Tonight, the New Jersey Devils made this trip through western Canada more successful than last season's by winning a game. They shut out the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 and they did it in a rather contentious way. The long and short of it is that the Devils played one good period and Cory Schneider played three good periods. The win adds to Edmonton's continued misery since 2007 or so and cuts off a losing streak for New Jersey. Two points were earned and for those who don't ask how, that's sufficient.
For those like me, the performance has to be covered. It was hideous. The first period was just like the first period of the Winnipeg game. The Devils' passing and puck control was abysmal. The neutral zone was seemingly optional. It took the team over 12 minutes to get their first shot on net and they ended up with only four - their best one generated by a turnover from Edmonton's power play. The only real positives from such a period was that the score was 0-0 after twenty minutes, the penalty kill was rock-like in its solidity, and the sky did not blow up. How bad was it? The Devils were out-attempted at even strength 5-25. Yes. Five to twenty-five. It wasn't like the Oilers turned into defensive stalwarts in the neutral zone or in their own end; the Devils were just that abhorrent at moving the puck and keeping it on their sticks. No wonder the Oilers looked fast, they had the key item that allows players to skate as they wish.
The third period provided the other piece of bread to the metaphorical sandwich I have now for describing this game. The Devils were pinned back for the better part of those twenty minutes. The four-minute penalty kill certainly did not help, but the Oilers did their damage at evens. They rediscovered making passes while going forward, they were very good at getting to loose pucks, and they threw a lot at Cory Schneider. Dallas Eakins added to the aggression by pulling Viktor Fasth with 3:30 left and about two minutes of that time was in New Jersey's end. The Oilers out-attempted the Devils by a large margin again: 6-25. The shots were heavily in Edmonton's favor: 13 to 3. Schneider had to be tall, the Devils just had to weather the storms, and they managed to do that.
In between was the glorious combination of lettuce, tomato, and turkey of this sandwich. The Devils managed to realize that fundamentals like making passes to their teammates and being aware of whether their teammate was actually open were crucial. They executed much better and as a result, the Devils were taking control of the game. The Oilers still had their share of shifts of pressure, but the Devils did it more and more often. The result was 19-shot period, their best looking power play in weeks, and two goals.
The goals themselves were generated from long passes through neutral zone. A Taylor Hall turnover led to Eric Gelinas making an easy feed to Steve Bernier. Bernier saw Adam Henrique with inside position on Justin Schultz with a massive gap through the middle of the ice. A perfect pass allowed Henrique to break away and score. Later, the Oilers attempted to hit the Devils off the rush, but an errant pass put the puck into space in the Devils zone. Gelinas got to it first and just flung it up ice off the boards - the right play for a defender in that spot. Tuomo Ruutu picked it up perfectly in stride, carried it in, skated up, and sniped the top right corner past Fasth's shoulder. They were lovely goals and enough to get the win.
I've been focusing on puck movement and control game for weeks because it's directly tied to the team's woes and ugly performances. It's not a coincidence that one of their best periods in a while came from an effort where they managed to accomplish the basics. The third period's awful possession numbers are partially a function of score effects, but the Devils were forced to dump and ice more pucks than trying to skate or pass it out of their own end. And that added to the loads of pressure the team faced; similar to what the first period was like. The big takeaway is that the team needs to function more like they did in the second than just fling pucks or play without awareness in the first or get pinned in the third. If they can do that, they'll get more wins and even some with less than a 100% save percentage by the goalie.
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: Curtis LeBlanc has this recap of tonight's loss for the Oilers at The Copper & Blue.
The Game Highlights: The Ruutu goal is definitely worth watching the highlight video. Here it is from NHL.com:
One More Thing About Possession: I will say this for the Devils. Despite getting out-attempted 32-64 at even strength, the team was only out-shot 22-26. The Devils made a point of it to get bodies in the shooting lanes tonight. The Devils were credited for 22 blocks at evens. Those bodies may have led the Oilers to fire pucks just bit more to the left or right; the Oilers were credited for 16 misses at evens. While the Devils did a crummy job at prevention; they really tightened up in their own end. That's a risk for a number of reasons. For one, I was more concerned that a deflection off a leg or a skate would put the Oilers right back into this one. For another, shot blocks can lead to physical damage. Benoit Pouliot, for example, broke his foot tonight after taking the full force of a slapshot by (I think) Marek Zidlicky. The Devils certainly don't need anything like that. Nevertheless, the blocks and misses dulled the knife of possession that would cut into a sandwich that the Oilers had on their table.
It's why I think Adam Larsson looked really strong even though he was dead last in possession for the Devils tonight. At evens, he faced 17 attempts against while being on the ice for only 3 by the Devils. Yet, those three attempts by the Devils were all shots on target and only six of those 17 by the Oilers made it to Schneider. He helped make sure the Oilers wouldn't have any easy looks and didn't panic when he had some long shifts. So the ice was tilted in one direction for the majority of the game, it wasn't as if Schneider faced a deluge of pucks.
Penalty Killing Power: The Devils' penalty kill has been hot with twenty straight kills. They were one Adam Henrique breakaway from making it a net positive tonight. The Devils killed eight minutes and conceded only two shots on net. None of the first two kills; both in the early part of the four-minute minor Zidlicky served. The three penalties the Devils took were dumb. Gelinas broke his stick and grabbed Jordan Eberle, who didn't even have the puck. Michael Ryder tripped Pouliot instead of the pokecheck he was attempting. Zidlicky raised his stick right off a faceoff into Nail Yakupov's face, which got cut. The kills for each of these calls were anything but dumb. They didn't hesitate when they got the puck, they made their clearances count, and they just denied their formation from doing much. If I'm reading the Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts right, in eight minutes of power play time, they got four shooting attempts. Four. Excellent work by the killers tonight. From Larsson and Andy Greene to Mike Cammalleri and Travis Zajac to Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson.
Schneider Needs Rest: Because so many attempts were misses and blocks, Schneider didn't face a flood of pucks. Just 29 saves, which is a good amount but nothing that states some kind of dominance. Only a handful were of the "woah, look at that" type; but he made them all. However, Schneider was incredibly active because he had to get in position when the attempts did come. With 69 total attempts against, that's a lot of work. Schneider was superb tonight. Even his few plays of the puck went well. I don't think he's going to be so hot tomorrow if he's given the start, though.
Top Opposition: Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin were paired and had a ridiculous night. They were each on the ice for five or less shooting attempts against. They each put up eight shooting attempts of their own; seven of those 16 got to Schneider. Petry was excellent in his own end, whether it was a crucial interception to deny a potentially killer pass from Jaromir Jagr and Cammalleri or just getting a breakout going.
Up front, Taylor Hall was the most visibly threatening Oiler forward. He only had two shots on net but five misses, a block, and plenty of puck battles won and passes made to keep the play rolling. He had some poor moments; but he was flying in that third period and seemingly constant in the first period. He was present for 33 shooting attempts by the Oilers at evens and 13 shots by them. He took only one of them, but Hall was a key factor in his units pinning New Jersey back. He made every Devil eat their proverbial lunch; especially the Gelinas-Zidlicky pairing.
2-22 Can Be Beaten with Speed: Schneider had to bravely come out of his crease to knock a puck away from (I think) Mark Arcobello. That is because he (or some other Oiler if identified the wrong one) just split Zidlicky and Gelinas in the neutral zone. The defense wasn't going to do anything but foul him, and maybe not even that. Schneider had to do what he did and it worked. But it was another example of this pairing getting exposed. Speedy players give them problems. Gelinas is a better skater than Bryce Salvador but I question whether he's actually faster than him. Gelinas did get four shots on net and two assists, which is a step forward in terms of contributing to the team. It does not erase his giveaways in the first period, how he just got beat either in races or along the boards for pucks, and generally got picked on. Whereas Larsson and Seth Helgeson tried to manage things; Gelinas and Zidlicky were an varying array of quality from decent to "do you even defend?" It's something to really keep in mind.
You Can Shoot It in a 2-on-1: The Devils' top line had four two-on-one situations. Passes were telegraphed each time. Three were attempted. One yielded a one-timer that went wide. One was deflected with a heroic backcheck by Petry. One pass bounced away from a cutting Jacob Josefson. One was lamely skated into Fasth by Travis Zajac. Zajac and Jagr, you can shoot those. You have a clear lane to the net. Just do it.
The top two lines were frustrating in general. The Zajac line created some of the Devils' best pressure, as one would expect in the second period. They were shells of themselves in the first and third periods. Jagr being forced to defend is a great way to minimize his contributions. He still showcased his strength in pivoting but not as nearly as much as what could have been. He could have been smarter; like not icing the puck after a nearly 100-second shift against six Oilers skaters. But that line at least did somethings. The Elias line, well, didn't really do lot in general. Henrique scored after coming on for a line change. Other than that, the threesome had one shot on net total. These two groups should be leading the way but the horrid first and sit-back third meant they did not.
A Returning Josefson was a Bright Spot: The Josefson line wasn't bad in limited action. They combined for six shots on net, which was more than the Elias and Gionta lines. Josefson's turnaround shot in the first period was one of the few fleeting moments of not-awful in those twenty minutes. Ruutu scored a sweet goal. Ryder's one penalty was his one really poor decision. I liked them for the eight or so minutes they played. I'd like to see what they would do with, say, ten or twelve. I think we may see that should they produce more shots and chip in some goals.
Your Take: The Devils won, Schneider got a shutout, and the team still has plenty to improve. With a game on Saturday night, I doubt they'll be able to make too many adjustments. Still, what would you like to see? What did you like about the team's performance? Why do you think they executed their passes better in the second period? Who was the best Devil skater tonight in your opinion and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed along with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.