Picture a puck being knocked off someone's stick by a defender, squirt beneath the defender's skates, and then have a forward pick up possession only to have a shooting attempt denied some other way. Picture that tens of times and you pretty much have this game in a nutshell. The New Jersey Devils went up against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks and the two teams effectively had a rock fight on the ice. The two teams traded chips, stick-checks, unaccounted blocks, and all manner of pressing hockey for most of the game. One could argue this is how the Devils should perform against a team that has not only won their last six games but also has significantly outshot their competition this season. It looked like an even affair overall, though the third period saw the biggest swings of play. Alas, while the Devils earned a point, they could not get the second one as Kyle Palmieri scored on a wraparound in OT. Fittingly, the puck itself had to be launched up and over Cory Schneider off the stick of Jon Merrill. A bounce decided the game.
For the fans of "little things matter" in hockey, all five goals had some component that made the difference between scoring and not scoring. The game's first goal was created by an icing by the Ducks. While Bruce Boudreau used his timeout, it didn't deter from Adam Henrique taking the puck away from Ben Lovejoy after the faceoff and then tossing it over to Michael Ryder for a one-timer on Jonas Hiller's flank. The Ducks' second period equalizer began with an icing by the Devils. Jaromir Jagr was out there for well over a minute and headed to the bench. He didn't see a pass coming his way (I can't recall if it was Eric Gelinas or Andy Greene) and so he had to stay on. After the puck dropped, Teemu Selanne fished the puck out of the dot amid bodies, tossed it back to Lovejoy, he threw it to Cam Fowler, and Fowler sniped a shot through a double-screen. Icings aren't always big deals, but these two helped make a difference tonight.
Of course there was more "little things matter." The Ducks' third period goal started thanks to a bad pass by Eric Gelinas that went right to Mathieu Perreault. While the Devils converged, Selanne got it out and up to Palmieri. Marek Zidlicky kept with Palmieri, who just threw the puck in front. It bounced twice off Gelinas' skates and behind him. Perreault slammed the loose puck into the net. The puck ricocheting off skates was just bad luck. The bad pass was awful and Selanne getting in position to get it and play Palmieri into the zone was massive. The Devils' response had no such bounce or turnover, but guys were caught puck watching. During a power play, Jaromir Jagr was actually played into the zone on a proper zone entry. All four penalty killers were watching Jagr by the sideboards. Andrew Cogliano was caught too up high. So Jagr had a passing lane and an unnoticed Andy Greene driving to the net behind Cogliano. Pass, shot, game-tying goal. Had four Ducks not fixated on one man for so long, perhaps I'm writing about a 2-1 loss.
But, again, the Ducks did win it in OT. Merrill getting his stick at the post wasn't a problem. The problem came earlier on the play. Stephen Gionta and Dainius Zubrus both went in on a forecheck in overtime against Fowler. You know, in 4-on-4 hockey. Neither threatened and Fowler made an easy pass up to Perreault. All of a sudden, a 3-on-2 was possible. But Palmieri took matters into his own hands and went right at Gelinas. He skated diagonally to get on his left, curved around him like he was a pylon, and then brought his stick around the net for the wrap. Merrill and Schneider did what they could. Neither could have assumed that the puck would just come out instead of curve in. I think they were well-intentioned. If you want to fault someone, look at the other three guys. But if the forwards didn't make a bad decision to go aggressive - which was odd as the Devils were very tame in OT - and if Gelinas did anything different, then there's no play.
I said it was a fitting ending in that neither team really jumped out in this one. Overall, the game itself was even by plenty of standards. The game ended 24-21 in shots in favor of Anaheim, while the Devils led in overall attempts 36-34. Both teams took penalties they probably shouldn't have taken. While the Devils did get a PPG, the penalties served to make the game murkier at 5-on-5, which ended 24-22 in attempts (yes, attempts) in favor of NJ. Both goalies were OK. Schneider made a number of important stops, while the post helped Hiller out thrice among his stops. I thought the Devils had a good first period and Anaheim owned the first half of the third period (I don't think the Devils had a shot on net for nine, ten minutes in that one), and there were some good performances mixed in with some bad ones. Ultimately, the game came down to what breaks each team got. Anaheim got this one. It wasn't as crazy as a clearance bouncing off a teammate's leg and into the net, but it was a break nonetheless.
So I shrug at it. The "smiley of the game" would have a backslash in it. An overtime loss to a crazy-hot team in the NHL's strongest division isn't that a bad result. Though it would have been nice had Jagr hooked up with Greene for another one-timer (he missed the pass in OT) or if those pucks off the posts went in. It didn't.
The Opposition Opinion: Surely, those at Anaheim Calling are pleased with seven straight wins.
The Game Highlights: Indeed there were highlights, even though the game looked like two teams trying to squeeze blood out of a stone on offense at times. Here's the video from NHL.com:
Knee Injury: The Devils suffered another injury to one of their forwards tonight. Damien Brunner got hit in the corner by Mark Fristic late in the first period. He immediately went down to the ice. Play continued for a few more seconds before the ref, who looked at him several times even as he tried to crawl (tell me again about player safety, officials), blew the play dead. He was helped off the ice, he put no weight on his right leg, and did not return. It wasn't a dirty hit; an accidental knee-on-knee collision. Like in life, bad things just sometime happen from that.
I'd say he was missed tonight. He was flying early alongside Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique. He didn't play enough to say whether he would go on to have a good game, but his first few shifts were positive. I really enjoyed the last few games from Brunner, where he would take more initiative on offense and play more around the net as opposed to just in space. Michael Ryder was moved up to play in his spot, which obviously worked out to a a degree since he did score a goal. But he wasn't always "there," especially early in the third period when the Devils got no offense going. The third line with Andrei Loktionov and Reid Boucher were just total non-factors without Ryder. Maybe Ryder wouldn't have made much a difference as they did little without him; but it's a possibility. The fourths weren't all that bad (I didn't like Gionta "honoring" Brunner with an offensive-zone hooking minor) but I'd like to think if Brunner was active for the whole game, then maybe we don't see Gionta or Tim Sestito late in games. An injury to anyone playing significant minutes will effect more than just his line; and that's what I saw even though the Devils tried to make due.
How severe the injury is has not been revealed. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice after the game that he's still being evaluated according to Peter DeBoer. I'll leave how that effects tomorrow's game for whoever's writing the preview. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, regardless of what the actual injury is.
Redeemed: While making 14 saves on 17 shots does nothing good for a save percentage, I liked what I saw out of Cory Schneider. He did have to take a delay of game penalty for getting into no man's land with the puck in front of the goal line and an on-rushing Duck forechecker. I'd say that was his biggest blunder. He didn't see Fowler's goal whatsoever, he got beat on a point-blank shot off a loose puck in front of the crease, and Merrill's stick helped Palmieri's attempt get up and over. None were soft goals or one's he should hope to have back. I don't think he had a fair chance at either. A week after a nightmarish first period performance in Pittsburgh, Schneider did his job as best as he could. I'd say he did well. Maybe he should bribe the scorer to count more shots to help his save percentage?
What Do You Have When an Offensive-Minded Defensive Pairing Puts Up No Offense: I'm sure you have a witty answer for that one. So I'll just be serious. The pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas was awful tonight. You know it's bad when they both kicked off overtime looking like a kid afraid to just get his feet wet on the beach as they skated around in their own end against one forechecker. (In retrospect, it was a sign of how lame the Devils would play in overtime.) While this game was limited in 5-on-5 attempts, this pairing was the only one of New Jersey's three that were forced to defend more often than not. I don't know if I want to see Ryan's tally for these two from this game; I expect it to the be a low number in terms of exits and passes. On top of all of this, the two had no shots on net. Yes, no shots on net. I repeat: no shots on net. The Truth was not at the Rock, and Gambling Marek rolled more snake eyes on his decisions more often than not.
Between the two, Gelinas was simply poor. I can't recall if he made that ill-advised pass to Jagr to create the icing that led to Fowler's goal. (A part of me hopes it wasn't Andy Greene since he was a boss tonight, but I always stand to be corrected.) But he was featured in a bad way on the other two goals against. His pass into the neutral zone was awful and created the whole situation to begin with. He got torched by Palmieri going inside-out into the zone. He was tentative when he should have been aggressive in my opinion. Everyone has a bad game and rookie defensemen tend stand out when they're bad. The good news - and I'll go into why in a little more detail on Saturday - is that I think highly enough of Gelinas that it's just a bad game.
Quacking: Palmieri and Perreault were great. Selanne made two little plays that ended up being big, though I'd say he was the second best 40+ year old in the game tonight. Better them doing well than Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Dustin Penner. While they combined for six shots on net, I can't really recall any great opportunities created by them. I suppose that's a reason to be a bit down about this loss; the Devils managed to prevent two top scorers in the league from dictating this game. While Fowler looked good at times, he had to spend a lot of time in his own end. I wonder how much better he would have played if he didn't have Lovejoy as a partner. Good on the Devils to pound that pairing, though the other two did rather well.
A Few Words (For This Site at Least) On Discipline: Too many men on the ice, a delay of game by the goalie, and an offensive zone hooking call. While the Devils did only concede six shots and nearly scored a shorthanded goal in the first period, these were bad calls to take. I hope they got it out of their system tonight because it could be lethal tomorrow.
Your Take: The Devils do not reach NHL .500 and they'll need at least a point tomorrow to end the week with a positive record. I want to know how you feel about this game, especially in light of their situation. Are you like me and not really that unhappy about what happened tonight? Or do you think the Devils dropped a point in this one? Who on the Devils did you think had a notable - good or bad - game? What do you think the Devils should have done differently (other than the obvious answer of score more goals) this evening? Do you think they can recover for tomorrow?
Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Apologies for the site being down at points during the day; I hope it's all good now and I thank you for your patience. Thank you for reading.