At the start of the game, things already looked grim for the New Jersey Devils. It took them over eight and half minutes in regulation to get their first shot of the game. By that point, they were already down 0-1 thanks to Karl Alzner being all alone in a 4-on-4 situation for a shot that got in. The Devils looked listless, sloppy, and out of sorts against a Washington Capitals that did what it wished. Compare that to the third period, where the Devils were only down a goal, they controlled the puck, and it was the Capitals that spent a long time going shotless. The Devils we rewarded for their strong third period performance with a late equalizer by Steve Bernier. Alas, the Caps would take it in overtime due to a long shot by Matt Niskanen that was been deflected by someone (Evgeny Kuznetsov?) to the top corner. Given how the Devils got to that point, it's hard to be upset with the result.
OK, sure, if you're one of those fans that think the Devils can flip a switch and just lose the rest of their games to get a supposedly better prospect, then yeah, I can see why you weren't happy that Bernier was wide open at the crease and Scott Gomez found him. If you're one of those fans that want to see the Devils at least play a competitive game or someone in management that wants to see who's worth keeping around for the future, then how the game transpired was a good thing. Gomez and Bernier are two of those players they're looking at, incidentally. The equalizer certainly didn't hurt.
The Devils looked to be sunk early in the second period. While the Devils eventually made Braden Holtby do something in his crease in the first period, we know they're not an offensive powerhouse and weren't going to get many past Holtby. When Eric Fehr lofted a shot that either hit something along the way or just arced perfectly off the crossbar and past Schneider early in the third, it appeared that may have been enough. One more goal could've nailed the coffin for a Caps team that could use the win. They didn't get it. They had a power play where I certainly feared it would've happened there. Instead, Patrik Elias got a shot off and Travis Zajac banged in a rebound for a shorthanded goal. It gave the Devils some hope to keep on attacking. Combined with the Caps being so passive in the third period, it led to something good.
It's rare when the Devils rack up a lot of shots and out-shoot their opponent. They've done so with the strength of their third period performance. Overall, shots ended 31-24 with a 12-5 third period. Attempts were a funner 20-7 differential in favor of New Jersey. Down a goal, that's what one should want to see. Given some of the real offensive struggles of the team, witnessing an array of players - Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Steve Bernier, Adam Henrique, and Stephen Gionta - put up several shots was welcomed. Had Gomez not find Bernier alone in front, I would've been just as pleased with the effort.
Ultimately, we all know the Devils' fate for this season. So it's performances like this that gives the result a pass in my mind. This is what playing for pride looks like, poor start aside, and I can appreciate that with eight games left this season.
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: Rob Parker has this recap up at Japers' Rink.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights, which include Zajac scoring a goal for the first time in a while.
Beef!: This game, for whatever reason, got very physical. Plenty of big hits (Tom Wilson was hitting a lot, as was Tuomo Ruutu), constant chirping, and post-whistle scrums. Out of the four penalties each team took, three of them were matching minors for said beefs. The first one yielded Alzner getting the first goal for the Capitals. He was left open after he set a sort-of pick, which was just hideous to watch on replay. Cory Schneider probably should've stopped the shot, but nobody rotated to pick him up. The other two four-on-four situations went better. Nevertheless, it was just an odd sight to see these two teams just go at it physically. It's not like they have any outstanding issues or a big rivalry. Still, it stood out and it played a role for the final score tonight.
Schneider Not So Amazing: This isn't to say that Cory Schneider wasn't good. He was fine. He should've stopped the Alzner shot, but I wouldn't fault him on either goal. Fehr's goal was through traffic and possibly deflected anyway. Niskanen's shot was deflected. Still, it's worth noting that he wasn't super-amazing-hyper-turbo Cory Schneider like we've seen for the past two months. The Devils didn't get this result because Schneider stood on his head for sixty minutes. That's actually a positive in a way as it meant the skaters found a way to play well - particularly in the third period. I'd like to see more of that going forward. Don't get me wrong, I want Schneider to do his best. I also want the Devils skaters to realize that Schneider isn't going to always keep the game a game in spite of their performance.
Special Teams Fun: Each team got one power play. Washington did not score on their man advantage. They conceded a goal to Zajac. New Jersey did not score on their man advantage, either. However, I'd argue the Devils did much more to threaten on their power play than the team featuring the scariest shooter in the league. The Devils recovered a lot of loose pucks for the first minute to a minute of a half and made good passes to keep the attack going. They just couldn't get that final shot off cleanly enough to beat Holtby. It was important then since the team was down a goal. But I will say that power play went a lot better than a lot of their other recent attempts. Combined with getting a shorthanded goal and a successful kill on the Capitals, I'd say it was a "win" for special teams.
Ovechkin...Slowed?: Ken Daneyko noted during the game that Steve Cangelosi wasn't calling Alex Ovechkin's name all that much. Cangelosi immediately went "Shhh," knowing full well that Ovechkin can strike at any moment. With four shots out of six attempts, I can't really say that he was kept quiet. He did come close to scoring at the end of Washington's lone power play, putting up a close shot that Schneider lost sight of for a bit. That said, Ovechkin was denied on some of his advances and there were shifts where he was forced to defend.
The Devils did get Adam Larsson and Andy Greene out against Ovechkin. While each defenseman had some poor moments (e.g. Larsson getting torched by Troy Brouwer in the second period), as a pairing they did fairly well against Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson. As for forwards, the Devils were forced to have two lines go up against 8-19-90. The first was what I expected: Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Stephen Gionta. That line had some struggles and some really good shifts mixed in. An OK night for them. The second was Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Jordin Tootoo. That line did really well, to my surprise. They were constantly attacking and hustling. I wouldn't say that Ovechkin was slowed down, but they managed him as well as they could. And, hey, no posterizing of a Devils defenseman.
Standout Zajac: Travis Zajac had himself a very good game. As the first period droned on, to my surprise, the Devils set up Zajac with a good play that forced what I think was Holtby's first tough save of the night. It would not be the only time Zajac would attack. He ended up with five shots on net, including his put-back shorthanded goal. When he was on the ice, good things tended to happen. Mike Cammalleri and Jordin Tootoo (who impressively back checked to turn a 1-on-2 into a 2-on-2 in the first among his other features of hustling) moved well with him and when they hooked up well, good things actually happened. With more nights like this, I think some of the criticism of Zajac would fade away. I still think his line isn't ideal for him at all, but it was effective tonight.
What's Not Effective: Standing about while the play is chaotically going in front of the net. Just ask Matt Niskanen and Eric Fehr on the last-minute equalizer by Bernier. Or just ask Eric Gelinas and Mark Fraser, who were just ineffective when the going got tough from a defensive standpoint. Or that awful post-power play shift where Gelinas and Jon Merrill managed to be on the ice for seven shooting attempts for a minute and neither really helped out whatever Bernier, Gomez, and Cammalleri were trying to do.
Good Feeling: Earlier in the third period, after Johansson held Greene behind the play, the Devils got an offensive rush going. Steve Bernier was sprung into space and had no one but Holtby to beat. Bernier appeared to have the upper part of the net, but he sailed the shot over the net. There was a delayed penalty call, so a power play ensued, but I felt bad that Bernier didn't make the most of that opportunity. I was very glad when Gomez found a window of time and space where he was open for what would become the equalizer.
Second Game of Another Callup: Reid Boucher had a nicer night on the stat sheet. Did well in limited action, didn't get hemmed on defense, and he got two shots out of six shooting attempts. Weirdly, I'm more pleased to see the six shooting attempts as it meant he tried to make the shot happen. He was certainly closer to scoring than he did against Los Angeles. I can be fine with performances like that one. I'd like to see him go up against Carolina's defense.
Oops: John Carlson didn't hammer one in tonight, but Carlson definitely made his attempts with three shots getting to Schneider out of five attempts. He did well in defending with Brooks Orpik, which is a neat trick since Orpik is rather Salvador-esque. Alas, my lasting memory of his performance tonight was winding up for a big shot as a trailing player on a rush in the right circle. That was followed by losing an edge on his skate blade, falling down, and settling for a far less dangerous shooting attempt.
Lastly: Scott Gomez throwing turnaround backhand passes from the side: bad. Scott Gomez looking up and reading who's open for a pass: good.
Your Take: The Devils got a point. Don't fret, they remain exactly where they were in the standings as they were before the game. I think they eventually played a competitive game. This game could've been a drag, it ended up not being a drag, and I'm fine with that. What do you think of how the game went? Who do you think was the best for the Devils tonight? Who was the worst? Did the Devils play an acceptable game overall? What do they have to take from this one before they head into Raleigh to play the Canes on Saturday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.