Broken sticks are breaks, often bad ones. They can turn a potentially killer shot into something harmless. They can turn a smart pass into something that looks far dumber. They can also get in the way, and one such instance was at the centerpiece of what decided tonight's preseason game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers in regulation. Cory Schneider gloved down a lofted puck. As opposed to holding on, he decided to play it around his net. A broken stick - not removed as there was no stoppage - was present and made the puck bounce out. Derek Stepan took it and potted one of the easiest goals he'll have in this 2015-16 campaign. That goal made it 3-4 in favor of the visitors and such was how it ended. Talk about a bad break. And another dubious decision by Schneider at playing the puck.
To be fair, we've known that Schneider and playing pucks outside of his crease have yielded issues. This is preseason so the result and incident really carries no long-term damage to the squad. A little hurt pride, sure, but that's all. In these games, performances matter more and I'd go as far as to say that this was definitely on the better end of New Jersey's performances so far this season. For a Rangers squad featuring several of their top players, the considerably less-talented-on-paper Devils more than held their own against them. The Devils had several of their expected NHLers in the lineup too, but again, the difference is in talent, particularly offensive. The Devils held the Rangers to long stretches without shots against Schneider in the first period; they maintained a lead in shots, which were higher for both sides than listed - clearly Ray Shero's reign hasn't led to a new scorer yet; and only ten Rangers even registered at least a shot on net all game. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the Devils really outplayed the Rangers, but they definitely put up a competitive effort. The two tip-ins by Reid Boucher and Dan Girardi - he inadvertantly deflected a Kyle Palmieri shot - plus a jam by Stefan Matteau helped.
It could have been better. Discipline has been an issue throughout preseason and the Devils got punished for it twice. I know referees supposedly call it tighter in preseason to get players used to what is and isn't a call. But an icing over the glass from the end of the rink? Trying to start a beef at center ice away from the play? Running a pick or bumping the goalie? (These two were also by Matteau and they ended two Devils power plays early.) These were avoidable calls. Raphael Diaz scored twice, both on power plays caused by some of these calls. On the flipside of special teams, the breakouts still need an identity. A plan. Something that the team can run consistently. Hopefully this will come when the roster is pared down closer to 23 players. In general, I saw a lot of dumping by the Devils, be it a dump-and-change or just a dump for an entry. That hindered the attack, especially late in the game when the team was pushing for an equalizer. I'd like John Hynes to push his players for more carry-ins and pass-ins; that possession to start will lead to more options to attack. Given that the Rangers' defense was iffy in their coverage times, when they had them, the Devils usually did something with them. They needed more, not less.
Still, regulation was ultimately decided by a bad decision compounded by the bad break of a broken stick. Had Schneider held on or put it to the left corner or the broken stick didn't make it go up-ice to Stepan, maybe the 3-on-3 overtime would have been legitimate and not an exhibition. Like on Wednesday, the Devils did end that one early with a goal. The Rangers got caught with too many men on the ice - really - and Eric Gelinas eventually blasted it home in the 4-on-3 (power plays get an extra man in OT). Like on Wednesday, it was just a silver lining for the evening. While it's never feels really good to lose to a rival, there was progression from what I saw in previous days and that's the main takeaway in my eyes.
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video from tonight's game:
Who Looked Good Among NHL Players?: Kyle Palmieri has continued to be the standout player among NHL players in preseason in my eyes. You want fast, attacking, and supporting, well, he's been about that. Palmieri demonstrated his quickness time and time again. Just when you think he wasn't doing much, he gets a shot on net or he makes a pass to create one or he competes for a puck in the corner. Palmieri finished the night with six shots on net (four at evens, no Devil had more than two), and one that went in thanks to a favorable deflection of Girardi (I thought it initially went off Jacob Josefson). He drew the trip from Oscar Lindberg that led to a 5-on-3 for over eighty seconds and Matteau's PPG. The delay of game from icing the puck is rare, so while I think it was an avoidable call, I'm not counting on it happening again. The roughing call with Marc Staal at the end of the game, well, at least it was evened up. I think Josefson did well and Adam Henrique was decent, but Palmieri was the stand-out in my view.
Andy Greene and Damon Severson were quite good and were leaned on again, as both played in excess of twenty four minutes tonight. I suppose the lesson here is that should Adam Larsson not be available or be a better fit with someone else, this could be the team's first pairing. Severson gave me a scare when labored to the bench near the end of the overtime exhibition, but Tom Gulitti tweeted that Severson said he was OK.
Who Looked Good Among Non-NHL Players?: Opinions will vary, but I really liked what I saw from Pavel Zacha tonight. I still think he needs to go to Sarnia. This is not a team in a good position to burn an ELC early. If he looked like this at the start of preseason, I'd say give him nine and move on. But Zacha showed good size, good speed, and good instincts. Among all of the penalties, I'd say he took the most defendable one as his interference call on Dominic Moore prevented a potential shorthanded breakaway. Solid effort from Zacha tonight, all the same.
Likewise, Jim O'Brien had a solid effort from the fourth line. He had two shots on net, including one particularly dangerous one in the slot that surprised Henrik Lundqvist at how high it went so fast. He had four attempts on net overall and received some ice time on both the power play and penalty kill. For a fourth-liner on this roster, he got to do quite a bit in twelve minutes of ice time. I don't think it's necessarily enough to keep him on the roster, but I think it does help him get into the conversation if/when call-ups come about.
Lastly, Reid Boucher's only shot on net was his deflection being credited for the goal. But the impressive part of his game was that he got nearly two minutes of shorthanded ice time and it generally went well. He moved fairly well and his line was good. I would've liked to have seen more shots on net, but it's an effort I can be fine with on a regular basis.
Who Didn't Look Good Among NHL Players?: I wouldn't say Schneider belongs here. While he bears much of the blame for the fourth goal against, the other three involved three one-timers. Two of which happened while shorthanded. No, someone who didn't look good among the expected NHLers would be more on the lines of Jon Merrill. He looked good on Wednesday, so I was disappointed with his decisions on the puck tonight. A few icings, some denied clearances, and some poor passes in general. Merrill and John Moore weren't that good of a pairing tonight, and I think John Hynes noticed as Merrill was paired with Eric Gelinas late in the game. I think Merrill is experienced enough to bounce back from it, but on a roster where five-sixths of the expected starting defense played, he looked notably poor.
Who Didn't Look Good Among Non-NHL Players?: Stefan Matteau was on his way to cementing his spot on this list with two minor penalties that ended power plays early. The first one, a goaltender interference call, ended a promising one too. That said, Matteau did jam in a puck to convert a power play and at least stopped taking calls. He made a contribution. Paul Thompson, on the other hand, did not. He got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct call for trying to start something with Viktor Stalberg in the neutral zone. It didn't work, he got sent to the box, and eight seconds later, Diaz roofed one past Schneider. Thompson proceeded to do nothing else of note all game long. He didn't draw any calls, make any notable plays, or have any solid shifts. He was just a guy out there. I know he got onto the scoresheet with a secondary assist on Boucher's tip-in goal, but he's in a position where he needed to be impressive to have any chance of surviving the next set of cuts. A silly minor penalty that led to a quick PPGA is the wrong kind of impressive.
The Rock Changes Sort-Of Reviewed: I didn't check out most of the Rock myself this evening. I'll try to do that at next Friday's game. The metal detectors weren't really that much of hassle; I'd say it took me about the same time to go through than it did with the security staffer wanding me in previous years.
There's apparently a new goal song because management remained hard-pressed to find something the fans wouldn't yell into. They have found one from local band, The Gaslight Anthem, called "Howl." I believe it's mostly known from a Nissan commercial. It's not bad. Thankfully, a guy had a vuvuzela to play a more proper and fun song shortly thereafter. I can live with that compromise.
The Heat Was Real: The fans were mostly mixed between the ugliest blue and the glorious red. The rivalry never stops among fans. But what of the players? Consider this event. In the first period, Joseph Blandisi flung an errant high stick near Dan Girardi. There was no call, just an accident. Words were exchanged and then Chris Kreider from behind bumped Blandisi. This touched off a massive scrum that resulted in Thompson and Stepan going to the box. As beefs continued from that point onward, it was clear that the rivalry remained intact in preseason for the players too.
A Surprising Call: Chris Kreider called for goaltender interference? A minor penalty that ultimately A) the Devils scored on the ensuing power play and B) blemished an otherwise good night from the forward? Oh, perish the thought!
Last Thing I Noticed: While the Devils ended both OT exhibitions early (thanks to Eric Gelinas tonight as well as Dylan McIlrath not finishing a shorthanded 2-on-1), they also finished up their games in regulation with the goalie pulled in strong efforts. In both games they did that, they didn't concede an empty netter, they had at least one or two very good opportunities to score, and they didn't make any bad mistakes to end the desperate attack early. I don't think that will last, but it's nice to see an extra skater situation not automatically be a goal-allowed situation.
Your Turn: Tom Gulitti confirmed on Twitter that cuts are coming on Sunday morning, so be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, what did you think of tonight's game? What did you make of the Devils' overall performance? Who did you like and dislike tonight, and why? What do you want to see the Devils improve upon as the second and final week of preseason begins? Please leave your answers and other thoughts from tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread, those who followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter, and those who read this.