For most teams, a regulation win isn’t really headline worthy. The New Jersey Devils are not most teams. Tonight, the Devils actually beat a team within sixty minutes. It has been a while since that has happened. The 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks is their first regulation win since November 12, when the Devils beat Buffalo 4-2. In the last 23 days, either the Devils won beyond regulation, lost beyond regulation, or lost in regulation. While the Devils have kept grinding out points, they’ve been handing out one in most of them. Not tonight. The Canucks walk away from the Rock with zero points.
The game itself will be talked about for the violence on it. Hockey is a tough game. Physical play is common. It went beyond common tonight. There were two main incidents.
In the first period, Michael Chaput got a shove on Travis Zajac, who was offbalance. He went face-first into the boards and went down. While the trainer was running out, John Moore decided to fight Chaput and John Hynes was fuming. Zajac left the ice, covering his face from blood. The result? Moore got two for instigation, five for fighting, and ten for a misconduct. The Devils were assessed a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. All Chaput received was a fighting major. He got nothing for what he did to Zajac. With less than a minute left in the first period, Vancouver received a two man advantage and Zajac out of the game for the time being. The fans were understandably unhappy. The Canucks would score near the end of the 5-on-3 in the second period when Daniel Sedin fired a one-timer through Cory Schneider’s five-hole to tie up the game at 1-1.
The good news is that Zajac would return to the game with a full face shield. Andrew Gross reported after the game that Zajac suffered a broken nose and underwent the concussion protocol. Clearly, he passed and was able to return. This was good as Zajac did set up the eventual game winner and the Devils didn’t have to play with three centers for long.
The incident that will be talked about came later in the second period. Philip Larsen received the puck behind the net. As he turned to skate with it behind his net, Taylor Hall hit him. That is actually an understatement. Hall did a Scott Stevens impersonation: Hall checked Larsen hard in the chest with his shoulder as if he was trying to knock down a wall, and sent Larsen down. It was akin to a linebacker hitting a receiver over the middle of the field. Larsen turned and Hall was right there. Larsen’s head hit the ice and he just lied on the ice motionless. As the trainers from both benches rushed onto the ice, Chaput recklessly decided that he needed to attack Hall right then and there, regardless of how much danger and peril he would put his fallen teammate in. A melee ensued right around Larsen’s prone body and most of the players on the ice got involved. Larsen did get hit by sticks and skates - some Devils, some Canucks, definitely Luca Sbisa - by accident from the melee. Jacob Markstrom and Markus Granlund jumped in just to keep the pile up away from Larsen. Shortly after that was settled, a stretcher came out for Larsen and he was wheeled off the ice. There were no penalties as Hall’s check was legal as it was an incredible hit.
There would be some good news reported later in the game, around the start of the third period. According to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy, Larsen was “coherent, alert and had full movement before being taken to hospital for observation.” Those were definitely positive signs. Hopefully, Larsen is able to recover quickly and return to doing what he wants to do.
Getting back to the game, some Canucks, namely Erik Gudbranson, were still upset by Hall’s check on Larsen. On the next shift, Gudbranson tried to go after Sergey Kalinin. He fouled him instead and another fracas emerged by the penalty boxes that involved Gudbranson, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Alexandre Burrows. The Devils would get a power play out of it, which led to Taylor Hall making a scintillating cross-ice pass to Kyle Palmieri, who beat Markstrom short-side to make it 2-1 in the second period.
Once that power play goal was scored, while both teams were surely putting some extra “oomph” into their hits, the level of violence subsided. Between Zajac getting a broken nose, Larsen being literally knocked out of the game, and Palmieri making Gudbranson pay for his attempt at “justice,” cooler heads eventually prevailed. That was good because the last thing this game needed was further escalation that the referees couldn’t contain - as they certainly did not contain much after the Zajac incident. Although Gudbranson tried something a little later in the second period.
Oh, as for the game as a whole, if it lacked anything, it lacked a whole lot of attempts and shots on net. This was very much a low-event game. The two teams both took fewer than twenty five shots on net and the Devils only led 40-38 in attempts in all situations. Both the Devils and Canucks weren’t the sharpest on the puck. Sure, both teams had some great moments and offensive shifts. But it came with plenty of failed passes, more effective than expected stick-checks, and so forth. Both teams, I think, would have wished they did more than they actually accomplished tonight.
In light of that, the Devils did display an uninspired stretch in the third period where they went shotless despite attempts to go forward for a period of time. This was with a lead so it was dangerous to a degree. The start of the third was good. A few of the shifts before Markstrom was pulled for the extra skater were good (and Smith-Pelly came really close to scoring twice). Fortunately for the Devils, the Canucks really only had a handful of shifts where they pinned the Devils back in the hopes of getting that equalizer. As nervy as those shifts were, the Canucks never made a habit of it so the Devils weren’t fully punished for a lackluster offensive performance with the lead. As much as I’d like to criticize the Devils playing with fire with a one-goal lead, I’m just pleased they were able to preserve it. Better that than handing another opponent a point and trying to win the game beyond regulation. The Canucks leave Newark with nothing. Good.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Nucks Misconduct for their opinion on today’s game.
Ben’s First: Ben Lovejoy was not signed to provide offense. He has not provided much of it. However, he scored his first goal of the season tonight and it ended up being the difference maker in this game. In the second period, Zajac sent a pass along the blueline that Lovejoy did well to receive and keep the puck in the zone. Lovejoy had acres of space and bodies in front of Markstrom, so he wound up for a slapshot from above the circle. Lovejoy hammered his slapshot past a screen by Palmieri, the shot hit off Markstrom’s left pad, and fell into the net. It was a great shot by a defenseman who does not fire off many. It put the Devils up 3-1 and lifted the spirits at the Rock. It was a good first goal.
By the way, Gudbranson congratulated Lovejoy by knocking him down as he came over to celebrate with this teammates. You can see it in the above video. Did Gudbranson and Chaput have a competition over who could be more unsportsmanlike tonight or something? Was Gudbranson that salty that he cost his team a goal earlier in the period? Is he that concerned that a team like Vancouver may not want to keep him around after this season? What’s his deal? Anyway, let’s get back to the Devils.
Lovejoy scoring means that the only Devils on the active roster who have not scored this season are Jon Merrill (scratched tonight and likely most nights until someone’s hurt), Jacob Josefson (now seemingly surplus) and Sergey Kalinin. I feel bad for Kalinin because he nearly did score again tonight. Early in the second period, it looked like Michael Cammalleri set him up on Markstrom’s left flank. Kalinin had an empty net to shoot at. But Ben Hutton intervened to deny Kalinin’s stick from doing anything like that. It was an important defensive play by Hutton. Alas, Kalinin remains goalless.
Speaking of Kalinin - His Return & Bennett’s Return: Kalinin is back to being healthy and Bennett was activated from injured reserve tonight. For the former, Jacob Josefson was held out of tonight’s game as a healthy scratch. For the latter, John Quenneville was sent back to Albany. Kalinin actually centered a line with Bennett and Smith-Pelly. It actually went fairly well. DSP had some good opportunities to score. Kalinin worked hard at winning pucks and making the play go forward. Bennett was very good at entering the zone, making plays happen, and even bailed the team out of an icing call in the third that eventually resulted in DSP firing a hard shot from the left circle. As a line, they were New Jersey’s best from an attempts standpoint; the trio pushed Vancouver back. They unfortunately were not credited for any chances for, but they were also not credited with any chances against. That’s good for any line, especially one playing more limited minutes.
It also raises the question: If Kalinin can fit in well as a center, then what is Josefson’s purpose on the team?
Mighty Hall: Rightly or wrongly, that hit on Larsen will be remembered. The fans will also remember that Hall also scored the game’s first goal and set up Palmieri’s power play goal. That goal was a patient one. Hall recovered a loose puck off a Kyle Quincey shot, went around bodies to find a lane, and fired a high one past Markstrom. It was very nice. The pass to Palmieri was just great - especially since he made two of those kinds of passes on the play that led to the goal. Hall was actually quiet from a shooting standpoint - only two shots on net - and he wasn’t so strong in possession. But he made a big impact on tonight’s win, such that it only adds to his growing status in New Jersey.
Struggles: The top unit for the Devils in recent games has been the Zajac line - Zajac, Palmieri, and Cammalleri - with Andy Greene and Damon Severson. This unit suffered the most in terms of possession. They had a nightmare two-minute shift in the third period that somehow yielded little for the Canucks. Greene in particular was notably out-shot and out-possessed in 5-on-5 play. Bo Horvat and his unit did not do a lot tonight, but they had their best shifts against him. And other Canucks did fairly well against #6 too. It also did not help that Daniel Sedin fired a puck that went off his stick, which bounced to Henrik Sedin, who roofed said puck past Schneider to make it 3-2 in the third. The Zajac line had another tense and nervy shift right at the end of the game, trying to hold on against a six-skater Canucks squad. They succeeded but they just had their issues tonight. What’s more is that while Zajac set up a goal and Palmieri scored on the power play, the unit did not create a whole lot on offense at even strength. Cammalleri was just off. While some made their mark on the scoresheet, these players could have done better tonight in my view.
The Increasingly Necessary Wood Section: Miles Wood managed to get behind Troy Stetcher and draw a hooking penalty in the second period. Not that the Devils did a lot with that power play, but the first unit had some good shots created. (Aside: The power play overall was good and successful.) Wood utilized his speed effectively in the third period, even creating a breakaway off a loose puck. Wood nearly outskated the puck itself and Markstrom poked the puck into Wood’s body. But that’s the kind of speed that can be an asset and Wood continued to show it tonight. It’s exciting. It gives the Devils an extra dimension to their attack. It’s the sort of thing that will keep him getting games over other Devils. Once he gets his shot up to speed, then he’s going to be even better.
A Better Schneider: The Devils gave Schneider some more support and surprise, surprise, he was able to come through. Schneider had some fortunate stops, such as robbing Sbisa through traffic in the first period and calmly gloving down a rushed shot by Jack Skille in the second period. The 5-on-3 goal allowed was not pretty, although I’m still more annoyed at the situation than the goal Schneider allowed. The shortside shot was off a bang-bang play while Schneider was coming over to the post. I don’t think he was bad tonight. If anything, this game should ease some of the criticism he has received over the past few weeks.
A Nice Coincidence: The Devils won their first game in regulation in 23 days. They also held an opponent to less than three goals for the first time since November 15 in Dallas and held an opponent to less than 29 shots on net since November 19 in Los Angeles. I can also get behind the Devils out-chancing an opponent 14-12 in all situations
Explain This To Me: Moore received an instigator penalty for fighting Chaput after the Zajac incident. OK. How come Chaput did not get one for starting a fight after Hall’s legal hit on Larsen? Say what you want about Moore’s fight, but he had the sense to fight away from his fallen teammate. I know it’s moot now, but I don’t get it.
One Last Thought: Don’t tell too many people, but this game may have been the best from John Moore and Kyle Quincey as a pairing. They didn’t get burned for any odd man rushes or breakaways. They didn’t make a critical error in the run of play. They helped out on offensive rushes, with Quincey picking up two assists for it. If they can play like this more often, then more people would be pleased to see them together.
Your Take: The Devils won 3-2 in regulation. What did you make of the win? What did you think of the Devils’ performance overall? What went well and what could have been better? Who was the best Devil on the ice in your opinion? What should the Devils learn from this game before they enter a nasty back-to-back set later in the week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
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