50.3 seconds. The New Jersey Devils were 50.3 seconds away from winning their first game in regulation of the 2015-16 season. They already achieved some firsts this evening. Travis Zajac scored the team's first shorthanded goal in the second period. That goal was also the first time the Devils took a lead at all this season. While that got erased, Mike Cammalleri fired a laser shortly after some penalty kills to re-take that lead. That was the first time that happened. Unfortunately, with less than a minute left to play, the Arizona Coyotes were able to give the Devils another first: an equalizer with the extra skater.
The equalizer itself was a Mikkel Boedker shot that hit off David Schlemko's leg and went past Cory Schneider. The shot itself went by a bunch of bodies; by no means did the forward pick on the defenseman's positioning. What was more aggravating was the situation. Jacob Josefson iced the puck with 1:27 left to go. This meant Josefson, Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, Schlemko, and John Moore were kept on the ice. While two of them are regulars on the PK (Josefson, Gionta), that's hardly an ideal unit to defend a one-goal lead late. More curiously, head coach John Hynes did not call a timeout to ensure the unit was fully rested and help them draw something up. Gionta lost the draw, the Devils were pinned back for about thirty seconds, they couldn't win a puck for a clearance, and then a bad re-direction erased the lead. That first regulation would have to wait.
Of course, the Devils would end up victorious for the night; they just needed some 3-on-3 overtime. They would do so in a gorgeous fashion. Zajac's goal was beautiful. Cammalleri's shot was beautiful. Adam Larsson would end overtime with a beautiful play. It begins with Larsson getting away with a little cross check on Martin Hanzal (not Oliver Ekman-Larsson as I thought on Twitter). It wasn't much of one, but Hanzal was caught turning so he fell and lost the puck. Larsson took it and darted up ice to lead a 3-on-1. He attempted a pass to Lee Stempniak coming down the middle, but Stempniak couldn't hold onto it. The puck did bounce to Travis Zajac, who slid a killer pass beneath Ekman-Larsson's stick. Larsson, who didn't bail on the play, slammed it home on Mike Smith's right flank to send the thousands left at the Rock home happy. Given how ugly the game started and the disappointment near the end of regulation, it was a fantastic ending. The Devils may have blown a one-goal lead twice tonight, but they were never behind and re-took it twice. Larsson's winner yielded their second straight win of the season. In a season where little is expected, it felt good to witness the better team winning the game at all. Maybe next time, a lead is made and preserved with 50.3 or fewer seconds left.
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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Brendan Porter has this instant recap at Five for Howling.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights. All three Devils goals are worth your time.
All I'll Say About that First Period: It was akin to squeezing blood from a stone. Over and over, the Devils and Coyotes would try to get through the neutral zone to have a chance to attack. Over and over, they wouldn't either by design of their entry (dump-ins, everywhere, Mike Smith had a field day playing the puck), poor decisions (taking the puck wide and then passing it to the opposition), and strong defending. By the period's end, both teams had a power play that did nothing; the Coyotes were credited for two shots - one of which really hit a Devils defender and was covered by Schneider; and the Devils had four shots on the board except the scorer missed two during the game. All the same, this was just hard to watch and it reminded everyone who saw that, yeah, these teams aren't that good.
Fortunately, business picked up after the first intermission. It wasn't massive, but the teams at least got to at least twenty shots. Still, that first period ensured a low-event game and it sure was. The Devils outshot the Coyotes 25-20, were out-attempted 37-41. If we go to even-strength only, the Devils were ahead with 30 attempts to the Coyotes' 27. Yep, low-event hockey. At least the second forty minutes were quick and had all kinds of action.
So Solid, So Smooth, So Lead-Creating: Travis Zajac wasn't named the first star by Tonight's Attending Media. That honor went to Larsson, who had a very good game in his own right. I would've named it to be Zajac. I thought he was the best skater on the ice. Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, and Jiri Tlusty were constantly going forward. Zajac was very good at the dot by winning seventeen out of twenty-five faceoffs. He was very good on the penalty kill; his rush up ice with Josefson yielded a very pretty shorthanded goal. Just after killing an Andy Greene tripping call (which was called during a Brian O'Neill hooking call), Zajac took the puck in the neutral zone, gained the zone, dropped it back for Mike Cammalleri, and drew a defender. Cammalleri fired a picture-perfect shot to the top left corner past Smith. Great shot, but it doesn't happen without #19. And Zajac salvaged the puck bouncing from Stempniak and set-up Larsson for the game winner. This was about as good of a night one can expect from any forward. It was Zajac's night. Even his biggest critics can admit that.
Volume: Mike Cammalleri was signed to be a scorer and scorers tend to shoot. He had that going on tonight in a big way. He led the Devils with eight shots. Three of the team's four power play shots came from him, usually a one-timer from the left circle. Five of the team's twenty even strength shots came off Cammalleri's stick, including his great goal in the third period. It's difficult to fire eight shots and get them all on net, but Cammalleri did so. I wouldn't expect such a high number, but I do expect him to fire the puck a lot. Seeing it tonight was enjoyable as well.
Cory Remains: Schneider did have to make some tough stops in this game after all. I think his biggest test came right after Zajac's shorthanded goal. The Coyotes stormed the net, completely got the Devils' penalty killers out of sorts, and fired some dangerous shots. Schneider's glove remained true. He didn't appear rattled with the sudden outburst of offense. Nor when the Coyotes started tilting the ice late - an expected function of being down a goal. He even handled the puck well out of his crease. The late equalizer was an unlucky bounce off a teammate's leg. The power play goal that beat him was a great play by Anthony Duclair, getting ahead of Stempniak and then stretching out. Still, Schneider was quite good. It almost feels like it doesn't need to be written, but it does even with a relatively small shot amount.
The Struggles of Sorts: The Devils really were the better team from what I saw. Still, some players seemed to have their issues tonight. Stefan Matteau and Brian O'Neill may have shown more hustle. Yet, their contributions were minimal beyond each taking a penalty tonight. While Arizona did not capitalize on either, it hurt the cause at their respective times and the penalties weren't good ones to take. I'll say O'Neill was a bit better than Matteau, but that doesn't really mean much. I'd expect to see Reid Boucher back in the lineup soon.
On defense, as much as Schlemko may be targeted, I wasn't real pleased with Eric Gelinas' performance. He had fewer ice time than the rest of the defense and it was easy to see why. Gelinas wasn't unloading the Truth. His two shots weren't bad, but they weren't reflective of what he brings to the table. His power play contributions were largely passing the puck across to Cammalleri for a one-timer, which was smart, and dumping in the puck on a breakout, which was, is, and always will be dumb. In his own end, he had trouble hitting his own teammates with passes. I get that the general rule is up off-the-glass-and-out when in doubt, but he missed entire Devils doing so and helped Arizona with some offense the few times they kept it in anyway. Schlemko wasn't getting pinned as much, for what it's worth. I'd suspect Gelinas goes back to being a scratch after not really making a case to not be one when Jon Merrill gets healthy. It's a competition, and #44 isn't rising to the occasion.
Speaking Of: STOP DUMPING THE PUCK IN ON THE POWER PLAY. Even when the Devils would win the race to the dumped puck or win the battle for that puck, they quickly lost possession. Despite the man advantage, either they attempt a pass that often had a penalty killer waiting patiently to deny them the passing lane, they turned and realized they couldn't shoot it, and they didn't have an option up or down the boards. Rarely did they get to the puck first and have the space to make a pass leading to the power play unit setting up in their 1-3-1. They essentially got stuck in their own corner more often than not. Once the puck was lost, it was an easy clear for Arizona nearly every time. While the Devils' power play did have some decent stretches, they really hurt themselves with their dump-ins. This needs to end.
Kids? What Kids?: I know Duclair scored and Gelinas smacked him up high with his stick. I know Domi set up Duclair's goal and got fouled twice in the third period for Arizona's power plays. But if you were to ask me what they did overall outside of those moments, I couldn't tell you. The boxscore tells me that Tobias Reider played and got two shots. I don't even remember that. I suppose that speaks to how effective they were tonight?
One Last Thought: Ahead of this season, I would've hoped the Devils would at least beat Arizona. Tonight confirmed what I thought. Despite their hot start, their hot shooting percentage (that fell tonight), and Smith's hot save percentage (also fell tonight), I didn't see a very good team. I saw a team that still got out-attempted by a low-event, offensively challenged Devils team. It wasn't by much, but the Devils carried the better of the play until late in the game, when the score really took effect. Even so, the Coyotes didn't swarm all over the Devils until they had six skaters and that didn't change the differential by much. The Devils showed tonight they can be a better team than the Coyotes, even with their flaws. From that standpoint, I think they earned this win moreso than holding on in New York or against San Jose.
Your Take: The Devils won their second straight game, they did so in overtime for the second straight time, and they got this win with three gorgeous goals. What was your take on the game? Would you agree that the Devils were the better team? Who did you like and dislike from this game? What should the Devils try to work on before their next game on Thursday? Which one of the three Devils goals did you like the best? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter, and you for reading this recap.