Seven! Seven goals! Scored by the New Jersey Devils! All in one game! How can anyone be unhappy about that? It's a season high for the New Jersey Devils this season. The team that has had a goal average less than two goals per game in 2016 dropped a touchdown on the opposition. Devante Smith-Pelly, Mike Sislo, and Adam Henrique each scored twice, giving the Devils fans hope for a hat trick. Instead, we got a hat trick of players putting up braces. The cherry on top of this sundae of offense, yielding a 7-4 win? It all happened against the Minnesota Wild.
It's been four years but the wounds have not healed for many Devils fans. Every time #11 touched the puck, moved towards the play, or did anything resembling a hockey play, the boo-birds descended on the Rock in full force. Even when the Devils were up 6-2, the booing seemed more intense than before. Scott Gomez was forgiven with his pleasantly surprising stint with the team last year. Booing him became old and busted real fast. And it helps that the new hotness for booing is right at Zach Parise. He has essentially replaced Gomez' former role of "Opponent the fans still despise." To that end, watching the Devils smack him and his squad around was a treat for many.
What's more is that Minnesota needed these points. The Devils fans at the Rock and many watching from around the world were cheering on their team. The Colorado Avalanche faithful were a close second in terms of support. The Wild are just a point behind of the Avs in the standings, who are holding on for dear life to that last wild card spot in the Western Conference. Now, the Avs can take care of their own business to get some breathing room out of the regulation 'L' just handed to the Wild this evening. From a standings perspective, Wild messed up royally. They're a team looking to make the postseason. Under their new head coach, they were seemingly on the up and up. They now lost three of their last four, all against non-playoff teams. Those are six points the Wild could desperately use right now. Even an extra two - one win - would have them just ahead of Colorado. If Ottawa broke their hearts, then the Devils just repeatedly punched the Wild in the stomach with goal after goal after goal tonight. Great for me and the many Devils fans to witness. The Wild fans, likely a lot less happy about how this all went down.
Most of all, it went down quickly. Tyler Kennedy crashed the net and amid the chaos where Devan Dubnyk just flailed about, Devante Smith-Pelly put home a loose puck. Seconds later, Mike Sislo steals a puck, turns, whiffs on a shot and roofs the second chance while Nate Prosser took him down. In the second period, within the first three minutes, Kennedy straight up took the puck away from Matt Dumba from behind the net, fed Smith-Pelly in front so he could get around Darcy Kuemper and make it 4-1. Later in the second, Joseph Blandisi made a great pass across the slot to a wide-open Adam Henrique. Henrique slammed in the puck on Kuemper's right flank to make it 5-2. Seconds later, Mike Sislo fired a shot between Ryan Suter's legs that went bar-down on Kuemper for the touchdown. Smith-Pelly's second goal made the game comfortable. The second quick-fire double of the night just put the game out of reach. If that wasn't enough, well, Henrique one-touching a pass by DSP while cutting to the slot tacked on an insurance goal.
To their credit, the Wild did attempt to make a comeback. They did score two third period goals. They out-shot the Devils 6-16. They pulled Kuemper with less than 3:30 to go, pinned the Devils back, and forced the Devils to go for clearances as opposed to the empty netter. But for the first time in quite some time, I can say the lead the Devils built up was just too much to overcome. It was never really in doubt as the Wild weren't really fighting back until the third. While some of the breakdowns and loose defensive play was annoying as it was costly, it was hard for me to get really unhappy. Why? The Devils had ignited a goal-splosion on St. Patrick's Day to damage the Wild, Parise, and their playoff chances. They scored seven goals and they earned it. It's hard to get unhappy at that. It's only right to be at least a little pleased about it. Me? I'm still beaming about what I saw tonight.
The Game Summary: 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: Over at Hockey Wilderness, Joe Bouley stated that the Wild were dominated by the Devils in his recap. I wouldn't necessarily agree with "dominated" since, well, the Wild looked like a NHL team that maybe wants to play in the playoffs in the third period. I'd use buried. The Devils buried the Wild tonight. But I'm splitting hairs. Go read what he writes, he's good at it.
The Game Highlights: WATCH THESE HIGHLIGHTS. Come on, the Devils scored seven goals tonight. When do you think that'll happen again? Especially from this season's team? They're from NHL.com:
The Negatives: I've got a lot of good things to say about this game. So let's get the negatives out of the way. I wasn't real thrilled with the third period performance. I could understand it. The Devils were up by three to four goals; no need to keep pressing. However, I think they got caught unaware in their own end too many times. The game very nearly became a two-goal game shortly after Justin Fontaine's third period goal, but thankfully a wide-open Jason Zucker missed on an mostly-empty net. Why was he open? Where was the coverage? Just a lot of skating around. I chalk it up to just feeling too easy about the lead. It was easier to spot in contrast to how the Devils kept up their pace, pressure, and poise when up by as many as four in the second period. Again, I get it why it went down that way. It wasn't all that good. But, hey, the seventh goal acted as insurance and the lead was just too much for the Wild to overcome.
The penalty kill was porous, to say the least. The first penalty kill lasted some time, but the Wild just kept maintaining the puck. Eventually, Mikael Granlund was set up for a one-timer and the puck ricocheted off Nino Niederreiter's thigh to get past Keith Kinkaid. The re-direction was certainly a fluke. Seeing the Wild just toy with the PKers was not. The second penalty kill only lasted seconds. The Wild won the faceoff, a pass back to the point, a D-to-D pass, and a pass down to Mikko Koivu. He waited for Jared Spurgeon to head down and go behind the penalty killers. Koivu made an excellent pass through the small box and the slot right to Spurgeon. Just as Adam Larsson came over, the shot was taken and it was unstoppable. Definitely not the penalty kill's best night, although the Devils successfully killed one penalty tonight. It was concerning as both PPGAs made the game more interesting. Niederreiter's thigh-goal made it 2-1 in the first. Spurgeon's backdoor goal made it 4-2 in the second. If there was a team aspect that was bad, then it was that.
Then there was Jon Merrill. Oh, Jon Merrill. He returned to the ice. He looked like he was starting off to have a pretty good game. Then he tripped Mikko Koviu, who was cutting into the slot. That call was defensible as letting Koivu into the middle of the ice is a poor idea. Then again, Merrill had to foul him because Merrill was about to be beaten. That led to the first PPGA. In the second period, Merrill unwisely decided to jump in the air to keep a puck in the offensive zone. He missed and then proceeded to hit Niederreiter to deny him a chance to get past #7. That lead to the second PPGA. In the third period, Merrill decides to just loft a puck into an area with nobody but Wild skaters in the neutral zone. Erik Haula knocked the puck down and David Jones went off and torched Merrill. As Jones was about to go around the net, he fed a pass past Kinkaid to an open Fontaine for a goal. While Fontaine being so open wasn't Merrill's fault, he created the situation and didn't stop Jones. After a long time without Merrill seeing the ice (about ten minutes), he returned for what would be a long shift. One that ended with Koivu jamming the puck past Kinkaid's leg at the left post. Merrill didn't do anything immediately wrong on that goal, so all I can say he had a hand in three of the four goals Minnesota scored tonight. All for providing what, I don't know. Yes, he had a secondary assist on New Jersey's third goal. All the same, he earned his 12:47 of ice time tonight. He did not make the most of this situation.
The Oh, So Many Positives: Where do I start? Let's go with some more unheralded players. I really liked Bobby Farnham and Stephen Gionta tonight. They had their hustling skates on. They didn't make too many errors. They even created some offense, notably Farnham leading a 2-on-1 in the second period with Tuomo Ruutu. Even Ruutu wasn't just a guy on the ice. The fourth line put in a solid effort that one would expect from the fourth line. Forecheck hard, win some pucks, get some shots on net, and don't get mauled on defense. Job done for them.
While Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, and Reid Boucher did end up on the scoresheet, I appreciated how that line played as the game went on even without the production. Zajac's pass to Kennedy that led to the fracas for the first goal was very sweet. Palmieri slid the rebound behind Dubnyk that Boucher knocked into the net while boxing out Granlund. They did good work against Granlund and Parise in general. They helped make Thomas Vanek - yes, he played tonight - look invisible. They had a solid night.
Speaking of solid and not always hearlded, here's some love for Andy Greene. Greene played in his 300th straight game tonight. It was a very good game from #6. He helped the Granlund unit from getting out of control. Greene assisted on offense as he could. A shame he didn't pick up a point tonight, but it was no accident that good things happened when he was on the ice. Sure, he bears some of the burden for the penalty killing failures; note I'm blaming the units, not a player or players. At the same time, he played over 22 minutes and didn't have issues like Damon Severson hesitating on the puck or John Moore trying to keep up at times. Nothing fancy, but reliable as ever. Good job, #6.
The Producers: I think this was the best game yet out 48-14-25. No, Devante Smith-Pelly isn't going to keep firing at over 40% on his shots. No, Tyler Kennedy has not turned a corner and will play like he'll be in the NHL next season in a significant role. Adam Henrique is with them and they're getting significant minutes largely in part because Joseph Blandisi played his way out of the top six (he'll be back when he learns some 'D') and mostly because, well, look at this team. Stempniak's a Bruin, Cammalleri's hurt, and with the other injuries, somebody's got to play there. Tonight, all three looked and played like they absolutely belong on a top-six line.
Kennedy was just supporting as well as he was attacking. He finished the night with three assists, including the two primaries for Smith-Pelly's goals. His secondary assist on Henrique's second goal wasn't a cheap one. OK, Henrique received the pass with his skates, but his long pass through the neutral zone worked as intended. Smith-Pelly continues to be on fire. To take a common phrase from Pierre McGuire, Smith-Pelly was a monster around the net. Many wanted to see him get the hat trick, myself included, if only because it would be the exclamation point on the statement he's made in New Jersey. Yeah, he's not going to stay this productive forever, but he's more than proven he can be - and he is now - an asset for the Devils. Henrique finished two great passes; the first by Blandisi and the second by Smith-Pelly. How often do you see a player wide open away from everyone and not get the puck? How often do you see someone throw a pass towards the net and just miss his teammate getting his stick on the shot for what would be a great scoring chance, if not a goal? I've seen them both. Tonight, Henrique made them count and did so for lovely goals. The line combined for four goals and did a lot of the damage that messed up the Wild. Superb night for all three.
Congratulations: After 32 NHL games and multiple cups of coffee with the NHL team, Sislo scored his first NHL goal tonight. Again, he stole a puck, whiffed on his first attempt, and roofed the second while being taken out by a defender. Heck of a way to score your first goal. Plus, it really put the Wild on edge. It wasn't until their power play did they really have much going for them. The second goal was absolutely sublime. To shoot a puck perfectly through Suter's legs and have it not only beat Kuemper but to do so by hitting the crossbar and going down into the net? You'd have to think of something amazing to come up with a better second goal from an aesthetic point of view. I wasn't a huge fan of the line, but Sislo was a standout. Congratulations to him for his first NHL goal of his career. May there be at least a few more within this organization.
Playing Hard In (And Around) The Paint: The Devils seemed to pick up on Dubnyk, Kuemper, and the Wild defense being soft in the slot and around the crease tonight. They just kept attacking and kept getting rewarded. Per HockeyStats' shot location chart, six of the seven goals were scored in the paint or in the slot near it. While I think at least two of them were closer to where the scorer marked them, it has the right idea. To me, that was not a coincidence and I was very happy to see it. Very nice.
One General Comment About the Effort: It was very strong through the first two periods. Even after Smith-Pelly made it 4-1, the Devils didn't hang back then. They weren't perfect, but they kept looking to go forward and find spaces in the neutral zone to create some good carry-ins for offense. The Devils were successful. While they didn't hit the Wild with a lot of shots on net or even attempts, they kept making the Wild chase the game even with a lead. I can really get behind that. As opposed to leaving the gate open for a comeback effort with plenty of time left in the game, the Devils sought to bury the Wild. Third period notwithstanding, they did.
One Last Thought: One last play stood out to me. Kinkaid turned into a horrible combination of Johan Hedberg and Cory Schneider behind the net to play the puck in the second. It went around the boards and right to a Wild skater (Neiderreiter?). He immediately fired at what he thought would be an empty net. Kinkaid dashed back to the left side of the net and made an impressive stop to deny a gift for that player and a lifeline for Minnesota. When that happens, especially on the heels of giving up many goals to a team that has lacked goal scoring all season, it's just not your night. It certainly wasn't Minnesota's.
Your Take: This was one heck of a way of celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The Devils busted out the old uniforms and the game ended with a 1980s/early 1990s-style score in favor of the good guys. A lot of fun was had by the Devils faithful and hopefully by the players. Particularly the three responsible for 6/7ths of the goals scored tonight. What did you think of this win? How stunned were you when Dubnyk got replaced by Kuemper and the Devils technically scored on their first shot against Kuemper? Which one of the seven goals scored was your favorite? Is this a sign of better things to come from New Jersey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
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