Perception is a funny thing. In the third period, the New Jersey Devils tied up the game 1-1 on a power play goal by Travis Zajac. The rebound goal was truly a rebound from a Kyle Palmieri blast off Nick Leddy's skates that just sent it laterally to Zajac. Jaroslav Halak was caught in a bad spot and he paid the price. The Devils appeared to have more energy in their legs. They pushed towards the net more often. The Islanders didn't just hang out in New Jersey's end of the rink for several shifts of sustained pressure like the first period. It seemed like the Devils looked OK. Then Casey Cizikas pounded in a rebound, getting his stick down for a close, loose puck before Andy Greene did it with a little over two minutes left. The Devils pushed for a late equalizer but couldn't find it for a 1-2 loss. Seemed like a close, hard-fought loss.
Then you look at the shot count or the attempt count and saw that the Devils were out-shot 4-9 and out-attempted by at least six as the clock wore down. Perhaps it wasn't that close on the ice. The Devils were out-attempted 47-55 at even strength and had more attempts when one includes all situations, 58-57. But in terms of shots, the Isles put up 33 and the Devils got only 24. At even strength, the disparity was wider: the Isles had 31 shots and the Devils had only 18. Looking at those figures, the Islanders clearly did more and showed their strength throughout the game.
So why did it not seem that way late? Well, the Devils may have struggled in the first period, but they were only down 0-1. The close scoreline helped the perception. That one goal was credited to Brock Nelson, who seemingly got robbed by Cory Schneider on a rebound before the puck ended up getting knocked in by accident. I thought Anders Lee put it home, but he did not. The second period was more even by most measures and it was OK. Still down only one score after that period, so that also helped the notion that this one was in reach. It was by the score. The better play in the middle period fueled the notion that it was, in fact, a game. And while the third period featured many more attempts and shots by the Islanders, there weren't many shifts where New Jersey was just pinned back. Seeing the Devils' forwards not always back was a sight that makes one think, "Hey, they're doing good things." That adds to the notion that this one was closer than originally thought.
What does that mean? Well, the Islanders are better than the Devils, for one. I don't think that's an Earth-shattering conclusion. It also means the Devils at least put in a decent enough effort to watch. Despite the big disparity in shots, the Devils didn't have long, ten-minute-plus stretches without attacking like they had on Saturday. That's always a positive, despite the result. More importantly, there's something to be said about this offense and getting pucks through. Getting out-shot by ten while making one more attempt than the opposition means something isn't working quite well. Blocks and misses aren't going to be entirely avoided, but the Devils could work on making sure their attempts end up on target. Whether this means taking fewer risks or taking more risks is up to the coaches, but it's something to keep an eye out as this season progresses.
Lastly, and importantly enough to separate from the rest, this was another close game in a season already full of them. Unlike most of their wins, this one did not break the Devils' way. Cory Schneider faced a lot of rubber, the Devils got opportunities and eventually did break the Islanders' penalty killing streak but didn't generate nearly enough in kind, and one bounce did them in. Cizikas just got inside position on Greene heading to the net, the shot was deflected on target, and he was at the right place at the right time to wrong the Devils. It happens and in close games, that one bounce can and does decide games. It did tonight. More will be decided like that for or against the Devils this season, especially given the way they play. That's more than a perception, too.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik sums up the victory for the Isles' side at Lighthouse Hockey, including praise for their fourth line forwards and third pairing defenders.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlights of tonight's game:
Pow: If you loved hitting, then you enjoyed this game. There was a lot of it. I don't believe the scorer's tally of Islanders getting 63 hits to New Jersey's 26. Still, it was a physical affair without devolving to just nastiness or overly chippy play. It made for some additional entertainment. I do believe the Devils got blocked 25 times to New Jersey putting up 15 blocks; that speaks to the Devils' decisions this evening as to when they attempted to take shots.
Rising and Falling: In the beginning third of this game, the Devils' bottom six appeared to be well on their way to getting bodied. From Stephen Gionta to Brian O'Neill, they were just drowning. In contrast, the Devils' top line of Lee Stempniak, Adam Henrique, and Mike Cammalleri seemed to be on their way to having a good game. By the game's end, the Henrique line and the Jacob Josefson line (O'Neill, Josefson, and Jordin Tootoo) ended up about even in possession but the Josefson line generated more offense. Somehow, the Josefson line started having very good shifts as the game went on. They generated some serious chances. They combined for eight of New Jersey's twenty four shots on net tonight. O'Neill was a whiff away from a glorious chance at his first goal. Yet, the Henrique line combined for five as Cammalleri was uncharacteristically quiet - shotless until the very end. The Josefson line got better as time went on as the Henrique line did very little.
The Power Play Does Not Need Dump-ins: The Devils' power play was once again, feast or famine. Their first minute on the first advantage was good. The play that earned them the PPG was good and it should be seen as something the Devils should do more of. A carry-in down the wing, a pass or two to get everyone in the formation, a good recovery after a long shot, and a good play to set-up a one-timer. Sure, you can't gameplan a bounce off skates to go right to the slot-man, but you can carry pucks in and make good reads. That can be practiced. And it'll clearly provide more options for an effective attack than a dump-in. Something the Devils stupidly did a lot of on their other power plays. This may shock you but those power plays did not yield much offense when the Devils tried to enter in the Islanders' zone by giving the puck up and hoping to get it back.
Discipline On Point: At least the Devils got one PPG to make the Islanders pay for their crimes. The Devils were remarkably well-disciplined when it came to fouls. Their one penalty kill - from an offensive zone hooking call on Josefson - lasted less than twenty seconds due to a hook by Anders Lee on Adam Larsson. The only other penalty called against the Devils was Tootoo and Matt Martin getting two each for a beef. Seeing that the Islanders' power play could be threatening - and was successful on Saturday - even without John Tavares, the Devils benefited from not having to endure a full penalty kill. That went well.
Schneider Well But...: Schneider had a very good game in his own right. He was done in on two close rebounds but with the ways the Islanders were throwing pucks at him, those opportunities will be there. If nothing else, Schneider kept the Devils in the game early and often. That seems like a cliche at this point because it has happened so much since 2014, but it's true. I do think he should get a night off soon. He's had nine straight starts. There's no real need to keep riding #35. I don't want him to start giving up a bunch of bad, soft goals because he's been playing so much. He didn't concede any tonight, but it's something to be concerned about as the schedule gets rougher this month.
The Odd Man Out: I thought Eric Gelinas was OK. However, anytime Bobby Farnham receives more minutes than you is a sign that you may be on the outside looking in real soon. Farnham got about ten minutes. Gelinas got seven and a half and none of his shots got through. If or when the Devils go back to twelve forwards and six defensemen, I think he's out first. Jon Merrill had a decent game, which only helps me think this way.
Energy~!: Bobby Farnham and Gionta got crushed in possession. But Farnham had some entertaining shifts - like jumping out from a Johnny Boychuk, falling down, and then skating hard at someone else to hit - and a sharp angled shot that Gionta nearly jammed in for an equalizer in the second period. So I guess he provided energy. Rotating forwards to play with those two didn't work so well tonight, the Isles picked up on that, and so it's another reason to hope the duo will have a more regular linemate.
Zajac is Warm: Say what you want about Zajac's line in general, but Zajac has three goals and an assist in his last four games. That's mostly on the power play but I'll take points from wherever. If he isn't hot already, he's definitely warming up. I would love to see Jiri Tlusty along his side and Kyle Palmieri's instead of Sergey Kalinin, who did play a bit better - or at least stronger on the puck - as time went on tonight.
Back a Lot: Damon Severson was forced to do a lot of defending with John Moore. That's not really a good thing. Yet, what I saw from Severson were flashes of the impressive talent I saw from last season. He recovered very well if he got beat or a pass/shot got blocked in front of him. He didn't lose too many people in his own end. His pokechecking was effective at times. Again, they got pinned back so I'm not saying he's wonderful. What I am saying is that Severson showed tonight that he's a cut above the other U-25 defensemen on the team even if his CF% was low.
Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee, Lee: Anders Lee was seemingly everywhere for the Islanders tonight. He took two penalties, he got five shots on Schneider, he was mere inches away from getting credit for the game's first goal, and he got around the Devils' end quite well. His line with Nelson and Ryan Strome was great, giving the Devils lots of problems. Lee was one of the Islanders' best players tonight along with Travis Hamonic, his partner Calvin de Haan, and Lee's linemates.
Honestly, and maybe this is the big difference, no one really stunk for the Isles tonight. Marek Zidlicky didn't take his requisite dumb penalty. Brian Strait made up for his with the shot that yielded the game winner. Even their fourths contributed with that game winner, despite mostly getting hammered in possession.
One Last Thought: Stick with royal blue and orange, Islanders.
Your Take: The Devils lost in a game that I initially thought was close until I took a closer look at it. What was your take from the game? Would you agree it wasn't as close as originally thought? Or maybe it was close for other reasons? Who do you think excelled on the Devils? Who do you think could and should have done much better? What can the Devils take away from this game ahead of their Friday night game against Chicago? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.