Typically, starting a goaltender on both nights of a back-to-back set does not bode well on the second night. Especially someone like Cory Schneider, who has started every single game the New Jersey Devils have played this season and has been conceding plenty of goals as of late. While it's true that most were not his fault, there were more than a couple he would have liked to have back. Enough, combined with the lack of results, to make some fans doubt his usefulness. When his name was announced at the Rock, he actually got some boos from the home crowd. Tonight was not a typical night.
The New Jersey Devils snapped a four game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1. That third goal was an empty netter, so the Devils won a one-goal game. It certainly wasn't a high-shooting affair. The Wild, who was averaging well over 30 shots per game, were limited to only 24. Possession was close to even. The Wild, who was the top possession team heading into this game, only out-attempted the Devils 29-25 at even strength and 37-35 in all situations. This was clearly a game between two teams who haven't been winning recently and banked on being stingy as possible. In spite of that, the Wild have had some glorious chances to score. Cory Schneider was the reason why they didn't.
Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few. He robbed Jason Zucker in the slot in the first period with a glove save. There was a horrifying 2-on-0 breakaway in the third period, where Schneider's right pad robbed Erik Haula of an equalizer. Thomas Vanek torched Damon Severson in the middle of the ice, but Schneider's positioning forced him and the puck to go around the post than being beaten wide. Nate Prosser had Schneider in a prone position, but Schneider absolutely robbed him and then smothered the puck (with some help) to deny a put-back goal. Schneider was beaten at evens once; but Mikael Granlund's shot hit the post. It hit off Schneider's back but just before it slid into the net, he swept the puck away. Schneider deservedly garnered many chants of his name and he was a key reason why the Devils ended their losing streak tonight.
Unfortunately, Schneider was the reason why it became a one-shot game in the third. During an abbreviated double-minor power play, Eric Gelinas pinched but missed on the puck, so it was cleared up the ice with Ryan Carter chasing it. Schneider had to come out to play the puck ahead of the goal line unless he wanted Carter and Marco Scandella to have a 2-on-0 shorthanded opportunity. The decision to play the puck was understandable. What Schneider did was absolutely terrible. He received the puck on his backhand, turned, and fired it up the corner boards. He didn't get enough on it. So Carter was smart enough to retrieve it from the boards and immediately fire it on net. Schneider didn't recover in time and the puck got through him. The shorthanded goal against was his first for 2014-15, and it was easily his worst goal of the season so far. It gave the Wild hope. It was an abysmal play. He was deservedly jeered anytime he played the puck with his stick outside of his crease afterwards.
But again, Schneider made so many other important stops to prevent anything further. I am concerned that he had to make all of the stops he did. Those plays were (and are) often the result of someone missing their coverage or getting beaten out of position. I'm not saying they'll never happen but the Devils were bailed out quite a lot by #35. So as bad as that one horrible goal was, he was critical for tonight's important result. He was fully deserving of the first star of the game. At the end of the day, he just wasn't perfect. I just hope the team can better support him so he doesn't have to be so near-perfect on a regular basis. That will wear him down just as much as the minutes he's playing. But for tonight, the atypical and somewhat unexpected performance from someone playing his second straight night of tending net silenced the boos, raised the cheers, and led his team to a refreshing victory.
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: Tony Wiseau has this recap from the Wild's perspective at Hockey Wilderness.
The Game Highlights: All kinds of saves, a massive mistake, and two goals that were enough to calm the Wild. Here's the video from NHL.com:
The Penalty Kill Succeeded: One of the reasons why the Devils have the record that they have is because their penalty kill has been bleeding goals. Tonight, they conceded none. That's worth celebrating to a small degree. Yes, the Wild's power play is close to the least successful in the NHL. But when your team has the worst PK success rate in the league and you kill four penalties that took up 7:05 of tonight's game, then that's a step in the right direction. The team only conceded six shots across all four and while there were some hold-your-breath moments, the Devils made plenty of strong clearances as well. It was not only Schneider just stopping everything somehow. I'm not saying the team has finally turned the corner, but this was a positive in light of what we've seen for the last six weeks.
The Passing Was Better: The Devils' puck movement wasn't that good in the first period, but neither were the Wild's. But in the second period, they were making good reads and were able to successfully gain the zone more often than not for the first half of the second period. This was buoyed by the Wild's own issues. The Devils took a lead in shots and scored their two goals in the process. Score effects helped drive the Wild to even up the Devils as the period went on and there were a few dubious decisions to ice pucks, but there wasn't a long stretch would look like they couldn't get beyond the red line like we've seen in recent games. I'd say the passing was better and it wasn't a surprise that at it's best, the Devils were able to
The Devils Actually Locked Down a Lead Late: I really liked how the Devils played the last few minutes of the game. They actually kept the Wild more than honest. The line of Mike Cammalleri, Jaromir Jagr, and Travis Zajac nearly scored with a couple of minutes left when Jagr forced a turnover and Cammalleri hammered a shot off the pipe left to Darcy Kuemper. The team just forced the Wild to dump it in if at all; they won pucks quickly in their own end; and they made multiple stops in the neutral zone. Kuemper tried to get off the ice but he couldn't.
The Devils did get a literally fortunate break. A Wild player - his number escapes me at the moment - broke his stick ahead of his blueline. Jagr was about to pick up the loose puck, but the stickless player decided he'd try to kick it away. At the same time, players were changing around him. It was an easy too many men on the ice call. They attempted one long pass, Marek Zidlicky threw it up the boards to Jagr; Jagr passed it across to Zajac; Zajac got to the red line and got the PPG ENG. The Devils would score on a power play after all and it iced the game. But more than that, the players did an excellent job late to deny the Wild from a late charge instead of hoping Schneider would stop a flurry or something like that.
Some Players Impressed: Jacob Josefson, Tuomo Ruutu, and Steve Bernier didn't play a lot but things went quite well when they did play. Josefson was flying out there, as was Bernier. He was quite good on the PK and I feel bad that he got struck up high that led to a double minor on Charlie Coyle. Ruutu re-directed a shot by Seth Helgeson that led to the game's first goal. All three were good on the puck and generally pushed the play forward. All that and a goal is a good night for a bottom six unit. The only real negatives were the penalties Bernier (an offensive zone penalty, no less) and Josefson took.
While possession went well against him (-9!), Adam Larsson was far more steady in his own end of the rink tonight. He wasn't soft on pucks nor shy from contact. This was important on early shifts with Helgeson making his debut and later on when he was being rotated with the other four defensemen. As for defensemen who did well in possession, Andy Greene had the kind of night you'd see more often from last season. That's important from him as he's the one good veteran defenseman on the blueline. The only defensemen he didn't come ahead in possession with was, well, Larsson. OK, maybe Larsson wasn't all that - but he didn't make massive errors either.
Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr were a force when they got going on offense. Cammalleri piled in a rebound and hit iron twice: a deflection striking the crossbar on that longer power play in the third and that shot off the post late in the game. Jagr was pivoting like a stud power forward in basketball to varying effect. Zajac was reading both of them well. Their issue was that while it was clear what they were trying to do in terms of their passing in Minnesota's end and they were good ideas, the execution was thwarted by the Wild's defense. That unit saw plenty of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin, which is a tough pairing, and nearly all of the Wild forwards backchecked real well. Still, they were contributing and threatening - even late - and that's what you want from that unit.
Lastly, I'm glad the pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas did not get repeatedly ripped apart.
Not All of It Was Good: It wasn't all good from the Devils. I thought Marin Havlat looked fine until I started thinking about what he did. He set up Patrik Elias for what could have been a fantastic goal off Kuemper's flank and only denied by a penalty by Scandella early in the game. Other than that, that was pretty much it from that unit. The trio of Havlat, Elias, and Michael Ryder combined for one shot all game. They were pinned back by the Wild. Not really by one unit but just in general. Larsson and Helgeson had that unit in front of him early on and it was pretty bad if you wanted to see them go forward. I guess I was too hasty in thinking Havlat did OK and Elias may end his slump soon.
I'm not quite sure how Damien Brunner got three shots on net. Not a lot happened with him on the ice. That's a problem because the expectation is that he can provide some speed and spark on offense. Without that, I'm not sure how he stays in the lineup when Adam Henrique returns.
Then there's the power play. This requires it's own section.
I Know the Wild's PK was Good, But Two Shots???: Tim Peel and Trevor Hanson were your referees tonight and they used their whistles quite a lot. They gave the Wild four power plays and seven to the Devils. One was a double-minor for highsticking, so it was six penalties. Still, the Devils had just over 11 minutes of tonight's game with a man advantage. Their result: two shots on net and a crossbar when Kuemper was in net. Zajac's empty netter was the only conversion of the entire night.
It's one thing to not score on a large number of power plays. But two shots is just pitiful. The Devils had their struggles getting set up in their formation. Once they did, they just didn't fire one on target. They tried some good looks and some what-could-have-been-dangerous cross-ice passes, but they misfired on the pass or the shot. The points were well guarded; Zidlicky, Gelinas, and Severson could have made more attempts than the ones they did. But there was no room for The Truth to be set free even if Gelinas wanted to do so. The Wild don't mess around on the penalty kill; they made their clearances count. They did a great job just as the Devils did a crummy job utilizing their extra man.
The Devils' lack of output on their power play held them back from really opening the game up or tilting the ice one way. The Wild and their lack of success on the power play still got six shots on net over their seven minutes. They need to continue to work on this should they want to get back to converting power plays. Not scoring on six non-empty net power plays is one thing, but only two shots in the third period is simply not good enough.
The Debut of Helgeson: Bryce Salvador was held out of tonight's game with what Tom Gulitti reported as a lower-body injury. Seth Helgeson was called up from Albany to fill in tonight. Not only did he make his NHL debut but he recorded his first point. His shot was re-directed along the way by Ruutu, so he got his first primary assist. That's something he'll always remember.
As for the rest of the night, well, it wasn't a great one. Helgeson was well-behaved in preseason as far as I remembered, but he was definitely feisty in this game. For example, there was an instance where he shoved Justin Fontaine along the boards on defense about seven times. He took the first penalty in the game for New Jersey by tripping Nino Niederreiter. In terms of possession, he was often in his own end of the rink. He was present for three shooting attempts for and ten against. It didn't end up with a ton of shots against; only four. Still, that's not good given he only played just over six minutes. The game was close and I can understand Peter DeBoer sheltering a rookie he didn't expect to use until today as much as he could.
I think Helgeson has quite a bit of ways to go to stick around. But he did have a night to remember with his assist in his NHL debut and he wasn't a goat by any means. That's OK. When Jon Merrill returns, he'll go back to Albany where he can work further on his game.
One Linesman: One of the linesmen assigned to tonight's game got sick. So we had the rare sight of one linesman making all of the calls at the blueline. I don't think he really got anything wrong either. Good job, Derek Amell.
Lastly: Defending the Blue Line was present at The Rock tonight. 25% of the proceeds of the 50/50 tonight went to the organization. They could not accept direct donations, but you could do so at DefendingTheBlueLine.org. It was good of the organization as part of the Military Appreciation Night to have them. I recommend you check out their site even after Veterans' Day (like when this recap went up).
Your Take: It feels good to write about a win for a change. The Devils snapped their four game losing streak and just about everyone left the Rock in good spirits. What was your take on tonight's game? What did you think of the Devils' performance? Would you say it was better than what we've seen recently? What did you make of Schneider's performance, Hedbergian gaffe included? Who was the best Devil skater tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the sparse tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.