I know this game will not count after Saturday night. It may not really count right now given that it is over. It is preseason. The purpose is to focus on the performances. To get some players in form and to get some players on tape to make decisions as far as whether they should be on the roster. The results do not matter. I am making an exception for one reason: The New Jersey Devils beat the New York Islanders tonight in a shootout.
Yes. I am not making this up. Here it is again in big, bold letters:
The New Jersey Devils beat the New York Islanders tonight in a shootout.
The shootout gave the Devils the 2-1 win at The Rock. There was no local television, radio, or web broadcast on New Jersey's end. There was radio on Long Island's end. There are no clips of this game at NHL.com. Only those who were - the attending media, the teams, and the 7,000-8,000 people who were announced as 10,000 at the arena - there can report on what happened. I was one of them. And it was glorious witnessing Travis Zajac beating Jaroslav Halak to end it in the fifth round.
It wasn't a pretty shootout. The Isles missed twice, got stopped by Cory Schneider twice, and Ryan Strome hit the post. Mike Cammalleri was denied; Adam Henrique didn't lose the puck but got denied; Damien Brunner tried to drag it around Halak to no avail, and Ryane Clowe didn't convert. Good for Schneider that he was not beaten, but one couldn't shake the feeling that we've witnessed so many times last season. Not only that the Devils would get an automatic SOL in the shootout, but not even score a goal. So seeing both a goal and a successful shootout is worth celebrating.
While this result won't hold, I think it'll do well for the Devils - and their fans - mentally. The players and fans were reminded that, yes, it is possible that the Devils can win a shootout. It is possible to score a goal in one against a goalie who only conceded one - on a deflection - in regulation. It is possible that it may not be a black hole of lost points throughout the season. That's worth remembering beyond preseason.
It also helped that it was a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish game by both the Devils and Islanders. So let's talk about that.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this short recap at Lighthouse Hockey where Halak and Strome was praised. I can agree with that.
The Game Highlights?: Nope. There was no TV coverage, tonight. And it's a shame considering both Schneider and Halak each made a ridiculous, you-got-to-see-this-because-I-don't-know-how-they-made-that save tonight on top of the shootout win.
OK, Can You Describe Those Saves?: Sure. Both were one-timed shots close to the crease and on the goalie's flank. The net was open for the taking by both. Somehow, neither scored. Both shots went towards the goalie, but Halak and Schneider each had to dive backwards to get a piece of it to make the puck go out. Schneider's may have really been a post shot, but it was still impressive that neither team scored on similar plays. I would argue Halak's save was better because it was after a sequence where Damien Brunner torched the defense one-on-one and passed it right across to Jon Merrill in the slot at the perfect time. It was a play where I would hope 99 times out of a 100, the offensive team celebrates a goal. Such is hockey.
How Was Merrill?: I thought he was really good. He played over 23 minutes tonight, got a good bit of power play time, and nearly four-and-a-half minutes on the penalty kill. He looked sharp alongside Adam Larsson, he skated well, and the big negative I can think of his performance was, well, not scoring in the first period. Basically, Merrill looked like he's been playing this whole time even though it was his first preseason game.
What About the Other Preseason Debut?: Ryane Clowe was not nearly as impressive. It didn't help that the first shift I noticed him, he got run into by his own player after a keep-in. But that wasn't Clowe's fault. He took a few shots, he won a few pucks, and he kept going down low without hesitation. But he looked rather slow, which undercut his effectiveness all night long. Whereas Merrill looked like he was made out of stainless steel, Clowe was carbon steel - the rust was present. It will take a few games for him to do so.
Who Were the Stars?: Tonight's attending media called out Damon Severson, Strome, and Mike Cammalleri. I didn't think much of Severson's game tonight. He took two minors, his passing became more errant as the game went on, and he wasn't as strong on the puck as he showed in other games. Eric Gelinas bailed him out a few times and things got dicey on a few occasions where he couldn't - like when they conceded a breakaway to Cory Conacher in the second period. Strome was a good call. He led the Isles with five shots and ten shooting attempts. He was the most consistent threat on a night where both teams struggled to find the net to shoot at for stretches at a time. That's a better call than, say, Kael Mouillierat. (He deflected a shot by Scott Mayfield that beat Schneider in the third period. Also: Scott Mayfield played in this game.) Cammalleri did score the Devils' lone goal in regulation, technically his first with the organization.
It was a deflection on a shot by Brunner. Update: I got it wrong, Cammalleri took a low shot and it got through. I apologize for the error. Cammalleri was OK but I wanted to see more offense from him (and his line with Jaromir Jagr and Zajac).
So I didn't agree with whoever selected them. Who would I have wanted? Easy: the goalies. Cory Schneider and Jaroslav Halak didn't get bombarded with shots or attempts. However, each made a crazy save on what was otherwise a gimmie-goal. Each made a few point-blank stops that could have been the breakthrough goal. Each were confident in the crease in stopping everything else.
Each were beaten only by deflections. Each did well in shorthanded situations. Each extended the shootout beyond the standard three shooters. Each only gave up one goal in regulation, which is usually very good for any goaltender. Among the positives to take away from this game, both teams can feel good about each goaltender. I would have given the stars that way. Oh, and one for Zajac because, hey, Devils shootout winners aren't exactly common lately.
Who Helped Make Their Case to Stay in New Jersey?: Can I pick no one? I will. The fourth line of Presumed Energy was Ryan Carter, Cam Janssen, and Jordin Tootoo. I do not want to see two-thirds of them this season, and I'm not talking about the unsigned guy. Both certainly hustled and threw some hits that they hit or missed on. But that line struggled at times and seriously got pinned back. In fact, the Isles' first offensive shift all night was thanks to Tootoo falling down in the neutral zone and getting a turnover. Amazingly, Tootoo apparently played 3:40 on the penalty kill tonight - which went well - but I can't recall him doing much of anything on it. Still, each of the "energy guys" took a penalty they should've avoided (Tootoo's matched with Mike Halmo for an in-game beef, Janssen took an unnecessary elbowing call), each did nothing going forward, and each had trouble staying up. Poor Carter.
Jacob Josefson has had a crummy preseason and he only added to it tonight. He took two unnecessary penalties. He contributed next to nothing on offense other than one shot. He won a mere two faceoffs out of nine. He didn't even play with scrubs; he got Tuomo Ruutu and Brunner (who was active at times) to start the game. The only time he really made me think well of his game was when he participated in a 3-on-4 situation (with the also-fresh-in-OT Peter Harrold and Seth Helgeson) to close out the last 37 seconds of overtime. They survived and he held position; but even there, he couldn't get a clear when he had the chance. Heading into this preseason, I was thinking whether he'd make a case to be a regular. A few games in, I think his best hope was to earn the 14th forward spot. Now, I wonder if he could clear waivers.
I already went over Severson; I liked Helgeson; but both are Albany-bound.
How Was This Sluggish?: The shots on goal count says quite a bit: 22-21 in favor of New Jersey. That alone is a low-shooting game. Even if the scorer missed one or two on each side, it's still a low total. The game had a good pace to it and the players were feisty at times, what with their jaw-jacking and play that led the refs to call twelve minors total. They just had a hard time finding the net. The first period was good for New Jersey, but the Devils took a mere two shots on net in the second. They got the puck in the Isles' end plenty of times to get shots; they just didn't get any on target until near the end of the period. Meanwhile, the Isles got three power plays in the second and only put up eight in twenty minutes while being down 0-1 and having a number of players who'd like to score to make their own case to stay with the Isles. In the third, the Isles got five and the Devils got eight - most of which came within the final five minutes. It was just a lot of back-and-forth-for-little-gain even with plenty of power plays - which brings out offensive players and space - called.
From watching the game, the root cause of that was clear. The passing just wasn't crisp and arguably worse by the Devils. When passes are hitting skates or just missing their targets, it's really hard for teams to keep the play going forward to attack. Compared to Sunday, where the Devils rarely iced the puck, they were more prone to it tonight - even doing so twelve seconds into overtime The same could be said for the Isles. Between that and yellow boards, it just was not an aesthetically-pleasing night of hockey at The Rock.
Yellow Boards?: The Devils had their boards painted a yellow shade. It looked like someone peed all over it live. However, if the game was on TV, then that paint would have allowed you to see different ads on the boards. This way companies can pay for a broadcasted ad - on TV or presumably on RockVision - that could stretch around the boards, while the live audience has the usual ads painted directly on the boards. Of course, this was done for a non-televised game. So Saturday - the only preseason home game that's on TV - will be it's big test for the public. If it works, I suspect it'll continue. If not, then I'd expect the standard white boards on October 18.
Hey, Speaking of The Rock, Did They Fix That Wall?: Yes! The wall in Section 3 was fixed. You can see it in this tweet on my personal Twitter account. It was what drove me to write this post. Someone in the organization noticed. There were also black signs in various spots stating that the area - Devil's Den behind the Ice Lounge, a Youth Hockey Area in that corner where the youth jerseys were exiled to, a Kids Area next to the Devils' Den by the Fire lounge - will be ready for October 18. "When you have time, you use it." There was a new hostess who wasn't as grating; the sound system wasn't blowing anyone's eardrums out; and I didn't hear the Four Seasons all night long! Credit to the Prudential Center for fixing a few things right away.
Your Take?: I'm not sure how anybody not in the arena followed this one, but if you did, then I'd like to know what you thought of tonight's game. If you didn't, well, are you at least a little pleased to see a shootout win? Do you think we'll see more cuts ahead of Saturday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's shootout win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.