First and foremost, I want to thank the New York Islanders for providing a stream of this game on their official website for local viewers. There was no broadcast announced for this game - or Wednesday’s - on TV or on radio. The Isles’ stream was not functional at first but it eventually did work about eight minutes into the game, it did have a small graphic for the score, and it did have commentary. I wish the New Jersey Devils’ staff actually publicized this on their site or through their social media instead of leaving them high and dry. I also have to give credit to the Devils’ sub-Reddit for the tip in their thread for the game.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the game. The Devils called up four players that they cut this weekend. Steve wrote a bit on that. I didn’t expect that three of them were going to play tonight. Tonight’s lineup was a mix of the “lower” end of the Devils’ roster along with multiple Albany players and Cory Schneider behind them all. In contrast, the Islanders had one of their top defensive pairings in Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic; one of their goalies in Thomas Greiss; and a mix of regular forwards (Andrew Ladd! Ryan Strome! Brock Nelson!), tantalizing prospects (Matt Barzal! Josh Ho-Sang! Michael Dal Colle!), and veterans looking to make a roster (Stephen Gionta! Steve Bernier!). On paper, the Isles looked stronger. On the ice, they had the edge more often than not as the Devils lost 3-4.
While the result was close, the performance was all over the place. The Devils had surges where they looked like a very solid squad. Their peak tonight was a run of shifts around the second period. It featured solid offensive pressure, Jacob Josefson trying to screen Greiss, and Reid Boucher roofing a loose puck into the net after Greiss denied Josefson on a rebound. Miles Wood provided a bummer with a holding call behind the play seconds after play resumed after the goal. But he redeemed himself after the Devils killed his penalty by joining a rush up ice on the left side and firing a great shot that beat Greiss inside the right (goalie’s right) post. And after that goal, the Devils kept up the attack for a bit. The passes were on point, the decisions to shoot were effective and not going into the blue and orange clad legs of the defense, and the team looked confident. The Devils had other solid shifts, most notably a their play at the end of the game with Schneider out of the net.
The problem was that there weren’t enough of those kinds of shifts. It’s common to see the “run of play” see saw between both sides. However, when the Devils were pinned back, it often became an adventure. Would there be multiple icings? Would there be turnovers by the blueline to keep the Islanders on offense? Would their be players losing their coverage partially as a result of a shift going long? Those events happened and more at least a number of times in each period. While the total shot count (30-28 in favor of the Isles) and even strength shooting attempt count (46-42 in favor of the Isles) were close, it was because of those moments where I got the impression that the game wasn’t so close. Basically, when the Isles were good, they looked good and the Devils looked out of sorts. When the Devils looked good, the Isles didn’t seem as poor.
I will admit I’m a little down on this game because of what happened to Cory Schneider. Oh, no, he’s fine. The team’s most important player played all sixty minutes and I got flashbacks to the previous seasons where it seemed there was #35 and some guys in front of him not really helping. Giving up four goals is never good looking for any goalie. That one was deflected by him (Colin Markinson off a blast by Johnny Boychuk) and two were on rebounds on his right flank (Gionta to make it 2-3, Barzal to make 2-4) mitigates however bad it may have looked. Schneider looked frustrated at the fourth goal - Barzal putting home a loose puck. I looked frustrated as I saw John Moore and Damon Severson focus on one Islander in front trying to win a puck and that failing as an open Barzal swooped in when the puck squirted loose. Blake Pietila flew by Barzal after the score, but I don’t know if he was late or coincidentally skated by. Either way, it was a failure by the skaters to help the goalie. If Schneider wanted a goal back, then perhaps it should have been the sweet shot by Andrew Ladd in a 2-on-2 rush that tied up the game. Then again, it was a really, really good shot. My larger point is that Schneider was fine but he ends up with the ‘L’ in part of some spotty play by the guys in front. After the better part of three seasons of that, it’s kind of a downer.
That all said, the result won’t matter in a week. And despite a “down” mood, there were some stand outs on the Devils’ side of things. Most of all, I’m actually glad I was able to view it thanks to the Islanders. Maybe the Devils will learn a lesson and do so on Wednesday.
The Opposition Opinion: Dan Saraceni has the recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Nicer New York Team: Another reason why I’m more down on New Jersey in this one-goal loss is because I came away from this game pretty impressed with some of the Islanders. Boychuk had an excellent game in both ends. I would almost say he was their best skater tonight. Andrew Ladd showed how much of a threat he could be; his goal was great and his seven other shooting attempts were worth watching. His only real bad moment was slashing Vojtech Mozik and getting an extra two for using some bad words to the referee about said slashing call. The Devils pushed to score on that power play and came rather close. In any case, the Isles’ big signing made a big impact tonight. Ho-Sang, Barzal, and Dal Colle each had multiple shifts where I just thought, “Great, the Isles are going to be really strong at forward in the near future.” Even Bernier and Gionta had their moments. Bernier created a goal for Gionta and put in a solid fourth liner’s work. Gionta scored off a rebound to make it 2-3 in the third, had two one-on-ones with Schneider, and he was used appropriately and effectively on the penalty kill. He took a shot near the end of regulation; hopefully he’s OK. I selfishly would like both Gionta and Bernier to make the squad, if only to be in the way of some of those prospective forwards. But, more seriously, they helped their own cases for making the team.
In total, I came away from this one thinking that the Islanders are a better team. On paper, they had a stronger lineup. On the ice, they were better more often than the Devils.
Standout Devils: There were some Devils that I really liked in this game. This was a much, much better game for Jacob Josefson. Amusing as it was to see him try to get in front of Greiss, he did center New Jersey’s most effective line at evens. Josefson was a solid distributor for Boucher, who scored a very nice goal, and Blake Speers, who demonstrated some good speed. Speers is undoubtedly going back to juniors, but this was a preseason game where I thought, “Now I know why they’re keeping him around. He’s got a real future in NJ.” The line won their matchup more often than not and the defensemen behind them enjoyed the spoils.
Speaking of speedy wingers, Wood and Nick Lappin received more ice time to a point where they are definitely going to be call ups if/when injuries come at wing. Wood took a dumb penalty, but again, made up for it by scoring shortly after it was killed. As good as the shot was, I was impressed he kept up with the pace and drove into the zone with speed as he could. Lappin kept finding ways to get shots on target; he had four out of seven attempts. Joseph Blandisi wasn’t as noticeable, but these two - his wingers for most of the night - made their marks.
On defense, I would have to say Steve Santini had another solid night. I was impressed with how he was willing to fire away when he received the puck at the point. While not perfect, I think his defensive coverage was fine compared to others. He played over two minutes on a penalty kill that was perfect tonight. I liked Santini tonight. I still think Yohann Auvitu has the inside track. Among the three called up Devils that played tonight, Mozik was notably active on the ice and on the puck. He had four shots and over twenty minutes of ice time. I will say he got stuck in his own end at times, but the stats show he was not picked on as much as he may have been. I liked him more than the other two call ups that played.
As a whole, I will specifically appreciate that the Devils only took three penalties tonight. The Devils’ penalty kill limited the Islanders to only four shots in addition to not conceding any goals. Ladd’s double minor helped shorten the third penalty kill; but the important thing is that the Devils took care of business and didn’t shoot themselves in the foot in shorthanded situations.
Not So Standout Devils: I’ll start with a general comment. The power play. I know that many of these players won’t be on it when the ‘A’ team is on the ice. Yet, the first two power plays were just utter wastes of time. The third one nearly cashed in right in the paint, the end of a sequence where the Devils were able to maintain puck control, distribute it in ways where the receiver wasn’t put out of place, and retrieve the puck when it went astray. Eventually, the zone exits by the Isles forced an attempt at a zone entry, which was often an adventure. The Devils nearly tied it up late and that one shift was good. The power play as a whole, well, I can’t say it was good.
I also can’t say that the Albany-tastic line of Blake Coleman, Rod Pelley, and Blake Pietila were good. They didn’t generate much offense. They did a lot of defending and were often made to look like guys on the ice as opposed to active defenders. They were a unit the Islanders enjoyed playing against. I am heartened that I won’t see those three in about a week.
Likewise, I was not a fan of Seth Helgeson tonight. Part of it is because of who he is. He plays like a defensive-minded defenseman of about a decade-plus ago. He’s big, he’ll throw hits, and he contributes next to nothing on the puck, whether it’s on offense or a breakout. Helgeson was never a fast player and it got exposed at points. Santini was his common partner and looked good. Helgeson often looked like an aftethought. While he definitely had his good shifts, for someone who may be competing for a spot on the depth chart, he didn’t do enough. And part of that is because he only could do a few things.
I was the most disappointed with the Moore-Severson pairing. That the two of them lost a battle at the crease against one Isle just looked bad. But the two played a lot of defense and Moore just did not seem all that effective. He was the leakiest defenseman of last season’s blueline. I’m not terribly confident he won’t be this season. As for Severson, the hope is that he can take the “next step” as a defenseman. I’m not seeing it yet. Maybe he needs the gift of Andy Greene to help him along? It’s sad because when I saw the lineup, I figured, “Oh, well, this could be a potential second pairing for New Jersey if the team keeps Lovejoy with Greene.” I’m less confident in that potential pairing as they had to play a lot of defense and struggled to get the puck moving forward. Granted, it’s not like the forwards were all that strong; but I’d like to think Moore-Severson could at least be decent without having a top forward line helping them along. It was what it was.
Ow: Devante Smith-Pelly gets a special mention for paying the price for a score. Smith-Pelly was kind of “there” for most of the night until the 11:40 mark of the third period. He drove to the goalie’s left as Sergey Kalinin fired a shot from the goalie’s right. Greiss made the stop, and DSP was in the right place at the right time and right inside of (I think) Ryan Strome. Just as he knocked in the puck, Strome knocked him down hard. It was the sort of goal I think is expected for DSP as it followed the tradition of going to the net and having good things happen. It was also smart of DSP to make sure he was in front of Strome and kept going towards the side of the crease in case there was a rebound. It was a good moment even if he took a big hit from it. It also helped that it put the game within reach.
Your Take: Those are my thoughts on tonight’s loss. Perhaps you’re more positive or saw some better things than I did. Or maybe you’re more negative and other players deserve further criticism. Or perhaps I just missed something, such as the first eight minutes of this game. Whatever it is, please let me know what your take is on this game and the performances within it in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter (@AAtJerseyBlog) and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.