Let the record show that the New Jersey Devils won tonight's hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1 due to the shootout. The record will also show that the Devils won the shootout 2-0, with saves by Cory Schneider and goals by Jacob Josefson and Patrik Elias. The score indicates a closely played game. Those who had the fortune to witness it or those who dig deeper into the record would conclude that this was an absolutely hideous game.
Not all hockey games that are low-scoring are necessarily difficult to watch. Games littered with passes to skates, bad decisions to pass the puck to teammates in pressure, throwing hopeful pucks to no one, poor positioning by a defender leading to an attacker to foul up the opportunity, and a relatively small amount of actual action taken are very difficult to watch. The shot totals suggest Toronto was the superior team, out-shooting the Devils 30-23. Break it down to even strength play, and it was even at 16 shots each. That has two meanings: the Toronto power play brought a hammer to the Devils' penalty killers and the game was just sluggish all the way around. Further evidence of the latter is seen in the attempts at even strength. They were 27-24, favoring Toronto; yes, this game barely broke 50 shooting attempts. Again, this was awful hockey to witness. Bowling shoe ugly, as Good Ol' J.R. would say.
I will say that an edge of the run of play would go to Toronto. In four of their five power plays, they were applying heavy pressure to the Devils and it resulted in shooting attempts (19), shots (12), and Schneider robbing James van Reimsdyk a number of times. The Leafs were also legitimately good throughout overtime and very nearly won it on multiple occasions. They also created multiple one-on-one opportunities against Schneider, due in part to a Devils defender getting caught unaware or in a bad position. Schneider stopped all of those but two: Daniel Winnik missed his shot (and got fouled by Adam Larsson in the process) and van Reimsdyk, who torched Marek Zidlicky as he skated in to finish the opportunity. That goal was late in the third and given how the game as a whole was going for New Jersey, it could have been enough to win it.
Alas, the Devils got something they didn't really have too many of all game: an actual possession shift on offense. The unit of Martin Havlat, Patrik Elias, and Travis Zajac was the best among a poorly playing bunch, but their hard work would pay off within the third-to-last minute of the game. The pressure combined with wining pucks led to a stray pass through the middle that was retrieved by Adam Larsson. Larsson fired a wrister through traffic and it beat Jonathan Bernier while simultaneously making the 15,000+ crowd actually have something to cheer. Why didn't the Devils have those shifts more often? Look at why this game was so hard to watch. The Devils were guilty of many of those errors. Combined with Toronto not being so freewheeling to give up so much space, and there were stretches at a time without legitimate offense.
Fortunately for the Devils, Schneider bailed out the team more often than not - he robbed van Reimsdyk twice on what should've been power play goals, the Leafs were better but had their own moments of bad botches (e.g. David Clarkson falling down), and the game was dragged into a shootout. The Devils were surprisingly sublime. Josefson beat Bernier five-hole and Elias forced Bernier to make a move before curling around him to score. The fans were happy with the result. I know I was. But those who were there had to endure 65 minutes of bad hockey between two teams that aren't making the playoffs. It may be moot, but it's better to steal a win like this as opposed to be on the receiving end of it.
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 see Pension Plan Puppets for an opposition opinion, presuming there is one. I don't know?
The Game Highlights: Ugly game aside, there were plenty of highlights in this video at NHL.com:
Returns: Jaromir Jagr returned to the lineup tonight. They really didn't do much. Jagr and his unit wasn't all that noticeable going forward. There were moments where Jagr would try to create something, but at the end of the day, he was held shotless. Worse than that, so were Adam Henrique and Scott Gomez. Which reminds me of this play: Gomez had a clear lane to shoot in the third period in a 3-on-1 rush. He tried to pass it to the trailer, which was defended away. The puck ended up on a Devil's stick for a shot, but the play was peak-Gomez: passing up a legitimately good shooting chance in a 0-0 game. Anyway, Jagr wasn't all that good and neither were his linemates.
Tuomo Ruutu also returned, though you may be forgiven if you don't recall. He played just over six minutes on the fourth line. He didn't do much beyond try to bring the concept of "energy." At least he had a shot on net.
Curious At Best, Baffling in Reality: Michael Ryder was a healthy scratch tonight. Given the returns of Jagr and Ruutu, someone had to sit. It was decided to be Ryder. Not that I'm his biggest, his smallest, or even a fan, but sitting him over Steve Bernier (didn't do too much tonight) and Jordin Tootoo remains weird. Especially since Tootoo got significant power play time tonight. I can sort of see the logic behind the decision. As the bottom one in the 1-3-1, his job is to hang around the net and create problems. He's at risk at being blasted by a long shot, but better someone who's all about physical play to be in that role as opposed to someone who does more. (This explains Steve Bernier's role there, too.) That said, Tootoo didn't do much for a power play that didn't do a whole lot all night. I'm not saying Ryder would've been down in front; but I don't think Ryder should be scratched over Tootoo of all players, regardless of how much harder he's been playing to try and keep his spot in the lineup.
Split Heads: The Leafs did separate Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. They did put them back together for power plays and they were dynamite. Kessel put up three of his four shots on man advantages, and van Reimsdyk put up five out of his eight shots on net (!) on power plays. At even strength, they were more limited; though van Reimsdyk kept attacking and would get his goal. Kessel, not so much, with one only shot. As Toronto hasn't won a game or scored a lot of goals in a while, I think they should keep Kessel and van Reimsdyk together. More often than not, Toronto's power play tonight forced the Devils to try and survive more than really kill the penalty. And that was due in part to their play together in addition to Tyler Bozak, Jake Gardiner, and Cody Franson.
Clarkson Down: If it wasn't for the secondary assist on Toronto's only goal tonight, then it would be really easy to point how terrible he was tonight. He helped clear pucks for the Devils. The man who's all about shooting first and asking questions later did not get a single shot on net. When he tried to retrieve passes, his timing was off and fell once (twice?) trying to corral it for a shot he never got to take. Clarkson fell a few more times in addition. Clarkson took a needless high-sticking minor early in the second that the Devils didn't do too much with. If he threw in a wraparound attempt that zero chance of getting into the net, then this would've been the most perfectly useless night from Clarkson. Instead, he didn't go for the wrap, but he got a secondary assist so I look forward to Toronto media members using it as evidence to try and argue his $5.75 million/year deal is not one of the worst contracts handed out in Maple Leafs history. Hee hee hee.
Larsson-Greene Good, Rest...Uh...: The play from Adam Larsson and Andy Greene tonight was pretty good. Larsson had a few head-scratching decisions in trying to move the puck and that slash on Winnik may have been justifiable except he got beaten there. But overall he was a positive player, he got multiple shots on net, and he provided the late equalizer to blow up Toronto's lead. So I was pleased with #5 tonight. Greene was steady as usual.
The rest of the defense, well, they weren't so hot. It's no surprise to note that Mark Fraser was a limited player. Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill made their cases to be on that level, though. Gelinas was just off in his positioning, notably getting featured on the big screen for replays of Schneider stopping a second period breakaway. Merrill provided nothing to the table. Marek Zidlicky had another night where he's thinking on a different level from everyone else, and so his effectiveness at trying to move the puck was reduced. It's not all of these four players' fault that the breakouts were largely broken. Even Larsson and Greene had their struggles. But Larsson-Greene at least got the stops whereas these four had shifts where they're going to wish someone burned the game tape. Fortunately, Toronto wasn't too crisp at moving the puck either so they never fully suffered for their struggles.
Schneider Starred Again: Seriously, what do you want me to say about Cory Schneider at this point? Once again, he was the key reason why this game was even close. Once again, he was the team's best penalty killer. Once again, he made an opposing forward talk to himself on multiple occasions. Once again, he made difficult stops look like routine stops. Once again, he was great. He deserved a better performance in regulation and especially in overtime by the skaters. Thankfully, he got some goal support in the shootout to add a 'W' to his record.
Discipline: The refs were really only calling obvious penalties. That there were eight called plus matching minors for a post-whistle beef means both sides weren't very smart in their extralegal actions. The Devils' penalties were avoidable. Jagr grabbed Nazem Kadri because he lost a puck. Dainius Zubrus was under pressure and got his stick up instead of trying to make a play (and he didn't make a play). Tootoo tripped a Leaf on a forecheck. Travis Zajac's tripping call seemed harsh, but he did take out a guy's skates. Larsson's slash on Winnik may have helped deny a second one-on-one goal, but he was beaten and had to foul there. Were the refs more particular about what to call, then they could have been penalized more. You would've thought that after Toronto brought the house to the Devils after the first power play, they would've made a point of it to be smarter. Alas, no. Hopefully that gets addressed before their next opponent, a mean Pittsburgh team.
Discipline can just as easily apply to moving the puck, which was simply dreadful from the Devils tonight. But there's little more I can say than "do better, guys" at that.
Seriously, He Used to be Good At These: I was elated at Elias' shootout goal. And not just because it sealed the win. Elias actually didn't use the same move he usually does. His little leg lift forced Bernier to make a move and he made the right play to get around him. Well done.
Lastly: I would love to see Mike Cammalleri back on a proper line instead of centering an ineffective third line. So it goes for the 2014-15 season. I was hoping he'd score on a breakaway in the third, but Bernier made a good save. I think he'd get more opportunities to score with better wingers than Zubrus and Bernier. But if the Devils had better wingers, then maybe the team would be better off than what they are. Oh well.
Your Take: The Devils won one really ugly game tonight via the shootout. I was happy when the shootout was won, though I cannot be happy with the performance. What about you? What did you think of tonight's win? How did you react when Josefson and Elias scored their shootout goals? What about when Larsson got his equalizer through. Who was the best skater in your view from the Devils and Leafs? What do the Devils need to work on the most before their back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.