Well played. It does not mean greatness. It does not mean exceptional. It does not mean average. It certainly doesn't mean perfection. It means that, overall, things were pretty good. There were some areas that could've been better, areas where the Devils were just better, and some other stuff in between. It is the quick summary of how the New Jersey Devils played against the Vancouver Canucks tonight, in a 4-2 win.
The win was not only appreciated by the thousands at the Rock and the many Devils fans around the world. Calgary, Los Angeles, and San Jose supporters were pleased with the Devils spoiling Vancouver in regulation. Whereas the "transitioning" Devils have nothing to play for, the Canucks absolutely do. Calgary won't overtake Vancouver tonight, but they're lurking right behind them along with the two California teams. Whatever was gained by Vancouver pulling two points out of New York was definitely undercut by dropping points to a bottom-third-bound team.
They really have themselves to blame for that since they played a rather poor first period and had a bad start to the second. The Devils were moving the puck well, they were dominating the neutral zone, and they really took it to Eddie Lack early on. Even when the Devils were unable to put the puck on frame, their possession helped Vancouver stay back. The Devils killed an early too many men on the ice call with ease, they challenged Vancouver's weakened defensemen at the points and won many battles, and they generally controlled the game. It was a very nice start. Patrik Elias scoring from the side-boards was a surprise since there's a reason why a lot of goals aren't scored from there. What's more is that the Devils kept it up for the early part of the second period and yielded more rewards. Jordin Tootoo took a breakout pass from Adam Larsson, powered forward (Luca Sbisa falling like a Flyer helped), and forced Lack to give up a really weak goal through the five-hole to make it 2-0. The Devils tripled it when Mike Cammalleri hammered a shot through traffic to convert a power play. At that point, the Devils had as many goals as the Canucks had shots. Simply, the Canucks weren't just tired, they were just collectively lost and the Devils led them down a three-goal deficit hole.
At about the same point, the Canucks decided that misfiring on passes and getting beaten by simple chips-and-chases was a bad idea and decided to move the puck well. At that point, the game would become a game. It wasn't just simple score effects taking over. The Sedin twins started to play like they're known for instead of playing like two regular dudes who happened to have the same last name. Their fourth line started to bring more than just warm bodies to the ice. Their puck control improved and they caught the Devils unaware a number of times. The Sedins took advantage of a bad chip by Eric Gelinas out of the zone. Zach Kassian, moved up to take a lot of shifts with the Sedins in place of an injured Alexandre Burrows, got past Gelinas and chipped a puck past Cory Schneider. That was their first goal. Kassian would get a second goal as the uncovered man in a 3-on-2 counter attack early in the third. Daniel Sedin took it up ice, Henrik Sedin sent a wobbly puck across to Kassian, and Kassian arced it enough past Schneider and just inside the goal. The Canucks had life and they threatened at times to equalize.
However, this wasn't some Devils meltdown in progress. Yes, the Canucks forced the Devils to have some bad shifts in their own end. Peter Harrold and Eric Gelinas "enjoyed" a nightmarishly long shift in the second period as various Canucks swarmed it up. The Scott Gomez unit was just not helping much on defense. Adam Larsson and Andy Greene had their hands full at times. The big difference was that the Devils gave back what Vancouver dished out. They kept the Canucks honest and even caught them by surprise multiple times by springing players for two-on-ones and near-breakaways. The Devils didn't take enough advantage of them, but they certainly gave Vancouver pause about being too aggressive. They put up about as many shots on Lack as the Canucks put on Schneider, and they gave certain lines (namely the one led by Shawn Matthias) a lot of grief. That's keeping an opposition honest in light of a comeback attempt. That's what the Devils should strive for and with a bit of luck and some better decisions in odd man rushes, there could've been a fourth GA for Lack.
Alas, the fourth marker came against an empty net. Willie Desjardens pulled Lack when Jon Merrill broke his stick (Adam Henrique gave him his stick) and the Canucks pushed real hard for an equalizer with an effectively 6-on-4 situation. They instead got a power play thanks to Marek Zidlicky (I'll explain that in a bit), but the Devils weathered an initial storm and when Lack got pulled near the end of the advantage, the opportunity to ice the game came. Mike Cammalleri did it from distance, driving a nail into the comeback efforts. Lack was pulled again, Cammalleri got blocked on a second ENG attempt, the Devils prevented any nonsense, and Elias hit the frame just as the game ended. There was drama in the third, but it was lessened when the Devils attacked and forced even Vancouver's best players to play some more defense than offense in a one-goal game. Again, that lines up with what a well played game looks like. Could have it been better? Of course. Should have it been better? Perhaps. But it wasn't mediocre, it wasn't a case of bad beating worse, and it wasn't a dreadful sight. I will take this as Vancouver fans have to wonder whether this result will come back and haunt them.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Nucks Misconduct, vancitydan has this recap about a comeback effort that fell short.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video of tonight's game, featuring one sweet looking score by Tootoo. No, there was no banana peel Luca Sbisa slipped on in the neutral zone.
Your Flying Energy Player: Jordin Tootoo had a game of two halves. The second half was the defensive half. Tootoo did not help much on defense. He wasn't bad, but he was often high up the boards, waiting to help get a puck out. Good in some cases, not good when it came to having to pressuring a point man. That was the half I did not like. I was also not surprised. Part of the reason he's usually in the bottom six and usually on the fourth line is that he isn't good enough in his own end of the rink enough to more minutes against better players.
The other was the offensive half and that half nearly blew my mind. Tootoo was skating hard, skating fast, and just as importantly, skating with purpose. He drove to the net, he kept the puck moving through the neutral zone and in deep, and he moved well off the puck to get in positions for shots. Tootoo led the Devils with five shots on net and six shooting attempts. His goal was just sweet. It was one Lack totally should've stopped, but Tootoo looked like he belonged on a line with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac when the play was going forward. He played with the energy that often gets discussed to justify the use of a depth forward but is not always seen.
Speaking of Energy and Depth Players...: How about that fourth line tonight? Vancouver's own fourth line, led by Bo Horvat (a.k.a. the cost of Cory Schneider), was quite good. So was New Jersey's. Jacob Josefson was firing what few attempts he had at the net really hard. Dainius Zubrus played like Zubrus would in past seasons, drawing plenty of attention in the corners and still winning pucks. He even dove at Lack's glove after he just covered up an open and in-close attempted by Stephen Gionta. He was moving real well. Gionta was like a water-bug, just getting where he needs to be and annoying defenses with how he got around. A much better night than his return to the rink on Tuesday night. Overall, they played a good game - far better than what they did against Buffalo.
How Not To Help Your Price: Jaromir Jagr had some flashes of showing off his strength and puck control. Alas, he only had the one shot on net. Many of his offensive passes didn't go well, though it wasn't always his fault. Scott Gomez seemed to have trouble receiving some otherwise easy-looking passes. Often, those pucks bouncing off his stick led to a clearance or a counter-attack by Vancouver. Tuomo Ruutu played more like Zubrus has been for most of this season. You would notice him - and then notice he's not doing too much good. Defensively, this line wasn't helping out the defenders as much as they could have and that really hurt at times. Their most common defensive pairing was Peter Harrold and Gelinas, two guys who could use all the help they can get in their own end of the rink. In theory, you'd think Gomez, Jagr, and Ruutu can out-do Horvat, Jannick Hansen, and Ronalds Kenins. Not so tonight. They lost that match-up and it contributed to why they didn't do much whereas Elias, Zajac, Mike Cammalleri (it would've been fun if he got a hat trick comprising of a PPG and two ENGs), and Tootoo seemed to be creating and taking opportunities for offense. For those pulling for a Jagr trade, that kind of stinks.
The Method to His Madness: Marek Zidlicky had a good game tonight. Some nights (or shifts), he'll make some odd decisions that confirm one's theory that he understands what he's doing but few others - including his teammates - do. Tonight, Zidlicky kept that maddening stuff to a minimum. He was good at moving the puck, he attempted a bunch of shots instead of passing or delaying too much for a shot. He also made a bold decision in the third period.
Zidlicky and Merrill didn't get pinned back often, but they were in a dire situation. Merrill broke his stick, Henrique had to give him his, the Canucks (with Kassian and Henrik Sedin) pinned the Devils back such that 2-7 were out there for nearly two minutes. Desjardens pulled Lack, boldly adding another attacker to make life more difficult. With the puck in the air in front of the net, Zidlicky decided to grab it and fling it over the goal. He got caught as he closed his hand on the puck. The fortunate news was that the referees did not decide to award a penalty shot. Apparently, if the puck was below the cross bar, grabbing the puck would be the equivalent to denying a scoring opportunity. The refs could not determine that it was, such a thing is not reviewable, and so the Devils had to go on a PK.
It worked out. Not just because the penalty kill survived an early scare, handled it's business beyond that, and Cammalleri iced the game near the end. No, the call forced a stoppage in play. That allowed the Devils to get a much-needed rest. With time ticking down, Vancouver was going to go all out for an equalizer and so being in a situation where the Devils can just fire pucks down the length of the rink without dealing with icing. Plus, with the Sedins playing so much of their power play, this means less time for them - or a more fatigued set of twins - as time ran out. If Vancouver does score, there would at least be some time for New Jersey to get the lead back. It's not the worst risk to take, even if putting the team down a man is generally a bad idea. But the Devils just endured that for thirty seconds and their penalty kill was very good earlier in the game. Essentially, I wasn't unhappy with Zidlicky taking that penalty and his risk was rewarded. I understood what he was doing. (If some of the scouts tonight did as well, then it may help Zidlicky's price too.)
Similarly, I really liked Jon Merrill tonight too. He was very solid and he didn't have the nightmare shifts Gelinas and Harrold had a few. He looked and played like the defenseman that fans have faith that he will be good someday. Larsson-Greene were OK but Merrill-Zidlicky were the standouts on defense from what I saw.
Speaking of Standouts: Man, the Devils loved playing against Sbisa and Alex Biega! They were defensemen who got to play a lot of defense tonight. They got run over from a possession standpoint. Sbisa just fell over from a Tootoo goal highlight standpoint. Similarly, the Matthias, Derek Dorsett (by the way, sweet penalty way away from the play in the third period, alas New Jersey didn't make Vancouver suffer for it), and Brandon McMillian line got to enjoy playing around Lack more than Schneider. It may not mean much now, but it's nice to see that the Devils can dominate specific units all game long.
For the opposite, Canucks who were good, the Sedins eventually played like I thought they would: making and completing dangerous passes to create offense. Radim Vrbata was thankfully a non-factor, but it was Zach Kassian on their right wing who was doing the damage. While he got two fortunate re-directions for goals, that unit of 33-22-9 was legitimately strong after the Devils went up 3-0. They carried the bulk of Vancouver's offense and caused the most problems. Kassians' five shots impressed me much more than the four shots from Chris Higgins (I almost forgot he played tonight) and Bo Horvat.
Lastly: Shooting attempts follow the same feeling I had about this game from a team standpoint. At even strength, the Devils led 14-8 in the first period followed by 13-12 in the second, and 10-12 in the third. It speaks to the fact that the Devils were better in the first and while Vancouver had some good stretches, the Devils weren't sitting back at all. Being up three goals usually brings about a swing in attempts against, but the Devils kept up with Vancouver. It may have been low-event hockey, but the Devils won it overall there and got the goals to win the game overall. Hence, a well-played game.
Your Take: Any reason to celebrate this win will be short-lived as the Devils have Carolina tomorrow night. Still, the Devils got a lead, never relinquished it, and took the game. I think that's a good thing. What about you? What's your take on tonight's performance? Who impressed you from the Devils tonight? Who on the Devils did you think needed to do better tonight and should try to do better on Saturday night? Was this the sort of performance you'd like to see more of from the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.