Cory Schneider is undoubtedly the most valuable player on the New Jersey Devils. Today's game against the Arizona Coyotes proved it. The Coyotes demolished the Devils with respect to the run of play for the second and third periods. They took ninety-five, yes 95, attempts at goal. They got thirty-eight shots on goal. Schneider got each and every one of them. He faced long shots, point-blank shots, re-directions, shots off the rush, shots off a cycle, shots with traffic, and shots where he just made a great move to deny a Coyote. The only thing he didn't really face were odd man rushes. Given how he played today, he probably would have stopped those too. While Schneider can't score goals, he absolutely deserves all of the credit for today's 2-0 win in Arizona. He was sensational.
The rest of the Devils, well, I'm less than pleased with. As you'll read, the first period went pretty well. The second and third periods were just pathetic at times. They took five penalties, which gave Arizona ten minutes of offense with an extra man to go with their thirty-seven or so minutes of offense with no extra man on the ice. They weren't able to attack, which is why they followed up an eight-shot first period with five in the second and three in the third - a total of sixteen is a season low for them. They were just scrambling on defense; leading to epic-long shifts for Andy Greene and Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and David Schlemko getting bossed, and the rest not seeing as much action. The forwards weren't supporting the defense well either, which led to just Arizona doing whatever they wished on offense. It wasn't so much the Devils were in a defensive shell by choice; Arizona forced them and they were panicking in that shell more often than not. The positives for the skaters were the following: Reid Boucher scored a nice goal early in the first period; Adam Henrique forechecked well to start the third period which led to Joseph Blandisi finding Kyle Palmieri open at Anders Lindback's left post for an insurance goal; and being willing to take a lot of blocks, particularly some painful ones.
When you also consider that the Coyotes have been a bad possession team, getting out-attempted 95-31 (yes, the Devils got tripled in shooting attempts) and out-shot 38-16 is just sad. That kind of play normally doesn't lead to a win. It certainly didn't lead to any superiority in scoring chances (see HockeyStats.ca for that; spoiler: Arizona dominated there too) or whatever rationalization I'll get for how it's OK that the Devils got pounded by the second-worst possession team in the NHL for two periods. They did get the goals and their reliance on Schneider yielded a win. This game was very much like the win in Ottawa before the end of 2015. And like it, it was a fantastic performance by the goalie and a handful of good moments standing out of a mess of a general team performance.
As an aside, I liked how I wrote up the Colorado game, so I'm going to do it again. The first and second period sections were written during intermission.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Five for Howling for a recap of this game from an Arizona perspective.
The Game Highlights: NHL.com has the highlights to tonight's game, featuring Reid Boucher's first goal of this season and Schneider being stupendous:
The First Period: After coming up lame against the league's worst possession team at even strength, how would they start against the next worst team? Pretty well. In fact, the whole period was played with a brisk pace with plenty of up-and-down action. What's more is that the Devils had a good start. They got some shots and attempts off early. More importantly, they got a goal. Travis Zajac picked up a lost puck by Arizona in New Jersey's end and made a good pass to Reid Boucher as he got checked by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Boucher skated it up, got a 2-on-1 situation, played Lee Stempniak into the zone, and received the puck back. Connor Murphy didn't really make a move and so Boucher ripped one shortside on Anders Linback. It went in! The Devils were up 1-0; the called up Boucher already made an impact.
The Coyotes sought out a response and their best chances came on special teams situations. Both teams committed two penalties each and I'm sure John Hynes and Dave Tippet weren't happy that the fouls were taken. While the Devils handled the first power play fine, the second one by Arizona was absolutely contentious (and it didn't help the penalty Adam Larsson took for it wasn't a smart decision by him). The Coyotes demonstrated how to attack with an extra man and it was up to Cory Schneider to make big stops to prevent an equalizer. As he has been doing all season, he's made those saves; he namely robbed Anthony Duclair on a feed across the slot and the following rebound. The Devils escaped those kills. Their first power play was awful in that they conceded two shots and generated none. The second went much better, but that had a loss within it too. Kyle Palmieri took the puck into Arizona's end, drove the net, and fell from the play. He was slow to get up, skated right to the bench, and went into the locker room immediately. So while the second power play resembled one - not an easy feat for the power play in 2016 - losing Palmieri hurts. The Devils need another injured player like one needs a hole in their head.
That said, I'd say the Devils had a good first period in Arizona. They brought their proverbial skating legs. While they got into penalty trouble and that first power play sucked, they did attack at evens, they challenged Lindback, and - again - they got a goal. I'd like to see more offense as the game goes on and I'd like to see fewer penalties. Arizona's power play nearly lit the lamp multiple times on their second advantage. Given their recent hotness and general success this season, it's not a unit I want to keep seeing. Instead, keep the game at evens, keep going forward, and keep putting rubber by Lindback. That's what I want. We'll see how the second period goes.
The Second Period: It went incredibly well for two parties in this game: the Arizona Coyotes and Cory Schneider partisans. Schneider was sensational with fifteen saves out of thirty-three attempts. The Coyotes did everything but score in the second period. All of their lines contributed. Even Kyle Chipchura got down the wing for a free shot, which yielded a freer rebound for Boyd Gordon. Schneider stopped them. Mikkel Boedker was denied point blank in front, the result of an excellent play by Michael Stone, who's had an excellent game for Arizona. Martin Hanzal was denied twice in front. Tobias Rieder was open in a 4-on-4 situation and early jammed the puck in. Ekman-Larsson and Stone were bombing away from distance. Schneider got them all.
The rest of the Devils skaters stunk. Adam Larsson and Andy Greene got pinned back repeatedly, resulting in some incredibly long shifts. Per NHL.com's time on ice report, Each had eight shifts in the second period and only two were less than fifty seconds and four were over a minute long. They had a nearly three minute shift. The entire time, they were just scrambling. The other four defenders didn't cover themselves in any more glory; especially Jon Merrill. The forwards provided little support with a mere nine attempts on net and five on Lindback. The only positive among them was that Kyle Palmieri returned to the game. However, he cross-checked Rieder right on his first shift back to give Arizona another power play. Later, in a rare moment in Arizona's end of the rink, he hit Ekman-Larsson in the face which meant two for a high-sticking penalty. I'm glad he's healthy enough to play, but I wish he used his brain a bit better. Likewise when Travis Zajac fought Brad Richardson after an offensive zone faceoff. I think Arizona would take a third liner sitting for five minutes for Zajac to do the same. #19 will be unavailable for the first three minutes or so of the third period.
In general, the Devils just got rolled by Arizona and put up only a marginal effort to keep the Coyotes honest. Schneider has been incredible so far. The Devils' plan appears to be reliant on that. If they don't help him out soon, then Arizona may ruin those plans soon. They've been knocking on the proverbial door so long and so much in the second period. Continued knocking may result in an answer.
The Third Period: Amazingly, the Coyotes kept on knocking and there was no answer. Schneider got all thirteen shots in the third period for a shutout win. He was nearly beaten four times that I can recall. A shot by Michael Stone trickled through him, but the puck stayed out of the net and Schlemko bodied up the Coyote looking to tap it in. During the team's fifth penalty kill of the evening, Tuomo Ruutu failed to clear a puck up the boards. This led to Max Domi getting it all alone in front of Schneider. He had Hanzal open on Schneider's right flank (John Moore was in the area but was off-balance so a pass through him was easily made) but Hanzal missed the easy tap in - another bullet dodged. Later in the third, Domi got the puck wide open on Schneider's left side and Schneider was stretched out across the ice. Domi just had to roof it, but he missed. Lastly, with Lindback pulled, Antoine Vermette was in a perfect spot for a rebound. He had the net empty amid the chaos; he amazingly whiffed on the puck. I'm sure there were other close calls, but those four stood out.
The fortunate thing for the Devils is that even if the Coyotes scored on either, they were OK on the scoreboard. The Devils kicked off the third period with a goal. Larsson dumped the puck in and Adam Henrique gave chase. He made a legal hit, which led to Joseph Blandisi picking up the puck behind the net. He found Palmieri open to Lindback's left and he knocked it in. The second goal definitely was significant as it gave the team some breathing room in case Schneider got beaten somehow. At the time, I was hoping it would lead to a more balanced third period. A period where the Devils would attack more. Instead, they spent over half of the period with that Palmieri goal being their only shot on net. The Devils would only get two more shots all game and none in the final 8:40 of the game. As it turned out, the third period was mostly a repeat of the second period. Including Schneider stopping everything.
If there's any long term concern from the third aside from how the team performed, then it's with Palmieri. He took a hard shot by Domi right on his knee near the end of the game. He limped to the bench. Seeing that he left the game earlier combined with that makes me hope it's just bumps and bruises. Again, the last thing this team needs is another player sitting due to injury.
Congratulations: Despite the ugly performance, there are some additional pluses from the boxscore. Boucher scored his first of the season on a very nice shot. Stempniak's assist on Boucher's goal was his 400th of his career. Palmieri's goal was his 32nd point of the season, which set a regular season high in his relatively young career. Schneider's shutout is his 21st of his career and third of this season.
A Goal Doesn't Always Equal A Good Performance: Today's game also demonstrated why scoring a goal doesn't always mean the player had a good game. An impact, sure. I'm glad Boucher and Palmieri scored. I'm not so glad that Boucher's goal was essentially his contribution to the game. He had one other shot and helped out very little on defense. Palmieri had one of the Devils' two power play shots on net and a goal. He also took a needless cross-checking penalty on his first shift after leaving the game due to a potential injury, he hit Ekman-Larsson in the face, and also didn't help much either on defense. Like with a team, a good result and a good performance are two entirely different things.
Coyotes Praise: Goodness, Michael Stone was fantastic and a constant offensive threat today. I expected Ekman-Larsson to attack a lot - and he did - but Stone was similarly prolific in how he just kept firing pucks on net. Domi was similarly impressive in how he just kept getting open away from the Devils' defense. Defenseman Kevin Connauton had a strong game, delay of game penalty aside. Up front, Arizona's top players did their best. Can't fault the efforts of Rieder (five shots), Mikkel Boedker (four shots), Hanzal (three shots), and Domi (no shots but nine attempts) among others. In general, the Coyotes just went aggressive on the Devils and as they saw the Devils had little answer, they never let up. They played a very strong game. Their only downfall was two poor defensive moments (Murphy not doing anything in a 2-on-1; no one on Palmieri at the post) and running into one of, if not the best goalie in the world.
Repeat After Me, John Hynes: Tuomo Ruutu is not a capable penalty killer. I repeat: Tuomo Ruutu is not a capable penalty killer. I repeat again: Tuomo Ruutu is not a capable penalty killer. Is Tuomo Ruutu a capable penalty killer? Even after surviving five Arizona power plays, the answer is no.
As an aside, why did Hynes go with seven defensemen when they called up Brian O'Neill and had Stefan Matteau available? Sure, neither player would move the needle much. But the Devils had seven defensemen and Greene and Larsson still played an incredible amount of minutes. Just get a twelfth forward in there, next time.
One Last Thought: I think Schneider needs a nickname. I look at this site's logo and I think I got it. Because Schneider is such a crucial dude for the Devils, I think his nickname should be: Crucial. "Crucial" Cory Schnedier. I like the sound of it. How about you?
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils split their road trip with two wins and two losses. Today's came as a result of Boucher scoring a goal, Schneider putting the team on his back, Palmieri adding an insurance goal, and Schnedier putting the rest of New Jersey on his back again. Not the best way to win, but it worked today. What praise-worthy adjectives would you give Schneider for today's performance? Was any Devil actually good outside of Schneider? Who or what impressed you the most about Arizona? What should the Devils learn from this game before their next one in Calgary? What do you think of the nickname for Schneider? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
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