Last Friday, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in Newark, 4-2. That game was one of the best efforts the Devils had all season. The Devils moved the puck effectively, their breakouts were on-point, they owned the neutral zone, and they racked up four goals before the halfway mark of intermission. The only time they stopped attacking and got pinned back was when Chicago pulled their goalie with less than seven minutes left. They were excellent with the extra skater, but the game became more out of doubt as time went on. That was an impressive win.
Tonight, the New Jersey Devils defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, 3-2. It was not at all like last Friday. The game was the very definition of a stolen victory. Chicago was the superior team. They dominated the run of play. They pinned back all of the Devils defensemen and most of the forwards over and over throughout all three periods. They kept the Devils from registering a shot on net for long stretches at a time. They had a 2-1 lead built up in the second, conceded it in the third. Yet, the Devils got more of the breaks go their way, got their lead back, and had the superior goaltender tonight who is definitely not Corey Crawford. As a result, they got a winning result and handed Chicago only their second regulation defeat at home this season. It was an impressive win in spite of their performance.
Hockey is not at all a fair game. This was the latest example of that belief I hold about this sport. Let's discuss it further.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Second City Hockey, Satchel Price has this short recap of the defeat.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights to tonight's game:
This Game in One Graphic: From Natural Stat Trick, the game flow in terms of shooting attempts in all situations, also known as Corsi:
This says a lot. As usual, I have more to say.
The Blackhawks stormed the Devils early on and never let up much. Sure, there's some horizontal lines in there, but for the most part, the Devils didn't move the needle down too much. Possession favored Chicago to the amount of 60-33 in all situations. Take out all of the power plays and it's 52-25 in favor of Chicago. Anyone watching would know this given how many times they spent at least ten, twenty, thirty, or more seconds in New Jersey's end of the rink. They see this and hope Cory Schneider makes another stop, the defense somehow gets onto the umpteenth loose puck and tries to do something. This graph and those numbers represent how the game went. It's a big reason why I think Schneider really was amazing - because he had to be. It's a big reason why I believe New Jersey stole this win - because they did. It's a big reason why I still have to say that hockey is not fair - because it isn't.
Sure, shots were a much closer 29-22 margin in favor of the home team as the Devils blocked a lot of shots tonight (22). Yet, nearly all four lines were teeing off on the Devils. The Devils looked like a squad parking the bus, only the bus had a lot of windows and doors. On another night, Chicago finds more ways to beat Cory Schneider either by luck or even worse defending. And they came mightily close, too. Tonight, Schneider was on point as much as he can and the defense, while poor for allowing as much action as they did, cleaned up just enough to prevent too many chances. If it wasn't for the closeness in shots, then this would have better resembled some of those wins under the multiple coaches last season. You know, the ones where Schneider put the team on his back and the team magically finds a way to win.
Corey Crawford Sucked: I'm sorry, but it's true. He did make some difficult stops. But the goals he allowed were just plain stinky. Let's go over them.
The first goal came in less than a minute into the second. Adam Henrique just skated the puck towards the high slot and fired a harmless wrister. It beat Crawford. That's it. There was no screen. There was no deflection. It was just a straight up shot he should've stopped. It tied up the game. If it was any softer, someone would try to put it in a pillowcase. True to the nature of how it went, it would take close to twelve minutes before the next shot on net net.
The second goal came closer to the end of the second period. After surviving another Chicago attack, Sergey Kalinin pokes at a puck and it bounces off Kyle Palmieri to lie right in front of him. Palmieri tried to breakaway, but three Blackhawks were converging. Brent Seabrook attempts a stickcheck, but Palmieri tried to get it across to Kalinin who was skating up ice with him. Kalinin got it and fired a hard shot. Crawford should have gloved it. He didn't. The puck ricocheted from the glove and right in front of Palmieri. Palmieri slammed in the rebound. 2-1 despite how the game was going.
Lastly, there was the third goal. Shortly after the Devils conceded the equalizer, Mike Cammalleri got called for an offensive zone tripping penalty. The Devils not only kill the penalty, but do so without conceding a shot on net. There was even some offense. Shortly after that kill happened, the Devils tried to go on offense again. Patrick Kane high-sticked Kalinin, which got called. Faceoff win, pass to David Schlemko, pass to Palmieri, and Palmieri fired a shot. Crawford chests it down and bends over to cover it up. However, Kalinin was right in front of him, so as Crawford leaned forward, he became more vulnerable. Kalinin slid the puck past the more prone goalie for the conversion and the 3-2 lead.
I know Corey Crawford can be better than this. And he should have been. These weren't good goals to give up and they ultimately cost Chicago points they could use.
So What About the Ones Schneider Conceded?: These were more defensible goals to allow.
The Devils' poor start was amplified by having a 3-on-5 situation early on in the game. It wasn't the more common case of one player taking a penalty and then during that kill, another penalty was taken. Oh, no, this was the rare double-call. John Moore tripped Teuvo Tervainen and Damon Severson high-sticked Tanner Kero. Head coach John Hynes put out two forwards and a defender - usually Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Jon Merrill - for part of it. However, all the space just favored Chicago. Patrick Kane got a great feed from Jonathan Toews. The shot was short-side and went off Schneider's arm, but Schneider had to come across to get to the shot. There was a small window and Kane, being the sniper he is, found it. A 3-on-5 PPGA like that isn't one to get mad at the goalie for happening.
In the third period, after a myriad of stops through traffic, on second efforts, from all kinds of angles, and saved once by the crossbar (and Stephen Gionta's stick), the Blackhawks would beat Schneider a second time. Shortly after the Devils generated one of their better scoring chances of the night, Kane led a counter attack. A slowly developing one, but he led it. He passed it to a trailing Eric Gustafsson. Meanwhile, Artemi Panarin came down the right side all alone. Gustafsson attempted a shot and it was blocked by Mike Cammalleri. The puck got knocked to Panarin. He took it below the dot and fired a lazer inside the right post. It was a fairly sharp angle, similar to the first goal he scored against Edmonton. Again, short side, but Schneider was coming across and it was a really good shot put through a tight window.
Those goals allowed were vastly different from the ones Crawford conceded. Two really good shots and put through small windows of opportunity. That's a lot better than the other three. Schneider had to handle a lot of other stuff that would've shocked Crawford if he had that kind of volume. Schneider proved he was the better goalie and it allowed New Jersey a chance to get something out of this one, even when they spent long stretches in front of him.
Blackhawks Thoughts: Panarin is the sort of player I wish the Devils had. I know, I know, Kane would be great as would be Toews or Hossa. But the young winger was just so smooth at passing the puck in different situations. He kept a lot of that pressure going, whether he was with Kane and Artem Anisimov or taking shifts with Toews.
Hossa didn't play on Friday and he was dearly missed. While he didn't register a point, Hossa, Toews, and Andrew Shaw were a far more dangerous line than Toews, Teravainen, and Ryan Garbutt (who was out tonight). Hossa was just doing everything from keeping attacks alive to making plays on defense to registering five shots on net out of seven attempts to setting up Shaw for some great ones (two shots, four attempts blocked). Because they kicked the collective posteriors of Henrique, Cammalleri, and Lee Stempniak in possession, that opened up more opportunities for the other lines. Price wrote at SCH in his recap that the Hawks are essentially a one-line team. Maybe from a production standpoint. But in terms of possession and performance, they clearly had more than just one line clicking. Hossa playing with Toews was a big part of that.
Kane is super. Six shots on net, two attempts blocked, a goal, and creating the other one. Kane is super. I was worried every time he touched the puck in New Jersey's half. So were Adam Larsson and Andy Greene, who spent a lot of time rushing about, trying to slow them down or get a chance for an exit. Despite the score, they weren't all that successful.
As another sign that this game and last Friday's were completely different, Niklas Hjalmarsson was excellent. Likewise, Trevor Daley and Gustafsson threatened to do damage quite a bit. I don't know if anyone on Chicago's defense really struggled. Joel Quenneville will have a tough decision who to sit when Duncan Keith returns.
The only headscratching move I noticed from Chicago was their decision to wait until 1:40 was left to pull Crawford. The Blackhawks were bossing the Devils around all game long. Why wait to pull the goalie? And why put him back in for a neutral zone faceoff in New Jersey's half of the rink? Sure, the Blackhawks were swarming New Jersey just fine at 5-on-5. But in a one-shot game on your own turf, roll the dice a little sooner. Very odd to see considering Quenneville pulled Darling with less than seven minutes left to play down three goals on the road. I'm not complaining, though.
Rising: Schneider was not the only Devil to have a good game. Two others come to mind. Sergey Kalinin certainly had a standout performance. He created Palmieri's goal with plenty of help from Crawford. He scored the game winning goal. That goal was a power play marker on a night where their previous man advantages in the evening was really just striking two posts. I wasn't sold on him skating with Palmieri and Zajac; I thought Jiri Tlusty was a better fit. But he's earning the spot now. The production helps his case, but the Zajac line didn't get wrecked too bad tonight. That speaks to Kalinin not being an anchor. That's a good thing going forward.
Stefan Matteau made his return to the lineup and had a decent outing. He also didn't get wrecked. I thought he looked good with Jordin Tootoo and Jacob Josefson. I'm sure many aren't pleased he didn't put home a close rebound shortly before Panarin's goal. That'll happen in hockey, though. I think he'll get more games. I know he got into the lineup tonight because Tlusty's shoulder is still an issue. I think he should stay when Tlusty returns if only because the fourth liners tonight were abysmal. I'll take this Matteau performance over most of the ones put out by, say, Brian O'Neill.
Opening A Door: Eric Gelinas has been put into the pressbox in recent days as he failed to secure a lineup spot when he was active. Given that the defense got collectively rolled tonight, I wonder if he'll back out there soon. Merrill had a real tough go of it tonight. Schlemko did a bit more as time went on and earned his first assist with New Jersey, but he was a mess with Merrill early on. Moore and Severson certainly didn't stem the tide. Basically, Gelinas could've been out there tonight and the defense wouldn't have been worse off While the game was won with a PPG, the Devils aren't really getting much from distance between Schlemko and Severson, who were tonight's pointmen. I think we'll see #44 soon.
The Discipline of it All: Just a quick comment on the Devils' discipline: yuck. Two penalties at the same time and two offensive zone minors (Tootoo and Cammalleri) is just poor to see and the first two burned the Devils early on. It could have been far worse, but this is also no way to play.
The Neutral Zone Matters: Another huge difference between this win and last Friday's win is how the neutral zone was controlled. Last Friday, the Devils made good passes through the zone, they found open spaces to play teammates into, and they thwarted a lot of Chicago's attacks. Tonight, it was just a free zone that Chicago often took advantage of. Those performances were partially responsible to how those games went. I know teams sometimes have to win games they don't necessarily deserve; how porous the Devils were in the middle contributes that notion.
One Last Thought: Hockey is not fair.
Your Take: Cory Schneider ruled, the Devils scrambled for most of the game, and they beat a bad Crawford three times. All to win this game in a building where few have beaten Chicago this season. I've written a lot on how I saw this game, now I want to know what you think. What did you make of the Devils' performance? What did you like and did not like? What should the Devils learn from this one ahead of their Saturday night game in Pittsburgh? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.