Christmas is upon us and everyone's getting their presents together. The New Jersey Devils are no different, though they had to give theirs early. They gave their fans the gift of a 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings. The game had it all. There were pretty goals. There were three goals within a two-and-a-half-minute frame. There was a developing comeback that was snuffed out early in the period. There was a lot of scrambling, nervy defense. There was all kinds of salt, beef, and "why I oughta's" as the game got nasty at points if you're a fan of that. All that in a very competitive game that yielded the team's first win in Detroit in seemingly forever at the Joe Louis Arena. Essentially, this game had it all.
The critic in me wants to highlight the issues the Devils had on display. Their penalty kill got lit up twice before they clamped down on the Red Wings. The penalty kill had five situations to kill, meaning that discipline was an issue. Despite the first goal technically being a power play goal, the power play in general yielded very little offense when it could have made this game a lot easier. Of course, the Red Wings made it a one-goal game twice after the Devils took a lead. As strong as Cory Schneider was in his crease, he probably would like that third goal allowed back. The defense struggled at times at clearing short rebounds, forcing Schneider to be excellent beyond expectations at times. As nice as the result is, the Devils ultimately held on to win against a very aggressive Red Wings squad. Not exactly a solid, decisive win.
At the same time, I do have to respect how the Devils did hold on to win. They scored three goals in the first period and in quick succession. Kyle Palmieri put in his own carom off the end boards from a dump in. Jordin Tootoo re-directed a shot-pass by Andy Greene on Jimmy Howard's right flank. Shortly thereafter, Palmieri laid out a pass that David Schlemko took into the right circle and beat Howard with a lovely wrist shot. Howard was sent to the bench, Petr Mrazek took his place, and so of course the Red Wings took control of most of the game. They had nothing to lose, down three scores early on. They should have done more with the puck; they pretty much had to. When Sergey Kalinin made it 4-2 early in the third, we saw it again. Score effects were real tonight and with plenty of time left on the clock, it's hard to really be unhappy with how Detroit dictated most of the game. I can't get mad about the Devils being out-shot 17-28 or out-attempted 27-48 because with the Devils scoring so much, so early and another one early in the third, the pressure was on Detroit was to attack. The Devils could only try to soak in as much of it as they could.
Further, I did like how the penalty kill handled Detroit's 1-3-1 and their plays after being lit up for two goals. Those two goals were Dylan Larkin rifling a shot past a Justin Abdelkader screen and a one-timer by Mike Green in the second period. Hardly bad goals or really bad plays, though I thought the Devils missed a clearance opportunity shortly after the entry prior to Green's shot. The Devils could have been rattled when they went back to being shorthanded three other times, but they were poised, they were smart on the puck, and they worked hard to get those pucks.
As poor as discipline was, the game's nastiness ultimately hurt Detroit just as much. There were a lot of scrums, some sneaky dirty hits, big hits, and a lot of riled up players. While the Devils' power play left something to be desired tonight, the calls against Detroit ultimately resulted in 7:03 where the Red Wings weren't in a position to attack. With a lead, that time taken off the clock can be huge. The only time Detroit really put up any offense when down a man was at the end of the game. Larkin took it in deep, forced a defensive zone draw, and with Mrazek out of the net, it was a scrambling 5-on-5. That power play not yielding anything was fine; it was surprising that Stephen Gionta drew it at all. The other three - remember, Palmieri's first goal was a PPG as it came off a 4-on-4 from overlapping penalties - were mostly wasted. Yet, Detroit wouldn't have had that time kept from them to continue their comeback if they didn't get caught with too many men on the ice and if Abdelkader didn't lose his cool (four minors! two causing PPs).
Lastly, the Devils did end up winning another one-goal game but this was a case where they could have afforded it to be a one-goal game. This wasn't a game where the Devils just had a tenuous lead where they only scored one or two goals total. They got three, they added a fourth later, and even if Detroit put up two in the third, the Devils had every reason to believe they could score again. The defense and Schneider didn't have the extreme pressure to defend a one-shot game except for parts of the second period and the final five-and-a-half minutes. That's better than a full period or more. The defense did help out at the end, Schneider was a boss on rebound attempts, and they pulled together.
I'm taking this for what it is. The Devils built up a lead and while it was whittled away, they managed to hold to win and bookend a rough run of games (seven games in twelve nights) with wins against Detroit. To do so in regulation is a small victory in that Detroit hasn't lost that many within sixty minutes. And the Devils improve their road record to a solid 10-5-2. The game, with its winning result, was a gift as a fan to watch. This is the season for gift giving. When a gift is given, the only right thing to do with it is accept it and be gracious. Thank you, Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Winging it in Motown, piyer97 has this quick recap of New Jersey's win.
The Game Highlights: Plenty of highlights, including four nice Devils goals, in this video at NHL.com:
Thank You, Kennedy and Kindl: The game's winning goal came in the third period, when Sergey Kalinin piled in a rebound from a shot by Jacob Josefson. The whole play doesn't happen if Tyler Kennedy didn't pressure Jakub Kindl a little bit. It may have forced him to move the puck laterally as opposed to up the zone. This was a mistake. This was a turnover as Josefson took the puck for a close shot and Kalinin roofed the rebound before Kindl got in there. At the time, that made the score 4-2 and many Devils and many Devils fans like myself felt free to exhale. That feeling was lost with about five and a half minutes left, but it turned out to be a crucial goal. Again, the only right thing to do with a gift is to accept it and be grateful. I'm sure Kalinin will send Kindl a thank you note and personally thank Kennedy.
Poor Mrazek: He comes in relief of Howard after he conceded three goals on six shots. Howard had no chance on the second goal but the first and third were just poor ones to allow. Mrazek did well against the Devils; the only one against him was Kalinin's goal. While Mrazek was out of the paint, aggressively challenging Josefson, he had no choice. Kindl's turnover put in him in a bad spot. And Kindl takes him out as the puck goes into the net. Yet, in light of all of this, Mrazek gets to hold onto the 'L.' It's on his record. Oh, well.
Was It Their Best?: I don't know if it was their best game, but tonight's should rank up there for the unit of Kalinin, Josefson, and Kennedy. Josefson continued to earn his reputation for not scoring on good chances with a miss on a loose puck on a power play, but he handled business well. Kalinin looked strong and played well in both ends of the rink. Kennedy was not just a body out there. They didn't get a lot of minutes at evens, but they did fairly well in a night where most Devils were forced to defend more than attack in 5-on-5 play. Hopefully, this night is a sign that the line can do a bit more than what they did.
The Damage Dealers: Two Red Wings lines just swarmed it up at times on the Devils. They were the lines that one would expect and fear on Detroit. Pavel Datsyuk was just going forward seemingly everytime he was on the ice. Dylan Larkin was a thorn in the Devils' side both in action and after whistles as he was at the center of a lot of the beef. Brad Richards looked more like his younger self; he made the great pass to Green for his power play goal and he could have had more if Schneider was a lesser goalie tonight. Despite his penalties and all of his saltiness, Abdelkader was putting in good work against the Devils in down low and crowded situations. Darren Helm wasn't invisible like the last Devils-Red Wings game. Henrik Zetterberg put in a night's work that's expected from him. Yes,
I realize I just spelled out their top two lines. But they were fierce in attack. At times, I thought they would tie up the game only for a defensive intervention to come out of nowhere or a big rebound save provided by Schneider. In light of this, it's surprising that Riley Sheahan was the lone Detroit scorer in 5-on-5 play. Sheahan just went around David Schlemko and beat Schneider straight up - off the post and into the net. It wasn't a good goal to allow and it was surprising given how well Schneider was playing against more contentious shots Sheahan didn't really do anything else tonight other than make it real interesting in the third period.
Congratulations: As mentioned in the Gamethread by bergenline, Palmieri's goal off the endboards had one assist and it came from Jon Merrill. That is his first point of the season. Congratulations to the defenseman. Assist aside, I think this was one of his better performances alongside Schlemko. Of course, the other two pairings got to do a lot more defending for a lot more ice time than them. Still, Merrill and Schlemko made the best of their situations - Sheahan goal aside for #8.
Hustle / If Only: Stephen Gionta skated like he got shot out of a cannon in chasing down a cleared puck in the final minute of the game. Niklas Kronwall took him down away from the puck, which awarded a power play to the Devils with 57 seconds left. While Detroit was able to get the puck in New Jersey's end shortly thereafter - Larkin made it happen, further evidence that he's for real - it allowed the Devils to get a breather and make the situation harder for Detroit. With Mrazek pulled, it was 5-on-5 hockey and so few Red Wings were left open.
The funny thing is that would be his one positive mark on the scoresheet beyond stupidly tripping Gustav Nyquist in the second period. Gionta nearly had one in the first period. Shortly after Detroit made it 3-1, Travis Zajac sprung Gionta for a one-on-one with Mrazek. Gionta didn't finish the chance, but if he had, imagine how this game would have turned out.
A Star Within 2:12: Kyle Palmieri scored the game's first goal in impressive fashion and set up the goal that sent Howard to the bench. He was named the first star of tonight's game by Stefan Kubus of Michigan Hockey Magazine (per the Game Summary). As great as his offensive contributions were (and they were great plays), that pretty much was it from #21. The only other time he threatened to score was on a power play on a shot that was easily stopped. The rest of the night, Palmieri was forced to defend with mixed results. Fortunately, the two points turned out to be a part of a winning effort.
Sigh: The biggest melee happened in the second period. It was amazing that the Devils got a power play out of it. Shortly after John Moore crunched Larkin into the boards, Schneider comes out to play a puck. The puck is played properly and the Devils get a clear. Behind the play, Abdelkader appeared to have bumped Damon Severson into Schneider. Severson saw Larkin standing over Schneider, assumed Larkin knocked him down, and things delved into chaos as everyone on the ice went behind the Devils' net. Out of that, Abdelkader got a double-minor for roughing, Severson got one, Larkin correctly got nothing, and Schneider was no worse for wear. There was a lot of salt, beef, and so forth tonight. That was the apex or the nadir, depending on your perspective.
One Last Thought: Three days off for the Devils and it couldn't have come any sooner. Enjoy the holiday, Devils!
Your Take: The Devils scored three in a flurry, held on, tacked on a fourth, and held on to win 4-3. I appreciate the win as a gift. What about you? What's your take? Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who on the Devils disappointed you the most? Which one of the goals was your favorite? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site's Twitter account, @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.