Technically, it's a winter storm but who really cares? The New Jersey Devils, the St. Louis Blues, and officials were all available at The Rock so it was game on as the snowstorm socked the state. Whether you were one of the few who decided to brave the inclement weather or the many who wisely stayed out if it, every Devils fan around the world saw something magical tonight. The Devils simply whipped the Blues 7-1. That's right, one of the best teams in the NHL fresh off a big win over a rival went up against one of the lowest scoring teams in the league and conceded a touchdown. Needless to say, it was an absolute blast to watch.
Like a massive snowstorm, plenty of elements have to come together for a blowout to happen. As we know from many games this season, attacking a lot alone will not necessarily lead to goals. There needs to be breakdowns in coverage. There needs to be opportunities, where they get taken advantage of. There needs be some great luck. Tonight, it was all aligned for the Devils and against the Blues.
Before I gush about the Devils tonight, tonight's game can be summed up in one phrase for St. Louis. Everything that could have gone wrong, did gone wrong. Little miscues like a misfired pass or not finding an open man in the slot wasted opportunities to get back in the game when it was vaguely reachable. Pucks bouncing over sticks at the point ended offensive pressure the Blues desperately needed in the first two periods. Even when they made the passes and created a scoring chance, the puck rarely found the net. Cory Schneider was excellent with his peak coming from denying David Backes all alone in front in the second period back when it was 4-1. 4-2 and a trial loomed. Even when Schneider was out of position, Anton Volchenkov made a unintentionally great save in the third when his butt blocked a Derek Roy shot that seemed destined to lessen the blowout. Away from offense, the Blues took four penalties they could have avoided, and the Devils made them pay for all but one of them - and the first one yielded a crossbar. And the icing on the cake was an Eric Gelinas shot from the red line ricocheting off Vladimir Sobotka and fooling Jaroslav Halak from about 50 feet. It was clearly not the Blues' night.
Of course, blowouts require someone succeeding wildly and the Devils definitely did that. After an auspicious first few shifts, the Devils get their first break. Patrik Elias and Damien Brunner battled for a puck and it just squirted out to the high slot. Mark Fayne jumped up, had a go, and his wrister beat Brian Elliott. Twenty four seconds later, Ryan Carter picks up a short rebound from a Stephen Gionta jam, gets free because why have a man on Ryan Carter?, and puts a puck over an outstretched Elliott. On the next shift, Elliott just denied Reid Boucher right at the crease and it was suddenly acceptable to feel good about how the Devils would play. Minutes after Alex Steen put in his own blocked shot past Schneider, Reid Boucher chips a puck into the zone, gets it, dodges a diving Alex Pietrangelo, and feeds a puck to the crease that bounces off Jaromir Jagr's skate and in. The Devils continued to attack, hit two more posts, and ended the first with a power play ahead in shots 13-6 and up 3-1 going against a different goaltender.
Then things got crazier. The power play appeared. Right after Marek Zidlicky got a great look at the net - and I was initially screaming at my TV for him to shoot - he found Ryane Clowe on Halak's left flank. It was a sharp shot but he finished it. The Devils then went about 13 minutes without a shot on net. The CBGBs then generate three seemingly out of nowhere, Barret Jackman takes a penalty in a post-whistle beef with Carter, and Adam Henrique is fed by Eric Gelinas heading to the net. Henrique snapped a shot right inside the top right corner for a 5-1 goal. Shots ended the second at 7-6 in favor of St. Louis - and another power play for the Devils. That power play was converted by Brunner when he creamed a cross-ice pass by Patrik Elias with a one-timer to make it 6-1. St. Louis got some power plays but outside of Roy finding Volchenkov's bottom, they did little. Gelinas got a fluke, Dainius Zubrus was robbed by Halak late for what could've easily been eight goals, and whoever came to the Rock gave the Devils a deserved ovation. The total damage: seven goals out of twenty-three shots on net, three power play goals out of four advantages, and holding the Blues to one out of twenty-seven.
The Devils fully deserved their result tonight. The Blues really only pinned the Devils on the shot count in the third when the game was already out of hand. Overall, there are so few negatives from this game it's weird writing about this game. The Devils showed that they can score a lot of goals every once in a while. They did it against an excellent team. They succeeded in areas that they normally don't succeed at. It was simply great fun to watch. I still have a stupid grin on my face from just seeing it. I'm sure the smiles are plastered on those who went to the Rock even with the long, arduous journey back home. It may not technically be a blizzard in New Jersey, but you couldn't convince the Blues given all of the rubber that the Devils piled up.
The Game Highlights: The Devils scored seven goals. Two flukes (Jagr's skate, Gelinas' neutral zone score), five beautiful shots, and if you don't want to see these, then I don't know what to tell you. (Source: NHL.com.)
My Only Concerns: It behooves me that before I make this recap full of praise, I should state my issues with tonight's game.
First, the Devils played so well and they got all of the bounces in their favor. The Devils got positive contributions from nearly every player tonight. That's not going to happen every night. When the Devils have a game where they struggle, invariably someone will sigh "But they beat the Blues 7-1!" Don't be that someone. Tonight was wonderful but it was a combination of the Devils doing well, luck favoring the Devils, and the Blues playing bad. That doesn't happen by choice or desire. Remember that next week when St. Louis plays far, far better in the rematch on their rink.
Second, Adam Henrique did not appear at all in the third period. He appeared to get stung in the hand by a one-timer from Roman Polak. I'm hoping they kept him out as a precaution given the massive lead. But Henrique is an important two-way center for the team and he's led Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe on a recently successful line. It would be a blow to the team if he's injured for any stretch of time. The one thing one doesn't hope for in any game, much less blowouts, are injuries. With the Devils finally getting just about healthy for the first time in months and beating up a top team in the West 7-1, this is a potential downer.
Third, the Devils had plenty of stretches where they didn't register a shot on net. In the third, that's forgiveable since the Devils were up five or six goals. That thirteen minute or stretch in second was a dire. Granted, it ended wonderfully with a three-shot shift from the fourth line and drawing call that led to the fifth goal. But if St. Louis was sharper on the puck, they could have found a way back into the game. Schneider's stop on Backes alone was great but it was only one of seven unblocked shooting attempts the Blues had in that timeframe. While 4-1 is usually a safe lead, it's not unheard of for it to be broken down. Especially by a team like the Blues, who average close to three and a half goals per game. It could have been undone in that time period. Good on the Devils in part to limit the Blues, but it was more of a function of the Blues not effectively attacking than strong play. All the same, the Devils should strive to keep teams at least honest when they have a big lead. As it turned out tonight, it could lead to more goals.
Possession Note: The Extra Skater Game Stats for this one are interesting. The Fenwick graph is instructive as to how the Devils' attack was inconsistent after that great first period. The total attempts ended 45-33 overall in favor of St. Louis, but taking out blocks shows a difference of only 31-29 in favor of St. Louis. For a team playing from behind for a little over 57 minutes, that's not exactly playing to the score effect. It speaks better of the Devils as they kept the game as low-event as they could. That said, the 5-on-5 possession numbers reveal plenty of negatives, mostly that Mark Fayne and Andy Greene got pinned a lot and the Newfoundline also suffered the same. But that's expected because, again, St. Louis played from behind and had to try to make something happen to get back in the game. It also means the power play definitely made a big difference.
The Power Play Was Seriously Awesome: When was the last time the Devils did this well on the power play? The stunning 4-3 win in Boston back in October comes to mind. Tonight, the Devils were 3-for-4. Five shots on net plus a crossbar and three of them went in. The shots themselves were beautiful, worthy of any highlight reel. Only the first power play resembled something we're used to seeing; but that one was promising early due to the aforementioned crossbar shot. The Devils were able to gain the zone, set up great shots, and finish them. The power play basically dug the Blues' hole even deeper. I have a feeling it's going to be quite sometime before we see such man advantage success by the Devils in a game. My takeaway is that if they can try to get set up more often, then we'll hopefully see some more PPGs which can help the Devils really pull away from teams.
1 Goal, 2 Against: Of all of the Blues, Alex Steen concerned me the most. He scored St. Louis' lone goal. Jaden Schwartz set up Steen for a fantastic one-timer. Andy Greene blocked it and Steen slammed in the loose puck. Not much Greene or Schneider could have done about it. That made the game 2-1 and my immediate thought was "If anyone was going to make this a game again, it's Steen." Well, he did play a role. His two penalties led to two goals, one in the offensive zone and one in the neutral zone. Both avoidable calls, results of his frustration in action. I'm glad the Devils made him pay more than the others, to be honest.
When Goalie Changes Don't Work: I did not think Elliott should have been pulled. He got beaten on a screened wrist shot by Mark Fayne, no one covered Ryan Carter as he headed to and across the front of the crease, and Jagr's skate put a puck past him in a bang-bang play. Those weren't bad goals to allow. I'd like to think Hitchcock pulled him more as a message to the rest of his team. A sort of a wake-up call. Well, that didn't happen. Now, Halak suffers massive hits to his save percentage plus the indignity of being beaten by a fluke.
Brilliant Brunner: Brunner returned to the lineup tonight and it's hard to think of a better first night back. He scored the third period power play goal on his third shot. He chipped the puck last that went out to Fayne for the team's first goal. He got a secondary assist on Clowe's goal. I would have been pleased with not taking a penalty, not getting wrecked in possession, and just getting a couple of shots. He went above and beyond. Welcome back, Brunner.
Did He Make His Case?: Eric Gelinas played 14:44 tonight. He did plenty good. He got two shots, though one was really off Sobotka as the puck just bounced off Halak's stick and up-and-over him. He had two good assists. The first set Gionta up for the jam play that Carter cashed in on; the second feathered Henrique perfectly in stride before he torched Halak. Defensively, I'm not so certain. I'm pretty sure Backes was his man int he second and you can never leave your man ten feet behind you, assuming the puck will get cleared. That was his biggest error. Elsewhere, he was OK in his own end but limited in his minutes. I'd like to think he made case over the scratched Jon Merrill. Was it good enough? We'll find out soon.
Plenty of Good Performances: I'm just going to rattle these off. I really liked what the CBGBs did tonight. They did what you want from a fourth line. A few good shifts for shots, perhaps a goal, and don't do anything dumb. Done, done, and done. I really liked how Patrik Elias was moving the puck. Ryane Clowe continues to be hot. I felt his goal was the most impressive of the seven. How often do we see a player have a great look at an angle and put the shot just wide, he really nailed it there. I liked how Bryce Salvador played, he was much better than he was in Phoenix. I think Jaromir Jagr still has Chris Stewart's jockstrap. Schneider was just great and he not only got goal support but didn't get stormed like the Avs did.
Still A Big Game on Friday: St. Louis has done so, so well this season that they can write off a blowout loss. Even with the win, the Devils have to keep winning their inter-division games. Friday's game against the Caps is massive as both teams need to climb up the standings. Tonight's beatdown of the Blues does not change that.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils won big against a great team. So let's enjoy it in the meantime. Which one of the seven goals was your favorite? What do you think was the tipping point? Who was the best Devil on the night? Can the Devils take any of this into their next game? Well, I hope so. Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.