For the first time since the Devils played the Buffalo Sabres on March 20, the New Jersey Devils won a game. For the first time since March 17 when Cory Schneider and some guys beat Pittsburgh 2-0, the Devils won a game against a team bound for the playoffs. It doesn't seem like that long ago. With the regular season winding down, it meant quite a few games have been played in the interim. Tonight's game wasn't so different from much of the regular season where the Devils were outplayed by their opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, only to be bailed out by their goaltender and get enough scoring to keep it close. Only this one of the few times where it meant a shootout and the Devils prevailed to make it a 3-2 win in the books. The winless streak ended at six.
For a meaningless game for the Devils, it sure was an energetic game from the fans at The Rock to the action on the ice. As usual for home games against Montreal, there were certainly a lot of Canadien supporters making their "Go, Habs, Go!" chant heard. The Devils faithful responded with a lot of booing of said chant. As the teams traded physical blow after physical blow, the atmosphere only served to get more electric. The place was largely ecstatic when the shootout was concluded. The pace of the game was fairly quick. After a sluggish start for Montreal, the Canadiens seemed to get their legs and started to impose their will on the Devils from the second half of the first period through to the end. There were plenty of stoppages, though, as penalties played a major role in how the game went down. There were a lot of non-calls for hits, post-whistle beefs, and picks. This led to the two teams getting exasperated with each other. There were plenty of calls, mostly against New Jersey for mostly legitimate fouls.
Among them, the proverbial line in the game was crossed in the second period. Alexei Emelin shoved Scott Gomez hard into the end boards. A borderline move, but it's common enough that it's not an automatic call for a penalty - even if the guy getting hit fell down like Gomez did. Gomez chose to retaliate - which usually is an automatic call - with an elbow to Emelin's mouth. It was an absolutely reckless decision. Emelin went right to the ice and needed some treatment. He would return to the game. Gomez was correctly assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct. He was thrown out of the game. Even if you strangely feel Gomez's act of goonery was justified because Emelin hit him hard (a strange stance for a Devils fan to take) and/or Emelin sold being on the ice for a bit too long, that doesn't absolve Gomez or make the call any less correct. Headshots have been a constant issue in the league and elbows to the face are almost always going to command a severe penalty. Throwing up an elbow from behind is just a lousy risk and Gomez took that. Although, this FanShot by Andrew Berkshire of a .GIF by Marc Dumont at Eyes on the Prize suggests to me it wasn't an accident. The fact that it was an action in retaliation makes it worse. As the elbow drew blood, that made it easy for the referees to make it a major penalty. I wouldn't be surprised if Gomez gets further disciplinary action and I think that would be justified as well. Of course, this being the NHL, they may be satisfied with the ejection and major penalty. Who can tell with the league?
As for the immediate impact of that elbow, that elbow put the Devils a player short on the ice for five minutes and kept the Devils' forwards at eleven for a 2-2 game. Keep in mind, the Devils will play tomorrow so the last thing the team needed was someone important having to take on additional minutes. With that in mind, I don't see how anyone can reasonably think what Gomez did was in any way shape or form a good and productive activity. And it could have absolutely been avoided. In fact, Emelin shoved Adam Henrique hard into the end boards in the third period and Henrique didn't seek out Emelin for an elbow to the face of something else. Yes, Henrique showed it was possible. In summary, Gomez was very stupid to elbow Emelin and he deserved the penalty tonight and whatever other punishment he may get from it.
Out of that struggle came glory for the Devils, though. While Tomas Plekanec almost-immediately scored on Montreal's first power play, the Devils handled the five minute major as well as anyone could expect a team to handle a penalty kill of a five minute major. They conceded one shot to Keith Kinkaid, they stood up Canadiens at the blueline, they took advantage of Montreal's errors on the power play, and they cleared the puck effectively. Yet, the Devils weren't out of the proverbial woods. The Devils needed to lean on their penalty kill being great three more times. First, when Stefan Matteau cleared a puck over the glass. Second, when Andy Greene "tripped" Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau during the Matteau kill on a shorthanded rush up ice. Third, when Greene legitimately tripped Alex Galchenyuk in overtime. Out the five minute major, the 33 second 3-on-5 situation book-ended by minor penalties, and a full 3-on-4 situation, the Devils conceded only seven shots on net. Keith Kinkaid got them all and the Devils clamped down as best as they could to prevent Montreal from running about as they wished. While the Devils won in a shootout, Kinkaid and the PK were the stars of the evening. Getting that far was a feat considering Montreal controlled play at 5-on-5 and received 12-plus minutes of ice time with an extra skater on the ice.
The shootout provided a cathartic ending. As Scott Gomez was ejected, Reid Boucher took the first attempt and missed. Galchenyuk tried to beat Kinkaid at the left post, but he missed too. Jacob Josefson beat Dustin Tokarski high with a lovely move. The Rock was jubilant - Montreal fans aside - as it meant the Devils could very well steal wa win. David Desharnais was stopped by Kinkaid. The tension grew. After all of the penalties, the penalty kills, the big shot differential (Devils were out-shot 18-32), and a season where the Devils proven themselves to be bad, the Devils could end their winless streak with one more goal. Patrik Elias stepped onto the ice and did this:
Tokarski was posterized. The Montreal faithful who came were silenced. The Montreal fans elsewhere who followed the game got salty and/or sad as they do. The Rock roared with approval. The win won't mean much in two weeks, but that didn't make it and the streak being snapped feel any less good.
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 Ice Time Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: At Eyes on the Prize, they tend to have these short recaps before a full one. So here's the short recap by Veronica Canete. She lamented how bored she would be. Well, bless her heart.
The Game Highlights: Plenty of stops, tips, and shootout wizardry in this game highlight video at NHL.com:
The Goals Against: Amid all of what I wrote with penalties, Scott Gomez's elbow, and the shootout, I forgot to even touch on the goals scored in regulation. What made it 2-2. Let's fix that first with Montreal's goals, which came in the first period. After New Jersey's first goal, Montreal started to actually attack and get shots on Kinkaid. Jon Merrill knocked down Manny Malhotra - who is still playing hockey, to my surprise - to deny him a chance at getting at a puck. This is interference, though I wanted to know how come the picks off faceoff wins by Montreal weren't called for the same thing. Anyway, Plekanec won the faceoff, the puck went back to Sergei Gonchar, Plekanec got into space at the top of the right circle, and he ripped one high past a screen. That was the first. Minutes later, Merrill's attempt at a clearance was knocked back into the zone off Reid Boucher's stick. The puck becomes a hot potato for the Devils and a cold one for Montreal. Jeff Petry ended up with the puck and ripped one that went off Lars Eller and into the net. Petry was credited with the goal, all the same it was 1-2 in favor of Montreal, who continued their good play to close out the period.
The Goals For, Featuring The AHL Call Ups: The Devils got the first and last goals in regulation tonight. The first was the culmination of the good shifts the Devils had to start the game. They were throwing hits, winning pucks, and making Tokarski and the Montreal defense work. Stefan Matteau began an extended attack with a hit on P.K. Subban to get the puck. As play continued, Travis Zajac took a loose puck and played it back to Greene. Greene sent it across to Adam Larsson for a long shot. It got on net and Matteau put home the rebound before Nathan Beaulieu could get to Matteau. It must have been a fantastic feeling for Matteau to score his first NHL goal since 2013. It was a good goal off of a good shift and it led to just a little more jump in his first stride.
Reid Boucher, who was inserted into the lineup to replace an injured Stephen Gionta, got onto the scoresheet as well. The Gomez line had the puck in deep. Boucher smartly was the outlet of the cycle and he played it such that Gomez could feed Steve Bernier to play it around the zone. Merrill got the puck and fired a low shot that I thought beat Tokarski directly. With no screen in front of Tokarski, it would've been so soft of a goal, I'd have to call it sawft. But I was mistaken live, it wasn't a clean shot from the point. Boucher got a piece of it, which led to the puck just getting inside the right post. The deflection meant it was Boucher's first NHL goal of the season as well. It didn't lead to much more from Boucher, as Gomez's elbow and the several penalty kills kept Boucher from getting much ice time. Still, he made a mark on the game.
The AHL Call-ups Outside of the Goals: In my view, this was the best game yet from each call-up. Boucher was active in attack with three total shots on net. His play in his own half of the rink leaves something to be desired - and it helped lead to Montreal's second goal. However, putting him with Gomez and Bernier was a smart move. They weren't going up against great competition, they shouldn't be, and they should chip in offense as they could. When Gomez was thrown out of the game, Boucher and Bernier didn't get many shifts. So there's something left to be desired if only because Boucher didn't play all that much. Still, he was better on the puck and at firing it than his earlier games.
Matteau showed how much better the combination of Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri can be when there's an upgrade over Jordin Tootoo. The Zajac line was New Jersey's best for going forward. With all of the penalties, Zajac and Cammalleri put in a hard night's work in general. But Matteau flying about, getting after pucks, applying pressure, and getting feisty was very enjoyable to watch on it's own. Not unlike Dainius Zubrus from a few years ago, Matteau helped make space for Zajac and Cammalleri to move the puck around on offense and create opportunities. We also saw some signs of Matteau getting too fiesty for his own good. After he took the first Devils shot in the third period (out of three, I'm wincing here), he proceeded to start a beef with two Canadien defenders. Fortunately for him, Petry engaged and so matching minors were assessed instead of just one for Matteau. Matteau also cleared a puck over the glass, which could've been costly in of itself. By no means it was a perfect game. However, this one should give some fans an idea of why there's a reason to believe Matteau will be a NHL player one day. The goal helps, of course.
Matchup Failed: The Devils have been on an old-school kick of using a checking line these days. With Gionta out, Henrique stepped in to play with Elias and Zubrus. This line got a lot of Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and Brendan Gallagher. With nine shots allowed to one created at even strength, it's fair to say it didn't go well. It's more than just shots, there were many attempts which speaks to how often Plekanec's unit was in New Jersey's end. In all situations, the line combined for fourteen of Montreal's 32 shots. Pacioretty forced some of Kinkaid's best saves like his flashy glove save to start overtime, Plekanec got on the board amid his four shots, and Gallagher had six shots himself. That's the opposite of shutting a unit down, especially since the threesome combined for one shot in all situations. Gionta/Henrique-Elias-Zubrus isn't necessarily built for tough match-ups, but they've had some success in recent games. This wasn't one of them. At least they had Greene and Larsson behind them to help clean up the various messes. Plus, Elias' shootout goal was crucial in addition to being sick-nasty.
A Bold Statement I May Regret: I think this was the best game I've seen from Mark Fraser all season. He wasn't a calamity next to Eric Gelinas. Yes, they were forced to defend more than attack but that was the case for a majority of the game. It didn't get too heinous for that pairing. (Aside: Yes, this means Gelinas did OK too.) While the game got physical, Fraser kept himself in check from taking a penalty or getting into a fracas with a Montreal player that could've cost the team. Most of all, he was very solid on the many penalty kills the team had to deal with tonight. Tonight showed why he's been selected for the PK as opposed to Damon Severson or Eric Gelinas. He was generally in good positions, he didn't hesitate when he had the puck, and he didn't make many panicky decisions that put the Devils in a worse spot. With Greene and Larsson taking three penalties combined, Fraser had to play seven minutes shorthanded. It wasn't a big deal. Don't get me wrong, Larsson looked solid on the PK, I really liked Zajac and Henrique at forward, and Jon Merrill not freaking out was cool too. But Fraser was a standout as much as anyone on those units tonight. While I'm usually dogging him, I'm not above saying this: he had a good night.
Kinkaid's Revenge: Kinkaid got lit up in his last meeting with Monteal, no thanks to the Devils taking multiple penalties including one more significant than a minor penalty and the team getting out played. Tonight, Kinkaid bailed out the team many times. His fundamentals were as solid as ever, as he demonstrated when to challenge a shooter and when to play it out. He didn't have to sprawl too many times and there were few second chances for Montreal after a shot got to Kinkaid. With every penalty in a 2-2 game, I was hoping he wouldn't be hard done by a tip-in or a weird deflection or a masterful screen or a breakdown in coverage or something strange (e.g. Severson carrying the puck towards Kinkaid, leading to a quick freeze and a jam from the Montreal forecheckers). I was really hoping the team would give him help. He did too well tonight to be disappointed with a defeat. I was as happy for him as anyone else when Elias made Tokarski look like a chump in the shootout.
Get Better Material or Luck: Of course, I would be the one to point this out, but there were quite a few broken sticks tonight. Often by the Devils. It made some potential offensive shifts not happen and made some defensive stands a bit harder. Fortunately, they didn't make that much of a difference tonight.
The Lone Power Play: The Devils got one power play because the refs finally caught Alex Galchenyuk throwing a pick off a faceoff. The power play was actually functional as they got set up and put two shots on Tokarski. Had the refs made some other calls, perhaps we could've seen more from the Devils power play. Alas, we will just have to take solace that the Devils did as much with two minutes in the second period than Montreal did with seven.
Lastly: Three shots in the third period? A period where the score was tied 2-2? That's not going to help, even with having to kill multiple penalties. If nothing else, it speaks to how lost the offense gets from New Jersey and why I end up praising the goaltenders so much. They have so little to work with on most nights. Add it to the list of what the Devils need to change for 2015-16.
Your Take: The Devils' winless streak is over and they did it by beating a playoff-bound team in a shootout. There's only one more home game left and it's against the team the Devils will be facing tomorrow night. At least they'll have this win. What did you make of the Devils' performance? Who was the best non-goaltender for the Devils tonight? How massive was their penalty kill performance? Would you say it was more of Kinkaid being great or the skaters in front of him? How did you react when Josefson and Elias scored in the shootout? Could you hear the Montreal fans by the end of the game? (The answer is no.) Are Tampa Bay fans appreciative? (Maybe.) Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented about the game in the gamethread and those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.