Let's go over what the New Jersey Devils faithful had to endure tonight. The Devils have been weakened by injury. They have put up two very lame performances in a row. They lost three in a row. They scored a mere two goals in those three games. They had to start a four-game road trip against a team that doesn't lose many games at home - and one that just beat Dallas. On top of that, they didn't convert a glorious 5-on-3 situation in this game. There were some pretty heinous no-calls (though, that was in New Jersey's favor at times) And just when the Devils get going, the television broadcast that featured loads of inane commentary and, worse, had technical difficulties so the fans could not see two-thirds of tonight's goals live. Yet, in the face of all this, the New Jersey Devils won. The losing streak is over. They beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in what was, in my opinion, the most important game occurring in the state tonight. I could be wrong about that.
What's more impressive about the win is how they did it. They didn't just get two goals and completely lean on Cory Schneider to get the win. Sure, that's how the game ended. But for the most part, the Devils played a legitimately good game. Their execution at moving the puck was worlds better than their previous three games. Their defensive effort really was as stingy as some in the media complain about when the Devils play. If they picked their heads up and watched the game, they would have seen an up-tempo, chippy-at-times hockey game that featured a lot of attempts. It was just that not many got on target for both teams. While the two teams combined for just 35 shots on net; they combined for 86 attempts. What's more is that the Devils had the majority of them, with 49. They finished the game with twelve more than Minnesota - even after a third period where they got out-attempted 5-18. Despite that surge, the Devils led in chances too. By the eye test and by the numbers, the Devils had controlled more of the game than Minnesota. It's partially why I enjoyed how the game went for New Jersey in general. The other part being that I remember their last three games and many others from this season.
To be fair, this game was made possible by the Wild putting up a poor performance. They played last night and it really showed. As well as the Devils challenged them defensively and cleaned up a lot of loose pucks, they were losing pucks off their own sticks to make it easier for New Jersey to respond. I suppose the play that will sum up their night would be when Adam Larsson turned the puck over to Jason Zucker at the blueline. Zucker went in on a breakaway, went forehand to backhand, then lost the puck, tripped over Schneider, and slid into the corner. Even when Minnesota had a great chance, it went pear-shaped. They did score a goal in the third - Mikko Koivu to Zach Parise at the crease - and they did re-discover offense with nine out of their eleven third period shots since the Devils went up 2-1. But it was a case of too little, too late. They had one dangerous shift with six skaters, once the Devils got an offside in their favor and re-set themselves, they kept the Wild at bay. Good on the Devils to play as well as they did; but it was helped by the Wild playing less than effective hockey.
I'm pretty pleased with how the game went and I think the win was deserved. Schneider did make some tough stops, especially late in the game, but he was inundated with shots and that's a small victory. Even though the 5-on-3 was squandered to start the period, the Devils put up a whopping 26 shooting attempts in the second. Most of those didn't get to Darcy Kuemper, but it highlights how the Devils didn't let a wasted chance get them down on offense. Larsson's one turnover was really his only major error and the Devils' defense really didn't turn the puck over much in general. I really liked how the defense really made their interventions down low and made sure Minnesota didn't get many opportunities off rebounds. The goals they scored were quite nice. Joseph Blandisi didn't really pass it to him, but his zone entry forced Jonas Brodin to knock it to Adam Henrique for a sweet shot to open the game's scoring. Later, Sergey Kalinin played in Jon Merrill really well and he scored a big goal for his first of the season. I wish I could tell you how that looked live, but NBC SN had issues. In any case, there's a lot to like from this game beyond just the result. After a poor week of hockey, I like it even more. It wasn't a fully ideal game, but it was a fine way to end a losing streak.
The Opposition Opinion: The Noogie called this one a "snoozer" in this recap at Hockey Wilderness. I don't see how considering the Devils had more attempts and scoring chances than their last game and no one called those boring...
The NHL.com Game Highlights: See this highlight video from NHL.com. Will it include what NBC SN didn't air? We'll see.
Technical Difficulties: About a minute after Henrique scored, the television broadcast froze for a few seconds and then went immediately to commercial. After a few of those, the broadcast showed the NHL on NBC studio where they confirmed that the broadcast was having issues. Did they discuss what was going on in the game? Well, they mentioned Parise's goal and Merrill's goal, but they actually went away from the game entirely. They had live look-ins of a Detroit-Anaheim game and then a Florida-Edmonton game. This instead of, I don't know, relaying from the broadcast personnel what was going on in the game they were supposed to be covering. Eventually, the broadcast returned with about eleven minutes left to play in the third. I'm sure issues happen and nothing can be done, but the contingency plan should have been better. Instead of going to other games for discussion or coverage, why not actually get information about the initial game? I know they can't just throw up a radio broadcast, but could have even called Pierre McGuire and asked him what's up.
Broadcaster Difficulties: Scratch that. I wouldn't have wanted to hear McGuire. I had no issue with Kenny Albert or the color guy. But McGuire said things about the Devils that made me wonder what team he was talking about. Granted, they were compliments but about how good they were in possession. Yes, the team that gets out-attempted and out-shot on most nights; he praised their possession - specifically their chip and chase game. Because nothing says possession like throwing a puck into space and chasing it down with an opposing player. He turned out to be right tonight, but he was saying this before that even happened. Between that and Jeremy Roenick whining about how boring the game was (which is how I know he wasn't really watching it), I really missed the standard MSG crew. Granted, I don't usually spend time in my recaps writing about the broadcast, but given this situation, I needed to get that out.
Good Games: Plenty of Devils had some strong games tonight. Andy Greene looked like the Andy Greene tonight alongside Adam Larsson. While Larsson had that bad turnover, he really cleaned up for it. They got plenty of the Wild's best offensive players (Parise, Koivu, Thomas Vanek, etc.) and came out decently even after that late surge by Minnesota.
Joseph Blandisi was called up tonight and I really liked how he played. While he only ended up with one shot on net out of three attempts, I liked how he moved with the puck and the decisions he made with it. He didn't get an assist on Henrique's goal - which is fine, he didn't make the pass - but his zone entry and that he challenged Brodin helped create it. When he was demoted, I believe I wrote that we'd see him again. Tonight showed why. He appears to play with a good head on his shoulders and he's good on the puck. It helped that he was placed alongside Henrique and Lee Stempniak and that both of them had good games in their own right. But that was the idea. John Hynes wanted him to play a good part of the game and he did well with his near-fifteen minutes of action.
Sergey Kalinin also impressed me with how he used his body (except when he seemingly blocked Palmieri from converting on that 5-on-3) and how he played on the puck. He showed he had more ideas than just taking a puck to the net from the wing and/or going for a wraparound. Kalinin protected pucks, he got involved physically without taking himself out of action, and he moved the puck well. Especially when he fed Merrill for the game winning goal tonight. Kalinin lined up with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri and they had a good game against the Koivu unit.
Lastly, I appreciated how Schneider performed in a game where the opposition didn't hit him with a deluge of shots. Just eighteen, which is a remarkably low number for this team and him this season. When Minnesota started putting it together offensively, Schneider wasn't caught unaware or less than focused. If anything, he raised his performance. I really liked how he tracked the puck in close shortly after Minnesota pulled Kuemper. He denied Vanek at the right post with his arm on one of the few second chance opportunities the Devils allowed. That wouldn't have happened if he wasn't on form.
Oh, That 5-on-3: Late in the first period, David Schlemko was tripped up by Erik Haula. Shortly after the faceoff to start the power play, David Schlemko was hit from behind into the boards by Jarret Stoll. It was a painful sequence for Schlemko, who did have a good game after missing the past few. The Devils got a 1:46 long 5-on-3 for what was effectively their only power play of the night. They only got two shots on net and no goals. There could have been more, but Marc-Andre Gragnani just put his attempts off target. It didn't help the Devils still put their three forwards by the goal line, which allowed the Wild penalty killers to challenge the defensemen. In retrospect, perhaps someone else (e.g. Schlemko, who's got a good shot; maybe Greene?) should have been out there in Gragnani's place. But the formation just helped limit what the Devils could do. Of course, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon did an excellent job. Fortunately, the wasted power play did not come back to haunt the Devils.
No Call?: Both teams got away with quite a bit. The only penalties called were really obvious ones: Merrill grabbing Charlie Coyle in one of the more blatant holds I've seen in a while, Schlemko getting tripped and hit from behind, and matching minors for Blandisi and Nino Niederreiter when they had a beef in the second. The refs could have called more. The most egregious was when Parise knocked Kalinin's stick out of his hands and about ten feet into the air. That's usually an automatic call. Yet, the refs figured it was late in the third period, so they swallowed their whistles on that. That was pretty bad. As was Matthew Dumba tipping a clearance by Greene and yet the linesman called it icing anyway. Thankfully, the Devils held on.
Perspective: The Wild finally started getting shots through after Merrill's goal. The Devils were still only out-shot by one. That's pretty great, really.
One Last Thought About the Game: Did anyone on New Jersey really have a bad game? Maybe a not-so-notable game. But I don't think anyone really had a rough night from what I saw.
One Last Potshot: Poor, poor, poor hockey beat writers.
This went out after the second period. No word on how the worst the Devils are given that they won. Or whether the Whaaaambulance arrived in Buffalo.
Your Take: The Devils got their road trip off to a winning start. What did you make of this not-so-completely televised game? Did you think the Devils played a good game? Was this game more of a case of New Jersey playing well or Minnesota playing poorly? Did any Devil have a bad game? Who had the best game among the Devils in your opinon? What lessons should the Devils take out of this one before their next game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
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