Cory Schneider was superb yet again. I haven't taken a hard look at everyone's stats in February but I highly doubt I'm naming anyone else for the February Devil of the Month. Tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was the exclamation mark to a month-long statement. That is, "Schneider is awesome!" After playing over sixty minutes last night against Boston, Schneider was perfect against thirty-three shots from the Blue Jackets. He had to deal with Columbus' top line - now featuring David Clarkson - ringing up a lot of shots. He had to deal with the high volume of Cam Atkinson. He made point-blank stops, he denied a handful of one-on-ones (including one "rewarded" by two skaters crashing into him), and several jamming attempts. By the final buzzer, the cannon was never fired, the home fans were silenced, and Schneider was able to celebrate an impressive shutout win. Again: Schneider is awesome!
Oh, his teammates? The rest of the New Jersey Devils? In a word, they were lackluster.
The gave Schneider the slimmest of margins to work with: a one-goal lead until Travis Zajac put home an empty netter with thirty seconds left. That empty net goal was important to secure the win. It featured some of the best passing the team had all evening. Their one goal came from Andy Greene. He made a good pass to Patrik Elias, darted through the neutral zone, received a perfect pass from Elias, and then just picked the top right corner with a perfect shot. Everything before and after those goals, well, the Devils were often less than perfect elsewhere.
That goal by Greene was the team's third shot in the first period. Their first shot came around the fifteen-minute mark. Columbus jumped ahead 0-9 in shots and dominated the run of play like Boston did in the first period. When the Devils finally got a shot on net, it was almost as if a switch was flipped, and the Devils started playing more competitively. Greene got his goal, the Devils attacked more, and it appeared that there would be more even hockey. And there would be throughout the second period. It was a sloppy second where events came in between a lot of play that can be tossed aside as "whatever." That would not last as the Blue Jackets took the third period over. I can understand a team only down one to throw plenty forward and they did, as the Blue Jackets crashed the net more and pressed for more. But the Devils seemingly helped them with each wasted power play, an unnecessary penalty, and every turnover by a bad pass or a bad read. Including the empty netter, the Devils were out-shot 5-16 in the third alone. There's score effects and there's getting outplayed. The latter applied to the Devils.
The nice way to describe this would be that the Devils "found a way to win." It's not false. They did find a way. They got one goal, leaned on Schneider all game, got lucky no stray bounce or rebound got onto a Blue Jacket's stick where Schneider couldn't make a stop, and got an empty netter. The Devils may have nothing to play for, but for the purposes of evaluation - whether it's for Monday's trade deadline, the summer, or beyond next season - the game does not reflect well on most of the team. It's imperative to play solid, competitive games to try and establish what this team should become should they want to transition towards contending instead of going towards the lottery. Alas, all we know is what we knew ahead of this game: the Devils as a team have been lackluster on the ice at best except for Cory Schneider, who is awesome.
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: Jeff Little has this recap up at The Cannon. He too praises Schneider, and deservedly so.
The Game Highlights: Andy Greene's goal was scintillating and Cory Schneider was brilliant. Here's the highlight video from NHL.com showing both:
Schneider is Awesome: It bears repeating. Thanks to these 33 saves, the finished the month with a 94.8% save percentage. Over all situations.
Same Formation, One Team's Power Play Worked, The Other's Sucked: Columbus and New Jersey both run the 1-3-1 formation for their power plays. Here's what I saw between the two:
Columbus rarely dumped the puck in. The Devils did so with regularity.
Columbus had players who could rotate and maneuver within the 1-3-1, even off the puck to force penalty killers to check them and create some space. The Devils often would not move off the puck, save for any potential receiver for a pass.
Columbus made their passes without risking too many through traffic unless a lane was present. The Devils would attempt cross-ice passes despite who would be in the area.
When there was a clearance, the Blue Jackets retrieved the puck and instead of waiting for everyone to comeback to start the play. The Devils did more waiting to get everyone to run the play before - what else? - a dump-in.
The result of all of this is that Columbus put up eight shots and narrowly missed the net a few times on their six minutes with the man advantage. Their first was their fiercest, but the other two forced Schneider to be very good at points. New Jersey had eight minutes on the man advantage, was held shot-less for four of them, put up three total, none that actually challenged Curtis McElhinney, and conceded one shorthanded shot by Ryan Johansen and a missed one by Brian Gibbons. Columbus fans can lament that their power play didn't convert, but they cannot say they didn't make the effort. New Jersey fans can lament that their power play was nothing more than a waste of time, nevermind ever close to scoring.
Clearly, a 1-3-1 formation can work, but only with success and good plans for zone entries, a plan on what to do without the puck, and the right personnel to run that formation. One of the areas the Devils can and should use the remaining nineteen games of the season to evaluate is their power play. They need to ask themselves the hard questions of how they should gain the zone, whether they have the players to make it work, and to find a coach who can do better because it surely is not Adam Oates.
No More, Please: After a bad game in Boston, Mark Fraser followed that up with one not much better. His fight was annoying as it came right after Mike Cammalleri won a puck on a forecheck. Because if there's a time to start throwing fists, it's when your team is trying to do something productive. Fraser didn't play much again and when he did, Columbus generally enjoyed playing against his "hit first, not much second" ways. If that wasn't enough, Fraser took a hooking call just as Schneider froze a puck in the third period. He had a moment where he could've redeemed himself when he joined an offensive rush coming out of the box. Travis Zajac fed him a very good pass, but Fraser put the shot just too high over the vacant top right corner. It would have been a fine moment. Alas, it was not to be and instead I'm again left wondering why Peter Harrold has to sit for him. More constructively, please come back real soon, Damon Severson.
Doing the Most with the Minutes: I'm hesitant to say any of the skaters was straight up "good," but there were players who were better than others. Here's who I would denote with that status:
Adam Larsson and Andy Greene had to play a lot of defense. In their defense, the offense didn't provide a whole lot of opportunity for respite. They did as well as they could and did it for a while as each played over twenty five minutes tonight. Greene obviously was a standout for his exceptional goal. Larsson was better in his own end tonight and while he didn't register an assist, he did assist Schneider and Greene in cleaning up the many loose pucks that resulted from Columbus' shots. Again, Larsson and Greene stand out in part because three of the other four were contentious on defense.
Among those who didn't play a supreme amount of minutes, I have to say I liked Jacob Josefson's contributions to the game. It's not common he gets a shot on net, let alone three out of five attempts. He did feature on the power play, but he was far more effective at evens (duh).
Similarly, I'm not going to complain about Marek Zidlicky putting his shots into McElhinney's torso when he's got four out of the 18 non-empty net shots that the team took. More seriously, Zidlicky was fine from what I saw. Whether or not it's his end remains up in the air and, well, up to him. It would be a fine end considering he didn't take a penalty, he wasn't passing up good shooting lanes (four shots, eight attempts), he didn't have a horrific giveaway that led to a scoring chance. Jon Merrill did a fine rendition of one in the third; by the way, the idea is to cut off Artem Anisimov, not try to destroy Schneider by crashing yourselves into him. (As an aside, Merrill was poor kind of like Gelinas was poor.)
Lastly, and somewhat surprisingly, Michael Ryder wasn't a waste of a spot in the lineup. He didn't really do a whole lot out there. But he did register two shots on net and he drew the first power play of the game. For someone who was limited to only 8:57 of ice time, that's not terrible. For someone who hasn't played in quite some time, not terrible is acceptable to me. Whether it draws someone else's interest, well, who knows.
The Impressive Opposition: Columbus really owned the Devils for the first fifteen minutes of the game and most of the third period. So I have a few good things to say about some of them. Ryan Johansen was very good in all situations and among all of their shooters, he was the one I was most fearful of. Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell, and Alexander Wennberg did a lot of damage against the Devils; they combined for ten of Columbus' 33 shots. It wasn't much time against the Fraser-Gelinas pairing, but it was enough to make it an eyesore followed by decent showings against the other two pairings. David Clarkson took his requisite unnecessary penalty (hitting Dainius Zubrus in the number into the boards, a.k.a. boarding), but he was active on offense with two shots out of seven shooting attempts, and he was narrowly close to converting that first power play of the game. I think it was an OK debut for him. I didn't think there was much to worry about with the Cody Goloubef and Dalton Prout pairing, but they were at the points when Columbus attacked the most at evens. They did well. Curtis McElhinney had a very good game in net. I don't think he should feel bad about the goal Greene scored; and it's not like his teammates gave him much else to work with. Still, he had to make some solid stops to keep it close.
More Acting: That said, McElhinney totally oversold the contact Mike Cammalleri gave him in the second period. He jumped at the contact. Jumped! Come on. Fortunately, that power play did not result in a goal.
More Invisible: I had to look this up: Adam Henrique did indeed play tonight, Patrik Elias did also play shifts after that perfect pass to Greene for the goal, and Scott Gomez and Tuomo Ruutu were also was active tonight. I would have liked to have seen more from Cammalleri, Zajac, and Jordin Tootoo, as well; but I was bothered more by the others I named when it came to not contributing much in the game. And one wonders why the Devils out-shot 19-33 overall and 16-24 at even strength.
What Happens Next: The Devils are off until March 3. The NHL Trade Deadline is on March 2. I will have an open post for all trade deadline action open tomorrow evening. This way any late scratches or pre-deadline-day-deals or have a place to be discussed. Any deals the Devils will make will be given their own posts. There will also be a round-up post in the early evening. The Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot will still go up tomorrow morning and somewhere amid all of this there will be a month in review post. One that will likely exalt Schneider again for an excellent performance in February, which ended with tonight's shutout.
So, there many be some old faces gone, maybe a new face, or maybe not much happening at all. All the same, the evaluation necessary that comes with a "transition" will continue and so performing well is paramount for those who wish to stay in New Jersey even if they're not traded by Monday at 3 PM EST.
Your Take: The Devils won on the strength of a really pretty goal thanks largely to Cory Schneider, who is awesome. What did you make of tonight's performance? Did you think anyone outside of Schneider can really say they had a good game? If so, who? Can this power play be salvaged? What about getting dominated for long stretches at a time, can that be addressed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2-0 win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.