In the bigger picture, I got what I wanted. This game between the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins was better than the last one. This game did not hurt my soul. This game did not offend me on an existential level. The Devils did not get tripled in shot differential and somehow got dragged into overtime. This is not to say this game was good. Oh, no. The Devils were out-played again by a superior opponent. Just that this wasn't as horrid.
The Devils shut out the Penguins 2-0 and it's largely thanks to one player. The one member of the team who has been magisterial since the calendar turned to 2015. The one man who's been The Man for the franchise in this lost 2014-15 campaign. The goaltender who better at least get some Vezina consideration for how well he's doing. The red-headed fellow who puts most of the eighteen others skaters active in the game on his back and keeps them in games they have no right being in. I'm talking about none other than Cory Schneider.
Once again, Schneider was great. He stopped 35 shots and a re-direction on net by Dainius Zubrus. In his defense, per this post-game tweet by Tom Gulitti, Schneider revealed that if Zubrus didn't try to get a piece of that puck, Sidney Crosby would've had the whole net to shoot at. Everyone on the Penguins got at least one shot on net. The line led by Crosby was constantly in New Jersey's end. He was supported well by Chris Kunitz on his wing and in the back with Kris Letang and Paul Martin. It certainly didn't help that Crosby's most common match-up at even strength was the mighty unit of Stephen Gionta, Zubrus, and Peter Harrold. Spoiler: those three Devils didn't do well.
But the Pens were more than just #87's line doing good work getting forward and getting good support from their top pairing. Christian Ehrhoff and Ian Cole were dropping long shots and getting them on frame, as they had four shots on net each. Players on deeper lines like Beau Bennet, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, and Daniel Winnik were kicking tails and taking names from a possession standpoint. (Aside: Oh, the Zajac line, tsk tsk tsk.) Blake Comeau and David Perron added additional energy and gave the Devils issues at times. Even guys like Andrew Ebbett and Craig Adams got a shot on net that forced a solid stop from Schneider. Everyone on Pittsburgh put in the effort to score, they made the Devils look real foolish, and there were plenty of times where Schneider just did it himself. In a game like hockey, that can often go awry. Not tonight, though, thanks to Schneider.
As the game went on, the Penguins just tilted the ice against New Jersey throughout the third period as the Devils scrambled to get the puck out - usually to ice it. Ultimately, the Devils were still out-shot, 19-35, which is still a hefty margin despite not being a 1:3 ratio like the last contest. Attempts similarly favored Pittsburgh as the Devils put up a paltry 27 attempts on Thomas Greiss and the Pens put up 49. That's been the story throughout this season. So has been the fact that the Devils "helped" the Penguins many times in this regard. The Devils got called for icing the puck many times because, well, they iced it a lot. That meant more defensive zone starts for tired players. The Devils struggled with their zone exits, which caused further distress. Especially as time went on, the zone entries, with several Devils thinking they can chip-and-chase against Pittsburgh. We learned they could not. The Devils got two power plays and absolutely squandered them. Schneider got one goal to work with and that was all until an empty netter sealed it. Just like a handful of games fans can recall from the past two months.
The goal itself was pretty sweet. Eric Gelinas started that shift by turning and flinging a lofted puck out of his zone off a turnaround backhander in the face of light pressure. He would eventually redeem himself when he carried a puck out, got around Craig Adams in the process, and put the puck up off the boards to Michael Ryder before the blueline. (Yes, Gelinas did a successful breakout. I'm a little shocked at that fact too.) Ryder chipped the puck toward the middle, perfectly into space for Jacob Josefson to get on it. Josefson had the puck and nothing but him and Greiss. He beat Greiss high with a wonderful wrister. Unfortunately, that would be it in terms of goals. Very pretty, but only one. It was also one of the last bits of actual offense as the Devils put a paltry four shots on net in the third, one of which was an empty netter. Pittsburgh, encouraged by score effects, a Devils team not playing well, and able to impose their will from a puck movement standpoint, would put up 13 on Schneider in the third. I repeat: Schneider was wonderful in stopping all of them, from long shots through traffic to close rebounds and jam plays.
Despite the Devils getting pounded, I was strangely compelled by the last ten minutes. At some point, I just stopped tweeting updates and I was just secretly hoping that it wouldn't come. You know. An errant bounce. A deflection. A re-direction. A fluke. A turnover that leads to a killer play. A killer play on it's own because, hey, Crosby can do that thing incredibly well. Despite the team's performance, I didn't want Schneider to suffer a disappointing equalizer no matter how much Pittsburgh deserved it. I didn't want the Rock to be totally let down. I wanted that shut out. If Schneider is going to be stuck behind this squad and play this great, then I want him to get that 1.00 Sv% on the box score. I want the evidence that he was exceptional on that night. And so I was jubilant, as were the thousands and thousands at the arena when Adam Henrique - he did play tonight - sailed in a shot from the neutral zone into the empty net and when the final buzzer sounded. Schneider got the SO. Schneider displayed stupendous ownage of his crease. Schneider proved without a shadow of a doubt that he's the best player on the New Jersey Devils, he's the real MVP, and he should be cherished by every Devils fan around the globe.
Yes, I may be a bit dramatic, but again, this was yet another game where he dragged eighteen other guys to a positive result despite being outplayed. Again, this was better than the 1/30 game, but there was enough bad aspects in it to not say it was good at all with one exception: Schneider.
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 Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Hooks Orpik agreed in his recap at PensBurgh: Cory Schneider was the man.
The Game Highlights: Josefson's goal and the Cory Schneider show. That's all you need to know and that should be enough to watch this NHL.com provided video:
Boohoo: Before I get into the parts of the game that proverbially grinded my gears, let's talk about power plays. The Penguins got none. The Devils got two. The Penguins could have received one had Daniel Winnik not sold a Mark Fraser hook - not sure why it was called a trip, the stick was at the waist - like he got shot in the chest with a cannon. The referee was having none of that embellishment and so that became a 4-on-4 that was almost like a power play for Pittsburgh anyway. One could argue that there should've been a tripping call on Kris Letang late in the game. But, again, Letang flopped several feet in front of the contact and slid to the point of embellishment. Maybe if he didn't oversell it - or if it wasn't the last few minutes of the game - that could've been a call.
It's really a moot point because, again, the Penguins really controlled the game. They out-shot the Devils in the first period and those 14 shots included some glorious chances featuring multiple one-on-ones with Schneider and rebound opportunities where Schneider had to do it all himself. The second period was more even, sure, but the Pens had their chances and could've had more if they didn't squander most of New Jersey's turnovers. The third period was pretty much all Penguin hockey. The problem for the Penguins was not receiving a power play. The problem was Cory Schneider. They couldn't beat him despite the skaters in front of him allowing an array of opportunities to do so. Too bad. At least the Letang kept his mouth shut unlike Sunday afternoon.
Dump This: If the New Jersey Devils want to improve in the long-term, they need to get a coach and plenty of players who do not have a dump-first-chase-second-ask-questions-later mentality. While Pittsburgh's defense was very good, the Devils were able to win some pucks on the forecheck and get some turnovers in the neutral zone. The Pens defenders weren't just standing guys up at the blueline left and right. Yet, too many times, the Devils elected to dump the puck in. Adam Henrique skating it up ice from his own end? Dump. Anyone on the bottom six get past the red line? Dump. Power play? Dump. Keeping the puck in the zone on the power play? Dump. Steve Bernier has it in the neutral zone? Dump. Again, this is a strategy that can work if the Devils are fast, the opposition isn't quick enough to get on it, and the Devils are strong enough to force board battles to regain possession. We know that the Devils are not fast, the Penguins were quick enough to get on the pucks first - and usually fast enough that there wasn't even a battle. This mentality is one of the few holdovers from the past that's actually holding the Devils back in game situations. It will take time and resources to get away from that. Yes, there are times where a dump-in is necessary, but the Devils demonstrated tonight that they do it a lot and it was to their detriment tonight.
And, seriously, who dumps the puck on a power play? There are five attackers and four defenders. Find the open man! If he's not open, move!
Too. Many. Icings.: The cousin to the dump-in is the icing. A far worse occurrence as it forces a defensive zone faceoff and the players on the ice have to remain on the ice. The Devils missed on many attempts at long passes as well as getting stuck in their own end, that it's done out of desperation. There were a total of thirteen icings and only one was by Pittsburgh. Further, the Penguins won most of the faceoffs off of those icings. It was mindboggling to see so many early on - four in the first four minutes! - and again later in the game when Pittsburgh pressed real hard for an equalizer. All it does is give the opposition help. It did not burn them tonight, but it speaks to how the Devils skaters did as a whole.
WHY: I can appreciate not having Michael Ryder with Stephen Gionta and Dainius Zubrus if the gameplan was to have Gionta's line go up against Crosby's. Peter Harrold is not a good defender, but he's world's better than Ryder in his own end of the rink. But seriously, Gionta, Zubrus, and Harrold against Crosby, Kunitz, and Perron/Comeau. What legitimate NHL coach who wants to try and win games would want to do that on purpose? Why, oh, why was that an actual match-up?
Surprise, surprise, the Devils didn't win that match-up! As tenacious as Gionta can be and for all of the energy Harrold may have, that's not nearly enough to justify that line going up against one of the best players in the world with two secondary scorers, one of whom has been a frequent teammate of Crosby. My fear is that since they didn't get scored on, this may justify that line against another top unit in another game. I'm still trying to figure out why.
Could I have chosen something better? Sure. I'm a fan, so I'm coming from a proverbial armchair anyway. While Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Jordin Tootoo really struggled against Spaling & Co., why not mix up the lines if there's going to be a dedicated line to go against Crosby? Put Zajac, Henrique, and Gionta together. All three kill penalties, they understand how to do things in their own end, and they'll get away from players who may drag them down defensively (e.g. Tootoo, Steve Bernier, Zubrus, Scott Gomez). Gionta may be on the off-wing, but the point is to slow down #87 so others can go forward. The Pens didn't have Patric Hornqvist or Evgeni Malkin, so the Devils could've got away with loading up one line to go up against the other team's remaining great forward. The Devils aren't going anywhere, so why not experiment? We'll never know now, but it'd be something I can stomach at first a lot better than 8-11-10 getting on the ice almost every time Crosby did. If I have to witness them going up against Tavares or Perry or Stamkos or other top lines, then I'm just going to keep shaking my head in despair as Gionta falls trying to keep up with the ace on that line. You know, like he did tonight.
Pro-Tips: Steve Bernier, I'm not sure if you read this site (probably not), but when you get the puck in the slot going forward on offense, just shoot it. The right play is usually not going to be what you did tonight: choosing to backhand pass it to nobody but an opposition player. It's those decisions that make coaches unhappy in addition to fans groaning at the decision.
Scott Gomez, stop trying to make cross-ice passes across traffic when you're not even hitting shorter passes. One of which killed one of the few times the Devils were actually set-up on the power play. We all know that passing is your best asset, so you know more than anyone that high-risk, high-reward passes aren't ideal in a game against an opponent that can quickly make teams pay for failed feeds.
Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Gomez, and Henrique, what in the world were you even trying to do in the final thirty seconds of that four-on-four situation? That was just horrid and it was by good fortune that Pittsburgh didn't turn that into a shot, or worse, a goal.
Retro Over: The Devils won their first game in their 1980s (and early 1990s) jerseys since 2010. That's nice. I'm ready to go back to the real, superior-looking uniforms. Even though Saturday has potential to be real ugly.
Lastly: There was indeed a wave during the third period. Given that this went on while Pittsburgh was just forcing the Devils into cycles of puck concession and making Schneider earn every save, this was an odd sight. But people were having fun and who am I to tell people not to have fun?
Your Take: Schneider was the best, the rest of the Devils were far from it tonight. What did you make of tonight's game? Other than Schneider, did any other Devil have a legitimately good game? Was this game really better than the last one between the Devils and Penguins? What can the Devils learn from this one before their next game on Friday? Who is the best Devils player and why is it Cory Schneider? Please leave your answers, praises for Schneider, pity for others, and other comments on tonight's 2-0 win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.