With a top tier talent like Taylor Hall, you know the points will come. He’s been a scoring machine ever since he stepped on the ice in Edmonton. One can be a little anxious waiting for that first one, though. Especially with a new team and a different situation. I knew Hall would eventually get on the scoresheet. His hands, his skating, his play on the puck, all of it was too good to remain off the boxscore for long. It was all a matter of when would Hall get on the board. It happened tonight in a 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Taylor Hall scored his first and second goals of the season and with the Devils in front of an announced sellout crowd at the Rock. Hall’s scores made the home opener a night to remember.
The headline is a small attempt at a pun in that both goals by Hall were on the power play. After a nondescript man advantages in the first period, the Ducks shot themselves in their collective foot with five penalties in the second period. The Devils finally got it going with a short 5-on-3 situation. John Hynes put out five forwards for the task. While they didn’t score with a two man advantage, the crew of Hall, P.A. Parenteau, Michael Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri managed to keep the puck on New Jersey’s sticks as they took shots at John Gibson. Cammalleri fired a shot from the NHL Faceoff 2016 logo and an uncovered Hall slammed in the rebound. It tied up the game, it converted the man advantage, and it was Hall’s first as a Devil.
Minutes later, Hall would strike again on another power play in the second period. Damon Severson would fire a wrist shot that an open Hall deflected down past Gibson to make it 2-1. The deflection was so clean, I saw it clearly from my seat in Section 1. Kevin Bieksa had a great look at it too seeing as he wasn’t really doing anything to Hall from a defensive standpoint.
The crowd at the Rock were hot already. Not only was it the first night, but they witnessed a whole lot of action from the beginning of the game. Hall was skating hard from the get-go. Adam Henrique, who had a better night compared to the season opener, hit the post on a shot and kept trying to beat Gibson to little avail. The Devils went down 0-1 when the Ducks’ second power play of the night just pinned back New Jersey. The Devils had three or four good opportunities to get a zone exit but they didn’t. Sami Vatanen fired a wrister past a screening Ryan Kesler and Cory Schneider to take advantage of not only the power play but a gassed PK unit. So the Devils were behind but applying plenty of offensive pressure on a Ducks squad that struggled to maintain possession after zone exits. The Devils would have had an equalizer earlier in the second with a long shot by Yohann Auvitu. But it was waved off by the referee as Reid Boucher was called for a high-stick on Kevin Bieksa. A call that the Devils played on the big screen that showed an angle that would suggest Bieksa sold it like he was Dolph Ziggler. So the crowd was extra hot at the refs and wanted a goal. When it was scored by the Big Name Player Ray Shero got this summer, it was electric. And it kept on going with the next goal.
The crowd was certainly kept in it for what would be more dramatic action. A failed power play yielded a shorthanded breakaway for Chris Wagner in the second. Wagner had Schneider beat but lost the puck, allowing the fans to collectively wipe their brows. The drama continued into the third period. The Devils had a few more power plays, as many as seven for the whole night. They were close to scoring a third PPG but it was not to be. The Ducks managed to maintain possession more often and drive to the net more. The Devils kept passing when they should have shot or succumbed to some blocks that could have led to the third goal. Cory Schneider suddenly was receiving more work and bodies as the Ducks crashed the net, hoping for something.
The apex (or nadir, depending on your point of view) of the late-game drama came near the end of regulation. John Moore committed a clearance over the glass with less than four minutes to play, which was just plain dumb. So the many, many Devils fans in Newark and around the globe had to hold their breath and/or hope that the Ducks wouldn’t get the bounce they were looking for. They did not. Not with five on four. Not with six on four at the tail end of that PK. Not with six on five in the final minute of the game. The Devils held on for their first win of the season. The fans were ecstatic by the game’s end. Not only did the Devils earn a victory in their home opener, their new star made it possible. It would be only a matter of time before he would do so. Now, we’ll see when - not if - it’ll happen again.
The Opposition Opinion: Go check out Anaheim Calling for their take on this game.
I Will Admit It: I was pleading for a power play hat trick for Hall tonight. I would have taken an even strength or an empty net goal. Hall was close to doing so, but he was denied by Gibson or blocked by a Duck. Still, with four shots on net, two goals, and a lot of speed to make Anaheim defenders earn their paycheck tonight, Hall was great.
No Points But More of This Please: I really, really, really liked how the third line of Beau Bennett, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Pavel Zacha played tonight. With eleven total power plays taking up nearly a third of the entire game, there wasn’t a lot of even strength play. As it turned out, the teams were close to even from an attempts (Devils led 26-24 in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick) and shots (15-13, NJ in 5-on-5 play). But when those three were out there, they often pushed Anaheim back in their own end. They created many attempts for New Jersey, especially a surprising five shots on net by DSP. These constant attacks also involved Kyle Quincey and Yohann Auvitu (four shots and a disallowed goal) - who also looked great in this regard. No, they didn’t generate any points. They came close to scoring, but how often they made Anaheim play behind their blue line helped the Devils maintain control for stretches of the game. I want to see more of that in future games. The points will come if they can do so.
Zacha, in particular, was impressive to watch on the puck and make passes. There was a shift in the third where the forwards were in flux and Zacha and Hall were on the ice. The rookie hit the star with a great pass and only a block by Nick Sorensen denied Hall a potential third goal, an assist for the rookie, and a lot of fans witnessing the start of a tantalizing connection.
Neutral Zone Goodness: The Devils clearly picked up on Anaheim’s tendency to just throw pucks away for zone exits and hope the bounces go their way or catch the Devils by surprise. Aside from one bad pinch by Ben Lovejoy in the second period, that bad turnover by Cammalleri that resulted in Wagner’s penalty shot, and a few miscommunications, the Devils kept Anaheim from having too many odd man rushes and often had them in front of them. In fact, the Devils were great at forcing many turnovers by the Ducks. Their neutral zone play was strong and their forecheck created some additional offensive opportunities for the Devils. It led to a big shot lead after the first two periods (23 to 15) as well as showing off why putting Randy Carlyle behind Anaheim’s bench was a dubious decision. The Devils could have taken more advantage of these turnovers with more shots instead of attempts at killer passes that went awry. And the Ducks got their block on as needed. But they at least kept Anaheim from really going forward until later in the game. The lesson I hope New Jersey learns from this one is that they don’t try to do the same thing as their defensemen did.
Goaltending: Cory Schneider was super tonight. Nothing more really needs to be said there. Gibson wasn’t bad either. He impressively knocked a puck that trickled behind him off the paint with his blocker hand. He also had plenty of hard minutes, what with the Devils spending nearly twelve minutes of this game with an extra man on the ice.
Still Needs Work: While the Devils did score two power play goals, their power plays varied from effective to a waste of two minutes. That’ll happen with seven of them in a game. But some of the breakout decisions were just poor. In the second, I noticed that the unit featuring Adam Henrique at center had a play where DSP would gain the zone at the blue line and then chip it off the boards for Henrique to chase it down. Every time, the Ducks picked up on the puck and had an easy clearance, which they made. The penalty shot conceded was created by Cammalleri - who otherwise had a good night - just coughed up the puck in the neutral zone. Henrique fouled Wagner - lightly, but still a foul - for the PS. Breakouts matter and the Devils could work on them for their man advantages.
I wasn’t a fan of how they went for more long passes from the goal line to the neutral zone in the third period. I get that they wanted to stretch out the Ducks and put players like Hall into space. More often than not, the play was easily defended or an icing resulted. I don’t think that adjustment worked out.
Speaking of not working out, the top four defensemen weren’t so top tonight. Sure, they got the job done. But Andy Greene was stuck in the red in terms of possession, and plenty of on-puck decisions by Damon Severson went awry. I’m glad Severson got an assist, but whether it was a shot, a pass, or a mvoe in front of the net on defense, it was a little of an adventure for #28. Maybe he’ll sort it out and with a better matchup, 6-28 can be solid. They were preferable to Ben Lovejoy and John Moore. Moore’s delay of game call did him no favors with many fans who note that opposing teams like to shoot quite a bit when he’s out there. Lovejoy tried to make up the difference, but his lack of speed was apparent at times and some less-than-ideal clearing attempts were stopped. I’m not saying these four were all bad, but they could have been better. On the flipside, Auvitu-Quincey did well.
For the Other Side: Cam Fowler looked like the best Duck skater on the ice. Sure, Corey Perry had seven shots on net and Vatanen scored, but Fowler denied some of the Devils’ better chances and worked really hard on offense to keep whatever offensive pressure they could get in the third period alive. Games like this will make it sad for Anaheim if he’s sacrificed to sign Hampus Lindholm.
One Last Game-Related Thought: I think the Devils should keep rolling with these forward lines. Zajac and Hall can and did work well together. Henrique will get going and if not, Palmieri and Cammalleri will be there to fire away. I want to see more of Bennett-Zacha-Smith-Pelly. They won’t get seven power plays tonight, but I was generally played with how most of those nine forwards played.
Opening Night Notes: Maybe this should be its own post, but I’ll include some thoughts on what I observed at the home opener.
- The crowd was mostly full with only pockets of seats available in various sections. I could buy an announced sellout as being legitimate.
- The Devils made it a big deal again with a red carpet entrence, a fan fast, free t-shirts for the first 10,000 fans (it’s a good t-shirt), and plenty of invitees from the New York Red Bulls (Disclosure: I am a Red Bull supporter; link goes to a picture of two potential MLS MVPs for this year), Olympians, and even JPP.
- One Jersey was pretty much the theme of the night. Andrew Gross had this post at Fire & Ice where Hugh Weber insists this will be more than a one-year thing. I’ll see it when I believe it.
- I liked that the Devils announced everyone involved with the game prior to the opening faceoff. The coaches all got a shout-out as did the players on the active roster. The trainers, equipment staffers, and strength & conditioning coaches are all important parts of a team succeeding and they’re often behind the scenes. I liked that the scratched Devils - including Blake Speers and Sergey Kalinin - were announced and brought to the bench too.
- I did like the new opening video if only because it includes the Baumann Chant.
- I can take or leave seeing the names of every county of New Jersey coming at the screen with the logo during stoppages and so forth.
- I didn’t like Brendan Maly, Devils host, proclaiming that there will be a new tradition of a chant starting after the National Anthem. The chant being that three season ticket holders will yell “We are” and the crowd is to respond with “Jersey.” Who wants to tell the Devils management that co-opting a Penn State thing isn’t Jersey.
- I also don’t like that the gameday posters are $5. Maybe for special occasions it can work, but who’s going to want it for, say, next week’s weekday game against Arizona? The Red Bulls do this for every home game too, and they give their posters away, by the way.
- I did like the enthusiasm of the crowd.
- I really liked that the Devils put up a replay of Kevin Bieksa’s sell-job on the high stick. Teams should do that.
- It was good to be back in Section 1.
Your Take: I thought it was a good win and I had a very good time at the Rock. What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you react when Hall scored his goals? Who do you think was the best Devil on the ice not named Hall? Do you feel bad for Anaheim that Randy Carlyle is coaching them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts from tonight’s game.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.