Lee Stempniak was a smart signing by the New Jersey Devils. He was available on a try-out and the experienced winger showed he would make a fine fit in preseason. With the team lacking in both right wingers and just general forward depth, it was an easy decision for Ray Shero to give him a contract. Not only has he been playing, but he's been up on a higher line than expected; skating with Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri. Tonight, he has had his biggest impact yet. That's saying something seeing he blasted a shot to earn the team's first win this season in overtime in Manhattan this past Sunday.
It wasn't a perfect game for Stempniak. He got caught trailing on the backcheck too many times. It's not so much a case of him being unaware, it was a case of not really being that fast. This was apparent in two events this evening. He took a call hooking Curtis Lazar, who just easily skated towards the net on a dangerous chance. He also was trailing on Chris Neil when the veteran "energy player" darted through the middle and finished a feed from Shane Prince. That goal by Neil made it 2-4 with under thirteen and a half minutes left in the game. It's possible he was just coming on and tried to catch-up, but #20 was obvious skating behind the scorer. Those were the lows from #20, and he redeemed them. Oh, how he redeemed them.
First, Stempniak, Cammalleri, and Henrique had a generally positive night. The Devils took 32 shots on net and 28 of them were at even strength. That line put up eight of those 28 shots and took it to Ottawa more than being forced to defend. Second, and more importantly, Stempniak played a role in the team's third period comeback tonight in all three scores.
The first one: Stempniak passed it across to Henrique in the neutral zone. Henrique took it in, passed it across to Cammalleri in the middle, Cammalleri shielded the puck and flung a backhander on net, and Henrique put home the rebound. It was Henrique's lone shot of the night, but that little pass in the middle made the attack happened. At 3-4, hope was possible.
The second one: This was the equalizer. Head coach John Hynes did not pull Cory Schneider until 1:40 was left on the clock. That's about the traditional time where a coach will pull a goalie, provided the play allows him to do so. He was helped by Ottawa's possession in the time before that, too. Anyway, after four Devils won a puck behind the net, Cammalleri was one of the six not in the scrum so he got the loose puck. He tossed it up top to Damon Severson. Severson slaps it into traffic. Andrew Hammond stops it and the puck just stops next to his left pad. Who was there? Stempniak. He peeled it off the pad, got a touch, and slammed it in. We have a tie game with 32 seconds left in regulation.
The shootout: The overtime period was similar to a quiet-loud-quiet song. The Devils had their attempts, so did the Sens, but both teams were content late to not rush a play or risk losing the puck for a gamebreaking 2-on-1 or breakaway. A shootout was needed to decide this one. Bobby Ryan beat Schneider, Jacob Josefson busted out his move on Hammond, and the rest were stopped. Sudden death was necessary for this shootout. Mark Stone was easily stopped. After Henrique, Josefson, and Cammalleri, who did Hynes turn to? Stempniak. Stempniak skated in and torched Hammond high was a backhander. Comeback complete.
Of course, the win wasn't solely the result of Stempniak making one pass, putting home an equalizer in a 6-on-5 situation, and a shootout winner. Cory Schneider had a great game - and he had to be great given he faced 39 shots tonight. Cammalleri and Henrique were quite good. I liked what I saw from John Moore and Andy Greene on defense. Adam Larsson in overtime was smooth. But Stempniak was the hero for the final scores; a victory in a game filled with too many self-inflicted wounds. Can a cheap deal off a try-out pay off only seven games into a season where any good results are gravy? Maybe it's too hasty, but with a three-game winning streak going into Buffalo on Saturday, I'm thinking so.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Silver Seven, Ross A has this recap of the game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a video of the highlights featuring - yes - a 5-on-3 shot on net! And a goal too.
Those Self-Inflicted Wounds: Oh, I cannot deny that the Devils really did shoot themselves in the foot several times tonight. Let's get to the big ones:
Eric Gelinas pretty much earned his next scratch the second Jon Merrill is deemed healthy enough to play. Gelinas made a blind outlet pass that Mika Zibanejad easily snatched, skated in, and scored a shorthanded breakaway goal not long after Travis Zajac's power play goal. Later in the second period, Gelinas committed a blind, bad clearance, overplayed Shane Prince such that he made a clean pass to Chris Neil in front. Shot, rebound, goal by Zach Smith to make it 2-2. Not long after the Devils had a good scoring chance. Gelinas was benched for a bit afterwards, but he would get two shifts in the third. The highlight of those was getting tied up with his partner, David Schlemko at the team's blueline; but at least he broke away fast enough to make a play. All that and one mere shot on net. That's not good enough, really. The only thing he didn't do was take a penalty. Essentially, Gelinas is what some think Schlemko is.
Stephen Gionta did something real stupid and rare tonight. Shortly after having a decent, close chance to score, Mark Borowiecki tried to hit him high. Gionta ducked it. He then decided on retalitation by way of jamming his stick blade into the defenseman's groin. That's spearing. By rule 62, a spear that makes contact - nevermind one as payback - is a major penalty and a game misconduct. So with less than two minutes in the second, the Devils were forced to be on a mandatory five-minute kill and down a forward for the night. Gionta was having a decent game otherwise. Instead, his stupidity resulted in the Sens just sitting in New Jersey's end for most of that power play. They would capitalize off a Mike Hoffman blast past Schneider and a screening Alex Chiasson, making the score 2-3 early in the third period.
The Devils' bottom six in general had a rough night. I suppose Jordin Tootoo would be an exception? His power play goal was sweet. He didn't get wrecked except maybe in that fight with Neil? Still, the Senators' fourth line just made those two lines poor at times as they put up two goals. Josefson didn't do a whole lot aside from his shootout goal. Sergey Kalinin contributed nothing much. Brian O'Neill decided to board Milan Michalek a little bit after Henrique's goal, putting the comeback effort in doubt with a penalty kill. Stefan Matteau really only got heated with Neil. And Gionta took himself out of the game. If Reid Boucher was on the roster, I'd say throw him back in for any of them. They were poor.
In light of these errors plus some general late backchecking, the Devils' winning result is even more impressive. They overcame some of their own to get it done.
So That's Fast: Early on from the game, I saw Michalek and Ryan just cut through the Devils' defense like a hot knife through butter. It reminded me that, yes, the Devils aren't that fast and the Senators are. Some of this was driven by possession. Having the puck will always make a team go faster than without. But even when the Devils had an opportunity to move up the puck on one of their five penalty kills, Senators easily caught up. When they were able to move forward with ease, they were able to attack and often. As a result, they put up 28 shots on net in the first two periods alone, 39 in total, and 70 total attempts in this game (52 at evens). Schneider really had to be on point - and he largely was - because the Senators were bringing it from all over. As much as Hynes and his staff may want to account for that by tactics, tonight's game was a reminder that the Devils really do need some speedier players in the future.
Power Play...Success!: The Devils got a 5-on-3 situation and got a shot on net! Even better, that Kyle Palmieri shot led to a Zajac rebound goal. I liked Zajac's game tonight, less so for Palmieri and especially Jiri Tlusty. But seeing a 5-on-3 play actually be successful was just wonderful given their earlier failures in the past few games. What's more is that despite Zibanejad's goal, the Devils were able to set up for the remaining penalty and score again. Henrique set up Tootoo for a very good shot. While the Devils' power play didn't do much beyond that, two goals including a 5-on-3 pleases me. If only Gelinas didn't cough it up, but what's done is done.
Not So Quiet: Zibanejad was very good through the first two periods with a shorty and five shots. His line with Ryan and Michalek did very well tonight. I expected them to struggle in possession, instead they bossed New Jersey around. I want to see the Devils try to keep a lid off Hoffman, Turris, and Mark Stone. They finished the night with four, four, and three shots respectively. So much for that. As an aside, I will say while Hoffman scored on that major power play, Turris was downright frightening me with his command in the center point. He made no mistakes, just great control and making the right decisions quickly to keep the pressure on.
Speaking of stat lines that surprise me now that the game's over: Erik Karlsson. After he tripped Brian O'Neill, I didn't think much of Karlsson until their major power play and then the overtime period. Then I learn he played just over thirty minutes and took nine shooting attempts with four on net. That's an average of a minute-and-a-quarter per shift. He's ridiculous.
One Last Thought: It's a winning streak! And New Jersey did it the hard way, what with two overtime victories and a shootout win. My approach to the games this season, especially on night's like this where the Devils pull a comeback effort to force extra minutes, is that the team's playing with house money. It's all gravy. So it's fun to see these wins.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils came from behind to beat the Sens 5-4 through a shootout. What's your reaction to the victory? Did you think it was possible when Henrique scored in the third? How did you react when Stempniak scored his goals? Who was the worst Devil on the ice tonight? What should the Devils do differently ahead of their Saturday game in Buffalo? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread, those who followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter, and you for reading.