Sometimes you may look at a game and before it happens and you can envision several different scenarios playing out, all of which seem reasonably valid. Well, I can say for sure that there has to be basically no one that predicted what would happen tonight at the Rock between the New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators. After a very slow start to the game, where there were no shots on goal for either team until 6:26 into the game, the Devils exploded. They would go on to score 5 first period goals, the most they have scored in a single period in five years (according to Matt Loughlin on the WFAN post-game show). They chased opposing goaltender Craig Anderson after four goals were scored on him in a seven minute stretch, from Joseph Blandisi's first NHL goal at 6:53 through Travis Zajac's snapper past Anderson's blocker at 13:56.
Let's delve into the first period a little more, as it certainly deserves it. As I mentioned, the game started incredibly slow. Before the game, I read the predictions over at Silver Seven Sens, and most of the writers were expecting to see a boring, "typical Devils" game. The first 6 minutes of the game were exactly that, and I generally despise the notion that Devils hockey is boring. Neither team could get anything going, as it was just a boat load of play stoppages, dumps, and relative ineffectiveness. Then, Chris Wideman would commit a penalty against Blandisi, which for anyone who has watched the Devils recently, was not inviting news. I was in the stands half expecting John Hynes to reject it, even though that's the wrong sport. Well, thankfully Hynes accepted the call, and the slaughter began. On the ensuing power play, New Jersey was immediately able to set up, and they looked insanely effective. An initial pass through the royal road to Jacob Josefson nearly led to a goal before the puck went back to David Schlemko at the point, who slapped a shot on net than Blandisi tipped home for his first ever NHL goal. It was a good start!
The Devils would not sit back after that, however, and would press the advantage. The line of Zajac, Blandisi and Kyle Palmieri were lights out. Barely a minute later, Palmieri would get the puck in the right circle with no one in front of him, and he would walk in, ripping a shot past Anderson that looked like it hit both the post and crossbar. However, the puck would luckily bounce right back to him, and he hammered in his own rebound to make it 2-0. Now at this point, you expect Ottawa to make a surge back, with score effects beginning to come into play. They did not, however, as NJ did not let off the gas. Adam Larsson would draw a call against Mark Stone a couple minutes later, and the Devils would shortly make it 2 for 2 on the power play, with Palmieri's second of the night. At that point it could've been logical to pull Anderson, as the Devils had 3 goals on 5 shots, but Dave Cameron left him in. Anderson, however, would only last another two and a half minutes before Zajac would be left all alone in the low slot as the Ottawa defense just watched his one timer blow past their goalie. 4 goals against, 7 Devils shots on net, and 13:56 of game time down and Anderson was pulled for Andrew Hammond. While not all of those were Anderson's fault, especially not that last one, it was clearly not his night.
The Hamburglar, luckily, would not have much work after that four goal onslaught, as score effects would begin to play a little bit of a factor. The Devils still played a strong remainder of the first, but clearly began to play a little more defensively. Nonetheless, Lee Stempniak would get a real nice breakaway with a couple minutes left in the period after some miscommunication between Zack Smith and Mark Borowiecki, and would slide one past Hammond to make it 5-0 in the first! It was absolutely insane. Honestly, I have not seen a period like that from the Devils in quite some time. To show our pleasure, the fans at the Rock gave the team a huge round of applause starting with about 15 seconds left in the period and held the applause strong through the horn. The Devils deserved every second of it; they had played a magnificent period.
Sadly, the remaining 40 minutes would not be as awesome. Up 5-0, New Jersey really began to play a defensive game to prevent any quick comebacks. The Senators would outshoot New Jersey 13-3 in the second, as the Devils were merely content with keeping the game where it was. Ottawa would get a lone goal in the second from a Mika Zibanejad deflection from Bobby Ryan, but otherwise the second period ended in a very harmless way for NJ.
The third period is where the game got a little ugly. Up 5-1, the Devils began to take penalties in a very rapid succession. Larsson took an elbowing call a minute into the period, then Blandisi would high stick Curtis Lazar a couple minutes later, and then Larsson would take another penalty a little more than halfway through the period, this time a holding call. While the Devils did manage to kill off all three of those penalties, it was clear that this period was not going as smoothly as the first two. Then, Ottawa would finally find pay dirt, and found it twice over a short time span. On the Devils' fourth penalty kill of the period, Mike Hoffman would use a screen by Zack Smith to rocket a wrister past Cory Schneider, and then Cody Ceci would make it 5-3 just over a minute later. For the fans at the Rock who had long since felt any nerves about the game disappear, some of those feelings started to creep back. Schneider, however, was furious. After the goal, it was clear he was upset, and went to the bench to let the team know that he needed them to play sharper and finish out this game. The Devils would respond to their all-star goaltender, and would close out the remaining 2+ minutes with relative ease, and Adam Henrique would pot an empty netter to make the final score 6-3. It was an amazing first period, followed by a boring second and a pretty ugly third. Nonetheless, a win is a win, and as Lou Brown, famous fictional manager of the Cleveland Indians said, "We won a game yesterday, if we win one today that's two in a row. If we win one tomorrow that's called a winning streak. It has happened before. SO LET'S JACK IT UP A LITTLE!"
The Opposition Opinion: Here is a recap over at Silver Seven Sens from NKB.
The Game Highlights: What highlights they are indeed! Even if you watched this game live, be sure to check these highlights from NHL.com out again. They're worth it.
The Magic Bullet: From the post-game on WFAN, I learned that Joe Blandisi is nicknamed the Magic Bullet. Well whatever he wishes to nickname himself, that is fine with me if he keeps up playing like he did tonight. Blandisi not only scored his first ever NHL goal, but he also had two assists to go with it, as his line was absolutely dominant in the first period. 64 was speedy out there; he was all over the ice, and was able to make plays. I was real impressed at one point when he was fighting for the puck to enter the zone. He was able to fend off the defender and his stick, push the puck forward, gain possession of it, and pass it across for a decent attempt on net. He wasn't just a byproduct of having excellent line mates tonight in Zajac and Palmieri; he was very much a strong contributor on that line. If he keeps playing like that, Hynes and Co. will be forced to keep him up with the big club.
The Other Two Were also Excellent: I cannot mention just Blandisi tonight without also praising Zajac and Palmieri. They were just as brilliant. In fact, the entire line were the three stars of the game, with Zajac getting first star honors. He deserved it as well, with a goal and three assists. While it is impossible to expect that sort of production from this line every night, there is no doubt that they have earned another game or two together to see what can happen. Blandisi should continue to see more top 6 minutes, and let's hope that Palmieri and Zajac continue to profit from having him in that role.
Schneider is a Leader: As always, Schneider was excellent tonight. Do not let the 3 goals against fool you. Two of those came late in the game, and were just as much a product of the skaters in front of him coasting to the finish line as anything else. But what stood out to me was that event I mentioned earlier after the 3rd goal against. He was legitimately mad that that goal went in, and he wanted his team to hear it. He slammed his stick over by the bench and let his team know that he was still trying hard, and they needed to finish this game on a high note. The team then clearly responded as well, as the last 2+ minutes went very smoothly. That showed me that not only is Schneider the all-star of this team and its most valuable player, but he is also a team leader. It becomes harder and harder after each game to quantify his worth to this hockey club.
The Devils Are Responding: Last week, I wrote how I was nervous about how the rest of January would go. The Devils had not had a great month up to that point, and the schedule up ‘til the all-star break was not particularly easy. Losses at this point could doom the team. Well, the team has certainly exceeded my expectations, winning three straight. This is exactly what this team needs at this time. If they can finish strong heading into the break, it will really give them a strong position moving into a tough February schedule. These wins now can really help this team immensely come the home stretch.
Your Take: Now, what is your take about tonight's game? How excited were you about that first period domination? What did you see from this team that really excited you? Did the third period really concern you, or was nothing getting you down after that first period? How do you feel about this team now after this current three game winning streak? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.