It's finally over. After 18 straight defeats in games that went to a shootout, the Devils have won. How long has the wait been for a Devils shootout victory? 599 days. Before tonight's game, the last shootout victory for the Devils was on March 3, 2013 over Ondrej Pavelec and the Winnipeg Jets.
The Devils came into the night looking to avenge a horrendous performance in Pittsburgh that resulted in an ugly 8-3 loss. Tonight was also the begging of a three game home-stand and the Devils were searching for their first home win of the season. They pulled it off but it wasn't always easy for them tonight.
Nearly seven minutes into the first period the Devils were set to go on the first penalty kill of the night before Blake Wheeler put the Jets up 1-0 on the delayed call. The play was a result of Winnipeg getting the extra attacker on and Tobias Enstrom exploiting open space in the neutral zone as he sprung a puck from his own end for Blake Wheeler to gather wide of Marek Zidlicky who was on the blue line but unable to recover as Wheeler cut to the net and slid the puck just in-between Cory Schneider's skate and the goal post.
Damien Brunner earned the Devils first power play of the night after he forced Evander Kane to turnover the puck in the neutral zone, carried it in, and was fouled in the process by a recovery Kane. The Devils came close to equalizing early on in the power play as Brunner put a shot on net and Patrik Elias pounced on the rebound but put it directly into Pavelec. The next unit out there was highlighted by Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac as they teamed up for a quality scoring chance that Pavelec stopped.
The pairing of Salvador-Zidlicky was getting owned by the Jets in the first period so Peter DeBoer decided to break them up, opting for pairings of Merrill-Zidlicky and Salvador-Larsson. The Devils trailed at the end of one despite having a shot and possession advantage.
The second period wouldn't inspire much confidence for Devils fans. Brunner took an offensive zone holding penalty as he tied up Enstrom behind the Winnipeg goal. The good news is that both Devils penalty killing units were able to hold off Winnipeg's power play and did a better job of clearing the puck out of the zone.
Winnipeg was better during the second period and was unfortunate to not double their lead as Mark Scheifele hit a post midway through. A few minutes later Zidlicky would take an interference penalty, but the Devils penalty kill once again stepped up and limited Winnipeg to just one good chance, where Schneider came up with a big save against Kane.
Just after the penalty kill there was a flurry of action by the Winnipeg goal but the Devils were unable to convert as the period was drawing to a close. At the whistle, Ryane Clowe tried to engage Chris Thorburn in a fight to spark the Devils, but the linesmen stepped in before any punches could be thrown. Overall, Winnipeg had a slight shot advantage that period while possession was relatively even.
The third period featured low event hockey at it's finest as the Devils outshot the Jets 7-4 but controlled the bulk of possession as one would expect a team trailing to do. To start the period, DeBoer shuffled the lines to include Clowe with Zajac and Jagr, Henrique with Elias and Ryder, Boucher with Josefson and Brunner, and a trio of Ruutu, Zubrus, and Gionta.
Winnipeg still had some quality chances during the period but Cory Schneider stepped up to keep the Devils in the game. The first chance for Winnipeg in the third was a Scheifele breakaway after Ryder was unable to redirect a puck from Damon Severson at the blue line towards the Winnipeg goal resulting in a turnover. Schneider made another crucial save as a careless pass by Bryce Salvador was intercepted by Wheeler right in front of the Devils goal.
Sandwiching Ryder's tying goal in the final minutes was the amazing play of Severson as he broke up a 3v1 and 2v1 by Winnipeg that could've clinched the game for them. In-between those two plays was Ryder's tying goal that came as a result of Jon Merrill jumping on a turnover in Winnipeg's zone and quickly feeding Ryder who put a sick move on Mark Stuart before going top shelf on Pavelec.
The Czech connection of Zidlicky and Jagr nearly won the game for the Devils in overtime when Zidlicky sprung Jagr for a scoring chance down low. Schneider once again came up with some solid saves to keep the Devils in the game. The big story was what would come next, the dreaded shootout.
After 18 straight defeats in the shootout, Devils fans weren't thrilled to be heading there once again. The skills competition started with Brunner hitting the post on Pavelec's glove side and Schneider attempting a poke check on Wheeler that did enough to prevent him from getting a shot off. The next round featured Jacob Josefson stepping up and putting a head fake on Pavelec, causing the goaltender to go down, leaving the top of the net exposed for Josefson to score on. Then
Andrew Ladd came in with speed on Schneider but the Devils netminder managed to turn it away with his blocker. In the final round, Elias made one too many moves and was stopped by Pavelec but Bryan Little would end up missing the net on his chance to give the Devils the victory as the crowd erupted and Steve Cangialosi enthusiastically announced that the Devils won a shootout.
On the night the Devils outshot the Jets 28-25 and had a 46-34 and 33-29 Corsi and Fenwick advantage respectively. The Devils did not convert on their sole power play but killed off both penalties they took which is a step in the right direction.
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 Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Arctic Ice Hockey, arby_18 has his 10 thoughts on the game from a Jets perspective.
The Game Highlights:
Challenging Pavelec: In his preview for the game, John mentioned how the Devils should challenge Pavelec as he isn't that good to be quite blunt. The Devils did well to get 28 shots on net but struggled mightily to beat Pavelec. To his credit, Pavelec did play better than expected and made some big saves, so he deserves credit for a strong performance, as frustrating as it was to watch for Devils fans.
In-game Changes by DeBoer: I thought DeBoer made some key decisions tonight to jump start a Devils team that seemed a bit flat. Towards the end of the first period he broke the Salvador-Zidlicky pair that got burned on the goal against and was being pinned in their own zone by the Jets. Salvador's possession numbers increased when he was paired with Adam Larsson and he finished as a -6 in Corsi, while Larsson was a +9. Zidlicky moved to a pair with Jon Merrill and finished with a -2 Corsi, while Merrill was a +8. From a possession standpoint the switch didn't hurt Larsson and Merrill and helped Salvador and Zidlicky whom were in much bigger holes from a Corsi standpoint in the first period compared to where they finished.
With the offense stagnant, DeBoer changed up his forwards corps to start the third period. He moved to lines of Clowe-Zajac-Jagr, Boucher-Josefson-Brunner, Henrique-Elias-Ryder, and Ruutu-Zubrus-Gionta. The third period didn't feature a lot of chances for the Devils but they still controlled play and ended up tying the game. It will be interesting to see if he sticks to any of these lines for the next game or if he goes back to what he originally had.
Another Chance for Larsson: Adam Larsson was back in the line up at the expense of Eric Gelinas. In my opinion, the former 1st round pick did well enough to stay in the line up. He was one of the best Devils in possession tonight as a +9 in Corsi and +6 in Fenwick. He saw mostly offensive zone starts but did have to play with Salvador for the majority of his shifts. He saw the unit of Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, and Dustin Byfuglien and managed well. Larsson even through a solid hit in the neutral zone early in the game and played 15:11 total including 1:33 SH on the second PK unit.
Shots Against: Gerard recently wrote about the Devils and how this season they've moved away from being a low event hockey team to one that gives up a lot of shots against. Tonight the Devils only allowed 25 shots on goal in 65 minutes and 22 of them in 60 minutes. Hopefully this is a sign that the Devils of old are coming back from a shot suppression perspective.
The PK Was a Success: The Devils only had to kill off two penalties tonight but successfully did so which is a step forward for a team that is uncharacteristically struggling in that department. Zubrus and Zajac led the forwards on the top unit while Greene and Salvador held down things as the top defensive pair. Elias and Henrique and Larsson and Merrill did well on the second unit. Hopefully this is a sign that the Devils are going to get back to being a top PK team again.
Sitting Sal: The captain only played 12:59 tonight, including just two shifts in the third period. Some may feel that this is in response to his poor game and careless turnover in the period that nearly resulted in a Winnipeg goal, but DeBoer mentioned in his post game that this wasn't the case. He claims that he wanted to give the offensively minded defensemen like Severson, Merrill, and Zidlicky more time since they were down a goal and I buy that explanation. Though this could be a sign that the coaching staff is looking to trim Salvador's minutes in even strength situations.
Your Take: How did you react when the Devils finally won the shootout? Are you satisfied with the victory or did the performance leave you wanting more? Did you like the changes DeBoer made to the lines and pairings? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!