Tonight's ending was a sadly familiar one for New Jersey Devils fans: they lost a shootout. The Dallas Stars scored on both attempts, the Devils did not, and that was that. A 3-2 loss. However, I do not think it is best to focus on the team's eighteenth shootout loss in regular season play. Shootouts are shootouts. Either the shooter scores or he doesn't. There's not really anything one else can do about it. There is plenty that can be done about the 65 minutes played prior to the shootout. The Devils were largely second-rate in that portion of the game. So, as the headline states, the Devils stole a point tonight.
I highly recommend you click on the Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts in the Game Stats section of this recap (or in the preceding sentence). Click on "EV" for the graph and you'll get the summation of how tonight went. The Devils had a good start. They were making their passes, they were creating offense, and Eric Gelinas hit Kari Lehtonen's net with The Truth. When Dallas got stops, they struggled to attack. Sometimes it would be an offsides. Sometimes it would be a missed pass easily picked up by a defender or goes for icing. Sometimes it would be a lost puck to a Devil. They were in the area but making bad decisions. This lasted for about ten minutes. Then the Stars settled down, showed a little more patience on the puck, and started to make better decisions with it. That led to the Stars getting legitimate offensive pressure more often, causing problems for the Devils on defense, and racking up the shots and attempts to hold a lead that the Devils would not overcome for the rest of the night.
The nadir was the second period. The Devils went an incredibly long stretch without a shot on net - Michael Ryder hitting the post notwithstanding - while the Stars did whatever they wanted. They beat them to open space. They found seams on a constant basis. Yes, the Stars are a faster team than the Devils but speed in hockey is dangerous when there's puck control. The Devils only helped them out by playing more like Dallas did for those first ten minutes. Dumping pucks in or failing to connect on a pass when gaining the zone. Throwing pucks off boards for attempts at clearances only to go to a Star in the neutral zone. Struggling to get the puck out of the Devils' end at all. The result of all of that: Dallas had the puck more often. And they used that. That's what pinned the Devils back so much in that period and for stretches of the first, third, and overtime periods.
The goals against ran counter to the play, though. The first was a second before a successful Devils penalty kill. The Devils won a neutral zone faceoff, Andy Greene takes the puck to the endboards, and decides to hold onto it. He gets double-teamed by Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin; Seguin takes the puck away and makes a short pass to a cutting Jamie Benn, who roofed the one-timer. All Greene had to do was throw the puck up the boards - nearside if he wanted support; farside to kill clock. With one second left, it was another PPGA. As for the second, let me preface it by stating that Cory Schneider faced a lot of shots and bailed out his skaters plenty of times tonight. Yet, he gave up a hideous goal to Patrick Eaves. Eaves and his line were amazing tonight, but his sharp angle shot beat Schneider shortside wasn't so amazing. It should have been stopped. Despite all of the pressure and repeated attacks by the Stars, the goals largely came as a result of two Devils having brainfarts, for lack of a better term. At the same time, the score being 1-2 felt like a mountain after the period because the Stars were clearly in control because of what I described earlier.
The Devils would mount a better third period and caught a break on the equalizer. Patrik Elias totally hand-passed a puck while falling down towards the middle. The puck bounced onto Damien Brunner's stick for him to slam it into the net before it came off the moorings. The play was reviewed, hand-passes aren't reviewable (watch that change next season), the net didn't come off before the shot, and so the goal counted after a lengthy video review. The Devils did have some moments where they were looking to break through. They even killed a penalty and looked good doing so. Yet, the Stars did more than enough to keep the Devils honest to maintain a deadlock. While they got the equalizer, the run of play largely remained tilted towards Dallas. Hence, the Devils were fortunate to take a point. And even to get to a shootout, as control continued into overtime, particularly in the final two minutes no thanks to a sudden inability to clear the zone and/or breakout.
After reading the preceding 800 words or so, the conclusion is clear: the Devils were fortunate to get a point. Hence, I'm not mad about a shootout loss. I'm more annoyed that the Devils displayed what they needed to do against a Dallas team that was bleeding shots so far this season for ten minutes and then were unable to do that for much of the following fifty. All the while, conceding 37 shots compared to generating 27. Tonight's game was a clear cut example as any of how important it is to exit the zone with the puck on your stick and make good decisions when going forward. The Stars showed how strong a team can look by accomplishing that, and the Devils showed how much a team can struggle when they are not.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Taylor Baird has this recap up at Defending Big D. Note the parts where Taylor noted how Trevor Daley should've finished better and how the Stars did not score on three breakaways. Again: Schneider really went to work tonight, heinous goal against aside.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, you can see these highlights of the game:
The Superstar Line Was...Who Again?: Lindy Ruff did keep Spezza, Seguin, and Benn together for most of the night. They weren't bad but they weren't the killers I was afraid of. Yes, they created the first goal and they did put a combined seven shots on net. However, they played more defense than offense at evens tonight - especially Benn. That's what one should hope for when the opposition puts the three best forwards together on one unit.
But it was another unit that just gashed the Devils in terms of possession, and as far as I know, a new combination. Patrick Eaves, Vernon Fiddler, and Ales Hemsky. They didn't play a lot of minutes, but they were incredibly efficient. Hemsky in particular looked like an all-star tonight. He drew one of the two penalties called tonight when he torched Eric Gelinas. He put eight shots on net. It's impressive he didn't register a point as the Devils were just struggling with #83 throughout the evening. His Corsi at even strength was an astounding +15, with a shot differential of +14. His linemates were the only ones on his level: Eaves at +15 and Fiddler at +13. As a line, they conceded one shot against while putting up 14. Eaves' goal was the one Schneider should've stopped, but they were close to figuring out a more legitimate play for a score. While the Devils were able to quell the Spezza line, they somehow had no answer for this unlikely trio.
Drowning: The "they" in particular was the Newfoundline. Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe just got hammered in terms of possession. While they did OK against the other lines; Hemsky, Eaves, and Fiddler just ruined them over and over. The result of that is a combined two shots and one post from all three throughout the evening and a lot of cringing while they scramble to get the puck out. This necessitated a change in the third period among forward lines. For some reason, this generates criticism of the coach; but I only wish Peter DeBoer made those changes sooner. And that he'll keep them separated because this unit hasn't really been good unless they're scoring.
For what it's worth, no one on defense looked good against the Fiddler line. There were those who got picked on more than others: Jon Merrill, Marek Zidlicky, and Gelinas in the former category, the rest in the other.
The Truth, The Call, and The Defense: Eric Gelinas slamming in a goal from distance was great to see. His shot is his biggest asset to the team and that was on display tonight. Unfortunately, that was only one of two shots he had tonight. The rest of the time, he was mostly defending.
Gelinas finished near the bottom in possession among Devils tonight and he was only on the ice for four shots at even strength. The Devils did not get a power play all night long, so that also factored into Gelinas playing fewer than 16 minutes. However, he had some issues with the puck in his own end, whether it was making a pass to a teammate to get it out or clearing it himself. I can understand why he fouled Hemsky, but he was beaten too easily. He was hemmed in his own end the most in overtime - two shifts averaging 1:20 - and while it wasn't entirely his own fault, he wasn't helping the cause going forward. For all of the grief Zidlicky gets, he's able to make passes, start breakouts, and distribute the puck (somewhat) effectively. Gelinas would do well to learn that dimension of his position because it'll help him turn the play around as opposed to just trying and hoping to get into a spot to deliver The Truth. Because it wasn't pretty at times to see him in his own end.
Speaking of Not Pretty: Patrik Elias, what in the world is up with you? Those pivots and dangles in overtime when you should be breaking out? It's almost a miracle Dallas didn't take the puck back and fire it past Schneider then. Elias wasn't bad at all night long and he's a smart player. So it was shocking to see him make such poor and potentially costly decisions.
Here's a Shock, the Captain Wasn't Bad: Bryce Salvador was amazingly not awful tonight. I'm not saying he's suddenly a good player. Or that he didn't have any errors. But he was one of two defensemen who wasn't out-attempted at evens - the other was Damon Severson. That's something to note given how tonight went overall. He was actually decent on the penalty kill. He stood up Ryan Garbutt in a one-on-one. (I'm reaching here.) Salvador fought and the Devils weren't any better in those five-plus minutes, which should ease some of the scapegoating. Or at least further highlight how poor the Devils were in the second period. (OK, I'm done reaching.) The only unit that made him suffer was the same line who made every Devil defenseman suffer in someway: the Fiddler line. Again, I'm not saying that Salvador is turning some corner and will magically be a decent player. I'm just saying he wasn't as bad as he has been.
Another Shock, the Fourth Line Wasn't Bad Either: I'm hesitant to state whether this was the first game the fourth line was positive in possession, but I'm not hesitating to state that this was their best game. Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, and Tuomo Ruutu only got about seven minutes, but they made it count. They out-shot their competition and created the game's first goal. I would have liked to have seen them get more ice time, which is definitely the first time I thought that all season.
Josefson was pretty good in his limited minutes. He set up Gelinas for the goal and skated with the requisite energy one expects from an energy line. I think he should get another game if Marty Havlat isn't able to perform again. Adam Larsson should be taking notes from Josefson and Brunner (he had a fine game: a goal and six shots) about how to perform when given an opportunity to do so.
Last Point on the Game: I don't think the Devils get this far tonight if Schneider didn't play like he did. Yes, his second goal allowed was feather-pillow-soft. But he also denied a bunch of breakaways, robbed some Stars on rebounds, and faced a heavy workload.
Chico Rules: He had a wonderful speech, which was so, well, him. Doc was a fine emcee. He ran over his time, but that's OK. His unique thing was to bring out people he's met over the years that aren't at all tied to the organization to sit on the ice by the podium along with his wife. The video clips of his former days as a goalie - highlights of his 200th career win, which was a Devils win over the Isles way back in the day - and as announcer and host of Chico Eats were very good. I only wished the team provided him a better performance to go with the boat he got on Thursday night.
No Time to Dwell, So Here's Your Take: The Devils will play on Saturday night in Ottawa. I would expect Scott Clemmensen to start since Schneider faced 37 shots, 50 attempts, Hemsky falling into him, and played over 65 minutes. That's a heavy workload. I'll leave the rest of the previewing to Mike. What did you think of tonight? What would you want to change for tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for your patience and for reading ILWT.