NEWARK — Erik Haula is playing for his seventh organization in seven years, so his name being involved in a trade call never comes as a complete shock. But the veteran forward was caught off guard when informed he was being shipped out of Boston last July 13.
He had an introductory phone call with Jim Montgomery the night before. Montgomery, who at the time didn’t know for sure if Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci were coming back, had done preliminary video study of a player he thought would be an important part of his first Bruins lineup.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Haula said Friday morning in the Devils’ dressing room. “I didn’t think it was going to happen. Obviously I had a pretty strong finish with the team. But I get it. It’s worked out well for both sides.”
Haula’s hot second half propelled him to an 18-26—44 line in Boston, the second-best totals of his career (29-26—55 with the debuting Golden Knights in 2018). His reward: a straight-up swap for Pavel Zacha, who has been a younger, similarly versatile piece for the Bruins.
“He’s added another level of depth, skill, and his hockey sense,” Montgomery said before puck drop. “What we didn’t know when we acquired him was how good his hockey sense was and how competitive he was. I think being in the Boston Bruins’ dressing room has helped that competitive level.”
During the first commercial break, the Devils played a tribute video for Zacha, who was drafted sixth overall in 2015 and spent his first seven seasons here. Zacha stood on the bench and waved to the crowd, which gave him a healthy cheer.
Zacha (assist) recorded his first point in five games.
While Haula was playing soccer in the Prudential Center hallway some 75 minutes before Friday’s game, the Bruins’ coaches were walking toward the cafeteria. The hallway was tight. Assistant Joe Sacco dropped his shoulder and threw a light check on Haula, before the grinning pair embraced and caught up.
“I watch them,” Haula said that morning. “I follow them. Good friends there. I think they’re the best team in the league right now. Good for them. It’s going to be a tough one tonight, for sure.”
Haula, an 11.8 percent shooter for his career, has hit on 3 percent of his shots this year (two goals, 12 assists in 33 games). Like Zacha in Boston, he has played a little of everything in the top nine, including power-play and penalty-kill duties. Both have manned the No. 2 left wing spot of late, Zacha with David Krejci and David Pastrnak and Haula with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt.
“We were looking for a veteran guy who can play in every situation,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said after the morning skate. “That’s what he’s given us. He’s been snakebit when it comes to getting the puck in the back of the net. Probably had the most great chances that haven’t gone in. There’s been a little frustration on his part. But he’s been in on those chances. I think a lot of them went in last year. I think they’ll start going in.”
The Haulas are staying in Hoboken, which was not unlike his situation in Boston, where they lived on Causeway Street. Erik and Kristen’s son, Henrik, turns two on Jan. 2, and has picked up a hockey stick. Like his father, he is spraying his chances.
“Working on finding the net here,” Haula said.
Shuffling the deck
A.J. Greer subbed for Craig Smith at No. 4 right wing. Smith skated a team-low 7:58 on Thursday against the Jets. Greer saw his first action in eight days and saw 10:36 of ice time.
Montgomery started an all-ex-Devil line of Taylor Hall, Zacha, and Greer. Ruff started Haula.
Meanwhile, the Devils were without injured defensemen Ryan Graves (day-to-day, lower body) and John Marino (week-to-week, upper body) . . . Linus Ullmark boosted his league-best numbers to 19-1-1 with a 1.94 goals against average and .936 save percentage . . . Offseason free agent prize Ondrej Palat (groin surgery, out since Oct. 25), ex-of the Lightning, is close to joining the team for practice, Ruff said … The Devils were one of 11 teams this season that haven’t been shut out … Their plus-28 goal differential was third in the league. The Bruins were first by a mile (plus-56).
Regarding scoring chances for and against at 5 on 5, per Natural Stat Trick: no one entering Friday had a better differential than Bergeron. He was on for 243 chances for a 117 against, or, when Bergeron hopped over the boards, the Bruins got 67.5 percent of scoring chances. The top four players in that category were involved Friday, including New Jersey’s Tomas Tatar (65.3 percent), Boston’s Brad Marchand (65.2) and the Devils’ Jesper Bratt (64.4).