Before this game, if you were to tell me the New Jersey Devils would get a point by losing in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks, then I would have been mostly fine with it. As I pointed out in my preview of this game, the Blackhawks have been a very strong team with a core of four or five all-star players outside of the penalty kill. Throw in the fact that Keith Kinkaid made his first appearance of the season and it looked like this game would favor Chicago. As it turned out, the Devils did lose to Chicago, 2-3, by way of overtime. And my first thought was that it was a disappointment.
This is all because of how the game went about. I would have never predicted that the New Jersey Devils would be the superior team in 5-on-5 against Chicago for two periods. I would have never predicted that the Devils entered the third period having out-shot Chicago - a team that featured Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the same line - 28-12. For a change, it was the opposition that just struggled to just do much of anything on offense save for the odd rush up ice or turnover. For a change, it was the Devils who dictated the pace of the game and made the goaltender do twice as much work as Kinkaid. Full credit needs to go to Corey Crawford. The Chicago goaltender kept his team in it as all four Devils lines were just winning match-ups and firing away for two periods straight. He kept the Devils to only one goal scored. A power play strike by Artemi Panarin in the second made it 1-1. The score was even while the performance on the ice definitely favored New Jersey. It was pleasing to watch.
Then came the third period. Chicago suddenly started to be more measured with the puck. They weren’t losing it with the first or second decision made on offense. They weren’t losing pucks and not winning bounces to the Devils defense as they were for two periods. The Devils own offense faded and faded badly. Sure, it didn’t happen right away. Minutes after missing a gimmie in front, Taylor Hall drew the attention of several Blackhawks before throwing it in front of the net. Kyle Palmieri touched it off and John Moore slammed in the loose puck to make it 2-1. Scoring is great. What wasn’t was just about the end of that for New Jersey. Palmieri had one more shot on net later in the period and that was it - the Devils who put up 28 shots on net in two periods put up a measly four in the third and none in overtime. That includes a shotless power play against Chicago’s woeful penalty kill. Chicago didn’t waste the opportunities as they kept coming at Kinkaid more and more. They put up fourteen shots. They managed to tie up the game during a costly penalty by Vernon Fiddler. They turned around two crummy periods of hockey with one really good one thanks to their goaltender and special teams. Part of it was Chicago playing like, well, Chicago while also being down a goal for additional intensity. Part of it was that the Devils hung back more and couldn’t keep Chicago at least a little honest and keep the ice from tilting against them. All of it was a bummer.
And in overtime, the Devils just got stuck in. After an initial rush by Hall and Adam Henrique, the Devils were able to only change two players. Chicago obtained the puck, Kinkaid made a big stop on Kane, an under-pressure Auvitu coughed up the puck in his own end with a failed exit attempt, a tired Hall couldn’t stop Panarin from firing, and no one could stop Artem Anisimov from winning the game on the rebound.
Chicago is a really good team and once they get their penalty kill to something resembling decent, that will be easier to see. That they turned this into a comeback win is a credit to their quality. As for the Devils, they played so well for two periods - and Kinkaid played well for all three - that the result really does feel like a disappointment. Crawford’s excellent night meant the Devils weren’t able to run up the score during their domination of the game in 5-on-5 play. The close score kept Chicago in the game throughout the night. And the Devils faltered through the end from a lack of a forecheck, the offense disappearing after Moore’s goal, taking a bad double-minor, and getting gassed and pinned back in OT. The result always matters, but how the game goes does too.
The Opposition Opinion: Jenna Wills at Second City Hockey has this recap.
A Switch Up Top: Travis Zajac replaced Pavel Zacha’s spot between Hall and Palmieri. This line was matched up against Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane tonight. I can understand and agree with John Hynes’ decision to not have a rookie center go up against Toews. For what it’s worth, the Hall-Zajac-Palmieri line got beaten up in possession but somehow ended up out-shooting the Toews line in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. And Zacha was great in 5-on-5 play against the lesser players in Chicago’s lineup. To that end, I think the decision worked. I’ll give Hynes that. On top of the gameplan that clearly worked well for the first two periods.
What I Won’t Give Hynes: The third period performance spiraled out the Devils’ control and more into Chicago’s. Again, score effects and team quality mean that Chicago firing up a load of shots on net in the third period in a one-shot game should not be a surprise. But I was stunned that throughout the third period that the Devils didn’t appear to make any meaningful adjustments or tweaks to their gameplan. Why did the forecheck disappear? Why were the Devils more content to go for blocks rather than winning pucks outright? Where did the offense go? And, while this was more specific to overtime, where were the short, “safety valve” options for a Devil in their own end with the puck? This last question came to my mind given how overtime ended. Auvitu was already tired from a long shift and he was under pressure by a forechecking Blackhawk. No Devil was really nearby, so he just fired it away and it was easily intercepted by Chicago. Not to takeaway from all of the good things, but I can’t help but think the coach had a hand in how this game went down.
The Debut of Lappin: Nick Lappin was called up for tonight’s game. Presumably this was because the coaching staff wasn’t particularly enamored with Jacob Josefson or Reid Boucher playing on a fourth line. While Lappin only played 7:10 and he had a shot on net, he was a part of an effective fourth line tonight. I think he did an OK job for his first NHL game.
Good, Straight Up: Kinkaid did not play for a while and to be thrust into a game against Chicago would be a challenge. Kinkaid more than met the challenge. He made stops on a few odd man rushes that were the few highlights of Chicago’s offense for two periods. When Chicago turned up the pressure and the Devils didn’t respond in kind in the third period, Kinkaid was doing his best to keep it from being a 2-2 game. While Hossa did that anyway, Kinkaid wasn’t going to stop that shot. I don’t think any of the three goals allowed were soft. He gave his team a chance to succeed. I liked how Kinkaid performed; among the other players, I feel bad for him the most.
I really liked how the pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson played. I liked Severson in one-on-one defensive battles and he was more effective on offense than on previous nights. Greene had a typically good game for him, where he plays a lot but does not necessarily garner a ton of attention.
I thought the Zajac line did as well as they could against a tough line of Panik-Toews-Kane, especially with Brent Seabrook supporting them more often than not. But Hall was once again a force. Yeah, he missed a gimmie in the third. He more than made up for it by creating the Devils’ second goal. Given that he drew the attention of multiple Blackhawks and Palmieri only got a touch on the pass to the front, I’d say that Hall’s secondary assist was definitely not noise or something to be ignored. It was crucial to how Moore scored. Other than that, Hall had four shots on net and I appreciated how he helped out on defense.
I was pleased with Pavel Zacha’s performance as well. He drew the Devils’ first power play, which they scored on. He had three shots on net, and did a lot of good work with Parenteau and Bennett. I don’t know if the potential match-ups are in favor of making it happen, but I’d like to see Zacha and Hall re-unite soon just to see how it would go.
Good with a But...: Vernon Fiddler otherwise had a very good game tonight. He had four shots on net, the play was usually in the right direction when he was out on the ice, and he was effective on the penalty kill. But, his biggest contribution to the game tonight was high-sticking Kane not long after the Devils’ third period power play ended. The call was a double minor and in the final 30 seconds or so of the penalty with Crawford pulled for an extra attacker, Marian Hossa tied up the game. Taking any penalty in a one-goal game within the final ten minutes of regulation is bad enough. Providing a double minor, where an early PPG would mean they’re still on a power play, was just real bad. That it turned out to be costly means the other good things he did tonight are overshadowed.
I really liked how Yohann Auvitu played tonight. He was quick, he was poised on the puck, the play was usually going forward when he was out there, and he put his shot on target with four of them reaching Crawford. But that giveaway in OT led to the sequence that turned this game into an overtime loss. That said, it was only the one key mistake in an otherwise good night for him.
John Moore scored an important goal in the third period. While Chicago would match it, Moore’s decision to go to the front of the net as Hall was skating towards the left corner with the puck was rewarded. It gave the Devils a 2-1 lead at the time. But while Moore did something good, Chicago had some of their best run of play against him. Moore ended up a -14 in Corsi, which is weirdly impressive given that the Blackhawks really only controlled the game for a period. Moore didn’t do well against the Toews line and he didn’t do well against his more common match-up against the unit of Panarin-Anisimov-Hossa. Whether he was paired with Kyle Quincey or Ben Lovejoy tonight, Moore got to play a lot of defense and not all that particularly well.
Mike’s Contribution: Michael Cammalleri hasn’t had a good start to this season. It led Gerard to ask about him in this post. But Cammalleri did make one important, positive contribution. The Devils’ first power play of the night was its most effective. Not only did it convert, but both units had a lot of time and possession Chicago’s end. Cammalleri lost the puck on a shooting attempt and it looked like Chicago was going to ice it away. Especially with Auvitu at the bench to get a new stick (it broke) But Cammalleri fell, scrambled to keep the puck away from a defending player, and knocked it away towards P.A. Parenteau. The Devils kept possession and Auvitu returned to the offensive zone with a stick. Not long after, the Devils scored the game’s first goal: a rebound put-back by Parenteau. It would not have happened without Cammalleri’s heads-up decision. While it was only the one play and he didn’t get on the scoresheet, a positive play from him is worth highlighting.
Special Teams Mattered: The Devils did capitalize on Chicago’s notoriously awful penalty kill with a power play goal on their first opportunity. Unfortunately, the Devils were not able to do much more with three other opportunities with the exception of two plays to Hall that led to big stops by Crawford. The Devils’ penalty kill were beaten twice, although I do not think it was that bad. The Panarin goal was shortly after a faceoff win by Chicago that started their power play. It was a well placed shot; I don’t think the PK had a chance to succeed there. As for Hossa’s goal, the Devils did a great job for the first three minutes or so. But six skaters against four and an excellent play after a good zone entry was not going to end well - and it did not. I’m more annoyed with the penalties taken rather than the play by some one or some unit. All the same special teams made a big difference on a night where 5-on-5 play swung towards New Jersey in a big way and then back towards Chicago.
One Last Thought: I really liked what the Devils did on Hockey Fights Cancer night. The warm-up jerseys, Devils graphics, and ad boards were all in lavender. The mystery pucks, as far as I could tell, were super-popular. The presentation stuck to the theme all night long. Good job, Devils.
Your Take: For better or for worse, the Devils won’t be allowed to dwell on this loss for long. They will play Tampa Bay on Saturday night to close out a four-game home-stand. Again, the Devils played a great first and second period against a very good team; their goaltender prevented them from building a larger lead; and a bad third period performance led to an overtime period where Chicago took it. That’s the long and short of how the 2-3 score came about and why that’s a disappointment. What did you think of the Devils tonight? Who impressed you the most? What could have the Devils done differently in the third period as Chicago was storming the Devils’ end for a second goal they would eventually get? What should the Devils change, if anything, for tonight’s game against Tampa Bay? Please leave your thoughts and answers about tonight’s loss in the comments.
Thanks to all of the commenters in the Gamethread and/or the followers of the site’s Twitter account (@AAtJerseyBlog) during the game. Thank you for reading.