefully he keeps it going.”
“I didn’t really think about it too much, but at a certain point you don’t think you are ever going to score again,” he told The Hockey Writers with a chuckle. “Little things like hitting the crossbar in Dallas, pucks just bouncing on me when I have a tap-in on the back door. But now that you get one, who knows? The floodgates might open.”
Lappin a Luxury
“He makes a lot of good plays; he’s hard on the puck, first on the forecheck and he turns a lot of pucks over,” said Zajac of his rookie teammate. “He’s got a great stick and he’s smart when he gets the puck, he’s got a lot of patience. We probably could have capitalized on a couple of other plays he made today. He brought a lot of energy, he’s got good legs, and like I said he’s a smart player.”
Hynes echoed Zajac’s comments during the post game. “When he has the puck he makes the right play more often than not,” the coach said of his 24-year-old rookie from Brown University. “That’s why he has come up and played well, stayed in the lineup and is a big factor on our team.”
Lappin has been with New Jersey for 13 games now (3g-2a), recalled early in the season after being one of the last cuts from training camp. While it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world if he is back in the AHL with the Albany Devils at some point this season, he really hasn’t done anything to warrant getting sent back – instead he’s been a key cog for Hynes’ fourth line – and has shown the ability to jump start other lines throughout games.
“Nick has played very well and we slotted him up midway through the game,” said coach Hynes. “You look at his tenacity and his forechecking is definitely a factor. He’s a guy that when the puck is on his stick, something happens more often that not. He’s a guy that you can play him up-and-down your lineup. As a young player, sometimes if they start the game in those roles, they’re not themselves. If you see a guy going in the middle of a game, like Nick tonight, he slotted up and was a big factor for us.”
Lappin was originally credited with the goal that tied the game 4-4 in the third period, but it was later changed to Yohann Auvitu’s goal rightfully. But it was the rookie’s presence in front of the Maple Leafs’ crease that prevented the goalie from getting a clean look at the shot, and thus making a save on it.
“I thought we played well together,” Lappin said of his stint on a line with Cammalleri and Zajac. “I was just trying to do, what I do – it doesn’t matter what line I’m on; I just try to get in on the forecheck and playing with those guys, they are super skilled players. They make things easy at times (for me), especially with their passes. I just try to get in on the forecheck and create a little space for them, get to the net when they have the puck or they get the puck to our D.”
Bennett (6) and Lappin (5) have only eleven total points between them, but for the Devils, the depth they have added to the team is immeasurable, especially with the team clinging to a playoff position while they wait for Hall to heal and now Kyle Palmieri as well. The franchise has always been about team first. It’s greatest successes have come when they had a roster of interchangeable players, even when they had such scoring stars as Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Alexander Mogilny – the depth players (Randy McKay, Sergei Nemchinov, etc) were just as valuable.
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