Tonight, the New Jersey Devils won a game without playing a full sixty minutes. They were superior for the first twenty minutes, they were OK in the second twenty minutes, and then they just sat back for the final third. It was all that was necessary as the Carolina Hurricanes only played really good for that final third and they were down by a significant enough margin that a comeback was unlikely. That superior first period by the Devils featured three goals amid a lot of errors by Carolina. Short of total brilliance, the Metropolitan Division's last place team weren't going to come back from that. And they didn't.
It's not necessarily something the Devils should strive to continue, should they want to stay competitive in future games. The second period was a good example of what a team with a three-goal lead should do. They should keep looking for opportunities to counter-attack. They should strive for getting that fourth goal, especially with how poor Carolina's defense performed. And they came close. Carolina cleaned up plenty of their act, but the Devils didn't get so loose that they caught them unaware for a glorious scoring chance. That's how a team should play with a three goal lead.
The third period, on the other hand, was not. It was in that final third where Carolina dominated the puck. The shot count reflected this: 2-10 against the Devils. It's how Carolina ended the game at 19-32 in shots. In a way, it's understandable. They're in last place in the division and they're down three goals. They should take whatever attempts they can get to get back into the game. They have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, the Devils gave them plenty of chances. Much of that third period featured the players in red taking the puck up the side after finally getting it back, making a shallow dump-in that's retrieved by a defender, that defender passes it to his partner (usually, the right defenseman), and that player moved the puck up ice to gain an entry on the other wing. Wash, rinse, repeat, and so Anton Khudobin went from having to make difficult saves and wondering if his defenders had their heads straight to being bored, watching the Canes try to make a game of it.
Jeff Skinner would end the shutout. He got a pass from Alexander Semin in the slot and he had enough time to recover the puck from his skates and fire a shot past Cory Schneider. But that would be it. The Canes pulled Khudobin with three and a half minutes left. Despite three straight icings (followed by a clearance for a line change and then another icing), the Canes would not make it a one-shot game. The Devils held on even though they could have made it easier had they put in a similar effort and played with a similar mindset from the second period.
The Canes wouldn't have had to be so offensive and desperate in the third period had they played anywhere decent hockey in the first period. While the Devils made some mistakes that perhaps should have led to some punishment, the Hurricanes topped that. It's one thing to have an outlet pass on defense go off a skate and give Adam Henrique a wide open opportunity in front. It's another when the Devils pick off multiple clearances right at the blueline or right in front of it, catching the Canes by surprise. The Devils could've had way more than ten shots on net from the turnovers, but it gave the Devils' offense more opportunities than they should've had. And so the goals came.
One such turnover led to an additional attack for the Devils and eventually the first score. The Canes would get it out but not that far, so the Devils got back on side and rushed back in led by Scott Gomez. He tossed it to Adam Larsson. Larsson dropped a hammer of a shot that Tuomo Ruutu got a piece of in front of the net. Later, John-Michael Liles couldn't hold the point, Adam Henrique torches him to make it an offensive turnover, and Henrique beats Khudobin for a score. Travis Zajac begins a counter-attack initially led by Jordin Tootoo, Mike Cammalleri gave it back, Tootoo rounded the net as Michal Jordan went around the wrong way, and Andy Greene cut in to the middle uncovered (Elias Lindholm). Pass, shot, score. The Canes weren't out-done entirely from a possession standpoint, but it seemed that every time the Devils attacked, the Canes would make it an adventure in their own end. No wonder Eric Staal - who did play in this game - got mad, slashed Marek Zidlicky, and took a penalty for it.
Ultimately, that first period and those three goals were well earned. That dug the Canes in deep. While the visitors pushed hard and played much better in the third, it was enough. It may not be good enough when the Devils play a team that A) isn't near the bottom of the league and B) isn't playing like one (Vancouver). But it was good enough for tonight. Another game that proves that the Devils are bad, but not among the worst in the NHL. And one that proves that a "full 60" isn't necessary if enough damage is done during that good period.
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 Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Brian LeBlanc has this recap up at Canes Country, describing how the game went.
The Game Highlights: Tonight's highlight video is from NHL.com. It features a sweet one-on-one goal and an even sweeter score by Greene:
Kinkaid Hurt: Keith Kinkaid started tonight's game but he did not finish it. Shortly after Justin Faulk skied a shot off a rebound attempt, Kinkaid went down and play was blown dead. Kinkaid dove to his left hard, anticipating a shot coming from Faulk. The concern was that he pulled a muscle. Instead of persevering through it, the decision was made to replace him as a precuationary measure. I felt bad for him. Outside of one Hedbergian moment behind the net, Kinkaid was doing quite well in net. As the #2 guy, he doesn't get a lot of opportunities to play. He needs games to further establish that he can be relied on as a backup goaltender in the NHL. Tonight was going rather well in that regard until he got hurt.
The good news is that the injury is not that serious. As reported in this article by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Lou said that Kinkaid just "felt something in his leg" and he should be fine for Monday. There are no plans to call someone (Scott Clemmensen) up to be behind Schneider. It shouldn't be too long before we see #1 back in net.
Improved from Friday Night: I liked how the Gomez line played tonight. Jaromir Jagr was more active on offense, even if he was setting up Scott Gomez for shots. Tuomo Ruutu got a deflection and didn't do a Dainius Zubrus impersonation. Gomez was better at moving the puck and at retrieving passes. I wish he paid more attention to Skinner, as I believe that was his man in the middle on the goal against. That said, the Gomez line didn't get worked over like they did against Vancouver. I think they should've received more minutes than what they got, but they weren't as negative.
I appreciated the performance from Andy Greene and Adam Larsson. They got pinned back quite a bit. However, they didn't get into too much trouble. They didn't take any penalties. Outside of icing the puck a bunch of times in a 5-on-6 situation, they weren't undercutting the overall effort. Larsson's breakout passes for two periods were very nice. Greene made a great read to drive to the net late in the first and was rewarded with his first goal this season. He nearly got a second off a great pass by Jagr early in the third, but the re-direction attempt went wide. Their CF% was low, but that's a function of score effect plus playing a lot of minutes. Each played over 26 minutes and I'll take 5-6 over additional minutes for, say, Peter Harrold and Eric Gelinas.
Not Improved from Friday Night: Whereas the Gomez line did better, the fourth line was not at all better. Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, and Dainius Zubrus really didn't do a whole lot going forward. They weren't exactly strong in their own end. In the bigger picture, not a whole lot happened. In their defense, they got to play a lot against Eric Staal. To that extent, perhaps not having a whole lot happening is a positive of sorts. I would have preferred them to build off their collectively great game from Friday instead.
Mike Cammalleri struck iron hard on a power play - the closest the power play did to doing anything of value tonight - but other than that, his contributions were few and far between. I found this to be curious as I thought Travis Zajac was helping the cause when the Devils were rolling and Jordin Tootoo played with desirable energy again. I expect more than just one shot on target and two misses (post included) from the team's leading goal scorer. Fortunately, others did more than just chip in. I did like his pass up-ice to Tootoo as opposed to trying a more difficult cross-ice pass to Greene on the play. I just want more from him.
Just Two, But What a Two: Adam Henrique had a gift of a turnover early and didn't really get it on target. That said, #14 was ready to get behind the Carolina defense and it worked twice to great effect. The first was that one-on-one that he scored on. The second was one of the Devils' two shots in the third period. Patrik Elias sprung Henrique beyond the defense, Henrique got past him, and his close shot went up and over Khudobin. Alas, it dropped right in front of the goal line next to the post instead of getting over the line. I'll take a two-shot night if those are the two shots. Given some recent events from him - that penalty shot against Buffalo comes to mind - I suppose I should be pleased with just a shot on target. I'm actually pleased he got one goal and nearly got the other.
Icings Remain Bad: The whole sequence after Carolina pulled Khudobin was ripe for additional drama. The Devils got pinned back, struggled to win the puck in the corner, finally did so - and iced the puck. The Devils use their timeout. Another forty seconds - and then the Devils ice it just as they get a touch on it. After some more pressure, it looks like the Devils can skate it out of the zone. Then they iced it. This was dangerous as it meant 5-6-14-26-18 had to stay on the ice forever. What little break that comes with an icing call is negated by starting in one's own end and going up against either fresh opposing players or opposing players knowing the defenders are gassed. This was magnified by the Devils losing each of those three icings. And so the unit that followed were the fourths (ugh) with Zidlicky (who had a good game, actually) and Jon Merrill defending the 5-on-6 for over a minute. They also iced it in between. The good news is that Carolina struggled to get a shot through to Schneider. On another night (and against a better opponent), this could have easily led to another blown or cut lead late in regulation.
A Plea: Stop dumping the puck in on power plays. Stop dumping the puck in against a defense playing questionable hockey. Stop shallow dumping the puck when playing with a lead. Stop dumping the puck in so much. I know I'm not going to see any improvement in that regard. I can still make my plea.
Deja Vu: Upon writing this, I realized: didn't I see a game like this not all that long ago? Yes, I did. The second win against Toronto earlier this month. Just like that game, War on Ice credited the Devils with most of their shots on net being scoring chances. Interesting.
On the Crowd: Despite more snow, ice, and other Winter messiness hitting New Jersey, the crowd was rather large for a game between two bad teams. Being a Saturday night game certainly helps with that and the atmosphere. But the win and how it came about won't hurt the business. Without the winter storm, I'm sure attendance would've been even better; but I don't think the organization can complain about the gate tonight. We'll see if that's true on Monday.
Lastly: Yes, the Devils won three straight and are now within ten points of Boston for the final wild card spot in the East. No, the Devils aren't now in a position to push for the postseason. More on that with the Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot tomorrow. If you're a regular reader, then you have an idea as to why.
Your Take: The Devils won 3-1 with a performance that tailed off as time went on. What did you make of the game overall for the Devils? Which of the three goals impressed you the most? Who do you think was the best Devil? Who do you think was the worst? What would you have done differently in the third period if you were behind the bench? Isn't this far better than some of the wins from the previous homestand? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.