After forty minutes of tonight's hockey game, many New Jersey Devils fans were unhappy either in silence or in volume. The Devils were losing to the Detroit Red Wings 0-2. Both of Detroit's goals came on the power play. One quick deflection by Gustav Nyquist on a Henrik Zetterberg shot. The other on a counter-attack finished by Tomas Tatar shortly after Jimmy Howard robbed Mike Cammalleri in front. The Devils absolutely responded with offense. Specifically seventeen shots on net, which was impressive given how the Devils wasted a power play near the end of the period (hence some of the vocal disagreement). Cammalleri surely had Howard beaten, but he made some great stops on a late flurry. The Devils weren't playing poorly at all. But down two goals, it was looking grim.
After the following twenty minutes, Devils fans were more than up for it and excited as anything. The Devils, who were playing good, smart, offensive hockey for the most part, were able to make a comeback. Early in the third period, Damon Severson let loose with a blast from the point. It got past a screen set by Brian O'Neill and Mike Green to beat Howard. It was Severson's first of the year. His celebration was animated and it made it a one-shot game with over seventeen minutes left. While the Red Wings were able to slow down the onslaught of shots to only nine, they only had a handful of strong shifts in response. The Devils were coming and they found a second goal on the power play. After not doing much of anything on three previous power plays (two total shots and a post by John Moore on an individual effort), this one worked. Both units were able to get possession, move the puck around, and set up good looks on net. The decisive one came from Kyle Palmieri. He blasted one from the blueline and Sergey Kalinin tipped it in to make it 2-2. The goal held up under review and a coach's challenge and so the comeback was close to completion. Whatever unhappiness was felt by the end of the second intermission turned into applause, cheers, and a generally pleased crowd. A point was well deserved for the Devils tonight. Could they get two?
Oh, they would - and with the sort of play that makes coaches sick in 3-on-3 overtime. Both teams have had plenty of practice at it by now. Both teams favored possession and one-on-one defending to keep the opposition at bay. What it lacked in end-to-end madness, it made up for in tension. Detroit nearly won it early and then a bit later when they went for a jam play. The puck was on the goal line but never crossed. Within the final minute, Detroit was on offense and, again, plenty of patience on display as the Red Wings hoped to catch the Devils making a mistake. Instead, the Devils made a play. Lee Stempniak stepped up on Brendan Smith coming out of the corner and knocked a puck away from the down-low defender. He didn't pass it across for another example of just trying to make a controlled exit. No, he protected it from Smith along the sideboards, looked, looked again, and then went out for a backhand clearance. He put it into space in the hopes of Kyle Palmieri picking it up. Palmieri beat Tatar to do so, he went in on Howard alone, and he beat a sprawling goaltender with a backhander to the roof of the net. All with 39.3 second left. It was a glorious goal on a glorious play. The Rock erupted with the score, disappointing only Detroit fans.
The dramatic finish provided by Kyle Palmieri capped a comeback, earned the Devils' their second win of the season after trailing by two goals, and earned the team a second point for the night. And I do mean earned. As much as Detroit did more in overtime, the Devils were the better team at even strength tonight. They took initiative. They made some adjustments in their zone exits so Detroit couldn't just rely on what Philly, Florida, and Toronto did to them recently. They took some aggressive chances and it paid off. This was only the second time this season the Devils surpassed 35 shots on net - the other was that dominant win against Pittsburgh - and they kept Detroit more at bay than otherwise thought. They went up against a very good team, a team that has been great in possession due to the influence of Pavel Datsyuk, and they had the better run of play in regulation. All without Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. As fortunate or stunning the game winning goal was, the Devils did a lot of good things tonight to get a good result. After all, that second period deficit was built on special teams and nearly was 1-2 anyhow.
In short, if you want to convince Devils fans who are sufficient enough believers that the 2015-16 team can go places, then games like this will help your cause a lot better than some of their other recent results. This game was far more fun and enjoyable to watch than the last week or so. And it even had a highlight reel-worthy ending finish. Just wonderful.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Winging it in Motown, piyer97 has this short recap about the game. The writer sounded bored. Funny how getting out-shot by one of the fewest shooting teams in the NHL draws that opinion out. Funnier that it comes from a Detroit supporter who apparently doesn't know that the Red Wings have been on the low end of events this season too. There will be further analysis at WIIM, so go check it out later.
The Game Highlights: You'll enjoy the end of this one. I guarantee it. Here's the video, from NHL.com:
Give Him The Puck!: Kyle Palmieri was the overtime hero of the night. He also took the slapshot that Kalinin re-directed, so he could be considered a regulation hero of sorts too. He only had three shots on net, but he made those count. If anything, I'm surprised he didn't get more ice time tonight. With Zajac and Henrique out, the Devils' main producers are Stempniak, Cammalleri, and him. Yet, he had Jiri Tlusty for part of the night before he got bumped down the lineup. He had Joseph Blandisi as his center, who I'll discuss in a bit. And he's on the second power play unit which includes Jacob Joseson, Jordin Tootoo, Kalinin, and David Schlemko. I know that unit got a conversion and the team isn't teeming with offensive players, but he's being held back. The guy's been productive. The team needs it. At least give him more power play time, John Hynes. Let the man have opportunities to attack. He'll take them, he's not a consistent disaster in possession (he was positive tonight), and even finish them like he did tonight. I hope he'll get more minutes from nights like this one.
The Power Play That Failed Before It Didn't: That fourth power play was a good one. The other three were essentially wastes of time. OK, the first one wasn't too bad and it featured John Moore taking it in himself and nearly scoring on the play, hitting iron and maybe Howard's glove. Still, the Devils have handled business at 5-on-5 and to see them play like they are surprised it's 5-on-4 remains an annoyance. It was like the team had a collective thought of "WHAT DO WE DO? WE HAVE AN EXTRA MAN? I DON'T KNOW." while Detroit calmly killed those three situations without much drama. Thankfully, the Devils got their acts together and played with some sense on the last one. They got a conversion to prevent special teams from being a total win for Detroit tonight. After all, it was the difference maker in the second period.
This may or may not warrant a separate post but I continue to be confused on who's on these units. Again, without Zajac and Henrique, the pickings are slimmer than usual. So why not stick Palmieri - the leading power play scoreron the team - with the guys who are good passers like Stempniak, Cammalleri, and occasionally Patrik Elias? Then there's the defensemen. Moore and Schlemko were your defensemen tonight. They have other options. Eric Gelinas has The Truth. Yet, we only saw it once tonight. He only played less than ten and a half minutes tonight with nothing on the power play. Not a single second. The coaches really don't trust him but after those first three situations, at least give him a shot. Moreover, Damon Severson didn't have a sniff at the man advantage either. He's got a good shot and he's proven he can make reads and move the puck effectively. He can do just as well as Schlemko and Moore, so why not him? I don't know. They keep finding ways to score goals so it's not that it's failing, but I think it could be more than it is right now.
Seriously, What's Up With Eric: Did Gelinas do something seriously wrong tonight to only play 10:25? I actually liked some of his defensive efforts. He even threw hits that not only didn't take him out of position but separated his man from the puck and allowed him and/or his teammates to make plays. I suspect this is a tell that Jon Merrill is going to take his spot again and soon. Not that Gelinas was on fire, but I thought in a game like this, he could have been given more shifts to make a difference.
NHL Debut of Blandisi: Joseph Blandisi played with some nerves, some pace, and some brains. He was perfectly fine out there for 14:37 and put three shots on net tonight. He got Howard good on a rebound in the second, forcing a point-blank glove save by the goalie. When he was out there with Tlusty and Palmieri, good things tended to happen. There were some defensive shifts, but he didn't get completely owned. As the game went on, his minutes were cut. Whatever shifts he had in the third period tended to be long; and the Devils were finding success with other match-ups. Overall, I think it was a good debut. Given that he was filling in for one of Zajac and Henrique, he wasn't a net negative on the ice, he didn't do anything really dumb or poor, and he didn't shirk from chances to attack.
Faced Off: I don't write much about faceoffs because in the bigger picture, they don't really add too much to the team's success in the run of play. Within a game or a few games, I'm starting to see it as an issue. Even though the Devils outshot the Red Wings by a healthy margin of 38-29, the Devils won 20 out of 51 faceoffs - or just under 40%. That's plenty of situations where the opposition started the shift with it on their stick. Plenty of losses for Blandisi and Stephen Gionta; though Josefson and Kalinin weren't so bad. This is an area where they really do miss Zajac in addition to the overall play he brings to the table. Fortunately, only one faceoff loss led to a score and that was on the power play.
Poor Mike: Robbed shorthanded, robbed on a flurry near the end of the second, denied early in overtime at a sharp angle, and stopped on all six of his shots. I'll take six shots from him anytime. I thought he played a fine game. But the Devils clearly relied a lot on #13 as he played over twenty three minutes. Only Moore, who had a very good game in my view, played more. Alas, he got no points tonight. With efforts and ice time like tonight's, he'll get them. The Devils will likely need them.
Advantage New Jersey: The Devils beat Red Wings in even strength attempts, 44-32, and in all situations, 56-41. The Devils built up an advantage and never really lost it. And those attempts mostly counted. For example, 17 of the 19 attempts in the second period were on net. So while there were some unfortunate misses or some attempts gone lame, the Devils were making Howard work and guys like Green and Niklas Kronwall do a lot of defending tonight. A big reason for this was that they made adjustments to how they exited their end of the rink. It was not a constant "force it up the boards and out," there were several exits going through open gaps in the middle as well. It helped that Detroit was not the strongest on the puck tonight either. The Devils were able to establish themselves in the neutral zone and eventually take chances when they were available - especially after the first period. While it won't always lead to out-attempting and out-shooting a very good team every night, it's a recipe for success on most nights and it helped them get a win tonight. Even with only one even strength goal, they held Detroit to nothing and the Red Wings were kept from providing an answer after each goal.
Cory's Better: He was better tonight. He had no chance on the first and I don't think he really saw Tatar's shot either. I really liked how he handled play around the crease. The Red Wings nearly cashed in multiple times when the play turned into a scrum in front. Whether it would be on a jam play, Darren Helm trying to angle himself to get around a fallen Schneider, swallowing up a loose puck, stoning Pavel Datsyuk and Tatar in front in OT, or just sitting on it to prevent it from going in. Schneider made the tough stops and the easy ones. Schneider played very well tonight, as usual and as expected in this organization.
Howard had a very good game of his own. I'm sure he'd like to have done something different than a weird, windmill like move on Palmieri, but he did make Cammalleri talk to himself a lot and stop 36 shots tonight. The loss shouldn't be hung on Howard from my view. Detroit should have been much better in 5-on-5 play seeing that the Devils controlled it more often than not.
Creative Promotion: The Devils made it Star Wars Night and they changed much of their presentation to account for it. I especially liked the on-ice graphics changing for the event. It's nice to see something new instead of the same presentation for 41 nights. I'll disagree from the opener that claimed that this would be the greatest battle on ice. It was a fun game, it was a competitive game, but it wasn't the greatest. I'd like to see the Devils do more things like that given that they have the technology for those on-ice shows.
One Last Thought: Get used to seeing more 3-on-3s like what we saw tonight. Plenty of patience, plenty of control, and less firewagon hockey. Coaches have clearly figured out that a mistake like a turnover or getting beaten to a puck or even a missed shot can make everything go awry. Further, with 3-on-3, teams aren't likely to settle for long-range shots that otherwise would be taken with five skaters on the ice. There won't be that player(s) to battle and win loose pucks and rebounds from it. Tonight's winner came from Stempniak making a play and getting rewarded on a not-so-high risk manuever (if Palmieri didn't get it, so what, NJ got a clear and Detroit would have to reset). I think we'll be seeing similar acts leading to overtime decisions as coaches and teams try to strategy out the openness of 3-on-3 play.
One Question: How did Jordin Tootoo end up in the middle space between the two benches? It was an odd sight.
Your Take: The Devils won in dramatic fashion and did so with an effort that most fans should appreciate. They didn't beat a bunch of scrubs, they beat a very good Detroit team. What is your take on this win? How did you react when Palmieri scored? Who impressed you on the Devils tonight? Did anyone really disappoint you? (I don't think anyone was terrible, really, not even O'Neill.) What should the Devils learn from this game to prepare for their next one against the Islanders? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
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