For the first time, the New Jersey Devils made this trip about the players', staff's, and coaches' dads. They were present with the team on Tuesday, traveled with the team down on Wednesday, and watched tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Given the final result of a 5-1 win, I'm sure there will be no resistance to doing this again next year. The dads were certainly all pleased. So were the other Devils fans at the game and following it all around the world.
You wouldn't believe it by the score, but it wasn't as simple of the Devils just dominating the Canes. The Hurricanes played quite well at 5-on-5. They kept it even from the first period onward and they attacked frequently as the deficit grew. What did them in tonight was has been doing them in all season. The Devils' special teams were superior with another perfect night on the penalty kill, a power play goal, and two goals scored seconds after power plays ended. Goaltending was clearly in New Jersey's favor. Keith Kinkaid was beaten only once but wasn't tested all that much among 31 shots against. Eddie Lack came into this game with very poor save percentages and leaves it worse for wear. He had more to deal with out of 27 shots, such as multiple one-on-one situations; but the guy got beaten five times. That helps no one. The Canes can boast out-attempting New Jersey 62-50 in all situations and 51-35 at even strength. Yet, such a boast rings hollow with five goals conceded. Goaltending, a low shooting percentage, and special teams have undercut Carolina all season and it made a big difference tonight. So that didn't exactly surprise me.
What was I surprised by was how poor the Canes were in their own end. Given that they have one of the lower shots against rates in the league, I would have expected better play. The Devils' forecheck just gave them issues throughout the night, allowing for extra zone time for the Devils. Further, the goals conceded all came from moments of defensive lapses.
Let's go over them: Mike Cammalleri scored in the first period off a great give and go with Tyler Kennedy (his first point as a Devil, his 200th of his career). No Cane could pick off the long lateral passes of that give-and-go despite their length. Lee Stempniak played Adam Henrique into the Carolina zone perfectly, leaving him all alone with Lack. Henrique torched Lack with a beautiful backhander. That goal came at the end of the first two minutes of a double minor. Seconds after the second two minutes, Stephen Gionta got free to glove down a puck, skate around the net, and beat Lack and John-Michael Liles to the post. Late in the second period, Eric Gelinas lays a hit on Andrej Nestrasil. Cammalleri passes it up-ice to Jacob Josefson, who's all alone with a defender and Kyle Palmieri as the other Canes just got caught in New Jersey's end. Josefson looks pass all the way and beats Lack with a shot. Lastly, the Canes' PK couldn't get a clearance at the end of a power play in the third period. John Moore kept it in, passed it across to Patrik Elias, who made a killer pass down low to Cammalleri. At a tight angle by the goal line, Cammalleri slid it in by a completely unaware Canes defense. On all five of those goals, Canes were caught in bad positions and the Devils took full advantage.
It could have been worse as the Devils got other one-on-one situations with Lack late in the game. The Canes' defense just got ripped apart when the opportunity presented itself. That was something I did not expect. It definitely led to tonight's big result.
The only real negative to come out of this game was that Travis Zajac left the game in the first period with an upper body injury. He did not return and it looks like he won't play tomorrow. John Hynes had to do some creative double-shifting before ultimately moving Patrik Elias to center. Jacob Josefson still got extra shifts to help fill in the gap. The Devils definitely made the most of it. It's still a notable absence when one of the team's top two centers goes out. Hopefully it's a short absence.
All the same, every Devils fan should be very happy with this game. It featured five goals, including a brace from Cammalleri and the first goals of the season for Gionta and Josefson. Kinkaid did well in a start, that should help him get more minutes later. The defense was largely good despite the amount of shots conceded; whereas the Devils kept getting odd man rushes and breaking down the defense, the Devils didn't allow many in response to Carolina. Special teams were a big plus. Even Brian O'Neil and Stefan Matteau - especially Matteau - played well. The Devils' dads were pleased, I'm pleased, coach John Hynes sounded pleased in his post-game press conference, and you should be pleased too.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Canes Country for an opposition's take on this game.
The Game Highlights: The Devils didn't just score five goals, they scored five beautiful goals. Check them out in this video from NHL.com:
Breaking Streaks: Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson did not just score their first goals of the season tonight. They scored their first goals since last season. Josefson's last goal was on April 4, 2015 against Our Hated Rivals. Gionta's previous marker was further back. It was the game decider on March 14, 2015 against Arizona. Those are 27 and 34 game droughts, respectively. They have to feel like the weight of the world is off their backs. I'm especially happy for Josefson. Whereas Gionta is used to not really getting many chances as he's a fourth liner and Stephen Gionta (although tonight, he had three shots out of six attempts), Josefson has had some glorious opportunities to score earlier this season. He's been firing the puck. Only tonight, one finally went in. And it was on a shot where he didn't even look at the goalie.
The Hottest Mike: Mike Cammalleri took two shots tonight - they both went in. Cammalleri was happy to defer and keep attacks going and it worked out for the most part. His feed to Josefson to create that 2-on-1 was excellent and I loved his pass on the rush to Kennedy that he ultimately finished. He's hot, he's been great going forward, and I can only hope it continues.
How To Make a Case for a Roster Spot: Stefan Matteau didn't have a good performance tonight. He had a great performance. As a bottom-six, kind-of energy guy, kind-of big forward down low, Matteau did it all. Matteau was on a power play unit, occupying space by the crease and he made his presence felt. He even pulled the Wayne Simmonds move of posting up at the crease, which nearly beat Lack early. Matteau was swift, physical, and aggressive with the puck. He took eight shooting attempts, four got on Lack, and he wasn't too far from scoring. He also took part of one of the chippier events of the game, where he threw down with Justin Faulk (!) during a Devils power play (!!) after several shoves in the corner. Taking out the other team's top defenseman for seven minutes? Yeah, that's a plus for New Jersey. One of his few blemishes in his performance tonight was his hooking penalty in the first period. Still, he brought energy, he made good plays on and off the puck, and he showed he can belong on a power play even if he's just a big guy in front.
Matteau played like he wants to stay in the lineup and badly. He's been on the bench for some time, scratches to Bobby Farnham and Sergey Kalinin allowed him and O'Neill to return tonight. Matteau certainly made the most of it. I like his upside more than Farnham's, for sure. I think he's definitely earned more games. It'll be hard for Hynes to disagree with a night like this one.
Kinkaid Solid: Keith Kinkaid played more like he did last season. Solid in positioning, quick to cover the puck, frequently covered the puck, and didn't leave too many loose pucks. There were a handful of reaction stops he had to make. The one goal that beat him was off a really good shot by Brad Malone. He did see it coming, though it could have been prevented had Adam Larsson knocked the puck out further - or, better, not fall down. The goal didn't shake Kinkaid and he acquitted himself well under pressure. He even kept his cool when Eric Staal knocked off his mask in the third; although, Adam Henrique certainly didn't. This is the sort of play one hopes to see from a #2 goalie; it's another positive in a night full of them.
Spreading the Minutes: Given the large lead, Hynes had the opportunity to give additional shifts to players that normally wouldn't feature all that often in the final ten minutes of the game. With a game against Philly tomorrow and already down one forward, this was a good idea. No one played more than twenty one minutes, everyone except for Zajac got at least ten and a half minutes. It speaks to how comfortable the coaches were with the four goal lead to give more shifts to Jon Merrill, Eric Gelinas, Kennedy, Jordin Tootoo, O'Neill, Matteau, etc. This should mean the top players should be a little fresher before hosting Philly.
A Finer Moment: Let's go back to that Josefson goal. The play really begins when Gelinas lays a well-timed hit on Nestrasil. One could argue it could have been a penalty. The fans were certainly expecting one. Instead, the Canes just kind of stop, the puck got free to Cammalleri, and then the pass was made up-ice. I am highlighting this moment because it was an example of Gelinas correctly checking someone. It separated the man from the puck and the best case scenario happened - a counter-attack was created. Maybe it could have been penalized, but it wasn't. It feels good to note that a notable part of Gelinas' night was in his own zone and it was a positive play.
As Expected: The Canes' best attacks of the night came from their top line. While Malone was the scorer, Elias Lindholm, Eric Staal, and Victor Rask were the more consistent threat to the Devils' skaters. They combined for nine of Carolina's 31 shots tonight. Lindholm came into this one hot with a five-game point streak; good on Kinkaid and the Devils to make sure it wouldn't be six. Jordan Staal and his unit had some strong moments, and the Faulk-Ron Hainsey pairing helped make that Rask line go. As I thought, they would drive the offense. It just wouldn't go for them, which is part of the story of the season for Carolina.
Blood Was the Turning Point: Rarely is there a clear turning point in a hockey game, but there was one tonight. The Devils were winning 1-0 when Jeff Skinner accidentally struck Lee Stempniak in the mouth with his stick. The ref took a closer look, saw blood, and decided to make it a four minute power play at the 9:04 mark. Henrique scored a second before the first minor ended and Gionta scored shortly after the second one. Good fortune that the ref saw the blood and changed the call. The original two minutes maybe could have yielded a different result. Maybe they kill it off; or maybe they only concede one and Gionta never gets near the net for his score. Of course, the four minutes were correctly given and so the Devils made it 3-0 before Carolina could really get back into the game. That was massive for this result.
One Last Thought: After several struggles against teams beneath the Devils in the standings, this one felt real good to watch and write about. Hopefully it'll give the Devils something to build on as they'll be facing more of these teams in December. The mentality - the forecheck never really stopped tonight - and the tactics were great. It should help them in future games against opponents closer to Carolina in the standings.
Your Take: The Devils blew out the Hurricanes, 5-1, and made their dads and their fans happy in the process. What's your take on tonight's performance? Which one of the five goals was your favorite? Who do you think played the best on the Devils tonight? What should the Devils learn from this win ahead of their game against the Second Rate Rivals tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's victory in the comments.
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