Luck does play a role in hockey games and that was clearly on display at The Rock this evening. The New Jersey Devils played a good, somewhat even game with the Carolina Hurricanes for two periods. It was certainly better than their previous encounter last Saturday. Yet, they ended the period down 1-2, with the Canes taking the. Whereas some teams would get more aggressive on offense, take more risks, and try to attack as much as possible, the Devils ended up getting pinned back more often than not and only put four shots on net in the period. Yet, thanks to a re-direction off a skate on one and a sharp angled shot that might have been re-directed, the Devils got two goals to win 3-2. If there's a better recent example of luck playing a big role in some games, then I'd like to know about it.
Let's discuss the two goals that won the game. First, there was the equalizer. In one of the few attacking shifts of the period, Travis Zajac found Jon Merrill open above the high slot. Merrill takes a wrister, it hits off Kyle Palmieri's skates, and gets into the net. The referees conferenced and confirmed it was a good one. Carolina's head coach Bill Peters emphatically nodded his head when asked about a challenge. The goal held up under review. Even so, as good as Zajac's pass and as good as Merrill's decision to shoot it, the goal happened from a point-blank re-direction. Then, there was the game winner. Zajac led an odd man rush and passed it to David Schlemko, who joined the rush. Schlemko lost the puck. But he recovered it along the sideboards and decided to just fling it towards the net. Just to see what would happen. It got in at the far post. I thought it hit off the inside of Justin Faulk's leg and caromed into the net. Live, I thought that perhaps Zajac or someone in front of the crease got it. The puck got nowhere near them. Upon replay, I'm not sure it hit Faulk at all. It went through him, for sure, but I don't know about a re-direction. A fortunate break, a fortunate shot, and it was just New Jersey's third shot of the period. Or their first since Palmieri's skate yielded a goal.
What can we takeaway from those goals? Well, we can note how Zajac was involved in both. It speaks to how well he played tonight. We can note how two defensemen, particularly two not known for their offense, created both goals. However, we cannot ignore that how they went in is not likely to be repeatable. They got the bounces in their favor tonight.
With that in mind, it's hard to be particularly pleased with how the third period went, much less the game overall. For two periods, the Devils and Canes traded offensive shifts for better or worse. Then, the Devils take one shot, take a long time that Carolina sort of takes advantage of, the Devils get another shot and it goes in, the Canes dominate the next five minutes or so, the Devils get a rush and get another break, and the Canes just have a desperate push with the extra skater late that results in nothing. The Devils won, but is that a good period? Is that good hockey? Honestly, I don't see how.
That being said, it's not as if Carolina just dropped a boatload of shots on Keith Kinkaid and said "Hope you like this." They controlled the puck. They pressed to attack. They took many more attempts - 21 to 6 in the third! - but most of their attempts didn't get on net. They only registered seven shots on net. Half of the non-shots were blocks by the Devils, half of the non-shots were misses, and while the Devils struggled to get exits and/or deny the Hurricanes from resetting easily to attack, they did clean up a lot of second chance opportunities around Kinkaid. My larger point is that while the Canes tilted the ice, they didn't do nearly as much as they did in the other two periods. Nor did they play like how they performed last Saturday when they did take advantage of the puck for long stretches.
Ultimately, the larger story of how the game went is easily seen in the Game Flow chart for this game at Natural Stat Trick, the site I link to in most of my recaps for advanced stats. It graphically shows how the game went and it matches from what I witnessed from Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5. The good news is that I can honestly say the Devils did play a better game than they did last Saturday. Their effort was more effective, third period aside. And, hey, they had the luck tonight, which helped them earned them two points.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Canes Country, Bob Wage has this short recap.
The Devils' First Goal: I would be remiss in not noting the Devils' first goal tonight. Bobby Farnham entered the line up and he made an impact. Not always a positive impact. Not always a negative one, either. Just a hard skating guy who doesn't seem to have a slower gear or full awareness of what's going on. Yet, in the second period, Farnham decided to go for a wraparound. There were plenty of wraparound and attempts from curling around the net early on tonight. I wonder if the Devils identified that to be a weakness of Cam Ward's game? Anyway, at the goal line, Farnham sees John-Michael Liles trying to defend him from in front of the net. Farnham puts up a wrist shot that goes off Liles' leg and up and over Ward. It was a surprising moment, certainly. It was a fun goal all the same.
The goal was a high point for the unit of Farnham, Stephen Gionta, and Jordin Tootoo. The fourth line certainly played better than they did on Saturday. As much as I didn't think much of the switch, Farnham's return was a general positive. He got a goal, he drew a penalty in the second by being interfered by Liles, and he didn't make any ghastly errors. That's a good night for most, not just an "energy guy."
Using The Fourths: The fourth line had ups, such as Farnham's goal and some of the other attacking displays they had here and there. In the third period, the one of four shots, Farnham was set up beautifully in the slot by Tootoo out of seemingly nowhere. Alas, the shot would not go. They certainly had their share of downs, though.
Some examples come to mind: Tootoo took a hooking penalty shortly after the Devils' first power play while on offense. That wasn't so smart. In the second period, Tootoo had his stick knocked away from him and spent that shift trying to start something with Jordan Staal instead of going to get a stick or trying to defend with his body. Surprisingly, he did not get a penalty. Stephen Gionta trying to chase down pucks on defense to little avail.
There was a larger problem with the unit. They had some real match-up problems. On Saturday, Elias Lindholm, Eric Staal, and Kris Versteeg saw quite a bit of Gionta's line. Not every shift, but enough to be noticible as the Devils would get pinned back. Tonight, we saw the same thing. 12-16-32 came out for several shifts against the fourths. The first shift went well for New Jersey. Since then, not so much. They certainly didn't help much - particularly Gionta - on what became Carolina's second goal tonight. The fourths also had issues with the unit led by Jordan Staal. They didn't create as much damage like a goal against, but it was also noticeable in the run of play. Seeing that the Canes didn't have the last change, that's a bit concerning that Hynes didn't really pick up on it until later. I suppose it wasn't until the GA that it was clearer. I would have liked to have them used more judiciously, especially on a night where they did add something to the game.
Those Carolina Goals: Those who were wondering when Eric Staal would show up with some points got their answers tonight. He put up a brace, two goals, on the Devils. The first play was an excellent rush up ice by Kris Versteeg and Eric Staal. Andy Greene's pinch failed him, but Sergey Kalinin was backchecking appropriately. Kalinin attempted to knock the puck off the boards and out, but Versteeg denied him as they gained the zone. It was a little 2-on-1. Kalinin reached at Versteeg, Versteeg passed it across to Staal, and before you know it, it was 0-1 Carolina. The second was more of a shock. Staal denied Greene a chance at a zone exit and Versteeg battled for the puck along the backboards with Gionta. Staal took the puck from Versteeg, turned, and potted one just inside the right post to make it 1-2. It wasn't a good goal for Kinkaid and it didn't make the Devils skaters in the area look any better. While I would dispute Versteeg getting an assist on the second one, both goals were good ones for Staal. As with last Saturday, the line of Elias Lindholm, Eric Staal, and Versteeg played very well tonight. They often led Carolina's attack and gave the Devils the most trouble over and over. The two goals really hammered that point home.
The Changes for the Devils: Hynes switched up the lines and defensemen combinations for this game. And he made further changes up front as the game went on. Let's discuss those.
For the forwards: I think the changes were good for Zajac and Palmieri. I thought they were New Jersey's best forwards tonight. Mike Cammalleri had a quiet game, highlighted by getting a potential breakaway and then losing the puck. I wonder if he's just cold now? It could be worse. I thought the changes did not go well for the likes of Tyler Kennedy, Jiri Tlusty, Stefan Matteau, Kalinin, Lee Stempniak, and Adam Henrique. Or, in other words, the second and third lines. They got beaten and didn't do a whole lot on offense. Hynes switched those players up in the third in the hopes of getting them going. They didn't go much of anywhere. Henrique was surprisingly off his game tonight from what I saw, too.
For the defensemen: The pairing of Jon Merill and Damon Severson wasn't a complete disaster. Merrill looked poor in the first period, but he settled down as the game went on. Creating the equalizing goal only helped. While he played more than Merrill, I think the reduction in competition and minutes for Severson made him look better recently. I wasn't completely sold on the other pairings. While Schlemko scored the game winner tonight, Schlemko and Adam Larsson played a lot of defense. Sometimes not very well, either. Maybe another game together will help their communication but the first impression wasn't a good one. John Moore and Andy Greene were involved in both goals against, plenty of shots against, but also plenty of shots and attempts for the Devils too. They weren't as stuck in their own end like 5-8; I think 2-6 was better at getting exits. Again, maybe another game together will help the two play off each other more effectively. But I wouldn't say I was totally impressed tonight.
Keeping the Keepers in Mind: Cam Ward actually played a fairly good game tonight. Enough for me to think that if he played like he did tonight more often, the Hurricanes would be in a far better position than where they are at. After all, the goals against weren't exactly soft ones.
Kinkaid had a good performance in general. I didn't like the second goal he gave up, but he was sound on all of the others. He didn't break down after that one. Kinkaid was forced a few times to scramble. In the third period, he appeared to have hurt his left leg on one of them. Play stopped and the trainer checked him out. Kinkaid would finish the game and would do so without too much drama. I hope he isn't hurt because as well as Albany's goaltenders have performed, I'd rather not see the goaltender depth tested.
One Last Thought: Discipline was another plus for both sides. Three penalties were called. The first power plays went well for both teams; respectable man advantage situations. The second power play by New Jersey, well, let's just say it was familiar in a bad way.
Your Take: The Devils won the first half of their back-to-back set to close out 2015. What did you think of the team's performance? Was it - the performance, not the result - better than last Saturday's in Raleigh? Why do you think the Devils' offense faded away so much in the third period? What do the Devils need to learn from this win ahead of their next game in Ottawa on Wednesday? 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 tonight. Thank you for reading.