Going into this California road trip, my hope for the New Jersey Devils was rather low. They got pounded by Pittsburgh after a not-so-hot 1-2-0 week prior, which was preceded by two blowout losses. On this very late night, the Devils are now 2-for-2 in the Golden State. They shutout the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. Tonight, they bested the Los Angeles Kings on their home ice in overtime with a 2-1 final score. It was quite different from Thursday's game. While that score looked better, I'd say this was the better performance by the Devils between the two games.
That game in San Jose was similar to several wins by the Devils this season. They try to hang with a team, though the shots they give up seem more dangerous. The goalie bails them out when the ice really tilts against the Devils, as evidenced by a 16-3 shot period driven mostly after the Devils' lone goal. They get a break - like a defender knocking in a loose puck into his own net - for another goal and they go on to win despite not necessarily being the better team on the ice. In tonight's win, there were stretches where it clear that the Devils were the better team on the ice. Given that Los Angeles is a top possession team, a top team in the Pacific, and have considerably more talent than the Devils, this is a feat. Especially when they had to kill ten shorthanded minutes within the first thirty minutes of regulation. Taking them to overtime was at least a moral victory as their effort and their bodies frustrated a Kings team that didn't play much like I expected save for some parts of the game. John Moore bursting past Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez to beat Jonathan Quick shortside on a Clarkson-esque wraparound with fifteen seconds made it an actual victory. One to cheer loudly for if it wasn't so late in New Jersey (1:08 AM EST) and, in my case, if I wasn't so loud.
Those ten power play minutes for Los Angeles broke up to six in the first period and four on a double-minor in the second. The attempts told a big tale. Shortly after that double-minor ended, Natural Stat Trick had LA up in attempts 34-16 in all situations, but it was 13-13 at even strength. (By night's end: All situations, 68-51, LA; even strength: 47-43, LA) And the shot totals were smaller as the Devils blocked a load of shots. This quote by Kent Wilson about blocked shots is one I believe is right. However, the high A/B number in the Event Summary for the Devils was driven by those five power plays they killed tonight. Needless to say, I was really pleased with the penalty killing effort. Not only did they frustrate the Kings to only seven shots across all ten minutes (they got more effective with each opportunity); but the Devils got three shots of their own including an Adam Henrique breakaway I'm sure the Kings fans held their breath for.
Going back to the performance, the Devils really did deserve their first period lead. Tyler Kennedy banked in a rebound attempt by Devante Smith-Pelly for an early goal. From there, despite the three penalties, the Devils enjoyed the better run of play and attacked Quick more outside of special teams. They skated hard, they held up well when the checks were thrown, and the Devils' passes were actually pretty good. In contrast, the Kings looked like the Devils on most other nights this season. They may start going forward decently, but often times, it would become a mess for them as the play progressed. For the league's best team in CF%, it was surprising to me to see the Kings struggle like that. It also helped that the Devils backchecked well, they protected the slot the best they can, and their zone exits were mostly successful. The second period was a struggle largely thanks to one awfully long shift, but I'll go into that deeper into the recap. As a whole, that period wasn't a constant steamrolling like the San Jose game. In the third period, the Devils had a very good start with their carry-over of their lone power play. John Moore nearly scored the second goal then, but Quick robbed him on a one-timer on his right flank. That third was characterized by well-paced action yielding plenty of missed shots, blocked shots, and defended plays. But if the Devils didn't "win" that third, they more than certainly held their own - especially after a late siege by the Kings.
Overtime was won by the Devils. In addition to Moore's goal, the Devils were able to hit back on the Kings more. They took four shots to their two. They made seven attempts to their five. Henrique got another breakaway that forced a tough pad stop by Quick. I liked how the Kings were methodical and patient with the puck, criss-crossing their players to find gaps. But the Devils were very good man-to-man on defense so it wasn't as effective as overtime wore on. In the dying seconds, Moore just turned into a star and crashed the dreams of the Kings going up four points on Anaheim in the standings. Quick probably should have stopped it. Martinez should have taken a better angle on Moore. Oh, well. It was a dramatic end to an exciting overtime that capped off what was more like a "sixty minute performance" for New Jersey.
Such performances are rarely a true sixty minutes since, well, there's an opponent who wants to succeed too. But as well as Kinkaid played, the defense was sharper, the forwards were more up to engage and press some of the issue themselves, and the gameplan was solid. This was a solid win. If you're all about the tank, then you're probably a little disappointed. For the rest - and especially those who stayed up to watch the whole thing - it was a thrill to see the Devils stun another California team.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Jewels from the Crown for their opinions and ranked players for tonight's game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights in this game.
The Nightmare Shift: Shifts in hockey are usually about 40-50 seconds long. Shifts that go to a minute or longer either have some kind of special circumstance (e.g. a power play, a penalty kill) , or it may mean the player is out there for too long. Players can get tired and tired players are prone to errors and/or just lesser performance. Defensemen Seth Helgeson and David Warsofsky suffered one of the worst shifts I've seen in quite some time. They were stuck on the ice during the second period from when the clock read 8:58 to 5:24. Those two were out there for 3:34. 3:34!! That is an epically long shift. After about a hundred seconds, the fatigue was noticeable. But in the period of the long change, they could go nowhere.
I believe it all started when Helgeson botched a zone exit that could have nipped the whole thing in the bud at the start. Yet, I cannot blame him alone for the shift. Being out there for over three minutes means multiple things did not go their way. The Kings just took the puck, cycled, attempted shots, recovered pucks, and ran with it until Anze Kopitar eventually scored the game tying goal. The puck crossed the blueline, I think, only twice. One allowed the Adam Henrique line to get off as they were gassed first. One just trickled over the line, so L.A. just recovered it and returned to attacking. The defenders were just beat and could do very little. I'm more annoyed with the forwards, who were fresher, in trying to stop the Kings. I think they could have been more aggressive against the Kings who had the puck instead of chasing with two extremely exhausted defenders who can provide only so much support.
Alas, despite the saves by Kinkaid and all of the survival tactics and missed/blocked shots that came during that 3:34 part of the game, it ended with a goal against. Los Angeles was able to get their top unit out there and amid chaos, Kopitar slammed in a rebound in a mess in front similar to how Kennedy scored, only that began with Martinez missing a shot from distance. It was the nightmarish ending for a nightmarish shift. Worse, the Kings started playing much better in 5-on-5 since the goal. Although, that didn't carry over into the third so well.
I felt real bad for Helgeson on this shift. I thought he denied a goal earlier on it. Shortly before Kopitar fired a puck into the net, he was in the crease trying to help. He ended up taking the follow-through of Lucic's stick in the mouth after his attempt right before Kopitar's goal. Helgeson was bleeding on top of being sore and bushed as he headed towards the bench. I don't blame him or Warsofsky for what primarily happened. It was a long shift that turned into something incredible and they could only do what they could do. He received a very long break to get cleaned up and returned to action before the period ended.
So Close, Yet So Far: Moore's one-timer during the Devils' power play in the third period was the closest they came to scoring before overtime. The Kings were arguably closer. Near the end of the game, Dustin Brown fired a puck off a long rebound and hit the crossbar. A little later, he got another attempt with Kinkaid sprawled out on the ice with his pads spread. Brown couldn't lift the puck to give the Kings the late go-ahead goal. I'm very pleased he did fail to do what he wanted, though.
Standouts for Them: While the shot count was rather low, Quick did have to stop two breakaways and a bit more than a handful of scoring chances. I thought he was alright until the very end. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin looked head and shoulders above the other Kings defenders. While other Kings forwards had better nights in possession, the Kopitar line put up the most shots (7), scored their lone goal, and Kopitar himself just threatened whenever he had the puck going forward. Like most of the Kings skaters tonight, it didn't necessarily go the way they would have wanted it. That left plenty to be desired throughout the lineup.
Standouts for the Devils: Keith Kinkaid played very well again. He nearly reached a hundred minutes on a shutout streak. I think he'll be satisfied with the result all the same. The Devils' penalty kill was excellent and that was due in part to Adam Larsson and Andy Greene. They were very good all night long. John Moore played a far better game than his last few. He wasn't necessarily picked on, he didn't concede too many pucks, and he picked his spots well to attack. Scoring the game winner doesn't hurt either. I liked David Schlemko as well, but Moore having a good game stood out to me more. Up front, I enjoyed Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique. While on separate lines, they were quite good in generating shots and trying to move the play forward. I thought Reid Boucher was good in spots. Lastly, I honestly didn't mind how Stephen Gionta and Tyler Kennedy performed. Goal aside for Kennedy, he wasn't a waste of space more often than not. Gionta nearly got a goal himself, he did quite a few things right on the PK, and he showed more speed than we've seen in other games. The two played like they were expected to play like when put into the lineup in this season.
Those Calls: Five calls for the Devils, all in a row. Sadly, most were legit. If you want to get annoyed, then do so at Bobby Farnham. He slashed Tyler Toffoli's stick out of his hands, which was just silly and not long after the Devils' first penalty kill. In the second period, he high-sticked Nick Shore and drew some blood while on offense. That was four minutes of a 4-on-5 situation the team wished they didn't have to deal with. The Wild Thing could've been a lot smarter tonight. I wouldn't be surprised if he sits when Jordin Tootoo is available to play, who was held out tonight with an upper body injury.
The only call I have an issue with his is the goaltender interference call on Mike Sislo. Quick bent over to cover a puck, Sislo hit him, a small melee ensued. However, the replay showed Muzzin checking or at least contacting Sislo forward. That would surely caused him to hit Quick. Unfortunately, that was missed but Sislo's hit wasn't so Sislo got two minutes. I think that was a poor call as being hit or contacted into the goaltender usually isn't interference.
As far as why play didn't stop when Helgeson got hit in the mouth by Lucic's stick? Although some follow-throughs on shots are tagged with a penalty when they are high, I believe because it happened so fast, it wasn't necessarily clear to the officials, Helgeson was down so any follow-through would be low, it was likely an accident more than anything else, and shortly after the strike, the goal happened. Blood should cause a whistle, but it may not have been immediate after the strike. It happens, I suppose.
One Last Thought: If you saw the shot count and concluded that this was a boring, slow game, then I don't think you actually paid attention to this one. The misses and blocked shots represented much of the game, but those attempts are still attempts at goal. Those don't happen if the teams aren't trying to go for a goal, aren't working to get into the offensive zone and get a good look at the net, and aren't looking to break a deadlock or in L.A.'s case for part of the second, tie up the game. If the Devils played like this more often, then I think they would be a much more watchable team down the stretch. Even if they lose more games than they win for the rest of the season.
Your Take: I stayed up to watch the whole thing and I think you get what I think about this one. What do you think of this win? Are you pleased they got it? How did you react when Moore scored in overtime? Do you think the Devils' performance was better tonight than it was in San Jose and on other nights? Who impressed you on either team? Who failed to impress you on either team? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
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