Tonight, the Dallas Stars showed John Hynes, Ray Shero, the players, and the fans of the New Jersey Devils what Fast, Attacking, and Supportive really looked like. While the Stars never built up a huge lead in attempts or shots, their forecheck gave the Devils fits. They were able to keep pressing into the Devils' end. Whether it was a counter attack from one of the myriad of none-and-done zone entries by the New Jersey, denying a zone exit or receiving it in the neutral zone, and just getting past the Devils with possession, the Stars kept up a fast pace and plenty of pressure. It contributed to how Dallas controlled quite a bit of tonight's 2-4 loss by the Devils.
The big story is clear in the title. It is the nightmare scenario for this and several seasons to come: Cory Schneider is hurt. It happened in the third period. During a Dallas power play, Jason Spezza got free by the right post. Schneider robbed Spezza of a PPG by stretching out his body to his right. In the process, his right skate was pushed into the right post. This caused Schneider great pain. After the trainer came out and plenty of discussion, Schneider skated off to the locker room. Keith Kinkaid immediately stepped in to play out the game. Kinkaid did very well between making a stop on a sort-of 2-on-0 and plenty of other heads up saves. Needless to say, the Devils skaters played about as well in front of #1 as they did in front of #35 in the second period.
I will say the Devils did make it interesting late. While the Stars put up three goals on Schneider, they weren't able to get that additional insurance goal. It looked like the 1-3 score would hold up between Dallas continuing to press forward and the Devils unable to generate much offensive pressure except for a handful of stretches earlier in the game. Then a lovely play happened. Jon Merrill missed a shot (or intended to pass it?) but Damon Severson was down low to retrieve it. He flung it across the crease to an open Devante Smith-Pelly. He had nothing but net to shoot at it and it was 2-3. It provided a lifeline. One that got yanked away late in the game. With Keith Kinkaid pulled and Johnny Oduya in the box for a hooking penalty with 32 seconds to go, the Devils lost a faceoff, lost a puck battle in the corner, Vernon Fiddler gets the puck past John Moore, Fiddler has a give-and-go with Colton Sceviour in the neutral zone, and Fiddler gets to ice the game with a SH ENG. Definitely not their worst 6-on-5 effort in recent memory, but it was a bummer of an ending all the same.
Of course, that's overshadowed by Schneider getting hurt. The extent of his injury remains unknown. For all we know, Schneider will be back real soon. Or he could be done. Or, more likely, it's somewhere in the middle. We will have to react as the news comes out. But it's definitely the bigger story. While he has been beaten more often recently and tonight - not that I think the three goals against were necessarily his fault - Schneider has been the glue holding this team from really falling apart. Without two top scorers and Schneider? I think the worst is yet to come from the 2015-16 Devils. The 2-4 loss to a shorthanded Dallas team (Patrick Sharp and Jordie Benn was out, John Klingberg left the game really early with an injury) while playing like boys against men is one thing. To lose Schneider in the process arguably makes that loss even larger.
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 Opinon: Taylor Baird has this recap up at Defending Big D.
Speed: This game was played at a very quick pace. I was pleased to see the Devils keep up with them for stretches in the first period. I was less than pleased to see Dallas just keep up the pace as they forechecked, applied pressure, and made life difficult for the Devils. While a total shot count of 20-25 in favor of Dallas doesn't imply that, look at the attempts. In all situations, attempts were 60-53 in favor of Dallas. The Devils typically don't play in games where the total attempts exceed a hundred. Here, they were forced into a high-event game due in part to how fast Dallas moved the puck and moved with the puck. I'm surprised the Devils got as many as they did; based on what I saw, I thought Dallas would have had a larger lead.
Better: I will give New Jersey credit for getting more attempts in dangerous areas against Kari Lehtonen. There definitely parts of this game where it seemed like the Devils didn't know how to respond to a one goal deficit. However, whenever they were able to have more than five seconds of zone time in Dallas' end, they made a point of it to get the puck in the middle. This is justified in HockeyStats.ca's shot chart. With Dallas down a defender and recently bleeding goals, this was the right call. Some better puck luck and, more importantly, way better zone entries by the Devils such that they could attempt to put on some pressure and perhaps this game goes much differently. If they can get more of the latter, then the offense can look like one in the run of play and it may yield at least a few more scores.
Wrecked: Andy Greene and Adam Larsson had to play a ton of defense tonight. I've noticed this season and in recent games that their CF% is deep into the red. Per Natural Stat Trick's stats, 5-6 was less than 20% CF against about half of Dallas' roster at even strength. Ales Hemsky, Cody Eakin (who was flying tonight), Fiddler, Sceviour, Spezza, Mattias Janmark, Valeri Nichushkin, and Radek Fasek just rolled through them. At least from an attempts perspective. From a shots perspective, it wasn't so bad and their play didn't led to a GA. I don't think were as calamitious like Severson, Merrill, and John Moore (he really struggled tonight and his penalties hurt). And I really don't think the forwards are helping as much as they possibly could (and should). Yet, their exit attempts were getting picked off, they were chasing plays out of necessity, and they're just not helping the play go forward. It's been an issue in recent games and this overall season. Does this mean they're good? I don't know.
Sigh: Damon Severson forced an ill-advised pass during a strong attacking shift in the first period. That ended with Nichushkin torching a backchecking Adam Henrique, who was in a tough spot, and then beating Schneider to the right post. The young winger looked like a star on the play and he made it 0-1. Moore stuck with Spezza off the rush but Spezza got in front of him, allowing him to put home a feed by Janmark which made the game 1-2 in the second period. Later, Sceviour deflected a long shot by Alex Goligoski that found it's way through traffic that made it 1-3. This goal didn't feature a defender in a bad spot, but it did feature Tuomo Ruutu losing a fight with balance as he fell down and couldn't get up. Not that he would have necessarily prevented the shot if he was up, but he could have at least filled the shooting lane and possibly dissuaded Goligoski from shooting. I've already discussed the ENG. Lots of sighs about the play of the skaters. It's not an accident that I didn't mention the goaltender.
Sharp: Keith Kinkaid played very well in Schneider's place in the third period. Whereas Dallas was knocking on the door to put the game out of reach, #1 made sure it would not be answered. I was most impressed by his 2-on-0 stop (and annoyed that the skaters allowed it) among his stops. The severity of Schneider's injury is unknown, but this kind of performance plus his previous ones (maybe not the Nashville game) should instill some confidence that he can fill in adequately. Whether you want that is up to you.
Hot Henrique: Adam Henrique scored from about the same spot he scored his two dramatic goals on Thursday in Nashville. There was a loose puck amid traffic, he was just to the left of the goalie, and he roofed the loose puck for the Devils' first goal. The goal is Henrique's 23rd and he's two away from tying his career season high. The goal is also his fourth goal in his last three games. Henrique and Smith-Pelly did well tonight aside from their goals. They looked real good when they were riding with Kyle Palmieri for a bit. Maybe that's a line to try for the future? Especially after a night like this one where he and Travis Zajac "enjoyed" getting out-attempted by nearly the entire Stars roster. Again, shots were at a premium so your mileage may vary. Anyway, Hynes might as well try putting 21 with them; especially since the season's looking at least a little bleaker with #35 hurt. But Henrique getting a goal streak going is nothing but good for the team.
The Stars for the Stars: There were plenty of good performances I saw from Dallas. Goligoski definitely made an impact whether it was denying zone exits or moving the puck all around. I was also impressed with how well Jason Demers played. Especially after learning he played over 26 minutes. He was quite effective. Up front, Cody Eakin seemed to be flying all of the time. Fiddler and Sceviour made their marks on the scoresheet and kept going at the Devils. While Jamie Benn was relatively quiet, Tyler Seguin put up four shots out of ten attempts - which isn't quiet at all even if he was pointless. Spezza was solid in addition to putting home a goal that didn't get answered until DSP did so with less than five minutes to play in regulation. Nichushkin displayed some of that skill that made me want the Devils to draft him at ninth overall in 2013 until Gary Bettman had a trade to announce. His goal tonight was just spectacular even though it was at the expense of my favorite team. While this isn't the entire team, it was enough to show that one team was really standing out despite a lack of a significant lead in shots and attempts.
One Last Thought: After a night where nobody made a penalty kill, both New Jersey and Dallas killed all the shorthanded situations they were in tonight. As expected, Dallas threatened more on offense (e.g. Jacob Josefson was forced to save a goal in the second period in a scramble) and the Devils simply did not, shorthanded ENG aside.
Your Take: Schneider is hurt and the Devils lost in regulation to the Stars. Hardly the ideal night after a stunning win in Nashville and ahead of an inter-division game on Sunday. What did you make of the Devils performance? Was it better than what I thought of it? Was it possibly worse? Who on the Devils did you think did well aside from Kinkaid's play in relief? Who on the Stars impressed you? What do the Devils need to do to prepare for their next game based on what you saw this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
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