What does a player do when they're on the outside looking into a roster? Simply, make the most of the opportunity to play when it comes. That answer is easier said than done. Due to a number of injuries and some decisions by the coaching staff, we have seen several players get that opportunity over the past few weeks. Damien Brunner has used his to fit into the top nine without too much of an issue. Jacob Josefson has used his to be used on the fourth line and penalty kill regularly, and he's been moved up for a few times already. Reid Boucher has been called up and, well, at least hasn't been an albatross. Adam Larsson has essentially been switched in for Eric Gelinas. And he has made this night his time to show that he should be playing more often.
From a possession standpoint, Larsson was on of New Jersey's best. Next to Jon Merrill, who had some struggles in terms of positioning and his passing on defense, Larsson was a +6 in Corsi while starting more often in his own end. Larsson got a little penalty killing time and it went well enough. Larsson didn't play a lot, as he received 15:13 of ice time. But when he was out there, things were going good. From the eye test, Larsson was solid on defense. His clearances were far better than in his first game this season, he didn't react poorly from getting hit, and he didn't hesitate when something went awry. For Larsson to be a regular, that last point cannot be emphasized enough. The defenseman position almost requires one to be composed when a play doesn't go as expected and to make the right decision quickly when that does happen. Larsson demonstrated that tonight, which bodes well for his future in New Jersey.
Of course, what makes him the hero of the night was his goal. Larsson attempted three shots tonight and the only one on target was the successful one. After a successful zone entry, Jaromir Jagr fed Patrik Elias coming down, who tried to feed it back. The puck bounced out from the bodies gathered around the slot right to Bryce Salvador. Instead of heeding the calls of the many at The Rock to shoot, he deferred to Adam Larsson. It was the right call because A) Larsson was wide open; B) Salvador had two defenders coming at him and more bodies in his way; and C) Larsson's shot isn't so hot but it's worlds' better than Salvador's. Larsson took a step and fired a fantastic shot from a puck on edge. It sailed past Dainius Zubrus and beat Anton Forsberg shortside. It gave the Devils their first lead of the night, which they successfully defended. For someone among the scratches not too long ago, it was his shining moment. Combined with the fact more good things happened with #5 than without and it's easy to say he had a great night.
At the end of the day, it's win-win. At a minimum, Larsson has secured more time in the lineup. He made his opportunity count. As for the Devils, it completed a comeback effort in the third period to secure a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Given their injuries, the fact they lost four straight, and they lost the night before, it was a game the Devils should have pushed to win. And they did.
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: Matt Wagner has this recap of the Blue Jackets' fifth straight loss at The Cannon. He notably whines about the second goal of the game because the goalie couldn't cover a puck, Michael Chaput couldn't help in covering that puck (I believe he was a reason why the puck was still seen by the ref), Fedor Tyutin just lied down on the goal line, and Jack Johnson was in the area but didn't help in the effort at all. Maybe he whined about the ref instead of pointing all of that out. Oh well. It is what it is.
The Game Highlights: Two PPGs, plenty of good stops by Cory Schneider, and Larsson's first of the season. It's all in this game highlight video from NHL.com:
Not As Ugly Isn't the Same as Pretty: I did not go to the Winnipeg game on Thursday, but I did watch a recording of the game on my DVR on Friday night. So I got to endure a choppy and sloppy game between the Devils and Jets. Tonight's game wasn't nearly as poor as that, but it definitely wasn't one of New Jersey's finer efforts.
The first period had the makings of what one would have hoped: controlling possession against a depleted Columbus team. The score did not reflect this. A Ryane Clowe-turnover at the blueline allowed Nick Foligno to spring Brandon Gibbons in a 2-on-1 rush. Gibbons beat Marek Zidlicky with a pass to Jack Skille, who beat Cory Schneider on the one-timer. Yet, that was early in the game and the Devils settled things down. They were effective in moving the puck into Columbus' end. While their decisions to shoot were not always good, they ended up attempting 17 shots at even strength and 24 in all situations in the first period. Columbus made a lot of blocks, but the ice was tilted against them. That led me to think a response would be coming.
It did, obviously given the final score, but the process went awry. The second period was more reminiscent of the Winnipeg and even the Dallas game, where the Devils just struggled at getting the puck out of their end and into theirs. Power plays gave each team a score, but the Blue Jackets created more offense and nearly outshot New Jersey by a 2:1 ratio in the second period. Play was more even in the third - Columbus took an edge in attempts and shots due to being down on the scoreboard - but the Devils left a lot of opportunities to attack begging. If they carried it in, the first pass within the zone was often not successful. There was more and more dumping-and-chasing as time went on. By the end of the night, the Devils led in attempts 35-30 at evens and 46-40 over all situations. Typical of their low-event ways, but more was expected given the first third of the game.
Essentially, this was an ugly game but not as ugly as that Jets game where both teams engaged in neutral zone warfare for stretches at a time. Per Tom Gulitti's post-game post at Fire & Ice, many Devils were frustrated with how they won. If they want to work on something to address that, then improving their zone entries and offensive passing would go a long way to relieving that stress.
The Myth of 60 Minutes: From the same post from Gulitti, the dreaded "we need to play for 60 minutes" cliche came up. There are two main reasons why I think this mindset, while admirable, isn't worth the time of day to work on.
First, the opponent will actively try to do things against the Devils. Take the Blue Jackets tonight. As injured as they have been, they're not devoid of talent. Their top line of Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell, and Cam Atkinson gave the Devils issues all night long. Luck, Schneider, and some defensive plays kept those three off the scoresheet. Yet, they combined for 15 of Columbus' 34 shots on net tonight. They were far and away Columbus' best unit in possession, even dragging Jack Johnson into having a positive Corsi tonight. No Devil really did well against them. It's hard to be effective for a full game when the opponent's top line is putting in some excellent work. Throw in support from guys like Nick Foligno - a pass to create an odd-man rush, a PPG - and it's near-impossible.
Second, it's incredibly difficult to maintain a certain level of effectiveness for any team. Even the top teams have bad stretches, bad periods, or even bad games. Passes can be just off the mark, not by much, but enough to stall an attack. A stray stick or body part turns a great shot into no shot at all. Penalties are at the behest of a referee who may or may not call them. The ice could even throw a wrench into a play. Teams can practice their tactics all they want, but in the actual run of play, things just go wrong without necessarily any blame. What makes the good teams different from the bad teams is that they try to minimize the effect of those bad stretches and maximize the effect of the time where things are going well.
Basically, to "play a full 60 minutes" means one team is doing everything right and the opposition does everything wrong. It does happen occasionally, but the Devils should not be striving for perfection. Continuous improvement will be enough. And if they can pull out ugly wins like this one in the interim, that's all for the better.
Mini-Rant Aside, Let's Praise Special Teams for a Bit: The Devils' special teams weren't entirely half-good tonight. The penalty kill actually functioned as a penalty kill from last season at times. Schneider made plenty of stops, as he faced eight shots. Foligno's power play goal was nigh-unstoppable for Schneider. That power play goal was one of the few errors by the PK, as Foligno got behind Andy Greene to get in position for the killer pass from Jack Johnson. However, they made plenty of clearances and didn't have to rely on divine intervention as to not lose a game or a lead because of it. I look at it and call it a step forward.
Yet, the Devils' power play was more effective. The lame last power play of the night aside, which was a real squandered chance, the Devils made their PPs count. They created eight shots as well and converted two of those power plays quickly. The first was a result of a great pass by Michael Ryder to get it to an open Zidlicky, who beat Forsberg straight-up on a shot. The second was a "garbage goal." Forsberg stopped a Jagr shot, but he could not control the rebound. A scrum ensued and Adam Henrique eventually got his stick out from under the goalie, got the puck in front, and put home the goal. Special teams were a net positive tonight and the power play conversions were important for tonight's result. The two PPGs equalized the score at their respective times. Very good from them.
Did the Devils Make a NHL Debuting Goalie Look Great?: No. While Anton Forsberg faced 29 shots, plenty of them were from distance. The Blue Jackets, as depleted as they are in their roster, collapsed often around the slot. Their box on the penalty kill was quite tight in front. As a result, the Devils made several attempts from the perimeter. Still, Forsberg got beat clean on a Zidlicky shot he clearly saw and he lost a rebound and couldn't recover which led to Henrique's goal. Those were not good moments; neither were the few shots where he looked behind himself after making a stop. He may turn out to be OK and he wasn't demolished in net. He wasn't a superhero either. I just hope this game gets remembered the next time someone laments the Devils' chances when they are about to face an inexperienced goalie starting for the opposition.
Regarding New Jersey's Forwards: There were plenty of changes up front during the game and I think it's best to note them. Peter DeBoer made several adjustments from the second period, due in part of things not going New Jersey's way in the second.
I wasn't a fan of Reid Boucher tonight. His possession numbers indicate that plenty of good things happened. While he got two shots on net, he struggled with the puck in the neutral zone and didn't help much at all on defense. There were times where he just looked out of place. I know he was called up to replace Mike Cammalleri and he's trying his best. Yet, it's clear he needs more seasoning and the Devils' top six misses Cammalleri. Boucher getting moved down and limited to seven minutes seemed appropriate to me.
Ryane Clowe started with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr, but he was replaced with Zubrus. There were some spot shifts with Patrik Elias and Henrique, but it was clear that Zubrus was a better fit than Clowe. While both players are large, not fast, forwards who excel along the walls, Zubrus had a better understanding of where his teammates were than Clowe. It wasn't a bad thing to try out. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Tuomo Ruutu get another shot up top. It worked well last season and Ruutu is probably quicker than both Zubrus and Clowe. Again, this line misses Cammalleri.
Adam Henrique was moved around. He started at center of Boucher and Michael Ryder. He ended up on the wing of Patrik Elias. I'm not quite sure what to make of his night. Henrique did score a PPG and put three shots on net out of five attempts. He also did well on the PK. Yet, he managed to be present for the Devils out-attempting the Jackets at evens while the Devils were out-shot by the Jackets. There were plenty of moments where #14 was just "there." I'm wondering whether the Devils are thinking about giving more minutes to Josefson or moving a wing to center to try Henrique more at wing. It could be a function of how things were going as opposed to trying out a lineup change, though.
Well, He's a Rookie: Damon Severson and Andy Greene drew the Johansen line and, well, they played a lot of defense. Severson had some great moments, like successfully stopping Johansen one-on-one. He also had some heinous giveaways that if it was done by #24, then we wouldn't hear the end of it. The positive for Severson is that he didn't get so burned that it cost the team dearly. Even veterans will have nights like that - and Greene kind of did - it'll be interesting to see how he performs in the next game. If he bounces back, then it's a further sign that he's for real.
Well, He Was a Flyer: Scott Hartnell boarded Elias right at the end of regulation. It was the sort of play that should get a review from the league, but likely won't as he was issued a minor penalty or something like that. Earlier, he was beefing with Clowe among other Devils. He was called for embellishment, though it appeared that the subsequent melee was what really earned him two minutes along with Clowe. You can't take the Flyer out of some players.
Fan Reaction: The Rock continued to have plenty of seating available in large bunches in the upper and lower bowls. That said, the crowd has really picked up the new goal song. The "You suck"s are more and more in harmony.
Further, there was a school band at the arena. Update: I got that wrong, it was a guy with a vuvuzela. They He played Rock and Roll Part 2. I don't know if it was picked up on TV, but for a part of the third period, the entire arena reacted to that the way you would expect it. It was great. Take that, "Brand."
Add Another to the List: Nick Foligno took a Jack Johnson shot to his shoulder and Zidlicky contacted him down shortly thereafter. He was down, the play was blown dead, and carried himself off the ice in the second period. Proving that he's a really tough man, he played throughout the third period.
However, I do not think Columbus escaped injury entirely. Henrique and defenseman Cody Goloubef charged into the net in the third period. Goloubef hit into Forsberg and he remained down after getting away from the crease. He did not put any weight on his right leg and was helped off the ice. Sympathies to Columbus.
Lastly: Cory Schneider's one error was behind the net in misplaying a puck. He was fortunate Foligno didn't make him pay for it. Other than that, he was great.
Your Take: The Devils won their second in a row by making Columbus lose their fifth in spite of the overall performance. It's a way to start the new month. What did you think of tonight's game? Who was the best Devil of the night? Were you impressed by Adam Larsson's game? What do you think the Devils should do to improve their zone entries? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the sparse tweets on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.