I missed the one angle for tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and the Arizona Coyotes. The Devils entered the game with the lowest goals per game average in the NHL while the Coyotes had the highest. It would be a team that grinded out one-goal results against a leaky squad who sincerely misses goaltender Mike Smith. Who would prevail? As it turned out, it would be the Devils. And they did it by putting up the superior offensive performance in a 5-3 victory.
This is not to disrespect Cory Schneider, who made more than his fair share of stretched-out saves amid other bailouts of the Devils’ defense tonight. But those wondering when the Devils would score more than two in one regulation game found out tonight. The Devils put up 35 shots on net, scored four goals on goaltender Justin Peters, converted two power plays, and scored their first empty net goal of the season to seal the win. All but three Devils had at least one shot on net and five Devils each had four shots on net. The Devils started the game on the wrong side of possession; they ended the game on the positive side: 43-38 in 5-on-5 play and 46-43 in even strength play. Clearly, the Devils’ offense was superlative tonight.
The apex of this effort was in the second period. It was arguably their best period of this young season so far. They put up 26 attempts, 17 shots, and scored two goals. The two goals were different from each other: The first was Taylor Hall salvaging an entry pass by Pavel Zacha and turning it into a highlight-reel worthy power play goal. The second was opportunistic. Alex Goligoski got denied on a pass by Devante Smith-Pelly and so the went into no man’s land in front of the net; Michael Stone’s clearance gets blocked by Adam Henrique, who goes to the net; Reid Boucher hits the loose puck and it goes off Henrique and into the net. Not as pretty as Hall’s but it provided the elusive two-goal lead. While the Devils’ offense was firing on many cylinders, they held Arizona to no goals, only six shots on Schneider, and nine shooting attempts. The start of that period was shaky, but the Devils started pushing forward and rarely looked back. Their breakouts were more effective, they had more attack time, and they were just firing away at Arizona’s third-string goalie. By the end of that period, the only real bummer was that John Moore hit Brad Richardson away from the play on defense. Even then, the Devils managed to hold position and a miscue by Arizona meant there would be no touch-up for the power play to begin until four seconds were left in the second. A lot was going right for the Devils and they looked to be in solid control up 3-1 after the second period.
Unfortunately, despite the Devils continuing to attack in the third period, the Coyotes would claw their way back into the game. Schneider aside, the defensive performance left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t so much in terms of how many shots they allowed, but where those shots were coming from. The Coyotes’ main game plan appeared to be to have a shot come in low at difference and always have a screen in front of Schneider and/or crash the net in the hopes for putting a loose puck home. And the Devils were often chasing the play, so this meant there were Coyotes players wide open on the weak side of the play and/or able to charge in and force Schneider to be alert with a quick stop. That game plan worked thrice against the Devils. First in the first period, when Jordan Martinook piled in a puck past Martin Hanzal and Schneider. Second and third in the third period from Arizona’s all-star, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The defenseman was wide open on the left side and fired a shot through a screen to make it 3-2. After a stupid decision by Kyle Quincey, Arizona was awarded a power play. The puck stayed on the perimeter and from the center point, Ekman-Larsson’s shot found its way through bodies and past Schneider. They nearly did it for a fourth time with Peters pulled. It made sure Devils fans all over the world following this would pay attention and hope one bounce does not elude them.
But, again, the offense saved the day. They did enter a lull between the Ekman-Larsson goals and. However, they received a big opportunity when the referees called defenseman Connor Murphy for high-sticking. At the time of the call, Hanzal was down from an apparent high hit by a Devil. Many fans in the stands thought the whistle would be for New Jersey; Murphy going to the box was a surprise. I’m sure Arizona’s coaches weren’t happy. Especially when Damon Severson passed it up to Taylor Hall on the breakout, Hall sent a near-perfect pass across the zone to Travis Zajac, and Zajac slid a shot through Peters’ five-hole to convert the power play. Yes, Zajac scored the goal; but do credit Hall and Severson for making the play too. The Devils would be up 4-3. They scrambled to survive a late push by the Coyotes. Ben Lovejoy would attempt a clearance at about the twenty-second mark. It hit the linesman to deny an icing and Zajac was first to the loose puck. Zajac sailed in the ENG. That would become the season-high thirty-fifth shot on net, the season-high fifth goal of the game, and the team’s first consecutive win.
It was definitely good to watch in general. The game got too dramatic for my liking late, but the feeling after seeing Zajac score to make it 4-3 made it worth it. Likewise when he scored the empty netter to confirm the ‘W’ for New Jersey. The worrying part of the game was the slow start and Arizona really just scrambled the Devils’ defense at times. Again, OEL was wide open in a 5-on-5 situation for that second goal and that was awful. The Devils got burned more than a few times in their own end, only to be bailed out by Schneider making a big save. To that end, witnessing a Devils offense break out in a big way was quite exciting. It remains to be seen whether they can build on that for future games. It remains to be seen whether their offense won’t be near the bottom of the league. But after five games of minimal scoring, we now know that it is possible for the 2016-17 Devils to score more than two goals in regulation. That’s a good takeaway in of itself. The win’s better, though.
The Opposition Opinion: Brendan Porter has this recap at Five for Howling. His recap notes a larger perspective. As he wrote, Arizona’s loss is their fifth in a row and so their 1-5-0 start to the season is the worst in franchise history.
Attention, Luke Schenn: Your jockstrap is still at the Rock.
Taylor Hall may have made you lose it, but it’s up to you to pick it up. The Devils won’t mail it to Philadelphia.
Love for Hall Intensifies: I will admit with a modicum of shame that I yelled “I don’t miss you, Adam Larsson” after Hall’s second goal. I was that impressed with the play. Pavel Zacha’s up ice wasn’t a good one, but Hall made it magical. Zacha’s other primary assist to Hall for a goal was a cleaner one. Zacha won an offensive zone faceoff, Hall came in from the offwing (Zacha’s right) and put home a beautiful shot that tied up the game. Hall created the game winner from Zajac, too. Whenever Hall was able to go forward, it was beautiful. He was one of the five Devils with four shots on net.
Curiously, his possession was better away from Zacha and Kyle Palmieri. Why? Hall was double-shifted at times tonight, and he did take advantage of some different match-ups. With all due respect to whoever’s minutes he at into - it appears to be Boucher - Hall absolutely should get the green light for that. Let him do his thing and give what the Devils want - no, give them what they need: the gift of offense. Drink it in, maaaaaaaan. (And, please John Hynes, keep Zacha and Hall together for a while. It can work. It worked for both of Hall’s goals tonight.)
5 Points, 6 Games: Travis Zajac scored two goals tonight to bring him up to three goals and two assists for the season. This is fairly impressive in that Zajac has been shuffled around with a lot of other forwards. He had a very good game tonight. Zajac was aggressive enough on the puck to take four shots on net. He was a prime penalty killer. Hanzal beat him in faceoffs, but Zajac was a positive possession player tonight - which was really great as his starting linemate Michael Cammalleri was absolutely not. Zajac has received plenty of criticism in recent seasons for not being productive. Now he is and so it should be easier to appreciate the other things he does for the team.
Owwwwwww: Adam Henrique did not have a good start to this game. He got legally checked by, I think, Hanzal and Reid Boucher’s stick hit him in the face afterwards. Play stopped and he went to the locker room for facial repairs. Henrique would return to the game. On the scoresheet, he took a clearance to the body and his skate re-directed Boucher’s shot into the net. At least Henrique got a goal for the additional pain that came with the play. In terms of his overall game, he was quite fine. The play was generally positive when he was out there and Henrique even put up four shots on net. OK, one of them wasn’t actually a shot by him; he just gets credit for one by way of scoring. But that’s pretty good all the same. I hope he ices up for the back-to-back this week.
What’s the Matter, Man: Michael Cammalleri put up four shots on net, which is usually something you want to see from an offensive winger. However, Cammalleri had issues with turnovers. It contributed to why he ended up as a team low -6 in 5-on-5 Corsi and one of the few Devils to be out-shot. So far this season, Cammalleri does not appear to be on the same page with his teammates on or off the puck. He’s taken his share of penalties too. This would be mitigated greatly if he was productive; but he only has two assists in six games. Cammalleri probably just needs to make a few tweaks to his game and receive a bounce or two to get away from this rough start to the season. For now, it’s not always a joy to see #13 fly up the ice and then proceed to lose the puck somehow.
You Big Dummy: Kyle Quincey was actually one of the Devils’ top players from a possession point of view. However, he did two dumb things that I can’t ignore. First, he checked and knocked down Martinook away from the play in the third period. This was correctly called as interference. On the ensuing power play, the Coyotes kept the puck to the outside and Ekman-Larsson converted it from distance to tie up the game. It was an unnecessary hit, it was a bad penalty to take on its own, and its badness is magnified for being costly. His other dumb play occurred early in the second period. During the run of play, Quincey hit Martinook into Schneider. Not only could Arizona have capitalized, but the hit sent Martinook hard into Schneider. It could have hurt Schneider, the most important player on the New Jersey Devils. That in of itself is irksome. I understand Quincey wants to throw hits and establish position, but he’s been around long enough to know better.
I don’t think his performance was otherwise bad enough to warrant Steve Santini to get into a game. However, being a part of notably and costly events in a game hurt’s one case. We’ll see.
What’s the Matter, Man - Again: Damon Severson did receive two assists; he began breakouts for the Devils’ two power play goals. His passing did appear to get better as the game went on. Some of his decisions early in the game were poor enough to mention now after a 5-3 win. Turnaround blind passes on offense are a bad idea. They’re even worse at the blueline! Yet, he did this multiple times in the first period. Severson has good skills, he just needs to use them more judiciously. He did show improvement in that as the game went on, though. I’ll give him credit for that.
Defensively, though, the Coyotes liked him. When Severson was on the ice, the Devils were outshot 5-11 at even strength. Arizona’s top line of Max Domi, Radim Vrbata, and Hanzal along with top defenseman, Ekman-Larsson, saw plenty of Severson and had the better in that matchup. Lesser minutes against Shane Doan (he played tonight, I assure you), Richardson, and Tobias Reider (who also played tonight, trust me) also went poorly for #28. The wierd thing is that his usual partner, Andy Greene wasn’t that bad. He was close to breaking even for shots, actually. The other four were positive; including John Moore and his four shots on net. So I don’t know what’s up with that. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.
Not an Announced Sellout: I don’t think anyone would have predicted this game to draw really well. 12,756 on a Tuesday night against Arizona isn’t that bad, though. They all got to leave saying that they saw five goals by the Devils; two by Zajac and two by Hall.
One Last Thought: The most amazing scoring chance the Devils didn’t score on tonight happened in the third period. Vernon Fiddler, of all people, deked his way down the middle of the Arizona zone and tried to beat Peters one-on-one. Peters made that save. I was so hopeful of the notion of Vernon Fiddler of all people scoring a potentially sicker looking goal than Hall’s second goal tonight. Alas, it is not always to be.
Your Take: The Devils’ offense had a big night and carried the team to their second straight win. I thought highly of Taylor Hall and Travis Zajac, what about you? Who did you like the most in tonight’s game? Who did you like the least? What about the Devils’ performance, good or bad, stuck out to you? What can the Devils learn from this ahead of their back-to-back set at the end of this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with the site’s account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.