Whenever the New Jersey Devils would win a game despite a not-so-excellent performance, Doc Emrick would proclaim that they had them all the way. That phrase would apply tonight in their 2-1 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild. Only thanks to the overtime hero of the night, the phrase would have to be that the Devils had them Hall the way.
There was a lot of excitement when the Devils acquired Taylor Hall back in June. That excitement only swelled with two power play goals - New Jersey’s only goals that night - in the team’s first win against Anaheim. Tonight, Hall further established his star status on the 2016-17 roster. In overtime, there were exactly three advances. The Devils went forward first and were stopped. The Wild tried to attack in response but they were denied. Hall intercepted a pass by Mikael Granlund in New Jersey’s slot. He collected his own loose puck and darted ahead through the neutral zone. Ryan Suter kept Hall in front of him, forcing #9 to turn and slow down just past the blueline. He dropped the puck for Adam Henrique and picked up speed to complete the switch-over. Nobody on the Wild followed Hall as Suter and Mikko Koivu kept with Henrique and Granlund was looking at him. Henrique passed it across the slot and Hall took a quick shot at Devan Dubnyk’s five-hole. Hall ended overtime with his third of the season, which ended the Wild’s three game winning streak.
The team’s second goal of the night yielded the team’s second win of the season. It was a highlight-reel worthy goal from a player who commands and demands to be on highlights with his play. Needless to say, a lot more #9 jerseys with tape on the nameplate will start reading “Hall.” I already saw a few tonight; they will only increase.
Hall’s goal put an exclamation mark on a game that was riddled with question marks and frustrated declaratory statements for about 50 minutes of the game. There were positives to the performance. The Devils broke a ten-period even-strength goalless drought (these ten periods included the first and second tonight). The Devils did out-shoot the Wild in the first and third periods. The Wild were locked down in the first period and only had a few shining shifts in the third period. The Devils really only struggled in the second period as a whole. Even in that period, the Devils put up eleven shots on Dubnyk and created a one-on-one with Beau Bennett. The team did surpass 30 shots on goal. The Devils were even more disciplined with only three penalties taken. Cory Schneider remained fantastic as ever with only one big error. Taylor Hall emerged with not only a sensational overtime winner, but he led the team with six shots on net. The squad even kept Zach Parise, Eric Staal, and Charlie Coyle with only six shots and two glorious chances that were ultimately denied. Yet, the outlook was grim until the team tied it up.
How grim was it? The announced sellout crowd was lustily booing Zach Parise for the first period. But as the Wild kept skating around and occasionally through the Devils in the second period, it got a little more restless. As the Devils failed to connect on a breakout or were denied a zone exit, the sighs became more apparent. The grumblings increased when the few fortunate bounces for the Devils would only result in an attempt to pass the puck away from the middle of the ice instead of taking a shot. When the Devils failed to connect on a pass on offense and the Wild immediately turned it up ice, the thought that started to seep in, keeping the past four games in mind, the Devils may not be all that good of a team. That feeling would increase as the team failed to turn one shot on net into more more than one many times. By the early part of the third period, booing Parise became an afterthought. Seriously, #11 would be out there and there wouldn’t be much of a peep after hearing it for about 20-30 minutes of gametime. The worry that the Devils may be shut out of this one was real.
Then, at 11:56 into the third period, Dubnyk would do the Devils a solid:
P.A. Parenteau fired an unscreened slapshot and Dubnyk just couldn’t come up with the save. (For his sake, Dubnyk better hope that shot ramped up off Coyle’s stick.) I sit in Section 1 and I actually paused, not knowing that the shot went in. I expected the save, I’m glad my expectations weren’t met. The goal did more than tie up the game, it energized the crowd. The crowd was more responsive to the actions on the ice, both good and bad. It put the thought back into the collective heads of the fans that, hey, this game wasn’t over. And it wasn’t. They even went back to booing Parise.
The Devils pushed for a second goal, the Wild pushed back (and came the closest, I would say), and the Devils held on for overtime. There, they took the win. I wouldn’t say that the Devils got rolled over and stole points. But I would say that while there were apparent positives, there’s a lot of work for the Devils to do if they want to win more games. Tonight, though, they had them Hall the way.
The Opposition Opinion: The Noogie at Hockey Wilderness has this recap from the perspective of the losing side in this game.
The Pre-Game Statue Ceremony: Before the game, the Devils would re-veil “The Salute,” a statue honoring Martin Brodeur’s career, and unveil it in its permanent location outside of the team’s practice rink. I didn’t know there was a contest or some sign-up for fans to be within the barricaded area for the dedication ceremony. So I hung outside of that and took it all in. Kevin Weekes effectively hosted the event and did a good job, presenting Brodeur, throwing to a highlight video of Brodeur, and introducing the other speakers. Co-owner David Blitzer ran through Brodeur’s accomplishments and the Brodeur Rule (Aside, why is the trapezoid still a thing, NHL?). Martin Brodeur would then give a short, gracious speech about the statue. Then it was unveiled to fanfare. It was a nice ceremony marred only by the weather being cold and drizzly.
The Return of Speers & Kalinin: Blake Speers re-entered the lineup tonight. Speers only played 7:44 and did not last long on a line with Michael Cammalleri and Travis Zajac. While Speers skated with Hall and Henrique in Friday’s practice; head coach John Hynes decided to put Pavel Zacha with Kyle Palmieri and Hall, moving Speers elsewhere. Speers really didn’t do a whole lot. He had one shot, didn’t make too many plays, and didn’t make too many stops on defense. Speers looked like just a guy out there. His minutes were cut and that’s partially why the forward lines changed so much tonight. Given how little he played, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back to being scratched - or even sent back to juniors. The Devils coaches see a future with him, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not in the immediate future.
Sergey Kalinin made his season debut. Illness led to a spot on injured reserve as the team made roster space for others. Healthy and after a full week of skating with the team, Kalinin played 12:11 on a fourth line that didn’t see much change throughout the night. That line would be with Vernon Fiddler and Devante Smith-Pelly. The trio got to start and play a lot of defense. Kalinin didn’t look too rusty, but the unit was responsible for exactly one (1) shot on net tonight. It’s questionable whether the fourth line will stay in place, but I think Kalinin did a decent enough job to warrant another game.
Defensive Changes: For the first time all season, Hynes made some changes on defense. No, Steven Santini remained on the scratch list. But Yohann Auvitu was paired with Ben Lovejoy while John Moore was with Kyle Quincey. I think the changes went well in that we didn’t witness Moore and Lovejoy get pinned back. I don’t think any single defenseman had a bad game, just some bad moments here and there. Like Damon Severson getting schooled off the rush by Granlund before Schneider bailed him out with a big glove save in the second period. Or John Moore moving away from Charlie Coyle after a puck popped up high into the air and even Coyle clearly recovered it in the third period. Or, worst of all perhaps, Lovejoy joining a rush with the fourth line that not only didn’t succeed but led to a 3-on-1 counter attack by Minnesota’s top line late in the third period. Again, no one was particularly bad, but there were some rough moments for everyone. Sorry to say, I’m not sure who comes out for Santini at this point.
I will say that I think Lovejoy had a better game next to Auvitu. I don’t think Lovejoy should be pinching or joining offensive rushes like the faster, more offensive-minded Auvitu should. But I did appreciate Lovejoy’s positioning on defense. I think he was stronger on the puck than previous games. I especially liked his block to deny Parise a goal in the third period, too. Given that tonight’s game went to and was decided in overtime, that wasn’t a nothing play. In any case, I’d be fine with seeing that pairing for another game to see how it goes.
A Note for Mr. Hynes: While Parenteau and Hall both scored, the general performance brings to mind one question to consider. If the roster changes but the tactics do not, then what really is changing?
Compared with how the game went in Boston, I saw that the Devils were trying to do a lot of the same things with different forward and defensemen combinations. Hockey, by it’s nature, requires quick thinking and decision making. I can understand the value in mixing up who plays with who until a unit “clicks.” Or finds “consistency” Hynes is happy with. But if the team continues to run the same kind of breakouts, the same kind of zone entries on power plays, the same tendency to make passes to get a goalie moving despite it being a worse shot, the same tendency to chip pucks away for certain units, etc., then I’m not seeing how different combinations will change that. I think some of the tactics Hynes and his staff are instructing need to be looked at despite out-shooting the Wild and winning 2-1.
Additionally - there’s a power play unit with Taylor Hall on it and the strategy is to force passes to the right circle for Kyle Palmieri to unleash his one-timer. It’s a very good one timer but if the passing lane isn’t there - and the Wild often made sure it wasn’t - then the Devils should go to plan B. Or Plan #9 and let Hall loose. He clearly has demonstrated that he knows what he’s doing.
Keep Chopping Wood: Late in the third, after Schneider froze the puck, Hynes decided to put Kalinin-Fiddler-Smith-Pelly up for a defensive zone draw against Parise-Coyle-Staal. The line iced the puck, won another defensive zone draw, went forward, got caught after a turnover, conceded a 3-on-1, iced the puck, forced Hynes to use a timeout, and then scrambled to make a clearance to get off. I understand that some guys need a break, but putting out the fourths against another team’s first line in a 1-1 game isn’t usually going to work. It did not work there for Hynes.
The Gaffe: Schneider’s one big error came fairly early into the second period. Jason Zucker fired a low shot from Schneider’s right that was difficult to handle. Schnedier didn’t handle it and stretched out to try to corral it. Joel Eriksson Ek charged the net and knocked the puck up and over Schneider for a goal. That would be Schneider’s most costly error of the night. It may have been tough to handle, but Schneider must know that to stretch out like that, then he has to get that puck. Otherwise, he was just fantastic. Even his stickhandling was mostly good.
The Wild Ones Weren’t the Ones You Thought: As much as the Parise-Coyle-Staal line had a few glorious chances in the third period, the bottom six on Minnesota managed to put up better numbers in possession. Eriksson Ek, Zucker, Jason Pominville, and Teemu Pulkkinen all enjoyed more time in New Jersey’s end than in their own. They didn’t play a lot, but they put up three, two, two, and one shot on net, respectively. That’s pretty good for players who aren’t receiving big minutes. While Granlund had one impressive individual move and the Coyle unit had some glorious chances, they weren’t so consistent in successfully going forward. Perhaps in the second period and at times in the third; definitely not in the first period and in other times of the third.
I will say I was impressed that Suter and Matt Dumba - who was moved up to play with Suter as Jared Spurgeon was held out of this one - played as much as they did and did a good job frustrating the Devils’ offense. I felt the Devils frustrated themselves, but I do credit the Wild for their backchecking as well as their defensemen for making as many plays as they did. Suter (29:50!!!) and Dumba (26:38!) stuck out to me more if only because they played much more than all of the other skaters.
One Last Thought: Someone brought in a horn and there was a “Kill!” chant during the first PK. That horn was taken away. After Parenteau scored, someone verbally sang the beat to Rock and Roll Part 2 and the crowd picked up on it with the appropriate chant. Never stop finding ways to make it work, Devils fans. Keep having fun.
Your Take: Again, there are positives to take from this performance; while they won, there’s a lot more work for the 2016-17 Devils to do. What was your take on tonight’s win? What positives and/or negatives did you take from tonight’s game? How shocked were you that the Devils scored an even strength goal tonight? How about when Hall scored his? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight? What do you think the Devils need to change before their next game? Lastly, did the Devils really have them all the way? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
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