Keith Kinkaid can at least feel good about being the #2 goaltender on the New Jersey Devils. He had himself a very fine performance in net. Given that he got shelled by Chicago in his first start, a game like this only solidifies his status. Different opponent, different arena, different situation, and still very solid in his positioning and really quick with his glove. He also faced a generous number of shots - 33 over 65 minutes of play - to go with five shootout rounds. While the ice was not tilted as badly as the Blackhawks made it last Tuesday, it did tilt against the Devils. Kinkaid did quite well in the face of Devils skaters getting pinned or getting beaten off the rush.
Unfortunately, his play did not bail out the team entirely. Not that it was his duty. No, Kinkaid was more than acceptable in net tonight. But the Devils did not get that desperately needed win. The Devils did not win it in the shootout over the New York Islanders. They lost to make it a 2-3 final score. That's the fourth straight game without a win for the Devils, the second straight shootout loss for Kinkaid, and the sixth straight shootout win for the Isles.
It's also another game where the Devils were up 2-0 but that lead went away. Before lamenting or raging about that, you may want to consider lamenting or raging against the lack of response to each goal. Josh Bailey scored right after an Islanders power play ended early in the second. He was all alone in front, Ryan Strome did well to get him the puck, and Kinkaid had a point-blank shot that he wasn't going to stop. That happened 1:51 into the period. The Devils responded with only seven shots on net and 13 shooting attempts. While the Isles would be expected to do more, that's not really in line with trying to re-take a two-goal lead.
In the third period, the disparity in shots and attempts only got worse. The Devils didn't sit back, they just reverted to what they put on display for the better part of the last four games. Bad zone exits. Bad passing. Bad decisions. Looking lost in their own end. The Devils got out-shot 7-13 and out-attempted 9-17. One of those plays off the rush yielded the equalizer the Islanders looked for: a 2-on-1 led by Matt Martin, who finished the play. That goal happened 10:45 into the period. Again, the response left a lot to be desired. It would be a couple of minutes before the Devils got a shot on Jaroslav Halak. There wasn't much, not even with a late power play to close out regulation. While it wasn't anything like the horror show that was the third period in Carolina, it wasn't all that good.
Overtime was interesting between bad passes killing offense and leading to some for the other team, the Devils killing off a stupid penalty taken by Scott Gomez, seeing Gomez power through defenders (!) for a shot on net (!!), and Eric Gelinas managing to impede Bailey off on a breakaway without getting called for a penalty or penalty shot at the end of overtime. The shootout went five rounds instead of three as Gomez added his name to the very short list of Devils who have scored goals. Unfortunately, the Isles got two, the Devils only got one (Damon Severson beat Halak but not his back, Jacob Josefson missed on a sharp angle), and that was the result.
Kinkaid played really well and it wasn't entirely a shooting gallery for sixty minutes. The Devils legitimately had a very good first period where they did all of the things we haven't seen enough of: puck control, puck movement, and not forcing attempts through bodies. They got two goals: a power play blast by Marek Zidlicky and a fluke of a re-direction for Gomez. But those periods seem like ancient history given the play of the following two periods. As much as we can say it was a better performance than the last four games, there's a lot to still work on. The offense can't simply go away when the other team starts to successfully attack as it led to more offense by the opposition. It's hard to keep up with only 43 shooting attempts all game. When things gone awry, all of the bad things started to show up. At least there's a point, but again, it could have been two. Poor Kinkaid. At least he (and Cory Schneider) have proven again tonight that the issue isn't in net for the 2014-15 season.
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: Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey correctly calls the comeback by the Isles "salvation by a thousand cuts" in his recap. A very apt statement.
The Game Highlights: Witness a power play blast by Zidlicky, a fluke in favor of NJ, and plenty of Kinkaid. All in this video from NHL.com:
The Glorious Return of Zajac: Travis Zajac returned to the lineup and he was flying out there. He was a big reason why Gomez and Jaromir Jagr looked so good tonight. Zajac put up four shots on net in the first period and then proceeded to help Gomez and Jagr go on and get four and six shots, respectively. That line was awesome in the first period and easily the team's best all night long. Zajac was a welcome return to the penalty kill, especially in the 3-on-4 situation in overtime. Zajac alone isn't going to suddenly turn the season around. At a minimum, the Devils can now have a top line that isn't just patched together.
The Not As Glorious Return of Sestito: Today, the Devils sent down Mike Sislo for Tim Sestito. That's not exactly an upgrade. It's not exactly a lateral move either. Nevertheless, Tim Sestito wasn't really bad tonight. He threw some hits. He had one really good shot on net, the team's first since Martin's equalizer in the third. He was out on the penalty kill and it wasn't bad. I don't think he did anything Mike Sislo couldn't do. But I suppose the intent was to get someone excited for the game and coming off some heroics in Albany. I wouldn't expect him to last; he'll be sent back once the Devils get another forward healthy.
The Disaster that was the Henrique Line: I understand that using Corsi within a single game is often dubious. But the unit of Tuomo Ruutu, Adam Henrique, and Michael Ryder were so awful it almost speaks for itself. Here are for-against numbers for each: 2-17, 3-22, 3-17. Only Ryder was on the ice for a shot on net at even strength. Henrique and Ruutu were not. These two not only did not move the play forward in the larger sense of shooting attempts, but they were just hideous to watch. Ruutu sailed more than one cross-ice passing attempt that nearly resulted in a clean breakaway for the Islanders tonight. Ryder was a total passenger on a train going nowhere. Henrique was attempting back passes in his own zone instead of clearances, for goodness' sake! This line was so bad, it's a minor miracle they didn't get scored on tonight.
I wanted to see Ruutu get more ice time, but after tonight, I want him back with Jacob Josefson and Martin Havlat as soon as possible. Ryder, well, he is himself. As for Adam Henrique, I have a suggestion. Gomez lined up at wing with Zajac and Jagr tonight. As well as Gomez did in general, why not switch up Gomez and Henrique? We can see whether Henrique can be a positive contributor while Gomez returns to center. If you're of the opinion that there's not much left to play for, it's something to at least consider.
Helgeson Was Not Good: Peter Harrold was scratched tonight. I kind of wish he wasn't. Helgeson wasn't picked on throughout the night, but he was just rough when the going got tough. He was going for hits after penalty kills instead of just guarding his man. He went around the post instead of watching the slot before Bailey's goal (I would fault Damon Severson a bit on that play, by the way; he opened the lane). He had some giveaways that extended the Isles' offense. He most notably got caught in the neutral zone. He couldn't chase Matt Martin, he missed trying to intercept the pass, and that led to the Islanders' second goal. The rookie had a rough night, arguably rougher than the other defenseman regardless of what the attempt differentials may show (e.g. Jon Merrill playing a lot of defense tonight).
Flying Fourth Liners: The Islanders' top guns were surprisingly quiet as John Tavares didn't register a single shot on net and Kyle Okposo only got one - that led to a sweet glove save in overtime by Kinkaid. But their fourth line was something else. Cal Clutterbuck was motoring and got a couple of shots on net. Casey Cizikas looked more like Michael Grabner, simply beating defenders with speed. Then there was Matt Martin. He didn't just score the equalizer in the third period. He had four other shots on net and narrowly missed a rebound in the third period that would've put the Islanders up in the game. It's weird, but the Devils just had little answer for their energy/grit/lunchpail/blue-collar line tonight.
They also had little answer for Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee. Don't get me wrong, they were good. It's just that Matt Martin was that impressive.
Other Notables: Martin Havlat put up four shots on net while playing on a line with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. Interesting! Maybe Henrique and Ryder were bringing him down?
If you wanted an example of why I gave Eric Gelinas' slapshot a nickname, then you got one in the first period. He took one and it knocked off Halak's mask. Yes, The Truth was so hard, it removed a mask from someone's head. Unfortunately, that was his only shot on net and shooting attempt tonight.
The penalty kill tonight was impressive in that they only conceded three shots. Considering that the Isles got a full two minutes in overtime, that's nothing to sneeze at. The power play did well on the first advantage and wasted the second. How they got that, well, read on.
The TV camera shifted in the first period to center on the Islanders' zone when the Devils had their first power play. This was off-putting, but they fixed it for the rest of the game after the first intermission.
Suspend Tavares: The game was definitely chippy at points and the refs let plenty go. However there was absolutely dangerous moment late in regulation. Marek Zidlicky hit Tavares in open ice in the neutral zone. A big hit, play continued. Seconds later, Zidlicky was hunched in pain. Tavares speared Zidlicky in the groin in retalitation. Let me rephrase this. John Tavares reacted to getting hit by Marek Zidlicky by angrily striking Zidlicky between his legs in a very sensitive area with his stick blade. Spearing is dangerous enough on its own to warrant five minutes. This was a retaliatory spear. It somehow only got two minutes. I would like to see the NHL Department of Player Safety to take a closer look. I am not holding my breath on a suspension, but I think one would be warranted. It was an entirely unacceptable play.
Honestly, I was mad about this turn of events and I really wanted the Devils to make the Isles pay. Unfortunately, the power play performance left a lot to be desired. Alas.
Gomez's Night: The pass-first center lined up at wing tonight. He put up three shots on net and had an intended pass to the middle of the ice re-direct off Lubomir Visnovsky's skate and beat Halak. He had a very stupid tripping penalty in overtime when he dragged his foot to undercut Josh Bailey. An easy call for the referee not even twenty feet away. He followed that with a power move to get through three Islanders for one of his shots on net. Gomez appeared in the shootout - and scored. He's having himself a fine time since getting signed and tonight was just another example. The only thing I didn't like from him was his proclivity for passes going backward, be it drop passes or passes going at an angle in the hopes of it finding a Devil. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they gave the Islanders an opportunity to attack or an easy clear. Still, he was good overall if it's a bit weird after recounting all of the major things he has done.
Your Take: The Devils did not win, though there was one really good period amid the 14 not-good-to-really-bad periods when taking last week into account. Maybe they'll build on this? Maybe going home will help them? I don't know. Maybe you're one of those fans that, well, doesn't mind that they didn't win tonight? Whatever the case may be, I want to read what you think. What did you take out of tonight's game? Who was the best Devil? Who was the worst Devil? What do you think the Devils have to do to prepare for Wednesday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented about the game in the gamethread and those who followed @InLouWeTrust along tonight whether they were winning, tied, or after the shootout. Thank you for reading.