Here's a riddle. How does a goaltender give up an unstoppable shot that he's totally responsible for? Braden Holtby provided the answer: a giveaway. Just past 9:30 into the third period, Eric Gelinas dumped a puck into the zone. Holtby went behind his net to collect it. He delayed to look for a teammate to pass it to. Jaromir Jagr skated at Holtby, rounding the right post and stretched out his stick for some pressure. As that happened, Holtby passed it to his left. Right to Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri immediately fired the puck at the empty net for a goal. Now you have a snappy answer to a riddle I just made up and you also know about the only goal in this game.
A 1-0 score implies a boring game but the reality was different. For starters, this game should have been 2-0 in favor of the New Jersey Devils. Alas, Marek Zidlicky hit the side of the net on an empty net try in the final minute. More seriously, the goaltenders and defenses for both sides did very well in reacting to the opposition. Braden Holtby stopped all 27 shots he was in the crease to stop. Cory Schneider made 30 saves. Both had to deal with shots from distance, shots up close, a few blasts from the slot, and plenty of attempts in between. They also had faced significant challenges from multiple power plays and other broken situations. The skaters from both teams made plenty of efforts to block shots, clean up rebounds, and knock away dangerous passes. The game was tightly played until Holtby's horrible mistake. But the Devils weathered late rushes in the same way both teams denied each other in the other two periods. And the Washington Capitals were kept honest until the final few minutes. There was plenty of pressure, physical play, and passes to keep the pace moving.
Ultimately, the combination of breaks, bounces, Schneider, and reactive defense were more in favor of the New Jersey Devils. To an extent, I believe the Devils were prepared to play this way. The Capitals are frightful when they're able to get several counter-attacks and find large areas of the ice to speed through with the puck. The Devils suffered - and subsequently bailed out by Schneider - several times against the Wild. Tonight, that didn't really happen. They kept the Caps in check and largely in front of them. Going forward, the Devils weren't losing pucks early on offense or put in many precarious positions. Sure, they got the better of bounces off blocks and deflections; but they decided to press them and it generally worked. The Devils really did play a solid game against a team that won three straight and features several skilled players. I don't know if they should play this way every night. They may not get the same breaks or a 100 Sv% night from Schneider every night, after all. But tonight featured a team that performed far better than what we've seen in recent weeks.
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: The Peerless has a quick recap up at Japers' Rink. A fuller recap will come later.
The Game Highlights: There was one goal and a lot of saves surrounding it. Here's the highlight video from NHL.com:
Cory was Better Tonight: Schneider was simply excellent. He was the main reason why the Devils got the result. He was the main reason why the penalty kill was successful for a second straight game. He didn't make any real errors. Schneider's positioning on shots was sound. Schneider's reactions were on-point such as when he threw out a pad to deny Troy Brouwer on a one-timer in the slot during a second period power play or when he got to the post to prevent Marcus Johansson getting a wraparound in the first period. He didn't even play the puck in a dubious manner. Tonight featured #35 at his best. He fully earned his first shutout of the season tonight.
That said, I'd like to give him a break. This wasn't a low-shot, low-event game. With a road trip through Canada coming up, a night off isn't the worst idea in the world. I know that Schneider may want to keep playing because he is, quite frankly, on fire right now. Just my two cents. It doesn't take away how crucial he was tonight.
Perfect Results from Imperfect Processes: The New Jersey Devils did not stay out of the box. They took five minor penalties, with four resulting in power plays for the Washington Capitals. As the score clearly states, the Caps were ultimately stopped. That in of itself is massive. The Caps have been very successful this season on the power play and the Devils have not been so successful on the penalty kill. Therefore, going 4-for-4 is fantastic.
That being said, it's not necessarily because the Devils just locked them down over and over. They got plenty of good clearances. But when the Caps got set up in the 1-3-1, the Devils were just laying in wait. There wasn't as much aggression at going at the puck. I'd figure that was by design, as players chasing pucks against a team in formation could leave someone really open in front of the goal line. But passes were getting through and by the box the Devils were sitting in. Standing still led to plenty of more pressure; the apex of which was a second period power play past the midway point where the Devils were pinned back for 1:26 straight of a two minute situation.
The Caps got eight shots and about twenty attempts on net in eight minutes of power play time. Schneider was excellent in stopping them all. The penalty killers did make the most of the opportunities to clear the puck and made a number of important stick-checks and small clearances on rebounds that could've yielded another PPGA for New Jersey. The skaters did make plenty of key blocks, most notably Dainius Zubrus going down to deny Alex Ovechkin in the slot on a second chance from a previous block. From a results point of view, the Devils were excellent shorthanded tonight. From a process point of view, I want to see more from the skaters. The PK streak they have right now is very welcomed. But they can't just rest on these laurels.
Low Event? HA HA HA: At even strength the game was, well, even. The Devils out-attempted the Caps 41-40 and out-shot them 23-21. The first period was even, but the Devils really drove the play in the second period with 18 shots and 16 attempts to the Caps' 3 shots and 9 attempts. The third period tilted the other way, mostly after the Devils went up 1-0. So that was expected. Still, 81 total attempts at evens is far more than what we usually see in Devils games.
Throw in special teams and each team is escalated. Special teams gave the Caps nine more shots and 22 more attempts; five shots and ten more attempts for the Devils. The Caps nearly doubled-up the Devils in attempts in the third period (13-24) and did double-up the Devils in shots (5-10). Again, most of that came from the Caps trying to find an equalizer. In a way, this speaks well to how the Devils handled their business tonight. They don't get into a lot of high-event games for a number of reasons. They did and hung with the Caps at evens. It makes Schneider's performance even more impressive, not just busier. It also undercuts any complaints of how boring the game was; though I can understand if it's fueled by the sour grapes that the Caps could not, say, convert on a power play against the Devils' penalty kill.
What of the Power Play: The Devils got three opportunities and threatened for parts of the last two. The first power play featured Zidlicky hitting the post and nothing much else. The other two had more possession and a few more shots. Patrik Elias deflected a Michael Ryder shot that got off Holtby and bounced behind him. Jay Beagle made sure it didn't just slide in and Ryder couldn't put home the rebound; hitting the side net while getting dumped. I liked how they got set up in their formation. I just felt they took one too many passes at times. It's a small sign of progress for a slumping power play. After all, their last PPG in the last few games was a game-sealing ENG. They could use small signs, provided they keep going down that path.
Going Off: Stephen Gionta had himself a game. He and his unit played a lot against Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, and Troy Brouwer. They did not come out well in possession. For a line and a player whose main instruction seems to be "limit events as much as possible," that goal was not achieved. That said, when Steve Bernier, Dainius Zubrus, and Gionta were able to get into the Caps' end, they were just swarming. Gionta himself had five shots on net. These weren't soft shots; they were examples of their tenacity on the forecheck. #11 was darting around the ice, chasing down pucks as he usually does. But he was restrained on the PK and he defended well enough to even get the team through that final minute. He had a notable game, even though possession wasn't kind to him.
Speaking of shots, only three Devils didn't register a shot on net: Bernier, Seth Helgeson, and Jordin Tootoo. Only Tootoo didn't register any shooting attempts.
Should've Played Brunner: Damien Brunner was scratched in favor of Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo's contribution to tonight's game was one good pass to set up a good, close shot for Jacob Josefson and high-sticking Evgeny Kuznetsov right off an offensive zone faceoff. The Caps didn't beat up on Tootoo in possession. He came out ahead, so at least there's that. However, he only played 6:18 for a reason. I'd rather have Brunner line up opposite of Tuomo Ruutu and Josefson.
Defensive Roundup or A Young Guy Shines: 30 shots on net out of 61 attempts isn't proof of a strong performance by the defense. Again, their best efforts came with reactive plays. Picking off passes, cleaning up rebounds, and getting clearances after the fact. There were plenty of shifts, especially late in the game, where the team just got pinned back. Andy Greene and Damon Severson didn't get hurt too bad by Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The Burakovsky line, however, did more damage. But their role was to take the tough players and zone starts and they did that.
In contract, Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas managed to come out well ahead in possession. They got more favorable zone starts, but saw the Eric Fehr line (Fehr, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward) more than the rest. They did more than just a few shifts against the more dangerous lines. 2-22 had some poor moments (e.g. leaving Ward behind them at the crease, Zidlicky getting turned by Chris Brown) but overall, they were not a complete liability like I feared heading into tonight.
But the standout performance came from Adam Larsson. He played most of the game with Seth Helgeson, which went pretty well. They were fairly sheltered and succeeded. When the game went on and Helgeson saw fewer minutes (Aside: Helgeson was solid and played more than twice the minutes he did in his NHL debut), Larsson played more with Andy Greene and against more difficult competition. Larsson was also featured on the penalty kill, with 5:18 of shorthanded ice time. In those three areas, Larsson was very good in his own end. His clearances were by and large effective. He wasn't caught flat footed or completely unaware. He cleaned up messes and fired his shots without hesitation. He wasn't a moving target for hits. He didn't do anything glaringly wrong like a bad pinch or coughing up the puck. Some may conclude that this was the result of Larsson "finally getting a chance," and "gaining confidence." I think that's backwards. Larsson doing good, if unnoticeable things builds his confidence and earns him more shifts and minutes. With more good plays, he kept on rolling. Regardless of how you see it, Larsson was very good tonight.
We Can Laugh About it Now: Zidlicky missed on an empty netter. This bears repeating twice. But the Devils held on - with a five-man unit of Gionta, Bernier, Zubrus, Zidlicky, and Gelinas no less - and made sure the Caps wouldn't get a second chance on a desperate shot. There was only one that even got through (John Carlson shot it) and two were blocked. So all's well that ends well and I wouldn't be surprised if Zidlicky has to practice on his empty netters.
Ovechkin & Johansson: The hot shooting Johansson was denied on all four shots. He took three other attempts; one was blocked and two that missed. Ovechkin, who doesn't believe in bad shots, was just denied by bodies. He only got two to Schneider, three that missed the target, and eight that were blocked. That speaks to how open Ovechkin was on offense to get an attempt and how hard he performed. But the Devils were fortunate to deny him instead of providing a more dangerous deflection on net. Still, it's a big help when one of the other team's top shooters isn't able to get as many as they wished.
Haters Still Hating in D.C.: Jaromir Jagr is still using his big bottom and pivoting on the puck before passing it off to his teammates. I'd love to say that he's fueled by the bitter boos of Capitals fans who can't let go of the past. But we see him do it to other teams on the regular. Still worth pointing out as it helped keep control for the Devils and kept his line going forward overall (Cammalleri got strangely hammered at even strength Corsi, but whatever, he got a gift and accepted it).
Lastly: The Devils are having their annual food drive tomorrow. The Community FoodBank of New Jersey will benefit and, by extension, a lot of people who could use the additional food. So if you're going to the Rock, then please bring something to help out.
Your Take: The Devils snapped a divisional opponent's winning streak and could be off on their own soon. They won thanks to the stellar play of their own goaltender and the wonderfully terrible mistake of the opposition's goalie. What's your reaction to the win? To the goal? To Zidlicky missing that ENG? To Elias' slump continuing? More importantly, how well do you think the Devils played tonight? What can they improve on heading into another game against Colorado tomorrow night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and followed tweets with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.