And they had them all the way.
That's one of the many memorable lines by legendary broadcaster Doc Emrick. It's a nice way of saying, "They won despite what happened in the game." It's also the pithiest way of describing tonight's game. The New Jersey Devils went up 2-0 on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first period. The Devils struggled mightily to move the puck effectively, get zone exits with control, and even challenge the goaltender on a regular basis throughout the game. The Lightning got one back in the second period and scored an equalizer in the last minute of the game. Overtime inspired no confidence by a Devils team that spent more time making lateral and backwards passes than going forward. But the Devils eventually won by succeeding in a shootout. You can alternatively say that the Devils stole two points.
Yes, the Devils won a shootout. It's their second of the season and their first since the lockout-shortened 2013 season against a team that is not the Winnipeg Jets. Keith Kinkaid denied Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Scott Gomez hit the crossbar and Travis Zajac didn't get a shot away. But before the familiar pain of another shootout failure came, Patrik Elias scored his first shootout goal in ages, dekeing around Evgeni Nabokov as if it was an old habit. Kinkaid denied Jonathan Drouin and the Rock erupted in cheers. A stark contrast to the booing that ended regulation and overtime ending with some fans leaving immediately as if they knew what was coming. The Devils won tonight's game 3-2. Kinkaid won his first ever NHL game, which is fitting because he was very fine in net tonight. It's the team's first victory since December 8 against Carolina. That's worth cheering.
Unfortunately, tonight's performance resembled that same Carolina game. And it's on the players and the coaches - regardless of how long they have left in this organization - to figure out how to make those games be less common. Otherwise, there will be more winless streaks and many more ugly performances. Tonight's yielded a win in spite of the performance, not because of it. And that's important to note to honestly look at tonight's game.
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: Please visit Raw Charge for a view from the opposition's perspective.
The Game Highlights: Tonight's highlight package features one of the surprising goals you'll see in sometime. Here's the full video from NHL.com:
You Can't Win Games Like This: The Devils didn't concede more than 30 shots on net, but that's partially on the Lightning throwing shots into bodies that weren't Kinkaid's and not just firing away freely. Nevertheless, the Lightning controlled the game, especially from the second period onward. The first period was OK and I get that the opposition was down two goals so it's expected to attack more. But by the end of regulation, the Devils were out-shot 18-26 and out-attempted 22-53. At even strength, it was uglier as the Devils put up a mere 11 shots on net out of 14 attempts (14 attempts in even strength regulation! Just 14!) to Tampa Bay's 22 out of 41 attempts. The Lightning could have really put the Devils to the sword because they had the puck so much. Instead, they weren't so aggressive - and they still managed to keep control of the game.
The common play by the Devils was to get pinned back, chase the puck as the Lightning pass it around the Devils' zone with relative ease, get a block or recover a rebound or hope the Lightning misfire on a pass, and clear it out of the zone by knocking it away. The Lightning would recover, delay a little for players to get back onside, and then repeat the cycle. There are stretches of a game where pretty much every team gets pressured. For the Devils, it was for most of the second period and especially in the second half of the third period. Offensive opportunities were few and far between, which meant that the Devils weren't going to force Tampa Bay to defend and not just keep coming at the Devils. And they really didn't save for a dangerous offensive opportunity that was few and far between tonight.
You want to know why the Devils blew a 2-0 lead tonight? Well, read the paragraph above because that was the night in a nutshell. It also explains a lot of other aspects of this year's team. Like why the team is below 50% Corsi, why they looked so second-rate on the winless streaks they have suffered from this season, and why they look like a crummy team full of scrubs more often than not. Puck control matters more than just "clearing it out" and tonight was just another example. The Devils or any other team cannot keep playing like this and expect to be successful. Simple as.
Fortunate Goals: The goals that the Devils scored included some fortiutious breaks. Most goals scored involve some event, decision by the opposition, or even just a bounce of the puck to go one way as opposed to another. Adam Henrique's goal was a tap-in inside the crease to convert a power play. The play prior was very well executed: Scott Gomez hit Andy Greene with a fantastic pass across the slot for a one-timer. Nabokov stopped it and Jason Garrison immediately slapped the rebound away. The break was that the puck bounced back off the end board and right back at the goalie where he couldn't see it. Henrique was in the right place and right time there.
At least that one had an intentional play before then. The second goal was equally lucky as it was a highlight reel worth goal that made everyone go "WOW" when it happened. After the team was pinned back in their own end, Adam Henrique moved the puck to Martin Havlat at the blueline and played it up to Patrik Elias. Some of the Devils changed and Elias just charged forward. Matt Carle stayed with Elias and held his position well. Elias decided to do a spin move and release a backhander towards the goal instead of dumping it ahead of him. The puck just floated up and took an arc that surprised Nabokov and just went inside of the right post. Maybe it hit off Carle's stick but it was almost in slow-motion to see that go in. It's in the highlight video, but here it is on it's own with the benefit of replays and further reaction:
The Rock aired the first intermission interview from tonight's broadcast and Elias said he was lucky on the play. Indeed he was. It still looked cool and it turned out to be important.
The Devils would get a few other dangerous looks at the net. Travis Zajac hit the post twice tonight. Michael Ryder had a glorious and free shot in front of the goalie but didn't finish it. There was a three-on-one that quickly became a three-on-two that led to Adam Henrique not putting home a rebound. Martin Havlat had a nice shooting lane in overtime but he whiffed on the shot. But, again, the Devils attempted so few shots in part because they had the puck in Tampa Bay's end of the rink with control so few times. I'm glad they scored since they were shut out on Wednesday. I'm pleased I got to see a hilarious goal by Elias. But these breaks aren't going to happen every night.
I'd Rather See Zach Ryder Wear #17: I haven't had a lot of good to write about Michael Ryder. Namely because he has done very little good to write about. I understand he hasn't scored in seemingly forever (20 games). But when he's not shooting and scoring, he is worthless at best and hurts the team at worst. This is not news to anyone who saw him last season. Neither is the fact that he floats more than boat on defense and has the rigidness of a wet paper bag. That doesn't mean he shouldn't draw any ire. He should if only for taking two really bad penalties in the third period when the score was 2-1 Devils.
Ryder decided to hold Valterri Filppula, which not only didn't work but put his team down a man when they were already getting pinned back by Tampa Bay. Later in the same period, he was attempting to forecheck while Victor Hedman had the puck. Of course, it didn't work with the exception of Ryder's stick coming up high on Hedman, hitting him in the mouth, and drawing blood. Because when the home team struggling to get the puck, much less move it forward to get a shot on an old goaltender in a one-goal game, it's important to stretch a stick out and reach high on a tall player in an attempt to do something that has a little chance of succeeding. More simply, stupid Ryder forced the Devils to kill four minutes when they were already under duress for most of the period. The only point of sympathy I have for him tonight is that he got hosed on a bad embellishment call. Brian Boyle tripped him and the ref gave Ryder a diving penalty for falling down. I thought that was a harsh call from where I sat in Section 1. Maybe you, who saw it on TV, have a different take. Whatever, other than that, he was an older Damien Brunner without the speed. He was useless tonight and has been more often than not. You know it, the Associate knows it, my brother knows it, my dad who didn't watch the game knows it, and I know it.
Surely, the rest of the team and the coaching staff knows it. I'm at the point where Ryder could be a healthy scratch very soon and I would be fine with it. It could happen. He was a healthy scratch back at the Devils-Pens game earlier this month. The same game where the Devils signed Scott Gomez to have twelve forwards for the evening. I know that Ryder's play could lead him to be called many names like The Passenger, The Celebrity That's Famous for No Real Reason (think Lola Heatherton), or A One Trick Pony That Doesn't Do That Trick A Lot (FYI: that's his shot) since coming to the team. (Aside: I'm not so good at nicknames.) Tonight was just another reason to be unhappy about his play.
Rolled: Andy Greene and Jon Merrill nearly played 30 minutes as they were getting rolled back on defense over and over. While Adam Henrique, Scott Gomez, and Jaromir Jagr looked real good on offense on Wednesday, tonight showed the Rock that this line really gets out of sorts if they can't get on offense. Speaking of, Eric Gelinas was forced to defend more; though, that wasn't an adventure. Peter Harrold wasn't so bad until he flung a puck right up to Jason Garrison with just over 40 seconds left in the game. The makeshift fourth line of Jordin Tootoo, Tim Sestito, and Steve Bernier were also picked on early. They weren't that much better later on, but they were akin to a tire fire in the first period. Please come back soon any Devils forwards.
Who was really doing the rolling? Take your pick on Tampa Bay. Their top unit of Steve Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, and Ryan Callahan was very good. I was afraid when Stamkos took on three Devils and still got a shot away that it would be one of those "No one's stopping this shot." He still got a goal. When Drouin got a puck away from a board battle in the left corner, got it up to Callahan, and Stamkos put home the third effort after two tries on net by Callahan. Callahan also played a key role for that equalizer when he got the rebound from Garrison's shot, posted up Greene in the slot, and laid the puck off for Krucherov to go around and score on the weak side. But that line as a whole threatened the most. While Tyler Johnson was out sick, Ondrej Palat was back and he put in a good effort with Kucherov and Filppula. From the defense, Hedman looked like a stud, Garrison was a force, and Radko Gudas brought beef and some surprising offense.
Odd Reffing: Some of the calls made tonight were dubious. Harrold may have actually pushed Alex Killorn into Keith Kinkaid. The refs tagged Killorn for goaltender interference. Ryder was given two for diving even though he was tripped up pretty bad by Boyle. The refs missed some calls, like Stephen Gionta getting boarded in the first (a bit before Eric Gelinas tripped J.T. Brown, a clear call), Elias taking down a Lightning player in the neutral zone on that four-minute power play, and so forth. They also called icing even though it appeared Gelinas won the race to the puck and said nothing about Gudas' hit right after the call. Alas, that'll happen from time to time and it's not as if one team got all the power plays and one team didn't.
Special Teams in Favor of NJ: The penalty kill was very impressive. While the Lightning did get set-up, they kept passing it around because they didn't have a real good shooting lane. They didn't decide to just forget about getting a good look and fire away, though maybe they should have during that third period double minor while down a score. As a result of that and some fortunate blocks, the Devils only conceded four shots on net. Over five advantages that lasted ten minutes, that's a win for the Devils' PK and Kinkaid.
The power play did convert their first opportunity and they came close to scoring when they got set up on their second and third chances. The Devils had four shots total, but with a goal and a post, it's a positive. I did notice the power play personnel didn't curl around in their own end of the rink when a forechecker came at them. The one leading the breakout still did a drop pass to a Devil, who would then carry the puck through the neutral zone. But the intent was to skate ahead instead of circle back and take more time off the clock. I liked that and it was functional. I hope that continues.
Elias Cheered: In the valley of the blind, the man with one eye is king. On the night where the team didn't even take twenty shooting attempts at even strength, Patrik Elias had four of the Devils' 18 shots on net. He was skating fairly well and he was one of the few Devils that wasn't constantly playing defense or chasing pucks. Elias still made some dubious passes and there were some less than ideal decisions made. But he got multiple shots on net, he got a floater into the net, he went hard into the net (literally) in overtime in one of the few moments where a Devil wanted to make a positive difference, and he score the lone shootout goal. I'd say he was the best skater of the bunch tonight. When players play well and put in a productive effort, they're not booed. Go figure. Whether he's not happy with the negative response at the end of regulation, well, it's moot because they won and everyone at the Rock who counts (Devils fans) was pleased about it.
Why he wasn't named a star for tonight's game by Tonight's Attending Media, I don't know. Per the Game Summary, it was Krucherov, Kinkaid, and Henrique. I would've picked Kinkaid first as he had another strong game. I would have put Krucherov or Callahan second, and Elias at least third. Oh well.
Shootout: With two wins this season, we are one step closer to throwing the "the Devils always lose in the shootout" cliche into the same bin with "Peter DeBoer doesn't like young players," and "the team doesn't score goals for Cory but they will for other goalies." It's not there yet, but it is progress.
Your Take: The Devils were significantly out-shot and out-attempted as they also had low shooting and attempt totals. Again, that's not going to lead to many good nights. But the team got a win by a means they haven't gotten too many of over the last two seasons. Considering their situation, that's what they really needed. So what's your take on the win? Agree that they won in spite of their performance? Maybe there was something positive about what the Devils did that I missed? What can the Devils do to do better for Saturday's game against Washington? Who was the best Devil tonight? Who was the worst? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust during the game. Thank you for reading.