After twenty minutes, this game looked like a repeat of Thursday night's poor performance in Philadelphia. The Devils were down 0-2 through self-committed errors. A check from behind by Adam Henrique yielded a power play that ended when Ryan Pulock hammered a shot from the high slot when the rebound came to him. Keith Kinkaid came out of his net to move a dumped puck away, only lightly pushed it aside, and a hard-charging Colin McDonald made him pay for the error by slamming an angled shot over the sliding keeper out of his net. After Pulock's goal, the Devils went back on the penalty kill due to Rod Pelley taking a call prior to the goal. Even after that was done, the Devils just lost puck after puck. They struggled maintaining possession going over the red line, nevermind getting into the Isles' end of the rink. They were out-shot 3-11, down two, and look miserable overall.
Fortunately, the Devils powered out of it. They started making more of their passes in the second period, and then came their first power play. The Devils not only gained the zone easily, but they managed to maintain possession. Andy Greene cleanly denied Michael Grabner's requisite shorthanded breakaway opportunity. They put up four shots on net before Martin Havlat put home a rebound past an unaware Chad Johnson. It was easily their most successful power play all preseason long. Their second power play only yielded one shot, but again, they managed to recover pucks and pin the Isles back despite missing three to four looks. The play with the man advantage seemingly helped the Devils get their heads right and played a more competitive game.
This got even better in the third period. Whereas the Isles had plenty of attacking opportunities in the second, they were relegated to a few dangerous-looking shots up ice. The Devils out-shot them 13-4 in the third and came mightily close to breaking through after Michael Ryder rocketed a shot over Johnson's shoulder after a beautiful cross-ice pass by Peter Harrold. The Devils played the third more like what you'd hope. Winning pucks, forcing turnovers, making clean passes out of the zone, and rushing the net. A few bounces here and there denied that third goal, but almost all four lines were pushing for it. They had to play beyond regulation but given how awful the first period was, that's a positive in of itself.
Unfortunately, the positives ended at the sixty-minute mark. The Devils' play in 4-on-4 was abhorrent. Nearly every time the Devils touched the puck, it wasn't long before it went to an Islander or into space for an Islander to retrieve it. Damon Severson, Seth Helgeson, Peter Harrold, and Andy Greene were just poor - scrambling in their own end. The forwards did not help whatsoever. The only chance the Devils had was when Adam Henrique poked a puck into the middle for Ryder to be one-on-one with Johnson. Johnson stopped him wide and/or Ryder got the side of the net; and the Isles went back to pinning New Jersey back. Overtime hockey emphasizes possession with more space available for everyone. That was exacerbated with the long change. The only positive from that was that it's now on tape and the team can work from it and there was a shootout.
Those who have followed the Devils only for the last few years or can only remember it likely facepalmed in someway when that reality set in. Then everyone facepalmed as MSG+ was in commercial when John Tavares took the first attempt. That was stopped; but the ones by Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson were not. Reid Boucher scored, but Adam Henrique lost the puck and a career 4-for-24 Martin Havlat got stopped. Your outrage mileage may vary, but given how bad the first and overtime periods were, I can't be mad about a shootout loss. Also: it's preseason - this result doesn't matter. The bigger takeaway of this game was that the Devils fell flat on their face to start but they raised their game, driven by the power play, to at least make it competitive, if not outplay their opponents for stretches at a time. There's a good team in New Jersey. A few more preseason games and they could be well set.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this brief recap with an asterisk in the headline over at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: Yes, there were highlights for both teams. NHL.com has the full video from the odd-angled Barclay's Center. (Aside: It was apparent on TV that the arena wasn't built with hockey in mind.)
The Door Was Open but Now A Bit More Closed: When the word came out before the game that Keith Kinkaid and he was expected to play all sixty minutes, I immediately thought that the staff thinks Kinkaid's the man. All he would have to do is prove them right. The first period was a strong argument against. That goal conceded to McDonald was all on him. Whether he had much control over them is a question, but there were plenty of rebounds available for the Isles. However, while Kinkaid faced fewer shots as time went on, he really settled down. The shots that he got from the Isles were challenging and he made the tough stops. He was exceptional in overtime, including one brilliant save on Brian Strait. While he got beat clean in the shootout, I'd say he recovered well enough that I don't think one could say he was poor. He could have been better. Again, that mistake that yielded McDonald's goal was on him; had he not made it, then I would feel a lot more confident in Kinkaid being the #2 guy. Maybe we'll see Scott Clemmensen get a full sixty for comparison's sake soon, but I think Kinkaid still has an edge on him.
The Gomez Experience: Scott Gomez was great - on the power play. Gomez was making good passes and took three good shots, including one that got through Johnson but was cleared away by Strait - all on the power play. Gomez was confident on the puck - on the power play. Don't get me wrong, he definitely was a lot better tonight than he was last night. And I'd go as far as to say that he helped make that power play work really, really well. However,if I'm going to buy into the notion that he may be a player worth signing, then I want to see him contribute well at even strength too. I will say that I'm fine with him playing in a few more preseason games.
He was similar to Michael Ryder tonight. At even strength, Ryder was largely a non-factor. On the Devils' four man advantages, he was a threat, took great shots, and even scored a great goal. The power play performance made him stand out despite not doing much in the more common situation.
Quietly Better: Chalk it up to situation or opponent, but I felt a number of players improved over prior performances in addition to Gomez. The unit of Havlat, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus was very good after the first period. Elias and Havlat were notably effective on the power play and were free to fire away. The trio combined for nine of the team's 28 shots on net. Peter Harrold had his questionable moments on the puck (namely in the first and overtime periods), but he was a positive factor over all and some of his passes were sweet. Reid Boucher wasn't invisible. Stefan Matteau didn't play much and will rue the great chances he had; but the fact that he got a breakaway and two great looks in close is a big plus. Damon Severson was more active in attack with a whopping eight shooting attempts. Mike Komisarek, well, he wasn't horribly out of position that cost the team a score. The degree of improvement varies, but steps forward are steps forward.
Quietly Good: Seth Helgeson did fairly well. Earned himself work in overtime, even though that was bad for everyone wearing white for the better part of five minutes.
Special Teams Strong: The penalty kill and power play were far better tonight. The power play was clearly good to anyone. Twelve shots and two goals out of four opportunities speak for themselves. The penalty kill deserves some praise too. While Pulock did convert the Isles' first power play, they only allowed one more shot all night long. They were helped with better discipline as the only other penalty they took was a delay of game call by Burlon. But the killers stayed in their positions, they made plays on the puck when appropriate, and they didn't stretch themselves too thin. After Thursday's special teams debacle, watching both be far more effective was an entirely welcome sight.
Cuts Loom: Brandon Burlon played tonight but he won't make the team. Like Dan Kelly on Monday, he lined up with Komisarek basically to fill a spot. I would've liked to have seen Reece Scarlett, but he apparently is injured as Tom Gulitti noted at the end of this afternoon's Fire & Ice post. While I would say Burlon was better than Kelly, I can see why he's being sent down. He didn't add much different. As the second week of preseason comes, I would expect more to come. I expect Rod Pelley to be among them, if only because he was rather poor in a fourth-line role. It could be the early end of Ruslan Fedotenko and Jordin Tootoo, who each haven't done much. There will be more as the rosters have to get pared down for the full first team to get at least a game together. We may see a few more tomorrow, but I think the big day will be Monday as there's a break before the final two preseason games.
Lastly: Did I need to tell you that Andy Greene was pretty good? It's Andy Greene. You should know that by now.
Your Take: The Devils did fall in a shootout, but they played a far better game than they did last night and their special teams play was particularly good. What did you think of this game? How did you like the team's comeback? Who stood out to you (in a good or bad way) and why? What would you like the team to work on before Sunday's game? Who do you think will we say "goodbye" to in a few days? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this shootout loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter (@InLouWeTrust). Thank you for reading.