No one ever said hockey is a fair game. Tonight’s contest between the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings showed that off. The Devils managed to be out-attempted 42-28 and out-shot 29-13 in even strength, but the Devils managed to force overtime. A power play performance that initially cost the Devils dearly, managed to provide a goal to even up the goal differential. Cory Schneider made a lot of important, bail-out style saves to keep the Devils in it. Yet, he let in some goals he’ll wish he’ll want to have back. And while the Devils managed to out-chance their opponents, the Devils didn’t register a single shot on net since scoring their fourth goal of the night - and that would continue into overtime, where it ended with a 4-5 loss.
To put it simply, the Devils were fortunate to earn a point tonight. An ugly point for an ugly performance by the Devils. The silver linings in this one are few. The obvious one was that the Devils found a way to avoid a regulation loss. The Devils killed all three of their penalties tonight, including a nerve-wracking one near the end of regulation. The Devils scored four goals, which remains impressive in of itself. Michael Cammalleri was a threat with four shots on net - the only Devil to register more than two tonight - and he put up a goal and an assist. Pavel Zacha scored his first goal since November 3 in Florida. The fourth goal came on a really impressive display of possession and patience on offense during a delayed penalty call. Adam Henrique deflected in the shot, but a lot of credit for the play goes to Cammalleri, John Moore, and Kyle Quincey for keeping the puck away from Detroit. I cannot think of too much more positive than that.
This was a performance where no Devil actually was present when the Devils out shot their competition at even strength. Jacob Josefson, who played an anonymous game, was the best with an even shot differential (present for 3 by NJ, 3 against NJ). Everyone else suffered Detroit doing more than their teammates at evens. The defensive effort was porous as Detroit attacked with possession, forcing turnovers by the defense, and catching the Devils on counter-attacks. The play that won the game in overtime really summed up how the game went: Detroit established control, the Devils were chasing the play, and there was always a passing lane for Detroit to safely move the puck. Mike Green received it from Frans Nielsen, who made a huge impact on this game. Andy Greene, who did see Green on his back side, gave him too much space, skated right in front only to screen Schneider on a well-placed shot to the far post. That’s how Green won the game in overtime. The Devils skaters looked like they were behind on the play for the whole shift because they were. And they suffered a lot.
Another play that illustrated how the night went for the Devils was the third goal that they allowed. With time ticking off the clock in the second period and the Devils up 3-2, they just had to not be dumb and get in Detroit’s way. Pavel Zacha’s forecheck only forced Jonathan Ericsson to pass it up to Dylan Larkin to start a rush. Larkin made a pass to the side to Henrik Zetterberg. Nick Lappin throws a check that knocked Zetterberg down but did not get him away from the puck. So Zetterberg knocked it forward for Gustav Nyquist. Greene is towards the sideboards, expecting the puck, now he has to cross over because Nyquist carried in the puck. John Moore is in a position to receive Nyquist, so Nyquist goes to his left. Nyquist draws Moore, Zacha is trying to backcheck him, and Nyquist slides a pass to his right to Larkin - who has a better angle on Greene. Larkin takes one touch as he goes to his left, keeps the puck away from Greene, and slides it in five-hole on Schneider. It was a bad goal for Schneider to allow, it was a bad coverage in transition by the skaters, and with 1.2 seconds left in the period, the Red Wings tied up the game to frustrate every Devils fan at the Rock. It was a play where Detroit played smart, played like they knew what they were doing, and played like they communicated with each other. Something the Devils did not seemingly do for large stretches of this game.
It is a good thing that the Devils did score four and force overtime. There were a few positives in this one. But by and large, the Devils were out-played tonight. They did not play to the score, they did not take full advantage of opportunities that they had, and they did not put in the work to make enough of those opportunities happen. Hockey is not a fair game, so the Devils were able to get something out of it. But this was not a good performance by the Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: JoshMVP has this recap up at Winging it in Motown.
Slow Starts: The Devils took quite sometime to register their first shots on net in each period tonight. It took until 5:56 for the Devils to put their first shot on net. I thought there was one a little before then, but the scorer thought otherwise. Anyway, that shot was a goal: Travis Zajac won a puck behind the net and made a good pass to John Moore, who hammered the shot past Jimmy Howard.
In the second period, it took 4:06 for the Devils to get their first shot on net. As with with the first period, this was also a goal. Michael Cammalleri comes out of a battle for the puck in the corner to the right of Petr Mrazek. Cammalleri tries to take it to the net, the puck pops up in the air off a block (I think by Tomas Tatar), and it drops in the slot. Cammalleri is able to corral the puck first and sweeps it around. The puck appears to be going wide, but it hits off Ericsson’s skate to deflect it in past Mrazek. Frustrating as it was for the Devils to take several minutes before actually making the goaltender so something, the fortunate bounce then tied up the game. There was that.
In the third period, the Devils took 4:20 before Sergey Kalinin registered the first shot of the period. It was not a bad shot. But it was saved by Mrazek. This was especially frustrating as the Devils were again down a goal but were unable to make something of value happen on offense. It did not help that Kalinin’s shot would represent a quarter of all of the shots the Devils would take in the third period.
I’m not saying the Devils needed to put up a weak, long-distance-easy-to-stop shot within the first minute of either period. But that it took at least four minutes in each period before the Devils were able to put a puck on target speaks to how their performance was tonight. Even when they made the right play on defense and got a stop on Detroit, they struggled to move the puck effectively within the neutral zone and especially when trying to gain Detroit’s zone. There were a lot of dump-ins and a lot of them failed. Yet, there was not much of an adjustment to change that. It ultimately undercut their offense despite scoring four goals in a game.
An Even Goal Differential on the Man Advantage: Normally, a four-minute power play shortly after opening the game’s scoring would be a good thing. A team with a slow start and seemingly struggling to generate offense early on receiving four minutes of 5-on-4 hockey would be a good thing for most teams. The Devils found a way to make it work against them. Damon Severson was too casual trying to start the breakout and had his pocked picked by Justin Abdelkader. Abdelkader took a quick shot; Schneider made a sprawling save; Severson, Cammalleri, and Zacha went to the net and/or Abdelkader and so Frans Nielsen was the first to the rebound and piled in a shorthanded goal. About a minute later, Yohann Auvitu had the puck stolen from him by Steve Ott at the blueline. Schneider stopped the breakaway and the Devils at least secured that rebound. Shortly after the power play ended, the Devils lost the puck to Detroit. With Riley Sheahan coming out of the box, they went off on a 3-on-2 rush. Nielsen received a long pass and carried the puck in before making a pass to Sheahan because John Moore was nearby. Sheahan curls around Kyle Palmieri’s “coverage” for a shot on net. As that happens, Moore turns from Nielsen because leaving your man is always a smart thing to do on defense. Schneider stops it, Nielsen is free to get to the rebound, it trickles through, and Palmieri - in attempt to clear the puck away - touches the puck over the line. While that goal came at even strength, it was created in part by the Devils conceding possession at the end of the power play and still having a unit out there. Those four minutes turned an early 1-0 lead into a deflating 1-2 deficit. What about when the Devils were actually attacking on it? Two shots. Of course, they conceded more shots than they took. Talk about a disastrous man “advantage” situation.
Fortunately, the power play would generate one goal to redeem themselves (somewhat). And it came off a legitimately good power play too. The Devils had some good possession going. What led to the scoring play was not ideal, though. A bad pass to Cammalleri leads to some chaos in the left circle, but Cammalleri is able to control the puck. He finds Beau Bennett below the goal line. Bennett is in a position to distribute and sees an open Zacha breaking down on the right side. While the pass hits off Niklas Kronwall’s stick, Zacha is able to get onto the puck and roof it past Mrazek for a goal. That was good. It would have been nice if they took advantage of two power plays right after the goal. They did not make the most of those opportunities, especially since Ott going nuts (or Ott-like) on Palmieri handed the Devils a third power play in the second period just after one ended for them. In retrospect, they’ll wish they did. At least the units were not scoreless.
A Goalie Change: After Nielsen’s second goal, the Red Wings changed their goalie. Howard left the game with a groin injury (hat tip to Winging it in Motown’s recap by JoshMVP). That is why Mrazek came into the game. That was fortunate for New Jersey as Howard has had the superior save percentages for Detroit this season. Alas, the Devils put up only sixteen shots on Mrazek. That he was beaten four times (three times and a post) speaks to how his season has been going. But the Devils did not put up the volume needed to take the game. As for Detroit, well, they won but at a cost for at least the short term given the injury.
Win a Break, Lose a Break: Cammalleri was fortunate to get his goal in the second period. He won a puck, somehow won it again amid traffic in the slot, and his moving of the puck hit off a defender’s skate to beat the goalie. That was lucky. Shortly before Larkin’s goal, Cammalleri looked to have an empty net off a loose puck. Abdelkader dove with his left leg out and denied Cammalleri with his skate. It was a crucial play by #8 to keep the game at 3-2 towards the end of the period. Sometimes, as Cammalleri learned, you just don’t get the breaks.
And tonight’s attending media didn’t think the Devils lone player with more than two shots on net and the only forward involved in two goals tonight was worthy of being their star of the night for the Devils. It went to Henrique, whose deflection that beat Mrazek was his only shot on net tonight. Alas, another break that didn’t go Cammalleri’s way.
As an aside, don’t try to go to the play by play log and look for that block by Abdelkader. I don’t think it’s there. The scorer did not think it a goal saving block was worth recording. I find that to be ludicrous.
Poor Palmieri: Kyle Palmieri returned to the lineup after missing that last three games with an upper body injury. To put his performance in a word, he was poor. He played most of the game alongside Zajac and Cammalleri. Not much went for the Devils right in the run of play and this line did not. They were often defending more than attacking. And Palmieri was not helping much with a mere two attempts on net. One that was blocked and one that missed the net. That’s right, Palmieri registered no shots on net tonight. He did draw a penalty from Ott that the Devils did nothing with and he also picked up a secondary assist on Moore’s goal, although Zajac was the one that made the play crucial to the goal’s occurrence. Those were his positive contributions to the game. Given that he’s a shooter and he’s expected to shoot - especially while Hall is still out - tonight wasn’t good enough from #21.
Palmieri’s largest impact in the game came near the end of regulation. With 1:18 left, he high-sticked Brendan Smith while in the offensive zone. The Devils were forced into a tough penalty killing situation that, if successful in regulation, that would put the Devils in a 3-on-4 to start overtime. The good news is that the Devils did just that. The bad news is that Palmieri contributed nothing out of the box outside of trying to carry the puck to the net one time where a Red Wing defender easily stopped him. The Devils were unable to get a stoppage, so the overtime was 4-on-4 hockey until Green won it. Given how poor the Devils were in their own end and at moving the puck, I don’t know if 3-on-3 would have went any better. But Palmieri put the Devils in a difficult spot near the end of regulation and to start overtime. That highlights how poor he was tonight. I don’t know what the Devils are going to do with him, but they’ll have to figure it out soon.
When Soft Goals Hurt: Schneider really should have stopped Larkin’s shot. Not just for the basic principle of it, but because of the situation. That goal made it 3-3 at the end of the period. Not only did that goal lift the spirits of a Detroit team that was doing more good things than the Devils, but it meant that Anthony Mantha’s near-perfect shot to the top corner would be more damaging. I don’t like seeing goals against, but that goal by Mantha was one I could not be too mad at the goalie about. Mad at Kyle Quincey for taking a Rutgers-secondary-style angle on Mantha, sure. But not Schneider. Most goalies aren’t stopping that shot. But they would’ve stopped Larkin’s. Alas.
By the By: Mantha, Larkin, Nielsen, Zetterberg, Ericsson, Smith, and the other Red Wings named in this post so far all had really good nights. If Howard doesn’t get hurt, then perhaps they win this game more decisively than just in overtime.
If the Devils play like this on Saturday in Pittsburgh, they will likely lose in a big way. The turnaround time is short but John Hynes and his crew will have sort it out real fast.
A Wrong Kind of First: This was not a good game at all for Yohann Auvitu in the run of play. He wasn’t on the ice for a single shot by the Devils at even strength and he was just stuck in his own end. But he did something he has never done in the NHL: he took a penalty. Auvitu was assessed for hooking Zetterberg in the second period as the Detroit legend fell over Schneider. I thought the call would be for interference, but a minor is a minor. Good on Auvitu for remaining out of the box all of this time. But he was pretty bad tonight.
One Last Thought: The Devils end November with a still regulation-lossless record at home: 7-0-2. That’s good. The bad news: They’ll start another four game road trip on Saturday
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils earned an ugly point with tonight’s performance. What can they sort out for Saturday’s game? Who was the best Devil on the ice in your eyes? Who on the Red Wings impressed you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks in advance to Devin for previewing the Pittsburgh game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with the site’s account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.