For years of my life, I have read that the New Jersey Devils are boring. That they're bad for the game with their commitment to defensive hockey, the neutral zone trap back when it was a thing everyone ran, and their way of keeping games low and close. This was commonly put out there by boring members of the media and fans of opposing fans frequently reeking of sour grapes. Now, if those same people were to see what the crowd saw at the Rock tonight between the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators, then they would actually have a point - for both teams. Alas, they are likely distracted by a shiny object or whatever is now the hottest outrage of the day.
Seriously, this game featured a grand total of thirty nine shots on net and only 67 shooting attempts. The Senators out-attempted the Devils, but a significant portion of their thirty nine attempts ended up hitting a Devil or missing the net, so they ended up with a mere twenty shots on net. The Devils fell early to missing the target but eventually reverted to not often getting even that as the game progressed. There was stretches of the game where I wondered whether either team wanted this game. It dawned on me: I've seen this array of horrid passing and terrible on-the-puck decisions before. It was last Wednesday against Toronto, which was also a very difficult game to watch that the Devils eventually won.
Tonight yielded the same result, though in a different manner. The Devils won in regulation by a score of 2-1. After Curtis Lazar scored a rather odd breakaway goal (more on that later in this recap), it didn't take the final minutes of the game for an equalizer to be scored. Adam Henrique slid a sharp-angled shot past Robin Lehner less than two minutes after Lazar's score to make it 1-1. The Devils got their breakthrough goal about five minutes into the third. Jaromir Jagr protected the puck in the corner while taking Patrick Wiercioch to school (The Jagr Academy?) in the process. Jagr came up the sideboards, found Mike Cammalleri open towards the slot, and Cammalleri ripped one home. The Devils held on, mostly away from the net though the Sens would get some dangerous chances. Bobby Ryan had the whole net to tie up the game with seconds left, actually. In a play indicative of the night in general, Ryan received the puck off his skateblade and by the time he was going to get his blade on the puck, a defender - Adam Larsson - denied him the chance.
Cammalleri's goal was a not-so-novel concept on display: get the puck in a good position and shooting it. It's worth noting because this went against most of the Devils' actions tonight. Too many times the Devils had an opportunity to make an offensive play like attempting a shot while open or hitting a teammate with a pass. Those were chances left begging to be taken advantage of, as a result, Ottawa didn't pay too often for their own errors and the Devils couldn't take a game that was for the taking. The Senators can claim the same sort of issue, only more accuracy could have given them more than the twenty shots they put on Cory Schneider. So it can be argued that the Devils weren't as bad at moving the puck up-ice as they were in their last three games. But when situations come up where a shot should be expected and none keep happening, then what progress was truly made?
Like last Wednesday's game, the Senators were just as poor in executing their own game plan and never made the adjustments to make things better. They got some opportunities well-denied but they could have had so much more. This continues a theory I've been having about the Devils: if the opponent isn't good and/or isn't effectively moving the puck, then the Devils have a chance. If they are good and/or they are moving the puck crisply and in stride, then the Devils are in deep trouble. Tonight was another example of the former situation, only the Devils didn't take full advantage. When Schneider (or Keith Kinkaid) isn't so amazing or the team's opponents get better or just play well, then the Devils' performance will yield L's instead of W's. That did not happen tonight. And so the crowd left mostly happy at the result, though I wouldn't begrudge them if they were bored throughout most of the game.
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 Opposition Opinion: Over at Silver Seven, nkb has a recap that begins with "It was a game that happened in February." Couldn't agree more with that.
The Game Highlights: Yes, there were highlights in this one. Check out this video from NHL.com:
Schneider!: Schneider was very good without having to make 40+ saves. I like that. I enjoy Schneider's play. As should all Devils fans.
Happy Birthday, Zidlicky: Today was Marek Zidlicky's birthday. And the Rock got to witness some full-on Zidlicky tonight. There was Zidlicky jumping up on offense, taking the puck and proceeding to do nothing all that useful with it when he could have just shot the puck. There was Zidlicky getting beaten at the point that led to a goal against. There was Zidlicky being questionable in his own end of the rink, highlighted by Milan Michalek getting multiple rebound chances late in the game after an Erik Karlsson shot. There was Zidlicky contributing to the scoresheet. He recovered a puck he lost and tossed a short pass to Henrique, who ripped the puck into the net. Had he made a heinous giveaway and taken a stupid minor penalty, then this would have been a peak Zidlicky kind of night for the now-38 year old. Now, I await hearing how other NHL teams who want to improve their defense would want this kind of player.
Happy Birthday, Merrill: Today was also Jon Merrill's birthday. He was mostly on the same pairing with Zidlicky while also receiving a significant amount of power play ice time. The less said about the power play for either team, the better. Merrill was a bit more active in his own end of the rink than Zidlicky. He wasn't so heinous that he could be noticed like, say, Mark Fraser. He wasn't losing pucks like Peter Harrold. That said, he didn't make all that much of a mark on the game. While he's a defenseman, the point is to make stops and get the offense going forward. He did the former decently enough, but the latter part left a lot to be desired. Then again, getting the offense going was rather poor across the board from all the skaters. After all, the team took one shot (and hit one post) across three power plays, they put up nineteen all game, and they only attempted twenty eight shots on net. In any case, Merrill looked OK to me and the numbers suggest the same. It probably helped that he didn't get healthy doses of one particular unit like Larsson-Greene did and that he wasn't with Harrold or Fraser.
As an aside, co-coaches, please spare me from a Harrold-Fraser pairing again. Thank you.
A Short Set of Feelings on the Power Play: Seriously, stop setting plays for Jordin Tootoo in the middle and stop using him on the power play. Also, consider actually making direct passes to each other instead of dumps and sneaky little passes just over the blueline. And stop putting that back one in peril for shorthanded situations, which happened more than once tonight. The first one wasn't so bad, but the possession was horrid on the other two. Let's focus on getting better by putting proper players on each unit, and, no, Tootoo isn't proper.
Hadlat: Martin Havlat had himself a rough night in my opinion. He only had the one shot on net, which isn't so bad by itself but he wasn't all that helpful in getting others shots, either. His passing was rather off the mark. Whether it was a pass to an otherwise open Travis Zajac to his skates on a power play or missing Patrik Elias by feet in the dying minutes of the game, where the Devils forced Lehner back into his net and could've had a great scoring opportunity, Havlat just appeared to be out of sync. This included his zone entries, which led to a few offside calls. He also committed one of the more bizarre plays I've seen in some time. In the second period, he skated the puck out his zone, skated along the blueline, and ultimately ran out of space towards the sideboards and lost the puck to a Senator who was now on-side thanks to Havlat. I know Michael Ryder has been scratched the last few games. Maybe #9 should come out for #17.
Speaking of Switches: While each scored on their respective lines, I think it's worth considering swapping Adam Henrique with Dainius Zubrus and make the Cammalleri line higher over the Scott Gomez line. The Gomez line didn't do much outside of the goal. Neither did the Cammalleri line. Henrique and Cammalleri, tonight's goal scorers, each only had two and one shots, respectively. The others on that line combined for three shots, one for every non-Gomez linemate. It should've been four but Scott Gomez demonstrated that you can take a puck to the net and manage to not shoot it. In any case, these lines aren't generating many shots, they're not generating many offensive plays, so in spite of the notion of "wins mean don't change anything," I think the co-coaches should try a change with those lines. It's not really working, goals notwithstanding.
The Saddest Breakaway Goal: Oh, Curtis Lazar's goal was just sad. The crowd didn't even boo after the goal. They were just saddened by it, partially due in part of the run of play that preceded it by the Devils. I identified the wrong players live, but upon watching the video, I now know what went on.
Zidlicky gets beaten at the point by Mike Hoffman, whose pass springs Lazar in the middle of the ice. Cammalleri makes a token swing towards the puck but missed him by a mile. This may have been for communication and, if so, Andy Greene received it way too late for it to matter. Lazar saw the stick swing, powered forward afterwards, and then lost control of the puck while stickhandling it. As he came closer to Schneider, he attempted to backhand the puck back to himself for a forehanded shot. He ended up backhanding it forward. While that was happening, Schneider went in on Lazar tight. So the backhander that Lazar didn't quite pull off went past Schneider and into the net. Just an ugly play all around by New Jersey. It was Lazar's second of the season, so I'm sure he'll remember it more fondly despite not actually putting a direct shot on Schneider on the play. It was sad live and upon replay.
I Apologize: I have lamented the fan who yells "SHOOOOOOOT" everytime a Devil has the puck and they are anywhere near the offensive zone. Often, this is yelled when a Devil is in a terrible position to shoot. Like when they're on the sideboards. Or they're not facing the net. Or they do not have the puck. When a shot does come and usually fails (misses, blocks, etc.), I derisively state "Well, you got your shot. Happy now?" Tonight, I am very sorry and I now know what they meant. As time went on, I would've preferred the Devils to just rip it more. No more of this shot-pass from a free shot in the high slot by Steve Bernier. None of this carry-it-in-and-do-anything-but-fire-away stuff we see from Zidlicky. An end to the gain-the-zone-have-a-lane-but-pass-it-to-not-appear-selfish junk. Shoot! Devils, you went three straight games not even putting up twenty shots on net - even when your opponents do and they weren't so great either (Pittsburgh excepted). So SHOOOOOOOT. Please.
No, There Is No Playoff Push: If you read the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot, then you already know this. If not, let's be real. Yes, the Devils are 4-0-1 in their last five games. They are currently twelve points behind the last wild card spot in the East: Boston with 61 points and one fewer game played than the Devils. If the Devils could keep up this pace, then perhaps one is possible. But that would require the Devils to not lose in regulation and for all the other teams around them to be bad too. That's not happening. So just enjoy the wins, even though the performances certainly have not been enjoyable.
No, There Is No Winning Out of a Draft Pick: For those of you who think an 18-year old prospect is going to solve a lot of this team's ills, then I implore you to watch these last few games. Even a great young player isn't going to be enough to fix all of this. But more importantly than that, do not fear of the Devils moving out of the bottom ten anytime soon. The Devils have been out-shot regularly this season and significantly as of late. They have repeatedly shown that they struggle to string passes together and make good decisions on the puck in all three zones. When Schneider/Kinkaid stop being excellent, these close wins will turn into close losses. And when the Devils go back to playing teams with a playoff shot or teams who are actually good at puck possession (even for the night), the L column will increase. A lot has to go right for the Devils to end up eleventh from the bottom. So don't fret about the winning. The way they've done it so far isn't sustainable.
Lastly: I sat in my usual seat through the second intermission, so I got to see Deb Kaufman-Placey interview Adam Henrique from the MSG+ broadcast. She honestly stated that this was a "big game" and these two teams were playing close to the vest like it was a playoff game. I know she has to spin it to not be depressing about it, especially in front of a player who is still playing in the game. But please don't insult my intelligence. The game was closer to a preseason performance than anything that is seen in the playoffs; and neither team has anything of note to play for given their current position. Again, there's no playoff push nor push to get out from the bottom ten.
Your Take: The Devils did win again but in a fashion that doesn't go with winning all that often. Did anyone on either team really impress you tonight? How did you react when Cammalleri scored? How about when Ryan didn't score at the end of the game? Can the Devils' play be fixed in time to avoid a repeat performance against Toronto on Friday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.