What is a big win? Is it a victory over a hated rival? Is it a winning result in an important situation? Is it getting two points to put or continue the team to rise to unexpected heights? It can be all of those things. It can also be getting a 'W' against a top tier team. The New Jersey Devils did just that this evening. They took on the Dallas Stars, a team that averaged close to 3.5 goals per game, limited them to two, played a very even game with them, and they came out ahead in overtime 3-2. When John Moore unleashed a slap shot off a loose puck to beat Antti Niemi for the game winner, the Rock went ecstatic. The crowd knew the result was big and it remains big after the initial feeling of witnessing it.
It is true the Devils did blow a two-goal lead to Dallas in the process of this game. That the game went into overtime was due to Dallas striking twice within a five-minute time period in the third period. Patrick Sharp put one in on Cory Schneider's right flank thanks to an excellent play by John Klingberg to make it 2-1. Colton Sceviour provided the equalizer on a long wrist shot through bodies in Schneider's way. The funny thing is that didn't really bother me much. I figured Dallas was going to get back into the game and they did. If anything, I was still impressed at it all.
Sure, part of it was that I knew that the Stars are A) a high scoring team and B) the top team in the West (and by record, in the NHL) for a reason. The other part of it was the one thing I focus so much on in these recaps: the performance. It wasn't just that the Devils got a two-goal lead on Dallas, they played very well with the lead. Dallas had their shifts of offense, but so did New Jersey. The Devils never really gave up on the forecheck. They attempted to diffuse many plays in the neutral zone and they did. For fifty minutes, the Stars had few open chances at Schneider and whatever the did have, the Devils cleaned it up well. They forced turnovers and quickly converted them to shots on Niemi. As annoyed as I usually am with the dump and chase, it worked very well tonight and the Devils didn't give it up. They handled their business well with a lead and came close to scoring a third goal in regulation - even before Dallas got on the board. That is good hockey.Compared to Wednesday night where the Devils went up 2-0 in the first period and Ottawa just steamrolled them in the other two, it was a glorious sight.
The numbers back this up. Tonight's attempts in all situations were 47-41 in favor of Dallas in regulation and 37-34 in favor of Dallas at even strength. The game flow at Natural Stat Trick shows that neither team had a real stretch of dominance from an attempts standpoint. Shots were tipped a bit more in Dallas' favor, but the Devils hung with them there too. Keep in mind that a significant part of the game was played with the Devils up a goal. So being only down a few attempts in regulation to the most prolific offensive team in hockey is really, really good. It shows that the Devils really didn't hang back or sell out on defense when leading. In fact, per HockeyStats.ca, the Devils out-chanced the Stars in all situations and that continued even while the Devils were up in the game. As disappointing as losing a two goal lead in the third period may be, it wasn't because Dallas just mauled them and the goals were a seemingly inevitability with the fear of a third one to come before overtime. No, they got good plays going just as the Devils did and both teams traded good shifts all night long.
Of course, overtime was all New Jersey. Seven attempts and four shots will do that. Jamie Benn hooked Travis Zajac behind the play as John Moore took it up ice early in overtime. The Devils nearly finished it during the delayed penalty call with four skaters. On the ensuing power play, they went ahead and just finished it. The winning play wasn't as pretty as the shot. Kyle Palmieri nearly put the puck in a precarious position with a backhander across the points to keep it alive. Moore sent it across to Travis Zajac, which was tipped but Zajac still got it. Zajac passed it back to Moore, who sent it across to Palmieri, who lost the puck and just knocked it past Johnny Oduya. Jason Demers retrieved it and tried to clear it but Adam Henrique blocked it. The puck squirted across the slot to no man's land - except for Moore. One slapshot later, we're all happy. In a way, it sums up how the night went. Loose pucks just got away from Dallas to their detriment at times and this one cost them. By no means does that detract from the effort, gameplan, and execution by the Devils.
Simply, this was a big win. If the Devils play like this more often, then I think more people will be convinced that the playoffs are a real responsibility. Even me.
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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Erin Bolen has this recap at Defending Big D. She's salty about the call on Benn. I probably would be if I were in her shoes. Then again, I probably would be more mad at Benn for putting his stick anywhere near Zajac's person, especially since Zajac didn't even have the puck. But that's me.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights, featuring a sweet goal by Bobby Farnham:
The Devils' Other Two Goals: I would be remiss in not discussing the two goals that they scored to go up in this game to begin with. The first period went well for the Devils considering who the opponent is, what that opponent has done to a lot of teams, and in general how the Devils played. All that was missing was the goal. They got one just after a minute into the second period.
Kyle Palmieri went for a wraparound. He sure likes his wraparounds. I almost want to look at his goals just to see how many were wraparounds. Maybe we should call them Palmarounds? Anyway, this one worked since as he released the puck, it appeared Oduya re-directed it past Antti Niemi. OK, not a clean goal, but the work by Palmieri to get away from Demers behind the net was good. And you'll take any kind of goal you can get.
The second one game five minutes later. The fourth line did what they usually do: dump and chase. Dallas got it first, but Jordin Tootoo deflected the clearing attempt, Stephen Gionta knocked it forward, and Tootoo looked for a short pass. He found and made one to Bobby Farnham at the left faceoff dot. Nobody was on Farnham. Nobody. It looked like there was a short forcefield around #23. Farnham turned and fired a fantastic shot that beat Niemi. Seriously, he looked like Mike Cammalleri shooting that puck. It was hard, it was on target, and it was very well placed - right at the top of the net over Niemi's right shoulder. Gionta was cutting in front so it's possible Niemi didn't even see it. The shot was so good that it didn't matter much. This one got the Rock going and it made some fans, like myself, really think this game was possible for New Jersey. I know I wrote up Dallas really strong because, well, they are really strong as a team. But that shot, that goal, that was huge. It didn't last throughout regulation, but that turned out fine.
Niemi, to his credit, played a good game after those goals. Credit the Devils for continuing to attack even after Farnham's goal and to do so from several different locations. If there was one Niemi would probably like to have back, then it would be the overtime winner. Not just because it ended the game but because Niemi saw that shot and it just beat him straight up. Not a good goal to allow and it was a killer.
No Mike, No Problem(?): Mike Cammalleri was a late scratch tonight. According to this post-game post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, John Hynes says he's day to day with his right arm/wrist upper body issue that kept him out of Friday's practice. Jiri Tlusty was moved up to play with Zajac and Palmieri. Adam Henrique centered Lee Stempniak and Tyler Kennedy, who was going to be scratched for Cammalleri tonight. Surprising to me, these moves worked out. Tlusty played one of his better games as a Devil. While they did not really "win" the matchup against Dallas' ace line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Patrick Sharp; they did do well enough to force Dallas to change that line as Sharp was replaced by Cody Eakin in the third. Kennedy also put in a good effort, though I didn't like his cross-checking penalty shortly after New Jersey's first power play. The line in general did fairly well. While I wouldn't want Cammalleri to be gone for long - he was missed, especially on the power play - the Devils made do for the night.
What really helped in that cause was the play of the bottom six. The fourth line contributed a goal, four shots, and didn't get beaten on too much. Stephen Gionta "drew" a call in the third period, too. Though, he didn't really do anything; a stick (Farnham's?) was broken and Alex Goligoski tried to move it out of his way. Only he directed it into the play, which is an interference call. Still, that's good work for the fourths. The third line of Sergey Kalinin, Stefan Matteau, and Mike Sislo had a great night. They attacked quite a bit. While they only combined for four shots, they put up more attempts and could have had more with some better decisions. The important thing is that both of the Devils' line beat Dallas' lines - especially their fourth line.
Defensive Effort: While conceding 31 shots is not usually consistent with a "good defensive night," I did appreciate how the Devils' defensemen reacted. Dallas only had a handful of times where a Star got a free lane to the net. The Devils defense put in a lot of work to make life difficult for the Stars' offense. So while they were firing shots, they weren't necessarily getting ones that would beat Schneider for over fifty minutes. I liked how David Schlemko played at both ends of the rink. Andy Greene and John Moore had to handle one of the toughest units in the league many times and didn't get burned too bad. Adam Larsson had a strong game, though he'll wish he did a better job fronting Sharp prior to the goal. I would say the goal was more of a result of Klingberg doing something great than a Devil doing something wrong, but that's me. Even Damon Severson and Jon Merrill were positive players in their own end. The defense was aware of making stickchecks in the neutral zone and making good, calm passes for breakouts and to ward off Dallas' forecheck. They weren't always perfect, but no one ever is. And they collectively did well to support the attack. If the Devils are going to concede over thirty shots, then I'd like them to do so like this than, say, how they played on Wednesday in Ottawa.
Shutout Snapped: Cory Schneider was on his way to shutout until the final ten minutes of the game. He was still good as usual. What beat him was a player behind him and a shot through bodies. It happens. Still, Schneider wasn't called upon to make too many desperate or amazing saves. Many of them were off solid positioning and good reactions to shots he could see. It was a solid game from him and I'm sure Jamie Benn (six shots) and Cody Eakin (seven shots, five in the third when he was moved up to play with Benn and Seguin) wished he wasn't so solid. Ditto Seguin, who had the one sort-of-not-really breakaway in the first period that Schneider stopped.
The Opposite of a Silver Lining: The power plays by New Jersey left a lot to be desired. I know, they won the game on a power play. Allow me to clarify. The 5-on-4 power plays by New Jersey left a lot to be desired. All three of them combined for three shots on net. While the first power play was pretty good, marred by missed shots; the other two really didn't get much going. The third power play was especially annoying as it was a good chance for New Jersey to make it 3-0 and really put the screws to the Stars. Alas, it was not done - as with many of the power play situations the team has had in recent weeks. I know not every power play can be filled with shots and goals, but it surely can't be a case where nothing happens for three of them and then on the fourth one in overtime, the only shot taken is a goal. That's not so good.
That said, the loss of Cammalleri freed Palmieri from the second unit. That second unit, if I recall correctly, was Severson, Kalinin, Tootoo, Sislo, and Stempniak. That's not a NHL power play worthy second unit, but it's who the Devils had left. Not that the first unit did much in regulation.
At least the other side of special teams was quite good. Dallas and their frighteningly effective power play was kept to nothing. Schneider only had to make three saves and he did. The Devils' penalty killers were on point in being aggressive enough to make plays but not so aggressive that they got caught in bad positions. The Stars did have a couple of great looks but they could not be realized either due to a Devil, a pass to a skateblade and not a stick, a puck bouncing over a stick, and so forth. Credit the Devils' PK for at least limiting a team used to finishing those plays to having few of them and none of them finished.
One Last Thought: How did I feel about this one? Like this.
Your Take: The Devils beat the Dallas Stars in overtime, 3-2. They did it with a very good performance that hung with Dallas all night long. What was your take on this win? Who impressed you the most on the Devils? What was your favorite part of the game? What lessons do you wan the Devils to take from this one before their Monday game against Detroit? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments.
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