When regulation ended tonight, I was pretty pleased. The New Jersey Devils put in a solid, hard-working effort in an up-tempo game against the Dallas Stars. There was a lot of tension, there were relatively few stoppages in play, and plenty of offensive shifts where one hoped/feared a goal would be scored. And it was the Devils who was driving most of the play. They deserved at least a point out of this game. They earned that. Then they made it two thanks to Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique, of all players.
Overtime was contentious to start. Dallas attacked first. John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, and one of Dallas’ best tonight, Jamie Benn were just in control early on. That’s a trio few teams want roaming around in space with puck control in overtime. After thirty or so seconds, Henrique knocked the puck away from Seguin. Palmieri took it and just darted forward. He could have understandably dumped the puck away and went for a change. But with Henrique on his wing, he went for it. He went wide to his right to draw Klingberg. Palmieri impressively got around the defender and flung a puck to the top of the crease. Henrique drove in and slammed the puck into the net. Just like that, the Devils won 2-1 in overtime.
It was a big moment in a game where both teams made the defenses and goalies earn their respective paychecks tonight. Dallas seemingly knew where their open teammates were, with varying success and failure at giving them the pucks. The Devils came at the Stars in waves after the first period with a whopping 49 shot attempts and 23 shots on net in the second and third periods. Cory Schneider and Antti Niemi were great; but with how both teams attacked and created shots, one just wondered when the goal would come. Whether it would be from a fantastic play, a defensive breakdown, a deflection, or even a total fluke. As it turned out, it would be a great counter attack by two players that definitely didn’t start this game well.
Adding to the impressive nature of this win is who wasn’t on the ice for the Devils. The team’s best forward, Taylor Hall, was held out due to a lower body injury per this report by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. Michael Cammalleri did not travel with the team due to personal issues. While Cammalleri was not exactly crucial to the team so far in this season, those are significant losses at forward. It was heartening to see the Devils still put up over thirty shots on net, out-attempt the Stars on their rink, and not give up on the attack when it did not work out initially. All results are team efforts, but it really showed tonight. Even the Jacob Josefson line had its moments. The whole team worked hard for a point tonight and came away with two. What a way to start a four-game road trip. What a way to stretch a winning streak to five games.
The Opposition Opinion: Taylor Baird at Defending Big D has this recap from a Dallas perspective. Taylor is not pleased with the OT result.
Bennett’s Big Night: With Hall out, Bennett was moved up to play in Hall’s place with Travis Zajac and P.A. Parenteau. How did he do? He did everything but score tonight. He led the Devils in Corsi (+15!), he had three shots on net out of six shooting attempts (I think he hit iron near the end of the second period), and he helped create plays that yielded six shots for Zajac. Some of those shots were really good ones. While a goal eluded him tonight, he can feel good about creating the Devils’ lone regulation goal. Bennett pounced a whiffed shot by Klingberg. After he recovered, Bennett passed the puck up to Parenteau. He went down the far side, looked for help, and hooked Damon Severson up in the slot with the puck. Severson unleashed a great far-side wrist shot to make it 1-0 in the period. That does not happen without Bennett winning the turnover.
I do hope Hall comes back really soon; but I hope this performance opens some fans’ eyes as to how well Bennett can play.
I was really happy with that line as a whole. Zajac did not register any points, but he was leading his line in a big way. Again, six shots on net and winning most of the minutes against Dallas’ top players. Go to Natural Stat Trick (link is above), click on the plus button next to Devils-Opposition, select Zajac, and marvel that he and his teammates were fantastic against Tyler Seguin, forced Dan Hamhuis to play a lot of ‘D,’ made Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns to do the same, and repelled Jamie Benn more than most. The only issues with the line were penalties. Parenteau took a silly interference penalty in the first period. That was killed without much issue. Zajac took a boarding call late in the third period that led to a tense, but ultimately successful PK. Other than those, I was real pleased with this line.
Welcoming Fidds Home: Vernon Fiddler was a beloved Star for many, many seasons. He was given an ovation by the home fans during the first period. It was fitting that Fiddler, Sergey Kalinin, and Nick Lappin would each put in strong performances throughout the night. Fourth lines are usually expected to just keep play from going out of control, spell the better players, not make any costly errors, and any offense is a bonus. These three kept going forward and defensive-heavy shifts were few and far between. Fiddler was solid as ever; Lappin was not terribly accurate (1 SOG out of six attempts) but he kept getting and therefore took the shooting lanes; and Kalinin was very strong with good hits, good handles, and four shots on net. This was another strong performance by the fourth line and I hope they stay together for the time being.
Was There a Forward Group That Didn’t Do So Well?: The unit of Jacob Josefson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Reid Boucher did the least on offense. They only had two shots on net between them. Defensively, they did hold Dallas to very little too. It’s hard to say they were disappointing; but I wanted to see some more from them given that the other three lines and most of the defense got in on the blooming offense after the first period. Boucher had an opportunity to make a case for more appearances with Hall out tonight. I don’t think he made the most of it. He’ll keep playing until Cammalleri or Hall return, though.
Devils On Defense: The Stars looked to catch the Devils with odd man rushes and counter attacks. One such play resulted in their lone goal of the night. John Moore clearly saw Antoine Roussel high in the zone, but decided to make a pass to Kyle Quincey along the blueline. Quincey did not see Roussel. The fast and hot (this play extended his point streak to seven games) Roussel knocked the puck away from Quincey and was off to the races. Moore caught up to Roussel, but the winger sent the puck across to Patrick Eaves, who buried the puck. It was a bad moment for the Devils and a bad decision by Moore. And the Stars were trying to catch the Devils with speed through the neutral zone.
Fortunately, the Devils as a team defended really well. The forwards were excellent at backchecking and getting pucks away to start attacks. Defensemen were able to help start breakouts and keep offensive pressure alive from the blueline. And I do mean defensemen as in all six of them. Yohann Auvitu and Damon Severson had a great night from an attempts and shots against point of view as well as the old “eye-test.” Ben Lovejoy was actually solid from what I saw. Andy Greene played as well as he usually does. Moore and Quincey recovered from a poor first period and a bad moment to have decent nights. Defense, at its best, is a team-wide performance and the Devils got a good one in time. The Stars definitely provided challenges, but it was not like the first period where Dallas generated more of the scoring chances or past games where teams would just walk on through certain lines and pairings. The Devils did hold a Dallas team that features Seguin, Benn, a returning Jason Spezza, Klingberg, and the hot sticks of Roussel and Eaves to only twenty shots on net. And the fast-paced nature of tonight’s game helped turn a lot of those defensive stops into offensive opportunities for the Devils. I’m really pleased with this aspect of the game even if it wasn’t always easy to watch.
Special Teams: The Devils held Dallas to only three shots on net across their two power plays. They did a great job killing Zajac’s minor, which was not a good penalty to take given the timing (within last five minutes of the third) and the score (1-1). That piece went well. The power play remained scoreless, so they are scoreless in 21 straight advantages now. It was not a terrible power play; what they were trying to do just didn’t work. Jordie Benn blocked a Palmieri one-timer to great pain; Severson had his stick break on him on a one-timer attempt; and the lanes were not where they liked. Maybe next time the power play will score? Maybe?
Great Goaltending: While the Devils out-shot the Stars 33-24, Schneider had more than his fair share of tough stops. His best was on Dallas’ first and second shot of the second period. Adam Cracknell deflected a puck right in front of Schneider, which forced one big save. The rebound went right to Cracknell, and Schneider robbed him with the left pad. It would have been deflating for the Devils to come out on fire in the second period and then have a goal allowed on Dallas’ first or second shot of the period the one time Cracknell did anything of note in the game.
Niemi may have looked shaky early on and definitely over-committed when Severson was in the slot, which contributed to his goal. But he definitely worked out of it and was just getting in front of everything he could. There were a few juicy rebounds I wish the Devils were able to pounce on, but the Devils gave him a lot to handle. He had no chance on the overtime winner. In a season where goaltending has been an issue for Dallas, it wasn’t an issue tonight. The Stars fans can (should?) feel good about that.
Tied: Severson is now tied for Hall for the team lead in points. Who would have guessed that at the start of this season?
One Last Thought: In the game preview post, I wrote that Tyler Seguin could not be stopped. One could hope to just contain what he brings to the ice. As it turned out, the Devils did just that. Seguin only had one shot on net out of five shooting attempts. While Roussel and Eaves scored the goal, those two and Seguin got pinned back a lot tonight. Seguin and Roussel both were a -12 in Corsi (Eaves was at -8) and just did not much; goal aside for Roussel, that was his only shot on net of the night. Excellent job by the Devils. I’m sure the other 28 teams will study how the Devils handled Seguin tonight. At least, they should.
Your Take: The Devils won their fifth in a row and kicked off this road trip with a big win and a good team performance. What did you make of this game? What did you like most about the Devils’ performance? Who was the best Devil on the ice? How did you react when Palmieri set up Henrique for the overtime winner? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
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