Look up the definition of an "ugly win," and today's game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders could appear as an example. The Devils did prevail on Halloween with a 3-2 win through the shootout. However, the run of play was far from an even competition. The Devils started hot, got a goal, got another goal against the run of play, conceded two goals on special teams, and then generated next-to-nothing until the end of regulation. Overtime didn't solve it, but the shootout did thanks to goals by Jacob Josefson and Mike Cammalleri and saves by Cory Schneider and the post.
From a results perspective, this was a fine victory. It's the team's sixth out of their last seventh game. They are now 2-1 in the shootout. They didn't lose it in overtime, though it was very close - thankfully, Damon Severson made a game-saving stop at the goal line. They played poorly and still won. From a performance perspective, which is what I'm usually more concerned with, this was a stolen win.
The Islanders were certainly sleeping through the first few minutes, but they came alive and did more to try to take game for the remaining fifty-five minutes in regulation and arguably the five minutes in overtime. They were clearly more dominant on special teams, and not just because they scored a power play goal and got a shorthanded goal. They were effective in those situations whereas the Devils struggled, especially on the power play. The visitors pinned the Devils back more times, they were able to effectively move the puck more, and create more opportunities to shoot. By contrast, the Devils were held shotless for long stretches of time. In the first period, their second goal was the first - and only - shot beyond the first five minutes of the game. They were dangerously close of having big fat 0 in the shot column in the third period of a 2-2 game. When the Isles awoke, the Devils just struggled to hit passes, make good decisions on the puck, and take good shots. There was potential for offense, but they all immediately die when an Islander just stops the movement from a pass or a shot. Overtime or a shootout was by no means deserved based on the Devils' performance. Fortunately for the home team, life and hockey isn't about deserves anyway. The Devils stole this game.
Don't get me wrong, I cheered the victory among the few thousand Devils fans at the Rock. If you're all about the results, fantastic. I understand your point of view. But I'd be lying if I wrote as if this game was all sunshine and lollipops just based on the team's record or today's result. The Devils once again rode the knife's edge and came out on the right side of it. The Devils got an early lead, they were fortunate to hold onto it due to how the ice tilted one way, and they struck gold in the shootout. They stole the win today. That may not happen on another night, such as this coming Tuesday in Brooklyn or in future games.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this recap up at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: Two firsts and a shootout win. That's something to see in this highlight video at NHL.com:
Events Didn't Lie Today: The Devils have been a low event hockey team and the Islanders have been a high event hockey team in this young season so far. It ended up being a very low event game, and not at all in New Jersey's favor. The Devils finished this game with 27 shooting attempts at even strength and 33 in all situations. The Islanders put up 38 and 49, respectively. This led to the increased large shot disparity as the game went on. The low number of events were a function of what we've seen for the past season or so: struggles at moving the puck forward and making good decisions in the offensive zone. No, forcing passes to the middle or settling for attempts through traffic aren't always good ideas. The third period was particularly hideous from New Jersey and whatever few attempts they had, they got easily blocked. Again, this came after a first period that was great for the first five minutes and then nearly shotless for the following fifteen. It also came after a second period where the Devils did a bit better, they got outdone by the Isles in general anyway.
Booooooooooo: That's what a ghost says. It's also what Devils fans did during the team's power plays at the Rock. They had three today. The first one generated no shots and 75% of it was spent outside of the Islanders' zone. The second one generated two shots, but a bad decision after a zone entry allowed Frans Nielsen to take a loose puck and score a shorthanded goal. The third one did nothing in the few remaining seconds of the second period and the hundred or so that started the third period. Those of you who read the game preview here would say, "Well, of course, the Islanders have been very good on the PK and the PP so far this season." And you'd be right. Yet, the Devils' woes involved just missing passes, throwing them to skates, putting others in bad positions. The Devils' issues at executing what they want to do only made it easier for an Islander team that has been excellent down a man.
Best Period of His Career: There was one Devils standout on offense today: Bobby Farnham. Yes, the waiver wire pick up. Yes, the fellow with no points in fourteen NHL games. Yes, the one without many points in the minors. Farnham made his debut as a Devil and he made an instant impact in the first period. He took a shot that Lee Stempniak had a whack at in front and John Moore put home that rebound. That secondary assist is Farnham's first NHL point as well as Moore's first goal as a Devil. Much later in the first, Stephen Gionta came down the left side and unleashed a slapshot. He missed, but the puck rebounded off the endboards hard. Farnham didn't hesitate; he fired the puck immediately, and the shot beat Jaroslav Halak high and shortside. That goal was the one shot in the last fifteen minutes for New Jersey and it was Farnham's first of his career.
It wasn't a perfect period for Farnham in that he took a silly interference penalty right off a faceoff in the first, but his first few shifts were highly noticeable. Farnham is the sort of player who will get less than ten minutes, simple instructions, and hope to provide "energy." Any production would be seen as a bonus. Today, his two points were enough for the Devils to hold onto all the way to the end of a shootout. So even though I can't tell you he did much - good or bad - beyond that first period, I can tell you he was still impressive in that period. Much more than the other Devils forwards. Stempniak, Cammalleri, and Adam Henrique were decent, the rest were "meh" at best and lost at worst. Well done, Bobby Farnham.
Seven Again on Defense: With Jiri Tlusty held out with an upper body injury, the decision was to play Farnham and use all seven defenders instead of six with Farnham debuting and Stefan Matteau returning to the lineup. On paper, I can agree with the notion that Eric Gelinas or Jon Merrill can contribute more than Matteau. Today on the ice, I am not so sure I would still agree with that notion. Gelinas was invisible. Merrill was better than he has been all week, but he wasn't a big factor. At least Farnham rewarded the coach's decision to play him. Defensively, I did like Severson's game - he made an important stop in overtime, added an assist, and didn't get wrecked. I was less of a fan of the others; Adam Larsson and Andy Greene didn't have a strong game. That said, part of the point of using seven defensemen is to get them all out there and see who should stick around. In past nights, I'd say Merrill didn't make that case; today it was Gelinas who didn't. We'll see whether Hynes keeps going with this set-up.
Missing #9: I will say I missed Tlusty. While he hasn't (yet) produced much, his absence meant that Jordin Tootoo started and played quite a bit with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. That line didn't have a good afternoon and Tootoo was clearly in over his head. His passes were poor, his decisions weren't good, and he wasn't really adding anything good. He got bumped down to play with Josefson and Brian O'Neill later as Hynes moved Sergey Kalinin up. Kalinin wasn't much better; the move was really made to get Tootoo away from Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Frans Nielsen among others. Tlusty can usually handle that sort of competition and I think his speed makes him a better fit with Zajac and Palmieri. Tootoo really can't do those things on most nights. It showed today.
Missing #91: John Tavares was a surprise scratch for the Islanders. The Isles still put up 26 shots and got some scoring. Anders Lee put home his own rebound on a power play early in the second period. Larsson should've lifted his stick in retrospect. I think he was trying to, but he missed. Nielsen scored on a great shorthanded shot that really should've been stopped by Cory Schneider. It was high, shortside; up the arm, really. Has Schneider covered the post, it's a stop. Still a fine shot that wasn't a backhander in close by the do-it-all winger. Both of them had really good games. They had four and three shots, respectively. At times, it seemed like they would be mainstays in New Jersey's end of the rink. Okposo had a good game too; he nearly ended it in the slot but Schneider's glove denied him with about two minutes to go in regulation. The defense, which was giving up an average of over thirty shots per game, was very good in their own end as they allowed only seventeen. But they were very good at New Jersey's blueline, whether it was keeping the puck in, distributing it around, or firing them away. I was particularly impressed with Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk; but their whole defense did well - even Marek Zidlicky and his requisite needless penalty.
My main point with this is that the Islanders played a good game without Tavares. I'm sure if he was active, then he could've turned this into a regulation win or even a win beyond it. He is a difference maker on offense. The good news is that the team put in a good performance anyway, aside for those first five minutes. The Islanders' quality and their depth showed up well in Newark.
Only One Fault: That one shorthanded goal allowed by Schneider was his main mistake. Again, cover the post and that great shot doesn't go in. He was, well, himself for the rest of the game. He nearly got beat in overtime by Nielsen with a puck trickling through, but Severson pushed it into his body to keep it out. Even his puck movement outside of the net was good. Schneider has been doing quite well. I would like to see Keith Kinkaid spell him for a game or two soon. I don't see the need for more than eight straight starts. That said, Schneider kept the game within reach again. That allowed the win to happen.
On Attendance: The attendance at The Rock was real low today. There was a significant Islanders contingent, but not nearly enough to have the arena mostly filled. While some may point to the day (Halloween!), the time (afternoon, during NFL season with local teams in other playoffs), and so forth, I will continue to maintain that most of the fans know that this team isn't that good and that the team is charging too much for tickets. That's how I am reading this market. I know the Devils do tiered pricing, but was this really a $100 game for where I sit in the lower bowl? That was the price on my ticket; yours will vary by seat, but it wasn't cheap. Alas, the team is more interested in their price margins rather than trying to fill seats. Those who were there, got to see the treat of a win instead of the tricks pulled on the Devils for most of the game.
One Last Thought: I was hoping for Lee Stempniak to win it in the shootout. He beat Halak, but not the crossbar. Fortunately, Bailey hit the post on his attempt and Cammalleri beat Halak low with a backhander. We wouldn't have seen that in the past few seasons, so it was nice to see live.
Your Take: The Devils did win 3-2 in the shootout over what is considered to be a very good team. What's your take on the win? Who was the most impressive Devil on the ice in this game? Did you honestly expect Farnham to do what he did today? Who suffered more from their late scratches: the Islanders without Tavares or the Devils without Tlusty? What should the Devils learn from this game before their next one in Brooklyn against the same Islanders? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thanks to those who followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter. Thanks to Todd Lewis, Chelsea Clyde, and the Hockey Unfiltered staff for having me on before the game in the Skylab at Hotel Indigo. Here's a link to that show if you missed it. Thank you for reading.