California is now a memory for the New Jersey Devils in this season. Sure, they'll play the Kings and Ducks again in Newark; but they will not return to the state for the rest of this season. And they did it on a much better note than their ugly 1-5 loss at Anaheim.
Surprising to me, the first period started off with end-to-end action by both teams. It was a surprise because A) the Devils being involved in a fast start is just weird to see right away and B) the Devils were playing at a quicker pace. The Sharks would get some good shifts in and get a quick result. A Scott Gomez miscue in his own end of the rink led to Joe Thornton getting the puck in the corner. The Sharks legend flung it up to the team's leading goal scorer, Joe Pavelski, who fired a shot through traffic in the right circle. But unlike Friday or many other games, this didn't seem to deter the Devils. If anything, they played to the score. They moved the puck decently going forward, they were beating Sharks to loose pucks, and they were peppering Alex Stalock with shots on net. The Sharks weren't just pinning back the Devils over and over for many shifts. Eventually, the Devils would be rewarded for their good play in the first period.
In another surprise, that reward was for Jordin Tootoo. Tim Sestito took a loose puck behind the net - a puck won by Jacob Josefson - and went for a wraparound. Tootoo fought for the rebound, a second chance, and then chipped the puck in the net for an equalizer. Less than a minute later, Gomez forced a turnover behind the net from Brendan Dillon. Gomez corraled it away from Justin Braun and then passed it to Steve Bernier in the slot. Bernier's first shot was off, but he put in his own rebound. It was a quick two goals that certainly turned the game on it's head. Unlike the Los Angeles game, this wasn't the result of favorable bounces or anything like that. This didn't come against the run of play. The Devils didn't really sit back or were forced to do so for most of the period. They were dictating the play as if they were down a goal early - which is good because they were down a goal early. And so they finish the first period with seventeen shots on net (huge, given that they had a mere fifteen at Anaheim and twenty at Los Angeles) two goals, and they looked good against a good team on their rink. It was a very good first period; a pleasant surprise.
The second period continued on with more of the same. Patrick Marleau got an early free shot and then the Devils responded with more shots of their own. The Sharks would hit back with an equalizer four minutes into the period. They got a 3-on-2 going and Tyler Kennedy hit Matt Nieto, who was all alone in the slot, for a one-timer that no goalie was going to stop. The Sharks then followed up that goal with not much in the way of offense. Ken Daneyko called them "opportunistic." Hockey is a game that does feature serendipity, like catching a team on a line change or getting a shot block that frees up someone for a breakaway. The Sharks nearly had both, only to be denied by an offside call for the former and a bad outlet pass for the latter. They seemingly were leaning on this as they were struggling to get the puck in New Jersey's end and get set up for their offense. It's a nice change of pace when the opposition has that issue.
All the while, the Devils kept putting up pressure on Stalock. They got their second power play going to get some good shots on net and Mike Cammalleri hitting the outside of the post on a rebound (Joe Thornton's stick helped that) instead of a slam-dunk conversion. But the Devils didn't let that faze them as they kept on keeping on. They would convert their third power play - the result of Tim Sestito getting hit in the head by Brent Burns. It was a slow start, but the lamp was eventually lit during the second minute of the advantage. An Adam Henrique shot was denied by a block, Cammalleri got on the rebound and fired it towards the left post, and it got into the net. The lead was restored.
That all said, the game took a sharp turn heavily in favor of the Sharks. The Pavelski line got a possession shift going late in the period, the Devils were chasing them instead of calmly getting a stop like most of the period. Adam Larsson was caught cross-checking Melker Karlsson, and so the Devils got to face the fearsome San Jose power play. Nearly every clearance was denied. The Sharks put four on Schneider, including Marleau right on his doorstep. They had several more one-timers and shots from some distance just miss the net or get deflected away. The Devils survived that. Would they face a far more motivated and efficient Sharks team in the third period, knowing one shot changes a whole lot?
Well, yes. Yes, they would. The Sharks played in the third more or less like what I thought they would from the first period. They got clean zone entries, they got pressure on offense, and they didn't just have shifts beginning and ending with one shooting attempt. Schneider was given his first test on that power play late in the second period. He had many more issues and pop quizzes like three penalty killing situations - including two back-to-back with a twelve-second overlap. All of the answers by #35 were correct. The Sharks drew calls, they put six power play shots on net, twelve at evens, and Schneider stopped them all. Marleau must be talking to himself about how Schneider denied him at least three times right in front of the net.
The Devils put themselves into real trouble with the penalties. Adam Henrique's trip on Brent Burns was a bit soft but not a smart call at all to take. Ditto on Jon Merrill's hook, especially since it was before Henrique's penalty was up. And Marek Zidlicky continued his reputation of taking stupid minor penalties - a high-stick on Logan Couture right in front of the referee. But the Devils were the opportunistic ones in the third and struck big. An Adam Larsson shot about a minute after the Merrill penalty was killed was the team's second of the period. Travis Zajac backhanded the rebound to provide the third shot and the fourth goal for New Jersey. A very important goal as it would give the Devils some breathing room while putting more pressure on the Sharks. During the Zidlicky kill, Merrill got the puck up into a space where Henrique latched onto it with speed. He faked a shot, cooly zipped a pass to a cutting Jacob Josefson, and the resulting shorthanded goal was Josefson's first in 23 games and the team's fifth. That was essentially the game, though the Sharks did try to get at least one hopeful goal back. But they simply could not pull the trigger or solve Schneider. The Devils were out-shot 5-18 in the third, but that's because the Sharks had to bring it after getting out-played for the better part of two periods. The two goals were just killers and sealed two points for the Devils.
Despite the game starting at 10:30 local time, this was a very enjoyable win. Easily the best performance they had on this California road trip. Easily one of the best wins of the season. While they got shelled by a desperate Sharks team who misfired many more passes and shots in addition to putting up 36 all game, the Devils deserved this victory. Plenty of players - from Schneider to Adam Larsson & Andy Greene to even Jordin Tootoo - had very good games and everyone contributed tonight to a 34-shot (Almost matched the L.A. and Anaheim games combined! Thank you, mostly sloppy Sharks!), 5-goal performance. If you missed it, then try to find it. If you stayed up and watched this one, then you already know that this 5-2 win was not a California dream.
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 War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Fear the Fin for any reaction from the San Jose side of things.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video for tonight's game featuring five Devils goals and a lot of third-period saves by Schneider:
Recap Note: Normally, I would give you a recap where I would summarize the main points of the game, give you the stats of the game, a link to the opposition blog's opinion of the game, embed a highlight video, hit on as many smaller points as I noted during the game until I feel like I said my piece about the game, and then ask for your take on the game.
But it's really, really late here in New Jersey. Instead, there's a summary, the other things, but my many smaller points are truncated to this: I just want to know your take. Don't worry, my standard way of doing recaps will return when the Devils do after the All-Star Break.
Your Take: The Devils have ended their road trip. What is your reaction to the game? Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who disappointed you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.