All season long, the New Jersey Devils have had a very successful penalty kill and a power play with a flattering conversion rate. Against the Dallas Stars, the Devils got great results from both in their 3-2 overtime win. The penalty kill was not only entirely successful, but remarkably effective. The team had to kill a long 3-on-5 early in the game and ended up with as many shots as the Stars' two man advantage and bookended one man advantages (one). In fact, the Devils' PK out-shot the Stars' 3-1. But the power play shined with two power play goals. The first coming after a proper set-up, Damien Brunner firing from distance, and Travis Zajac deflecting it in. The second was in overtime and it was a simple play: a long shot by Jaromir Jagr, Zajac touching it off wide, and Patrik Elias burying the rebound. They only generated three shots but when two go in, that's just fine.
Ultimately, special teams made the difference in a real grind-it-out affair in Texas. The Devils out-attempted the Stars 46-43 and out-shot them 24-16. Both teams played with energy. It's just that it didn't lead to much offense. Sure, there were a few strong shifts for both teams. Ultimately, there were more action that led to little. The Devils were credited for 18 blocks, including one that hurt Dainius Zubrus in the third. Like one may expect from a hockey player, Zubrus finished his shift in pain as he helped on defense and completed a pass for a zone exit. In any case, I'd say that the Devils did enjoy the better run of play tonight. If anything, an unfortunate bounce forced overtime.
That late equalizer came from Tyler Seguin. The situation was an odd one. Jaromir Jagr got tagged for hooking Jamie Benn late in the third, but the refs also gave Benn a penalty for diving. The 4-on-4 became a 4-on-5 with Kari Lehtonen pulled. The Stars threw it into traffic and the puck got caught up in the equipment of Anton Volchenkov. The puck eventually fell out, Alex Chiasson fed it across to Seguin, who got denied by something, the puck bounces up to Volchenkov's skate while he's down. As Volchenkov stands up, the puck gets propelled to Seguin, who didn't miss firing it past Cory Schneider. It's the sort of thing that really can't be defended. It's not like Volchenkov moved the puck that way on purpose. Though Volchenkov and his partner tonight, Bryce Salvador, were certainly bad enough, I think it to be harsh to point a finger at them for the equalizer. It certainly would not be harsh to point a finger at Salvador for not covering Jamie Benn in the second when he scored on a backhand.
But overall, I can't find much fault with this game. The team needed a win and they got it. Yes, they had to go to overtime to do so. But it was more important to get a 'W' at all than necessarily do it in regulation. Dallas isn't in the Eastern Conference, so their gift of one point is immaterial. Overall, they made life difficult for the Stars. They didn't get a lot of rushes. They couldn't move very well through the neutral zone. Cory Schneider didn't have to be a super star, though he did make a number of strong saves. The Devils kept the Stars more than honest in the third and could have easily ended this with three or four goals. Special teams were great at both ends, ugly first power play aside, and they directly brought out tonight's result. They have a win on this road trip and can make it a positive trip with a win tomorrow. I don't have too many complaints; but of course, I'll point them out shortly.
The Opposition Opinion: At Defending Big D, here's Brad Gardner's recap.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights.
Complaints: I don't have too many, but I do have some from tonight's game. First, Salvador and Volchenkov were bad tonight. Salvador was especially bad in possession, Volchenkov took a call during a PK, and both notably struggled more with Dallas' speed than the other two pairings. If Salvador wasn't the team captain, then his performance would lead to a benching. I don't know why both got around 17 minutes at evens; both should have received far less.
Also: Why were they out defending the extra man situation? It wasn't a PK. The Stars took a timeout, so surely the Devils could have put out Andy Greene (who was very good, as usual) and Mark Fayne (who wasn't quite so sharp, but way better than 24 and 28). I'm not saying that the Stars would not have scored an equalizer with them out there. Again, Seguin scored off a fortunate occurrence, not a misplay by the defense. But in that spot, the best defenders have to be out there. While the Stars only got 16 shots on net, it wasn't because Salvador and Volchenkov were totally holding it down.
Staying with defense, Eric Gelinas only played four shifts tonight. Four! I understand that Peter DeBoer doesn't think much of Jacob Josefson (fine, whatever) and can't make a spot for Andrei Loktionov. It's not the first time that DeBoer went with seven defensemen. Even with Gelinas' own issues on defense in recent games, I would have preferred to have him rotate with Salvador and/or Volchenkov. It would have minimized their struggles while keeping Gelinas fairly involved. He made a sweet pass to Jagr coming out of the box in OT that led to Elias getting taken down by Benn, which yielded the game winning power play. Going with seven defenders is one thing, but only using the seventh one for minimal time seems like a waste to me.
Lastly, Damien Brunner and Patrik Elias both played about eleven minutes at evens. Elias did get moved up to the top line while Zubrus was being attended to for his shot-block-induced leg pain. But even with Stephen Gionta centering them, I don't know why they were held back. Elias looked fine and played a good game. He scored an important power play goal and got a secondary power play assist. Brunner was up for this game physically and took a great shot that Zajac helped beat Lehtonen. Maybe I missed something, but in retrospect, I was surprised to see both play as little as they did.
Gionta Did Well: Note that I did not complain about Stephen Gionta centering Elias and Brunner at all. Or that he also centered Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier as well. Gionta played a very good game tonight. He had six shooting attempts and three on net to lead the team. He was brave, such as carrying the puck ahead in a 3-on-5 situation and making sure he got it to Lehtonen instead of conceding a big rush back. He skated hard to help out on defense, impressively diving on his stomach to help Salvador make a play in the third among other examples. He wasn't so focused on the puck and the puck alone, and I really liked his work on the PK. I would not want Gionta to center those two regularly. But tonight, it wasn't at all an issue. I liked what I saw from 11.
Return of the Zubrus: While his night ended in pain, I was glad to see Dainius Zubrus make the most of his return to the line with Jagr and Zajac. Jagr fed Zubrus in perfectly for a banger of a one-timer in the first period. The goal not only was the team's first since the first period on Sunday but also Zubrus' first since January 14 and his second since Christmas. It was heartwarming to see #8 win pucks along the perimeter to help facilitate #68 and #19.
Incidentally, I also liked Jagr and Zajac tonight. Zajac got a goal, hit a post in the third, and got robbed by Kari Lehtonen in the second period prior to his goal. He was great at the dot and just made good decisions in general with and without the puck. By my eye, Jagr's passes were better tonight and he took plenty of initiative with three shots of his own. Like Seguin benefited from a bounce, he was denied a gimmie in the third period when he crashed the crease to try and drive in a loose puck from Patrik Elias. Alas, his stick couldn't get free to knock it in the empty net behind Lehtonen. Still, I hope Zubrus' left knee is OK and he can resume playing with Zajac and Jagr. I'd like to see what comes next.
Ugly D: While the Stars only conceded 24 shots, their play was a big reason why Dallas struggled to get going. Every period, they'd concede possession. A bad pass here, a mis-read there, and a Devil forcing a turnover in other cases. The Devils could and probably should have made more from them. But they struggled to get the puck up to their guys into the neutral zone. As a result, the Devils were able to be prepared for them more often and strike back. It's a big reason why there were stretches in the third where the Devils looked like the team down one goal. It's a big reason why the Stars were out-shot in every period despite losing through most of it. Alex Goligoski (he looked great for New Jersey early) and Trevor Daley weren't as bad in possession as I would have thought. Sergei Gonchar and Aaron Rome were picked on. I'm not sure what Jordie Benn brings to the table. Lehtonen may not have faced a lot of shots, but he could have had better prospects of goal support if the defenders in front of him didn't struggle so much starting breakouts and the like.
Poor Cory: The two goals against certainly aren't his fault. But fourteen saves out of sixteen hurts the save percentage. Oh well, he'll likely end January with an excellent number as opposed to a crazy-excellent number.
They're, uh, Stars: The Devils tried their best to keep Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin at bay. Yet, they each finish the night with a goal out of two shots. While the Stars got more shots and attempts from Cody Eakin (thanks for not firing at the net on a power play when Schneider was down) and Ryan Garbutt (thanks for hitting Brunner away from the play after what was then Dallas' best shift of the night, which yielded Zajac's PPG), they were the dangerous players I thought they were. Imagine if this game was more wide-open; they could have done a lot more. Fortunately for New Jersey, most of their offense ran through a handful of players.
Pow: Anton Volchenkov stood up to knock down Erik Cole in the third period in open-ice. This is notable because it was one of the few times Cole was involved in anything.
Your Take: The Devils won to avoid dropping three games in a row. What did you make of the team's performance? Who do you think did well and did not do well? What part of the Devils' performance impressed you the most: the power play success, the PK stifling Dallas, Gionta not being bad, etc.? What from tonight's game should the Devils try to improve on for tomorrow's game in Nashville? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the comments and through Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.