Ahead of this game, if you were to tell me the New Jersey Devils were going to lose the San Jose Sharks by a 1-2 score in a shootout, then I would've been pleasantly surprised. I expected a beat down. The Sharks were not a 3-0-0 team coming into the Rock. They were a 3-0-0 team coming into the Rock with twelve goals scored, only one allowed, and averaging over 35 shots per game. They weren't just winning, they were winning big. They still won, but the Devils made it competitive on the scoreboard and very, very nearly stole the game beyond regulation. For that alone, that's something. A point for the winless isn't not positive.
That said, I can't say the performance as a whole was positive even with the favorable, non-blowout result. The first period was exactly what I expected. San Jose scoring quickly - Patrick Marleau in the slot - and just bombarding a Devils team that struggled to get into San Jose's half of the rink. Nevermind their zone to get shots on Martin Jones. It was a hideous period from the perspective of the Devils faithful with the only pluses as witnessing Cory Schneider being great and the deficit only being one.
The second period was better, though it wouldn't have taken much to beat the first period. While the Devils showed a lot more on offense and actually made Jones work with twelve shots on net, they allowed just as many in kind plus a penalty shot to Marleau. Thankfully, Schneider denied the PS along with the other twelve Sharks' shots of the period. The crowd certainly awoken in the middle frame, notably with anger when a Jacob Josefson shorthanded rebound goal was wiped out due to Stephen Gionta coming into contact with Jones.
The third period provided the Devils their equalizer through the power play. Adam Henrique got a piece of a Damon Severson shot within the final five minutes to tie it up. Normally, that's enough to praise the power play. Nope. Not tonight. The Devils squandered a sequence where the Sharks took three penalties with two 5-on-3 situations overlapping them. Justin Braun held a stick amid offensive pressure to start the period; Brendon Dillon cleared one puck over the glass during that kill; and just before Dillon's penalty was up, Marc-Edouard Vlasic did what Dillon did. That's three calls on Sharks defensemen - key skaters on their PK - and the Devils only put two pucks on net. They conceded more shorthanded offense than they generated with the extra skater. I saw a dump-in on a two man advantage. The Devils were gifted roughly five mintues straight of playing with a man advantage and did next to nothing with it, only down a goal. So while their last power play of the night generated four shots including the goal, I will not praise the power play. I would feel wrong to do so. As for the rest of the period, it was similar to the second in that both teams gave each other attacks in about equal measure.
New Jersey easily looked their best beyond regulation. They largely kept Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski at bay (except for one move by Burns that nearly sealed it) and had the better of scoring chances in a 3-on-3. I was so hoping Kyle Palmieri would have ended it on a breakaway off a steal; alas, he missed the net trying to beat Jones to the goalie's right. Still, they put up more shots, they had more plays off the rush, and they even got a late power play in the final eleven seconds. With three-on-three against a very talented Sharks team, New Jersey more than held their own in a very entertaining and frantic overtime period. The shootout was what it was. They scored twice, New Jersey scored once, and that's the game. Still, they realistically could have stolen that second point in this game. That's a lot closer to a win than they have been this season, which is obvious. What's not obvious was that was in a game where it started off so poor that no one expected it. Overall, the performance showed a lot of deficiencies plenty of Devils have seen already and by no means was it something I'd call good. But they did enough to grind out a result, they got a power play goal against one of the hottest goalies in the league, and I think that's enough for a moral victory even if they didn't deserve it.
The Opposition Opinion: Emily G has this recap of tonight's game at Fear the Fin.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's tonight's highlights:
Changes to Lineups: Before this game, Logan Couture was announced to be out with a broken fibula and Travis Zajac was held out with a lower body injury. Let's touch on how each team adjusted their lineup. The Sharks accomodated the loss of Couture by inserting rookie Nikolay Goldobin to start with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski with Patrick Marleau moved to be on the wing with Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl. While being without Couture for weeks will sting, the decision certainly paid off tonight. Marleau was simply excellent for the Sharks tonight with a goal, a drawn penalty shot, and another shot while constantly going forward when he was on the ice. Ward and Hertl were good, but Marleau made that line play well. Goldobin didn't do much, but he certainly didn't hinder Thornton or Pavelski.
As for the Devils, John Hynes shuffled his lines as well to account for Zajac being out. Adam Henrique was moved to center with Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak. This was easily New Jersey's best line of the night. While Cammalleri may have disappointed with a wide shot on a shootout attempt to end the game, he was certainly much better than he was on Tuesday. Tonight, he imposed more of his will and actually took some shots: three to be precise. Stempniak only had the one shot, but he was buzzing with pace - especially in the second half of the period. Henrique had the big night. In addition to deflecting Severson's goal to tie it up, Henrique had at least one shot in every period including overtime for a total of seven. Henrique could take three games normally to get seven, that he was able to attack that much tonight is a revelation for a team that struggles to generate shots. I'm not saying he should be expected to do it every night now, just that it's something to highlight. With that line Hynes smartly remembered Jordin Tootoo is a fourth liner and so he placed Palmieri with Jiri Tlusty and Josfeson. This line struggled much more than the Henrique unit. Palmieri did attack more as the game went on and still managed to put up four shots and one crucial miss. Not bad for someone (or some line) who was quite invisible for the first period or so.
Ultimately, both coaches made due with losses to their respective top-six forwards and it came out alright. San Jose will be without Couture for a while whereas Zajac could return soon to the Devils. It's certainly not something they want to keep having to deal with, but they did well with what they had to do tonight.
Speaking of the Sharks...: Did they know they have a game tomorrow? I mean, Peter DeBoer seems to know what he's doing, but he gave Paul Martin and Brent Burns thirty minutes of ice time tonight. They also started Jones, who had a rather heavy workload of 32 shots and a shootout to deal with. They got the win and they're 4-0-0. Yet, this may hurt them tomorrow against the Islanders. We'll see. Hopefully, they don't do dumb things like take three penalties within five minutes or a silly too many men on the ice call in a one-goal game late in the third period.
A DUMP IN ON A 5-ON-3: I'm still miffed about it. That can't happen.
The Weakest D: With Hynes still rotating one of his seven defenseman out of the lineup, it's worth noting who had a rough game on the blueline. Severson should be - emphasis on should - safe for another night with a decent night in his own end and creating a goal. I'd fault the Marleau goal on Sergey Kalinin, whom Marleau beat to the spot in front. Anyway, while Andy Greene had to play a lot in his own end (strangely, Adam Larsson didn't - and Larsson had a strong game in my view), but I thought Jon Merrill had a particularly rough night. Greene was at least going up against the top six, mostly against the Thornton unit. Merrill got more than a few shifts with the Marleau-Hertl-Ward combo, but also against some of San Jose's bottom six and he didn't win much. With another defenseman just sitting on the bench, I'm more inclined to want to see Merrill swapped out for a night to get his game back in order. I don't know what other see in him that says he's a NHL regular. Maybe it's my own confirmation bias.
That said, Hynes can still go with the seven defenseman approach and see who steps up when everyone's active. With Kalinin and Brian O'Neill essentially doing very little with less than ten minutes of ice time like they had tonight, I think the Devils can handle having only eleven forwards for a game or two.
They Tried: Reid Boucher and Tuomo Ruutu didn't have nights that set the arena on fire, but they at least made a good effort to stay in the bottom six. Boucher showed some more speed, put up three shots, and really, really came close to scoring in the second period. If only he was able to lift the puck another few inches over Jones' right side. Ruutu had some good shots as well among his four, which is rare to see from him. Seven shots between two guys playing less than fifteen minutes and no power play time is definitely a positive. Unlike Kalinin and O'Neill, I can point to something like that and feel confident in saying they did something, so they should stick around.
Cory Still Rules: That's really all that has to be said.
Your Take: While I think this can be seen as a moral victory, I want to know what you think. Are you pleased with the result? What about how the Devils got to that result tonight? What can they build on from this game ahead of the rivalry game on Sunday against, well, Our Hated Rivals? Who on each team did you and did you not like tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's shootout loss. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, those who follow along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog, and you for reading.