Earlier this month, the New Jersey Devils left Raleigh, North Carolina in great spirits. They visited the Carolina Hurricanes and laid a 5-1 beatdown on them. They made their defense look like a colander and goaltender Eddie Lack look even worse. Since that game, the Hurricanes have played better hockey and their strong possession game all season suggested they would do better in a rematch. That rematch was tonight and the New Jersey Devils lost to the Hurricanes, 1-3. Revenge was served.
It would be easy to pin the loss on hackneyed excuses such as "Well, the Devils must have had a holiday hangover" or "The Devils just didn't put out an effort." Anyone who saw the game would know the Devils certainly kept up with the Hurricanes. The effort was there. The Hurricanes were simply the better team tonight. They were able to gain zone entries and have more their attacking shifts consist of multiple shooting attempts. Some were out-right dominating shifts, such as the one that yielded the game's first goal. Others featured the Devils responding, only to be one-and-done at best on many. Carolina did more with their opportunities, they generated more opportunities, and both were key factors in their victory tonight. Ignore the difference in the standings; the Canes were just the better team tonight and they outplayed the Devils.
What would also be worth pointing out is that the Devils did manage to tie up the game early in the third period. In the second period, Brett Pesce finished a shift to out-shine the previous highlight of that shift: Cory Schneider robbing Joakim Nordstrom. Pesce's shot was just a long wrister through traffic that just got in. The Hurricanes continued to storm the Devils in the second period and Schneider did well to keep it a one shot game. Kyle Palmieri got that shot a few minutes into the period. He was behind the net, Ron Hainsey got bumped away, and Palmieri wrapped it in. So after a not-so-good second period, the Devils didn't get so down on themselves to not make it a game. Unfortunately, the Canes pulled ahead - and to the detriment of Cory Schneider.
The eventual game winning goal came from Justin Faulk. On a shift where Eric Gelinas got his stick knocked out of his hands, the big defenseman would try to follow someone just to be in their way. Faulk was trailing off the rush as a fourth skater, which is always a difficult pick up. Palmieri (I think?) still didn't pick him up. Faulk got the puck above the slot, skated in, and just as Gelinas' big frame was in front Schneider, he took his shot. It went in. It was definitely not one of #44's good moments. It stings more since he, David Schlemko, and fourth line got pinned back bad on the Pesce's goal in the second period. The dagger came within the final five minutes. After a good attacking shift by the Devils, the Canes counter-attacked. Faulk fed it up to Nordstrom, who took the puck on Schneider's right side. Adam Larsson skated hard to get back on Nordstrom. Only his out-stretched stick ramped up Nordstrom's shot to fool Schneider short-side. It looked bad at first. Yet, it was another goal that Schneider - or most NHL goalies - would almost always stop if no one got in their way somehow. I suppose the lesson is to let the top tier goalie get a clean chance at an open shot.
As unfortunate as the screens and that one deflection was, the truth of the matter was that Hurricanes did more on the ice to get the win. The may have only out-shot the Devils 25-20, but they out-attempted them 50-39. Their defense was much better than it was in their last meeting as they limited the Devils to few dangerous shots on Cam Ward. Their passing was superior. They won their match-ups. Given that the Devils smacked them in the mouth back on December 3, I would say the Canes got their revenge. Fortunately for the Devils, there will be a rubber match in Newark very soon.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Canes Country for a more favorable recap as their favorite team won.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video featuring the goals and a lot of great stops by Schneider.
Creamed: One of the big reasons why the game turned out the way it did was because half of the initial lines were getting pounded. The Devils' offense is largely driven by Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, and Lee Stempniak. This line was bad for at least half of the game. Henrique didn't really come alive until the third period, Cammalleri didn't do much, and Stempniak was just bad on the puck tonight. Stempniak nearly created the game's first goal when he attempted an exit pass, Eric Staal picked it off right in front of him, and flung it up for a makeshift 2-on-0 where Schneider robbed Kris Versteeg. John Hynes correctly mixed up the lines in the third period because the standard 13-14-20 was just not effective. As nice as Travis Zajac, Jiri Tlusty, and Palmieri played early on; the offense mostly lives and dies by that Henrique line. That was seen in full effect in a second period where the team went over half of the period shotless.
The other half of the initial lines that got steamrolled was the fourth line. For years, the goal of the fourth line in New Jersey was to spell the other three lines and keep the action to a minimum. Don't do much on offense? That's fine as long as you're not getting worked over. Jordin Tootoo, Stephen Gionta, and Tuomo Ruutu got worked over several times tonight. Carolina made sure Elias Lindholm, Staal, and Versteeg got a few shifts against them. On the first goal against, that line plus the third pairing got pinned back by one of Carolina's bottom two units. They got pinned often as Ruutu and Tootoo were on the ice for a mere four shooting attempts - and at least three times as many against. While they didn't play a lot, their minutes consisted of Carolina dictating the pace of the game.
Hynes mixed things up as much as he could later in the game, but the damage was done. A large reason why the Devils' offense was stunted in this game was because half of the forwards were just getting beat. Credit to the Canes for playing well and making the most of those match ups. In retrospect, perhaps Hynes should have changed things sooner.
Are Minimal Special Teams a Silver Lining?: Tonight's game between the Devils and Canes was rather disciplined. Both teams skated hard and they played hard without getting nasty. It wasn't as if the game was devoid of hits, but there weren't really any significant fouls. A total of two penalties were called and I think that's right. Gelinas getting his stick knocked out maybe could have been a call, but it was seen as an accident and I have no issue with that. It was disappointing that the Devils made very little of an early power play in this game. However, it was impressive that the Devils held the hot Carolina power play to no shots on net in a third period shorthanded situation. Given that I was more concerned about the team controlling more of the play getting an extra man for two minutes, I'd call it a silver lining in this game.
The Return of Gelinas...For Now: The only change in the Devils' lineup between this game and the last game was that Eric Gelinas replaced Jon Merrill. Needless to say, he did not make a really good case for getting more games over Merrill tonight. I'd expect these two to switch off for the time being.
The Difference of Defensive Structure: Ward and Schneider didn't face a ton of shots each. However, Schneider had to work harder tonight. He denied Nordstrom all alone in the slot, Versteeg on a 2-on-0, and several chaotic moments where the Canes stormed the net and one hoped the puck stayed out somehow. Ward didn't have to make nearly as many - or any - difficult, surprising stops. The Canes didn't drop a massive amount of volume, but they made Schneider scramble and get desperate. The Devils did have some 2-on-1s early on, but it was a comparably easier night for Ward. It's a shame considering Ward's save percentage just doesn't measure up to Schneider's. The hope for their next game on Tuesday is that they challenge Ward more and often. To do that, they need to break down Carolina's defense. Their forwards were quite responsible in their backcheck, supporting the defensemen were necessary. Justin Faulk wasn't just bossing it on offense, he was very good in his own end tonight. As was Pesce and John-Michael Liles. The Devils, on the other hand, were chasing plays and weren't so good in their passes. Therefore, that opened up a lot of space for the Canes to get open and make Schneider - and the fans - sweat.
One Last Thought: The pace of the game was a lot more brisk that I anticipated. I cannot stress enough that no one really had to "find their legs" tonight. The first period was an even one; both squads were trading good shifts. It wasn't until the second period where Carolina just started picking apart and picking on New Jersey.
Your Take: The Hurricanes played better than the Devils tonight and won appropriately. The good news for New Jersey is that they're off until Tuesday. They'll play the Hurricanes then in Newark. Carolina gets to travel to Chicago for a game tomorrow. At least the Devils can use the extra day to modify their gameplan and try to tighten up their execution. In the meantime, we must dwell on this loss. What's your reaction to the loss? Who played the best for the Devils tonight? Who on the Hurricanes impressed you tonight? Who disappointed you the most among the Devils? What should the Devils learn from this game before their next game against Carolina on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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