Last night, the New Jersey Devils went into Philadelphia and put in a full effort in a 3-0 win. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils showed little signs of fatigue in a more rousing game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game featured plenty of offensive opportunities from both teams. Countless number of stick checks and potential fouls not called. And plenty of great goaltending. The game went 65 minutes and all the way to the shootout. Alas, the Devils remain dismal and scoreless at the shootout so the night ended with a 2-1 loss on the scoreboard. Still, the team got a well-earned point to make the back-to-back set successful.
Quite simply, the Devils out-worked the Maple Leafs tonight. Toronto has been bleeding shots all season long and a team like New Jersey, for who generating shots is akin to squeezing blood from a stone at times, was able to pierce through the skaters for 35 shots on net. The difference in attempts was massive. Overall, the Devils led 59-46 and in 5-on-5 play, the Devils flat out rolled through them at 50-26. 50-26! By the Devils! Toronto's idea of a neutral zone defense was just that: an idea. The Devils were able to keep many attacking efforts alive with good keep-ins, strong play along the boards, and solid movement of the puck. The game was very similar to the Devils-Leafs games of last season where the Devils would flat-out wreck the Leafs in terms of possession but Toronto would find away to go up on the scoreboard and win more comfortably there than it was on the ice.
But it was a bit different tonight. Toronto wasn't completely devoid of offense from period to period as their top six had enough threatening movements to be, well, threatening. Cory Schneider wasn't just chilling for long stretches; he had to be active as well. Especially during Toronto's power plays, which featured a lot of attempts, eleven shots, and one highlight-reel worthy goal. It's just that the Devils responded to every punch by Toronto with several combinations; there was just no knockout blow. Jonathan Bernier was near perfect as the Devils threw plenty at him from all over the zone with various situations. As has been the story of Toronto's 2013 year, he's been nothing short of impressive net. I did say near perfect, though; his one big error made post-regulation play possible.
On another night, the 15-shot second period (remember, the Devils put up 14 in an entire game last Saturday night) would have yielded a few goals. The unit of Jaromir Jagr, Andrei Loktionov, and Dainius Zubrus would have had a few. Or perhaps from Damien Brunner, Travis Zajac, and Steve Bernier. Possibly from distance from Eric Gelinas. I'm not just throwing out names for no reason as those players had significant amounts of shots, shooting attempts, and possession. The Devils did quite a lot in tonight's game. But at least when Toronto scored, they would tie it up - even if it wasn't entirely intentional.
First: Toronto's goal. After a really, really weak call on Andy Greene for hooking, the Leafs went back to attack on the power play. The Devils got a clearance, but Phil Kessel collected the puck over his own blueline and figured on charging ahead. He torched all the Devils, drew a legitimate and ineffective hook from Marek Zidlicky (Why was he on the PK? Well, Greene was in the box.), and slammed the puck through Schneider's five hole as bodies crashed the net. It was the sort of goal that teams use in their highlight packages and TV people will show as an example of how thrilling and powerful Kessel is. It was a power play goal that drew another power play as Kessel's goal wiped out Greene's "penalty" and Zidlicky had to serve another minor. But the Devils killed that off and went back to pinning back the Leafs.
They would draw two power plays afterward. The first, well, the Devils wasted. The second wasn't much better until Michael Ryder gained the zone down the boards. He fired a low shot on Bernier. For some reason, Bernier stopped it with his stick angled from the ice. The puck went up, off his shoulder, and dropped into the net. An unexpected result but given how poor the Devils' own luck has been at shooting when they do get shots at time, it was a very welcomed event. Last season, the Devils likely don't get that goal or a point out of the matter.
While Toronto had the best chance to win it in OT with a 3-on-1 rush that ended with Schneider absolutely robbing Kessel, the Devils did much more to generate opportunities and took more of them towards and on net. The only area Toronto really out-did the Devils was on discipline (the Devils' other four penalties were legit, Greene's was not); the power play, where they got eleven shots on net out of six opportunities including a 5-on-3; and the shootout where James van Reimsdyk scored the only goal of the affair. That's it.
As disappointing as it was at seeing another shutout in a shootout, I can't really complain about the effort - especially after playing a full game the night before. The Devils got in the Leafs' collective grill, they put more offense together, they left very few second chance opportunities for Toronto, they won more pucks, and I'm not sure what more process-wise I could want in this game. They forced Bernier to try and stand on his head for his team to have a chance, who did just that. I don't know about you, but I really can't be upset or frustrated or mad or sad about the result given the performance regardless of the team's record. So I won't be.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights - featuring a lot of J. Bernier:
First Since Boston: The last time the Devils put up more than 30 shots on net in a game was the stunning comeback win over Boston. The Devils managed to break 30 within regulation, which is a feat given the Devils have been struggling to put pucks on net much more often than not. It speaks to how much pep the Devils had in their step to keep attacking throughout the night and how effective their rushes and offensive control was. While some lines did better than others, but each unit had great chances - even the fourths. I know the Devils aren't always going to play defensively-soft teams like Toronto every night but it's the sort of effort that I can appreciate.
Sweet Feeds: User DevilRKS has been tracking passes by the Devils in games this season. You should be reading his FanPosts. (Maybe I need to give him a bigger platform?) Since it was a road game, he got it up quickly and look at all of the goodness from this one.
Travis Destroyed His Matchups: His attempt differential in 5-on-5 play was 20-1. Yes. 1. Zajac was on the ice for one little shot against in 5-on-5 play. He was on the ice for eleven shots by his own team, including two of his own. #19 tore it up out there. Not surprisingly, so did his linemate Brunner, only he had seven attempts of his own including four shots. Making this feat more impressive was who he played against. His most common opponents in 5-on-5 play were Kessel, Joffery Lupul, and van Reimsdyk at forward with Carl Gunnarson and Dion Phaneuf on defense. Kessel's line had many good chances to score but most of those came on the power play plus that one counter-attack in OT that Schneider robbed Kessel on. Overall, that threesome combined for 12 of Toronto's 28 shots but only two of Toronto's 14 shots in 5-on-5 play. Zajac was simply excellent when he was on the ice. Let's hope it continues.
Between those two and seeing Zubrus pound the net with five shots along with Loktionov and Jagr control and move the puck very well (Please continue to rule, Jaromir. Thanks), it's going to be an interesting decision as to where Patrik Elias fits in when he's healthy.
Gelinas In: Eric Gelinas left Philly on crutches with a negative X-ray. He entered Toronto without them and felt fine in warm-ups so he got in the lineup tonight. Good thing too. He finished tied for the team lead in shots on net tonight and had a couple more that were nearly re-directed into the net. His passes made a difference, most notably his leading pass to Ryder that led to him gaining the zone and eventually the team's power play equalizer. Gelinas was pretty solid in his own end (not much he could do on the 3-on-1 in OT; Adam Larsson got caught with Mason Raymond behind him, if I recall correctly), and he skated about without a visible problem. Let me put it this way: he played like he's a seasoned veteran tonight. I know he's still limited on his shifts and sheltered a bit, but the guy got ice time in OT plus plenty of attack time. I don't think he's going anywhere for the time being.
Rough Start or I'd Rather See Fayne: Peter Harrold had a rough go of it for the first few minutes. His trip on van Reimsdyk during a four-minute penalty kill was quite dumb and put the Devils in an early precarious decision. He mishandled the puck in his own end a few times, which was annoying. He would settle down and play an otherwise solid game alongside Andy Greene again. But since Peter DeBoer is big on this idea of having a young third pairing, I'm unsure why Harrold got in this game to begin with. Sure, the team got a shutout the night before but it wasn't because Harrold was all that great. I think Mark Fayne would have been a safer option, especially since Harrold didn't contribute much to the attack on his own. Plus, when the d-men took calls as they did tonight, he could have been out there than Zidlicky on a kill.
Note to Zid: If you're going to foul a player charging hard to the net, then make sure he doesn't actually get a shot off. The whole point to penalize a guy to prevent a goal is to actually prevent the goal. Sigh.
Other than that moment, he had an OK night. Nothing special, nothing great, and nothing too horrible aside from that call.
Janssen Returns to Earth: Cam Janssen did nothing particularly good or bad in his 4:29 of ice time tonight.
Good Sign: Stephen Gionta went feet first into the corner boards going after a puck in the second period. He went down hard and had to be helped off the ice. Gionta didn't appear to put any weight on his right foot. It seemed certain the Devils would have a new entry to the injured reserve list. That may still happen but fortunately the Devils were not reduced to ten non-Janssen forwards. Gionta did return to the game in the third period and played the way through. As expected with the fourths, he had a low event night but he did set up Ryan Carter for a great look in front of the net so he wasn't entirely invisible.
On the Shootout: The shooters selected were Ryder (a lifetime 6-for-36), Zajac (a lifetime 6-for-20), and Adam Henrique (a lifetime 1-for-6). Ryder's shot got a glove save, Zajac hit the left post, and Henrique went wide. Zajac has had the best conversion rate among all healthy Devils, though he's now tied with Zidlicky. Could arguments have been made for others? Sure. But let's be real. If DeBoer chose three off-the-wall choices and they didn't score, the response would be "How come you didn't put Zajac, or someone else who's had at least scored in the shootout?" Keep that in mind before you honestly suggest that DeBoer really should have picked someone like Mattias Tedenby (a lifetime 0-for-3 and hasn't scored in recent one-on-one opportunities this season in the run of play) instead.
Does Toronto Have a Bottom Six? Plus Clarkson: Kessel's line and the unit of Nazem Kadri, David Clarkson, and Mason Raymond really carried the Leafs tonight. . Only Nikolai Kulemin and Jay McClement got shots on net outside of that trio and they each only had one. And Kadri's line were really only standouts in the first period. Clarkson had two very good shots on net, one that got through before Zidlicky cleared it off the line, and that was it from him this evening. I suppose my point is that a significant part of Toronto's attack was put on #81's back tonight. The only weight larger was Bernier putting the defensive side of the game on his back as the Devils bombed away on him with not much help at times. Better to limit it to a few guys than have everyone roll through you - even if you have a goalie playing incredibly well like J. Bernier did tonight.
Three out of Four: Technically, this has been the Devils' best result in a back-to-back set yet. The team can't relax for long as they got a game coming up on Sunday.
Your Take: So what's your take on tonight's shootout loss? Were you impressed by how well the Devils played, especially after playing the night prior? When do you think the goals will come from New Jersey? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight in your eyes? What does the team need to do other than "finish" or "score in the shootout" going forward based on this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.