According to Hockey-Reference, the New Jersey Devils franchise has played 34 games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and won seven of those games. Their most recent win was on December 23, 2007. Granted, the NHL schedule was uneven for a while so the Devils did not go to Calgary regularly until recent seasons. Still, the Calgary Flames have been a very good team at home this season, the Devils were winless in their last four games, and they were out-classed by Edmonton just last night. The writing appeared to be written on the proverbial wall and it stated, “This is likely going to be another loss.” The game is played on ice and not on whatever is written on the wall. The Devils put together a very good performance from start to finish in a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
I do not like the phrase a “complete game” because its very, very rare that a team just plays well all night long. Even dominant performances include a few shifts where things may have went awry or a mistake was made. But I struggle to come up with a more appropriate phrase for how the Devils played. The Devils put up a far superior performance to what they have in their last four winless games and even in the past month or so.
The Devils put up an offensive performance that was just lovely and refreshing to watch. They put up 36 shots on net out of 61 shooting attempts (both more than Calgary’s 32 out of 52), they attacked Calgary all night long, and they forced Chad Johnson to work all night long. Per Natural Stat Trick’s game stats, the Devils out-chanced Calgary 39-24. Even with a one-goal lead in the third, the Devils out-shot the Flames 10-8 and were only out attempted by two, 15-17. Scoring additional goals was actually a possibility tonight; that’s what a team with a lead should do. The Devils did that. They did not sit back or let the other team completely dictate the run of play. Most surprisingly, they even scored a power play goal off of one well played power play situation. Even though they only scored twice, this was one of the better Devils offensive performances of this season.
From an individual standpoint, plenty of Devils contributed Taylor Hall scored that power play goal among his six shots on net. Hall’s linemate, P.A. Parenteau was far more active tonight and he put up eight shots on net on his own. The returning Jacob Josefson managed to put up five shots, should have scored one, but even he was driving to the net. Even Pavel Zacha and Adam Henrique, a scratch and a scrub respectively last night, put up three shots each. Even players who didn’t register a shot on net, like Jon Merrill, were able to contribute with good passes, good breakouts, and being options for their teammates to keep the puck in possession.
As for the defense, while the team did give up 32 shots on net, they did a much better job in their own end. That’s evident in their offensive performance. If there’s no breakout or the zone exits constantly go to the other team, then the offense is undercut. Teams that are down a goal or two will be more aggressive and the Flames were no different tonight. They did put up 17 shots and a goal to make the game close. That goal was a disappointment in that it was Sean Monahan putting in a rebound all alone in front of Keith Kinkaid. But that was the only free rebound a Flame had all night. The Devils’ performance in their own end was legitimately supportive of each other, whether it was in recovering from a turnover, finding a player for an outlet pass or a breakout pass, or selling out for block without necessarily putting Keith Kinkaid at bay. The third pairing of Steve Santini and Karl Stollery was very good. Jon Merrill may have played one of his best games as a Devil tonight. The penalty killers did a good job killing all of the calls. Kinkaid was solid at stopping everything - his glove was in full effect - but the unstoppable.
And the other aspect of this game was that so much of it was in motion. There were a total of eight icings with three in the final five minutes. While the Flames put up seventeen shots on net in the second period, the Devils were able to put up twelve partially because teams were trading rushes up ice. Both teams had to play in transition and the Devils even came out well in those situations. One such play resulted in their first goal tonight: a lovely wrist shot by Kyle Palmieri. It made the game exciting to watch and seeing the Devils actively participating in rushes of their own added to the joy of it.
Ultimately, this was a “feel good” win. I suppose most wins that end a winless streak do feel good. I’m sure the players feel good about the win. But this wasn’t a case where Kinkaid had to drag eighteen of his teammates to a victory or the team won on some kind of crazy bounce. The Devils played a very good game of hockey against a good Flames team and they did so in a place they have not won many games at all. I enjoyed watching this one. This was a great way to end a near decade-long drought in Calgary.
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 NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Mark Parkinson has this short recap at Matchsticks and Gasoline.
Merrill Was Really Good Tonight: Jon Merrill made a great diagonal pass in the first period to P.A. Parenteau, who was open by Chad Johnson. Instead of firing a long shot he would miss on, he made a read and executed a good pass. That was the start of his very good performance. His highlight would be initially leading the 3-on-2 rush, passed the puck to Palmieri, and kept going to the net. While I don’t think he really drew a defender or screened Johnson, it was the right play as Palmieri scored. And Merrill just went from strength to strength at both ends. He was excellent in one-on-one defending. He was excellent on the penalty kill. He faced Calgary’s better forwards and was not demolished. He had only one bad turnover in own end, but there were teammates nearby to prevent it from being a problem. While Merrill ended up being out-shot 11-13 in 5-on-5 play, that’s a function of playing a lot and against Calgary’s better players. The game effectively ended with Merrill making two shot blocks. I’ve been hard on him before. But this was a really good night by #7.
Improved 9-14-11: The line of Hall, Henrique, and Parenteau was a force tonight. They combined for 17 of the Devils’ 36 shots on net tonight. Henrique was very good, I’d almost say the opposite of how he played last night. Parenteau was just firing away and not second-guessing on a chance. As it turned out, that benefited everyone - including himself for eight shots on net. Hall was moving with pace and driving the play. If the game against Edmonton was the worst of that combination, tonight was one of the best.
Great Goaltending: Both Chad Johnson and Keith Kinkaid did very well tonight. They faced quite a few shots. They both faced a lot of pressure. I was very pleased with how Kinkaid played. He had not seen the ice since replacing Cory Schneider against Toronto last week. But his glove was on form; he was able to get in front of most shots; and he was even good at moving the puck outside of his crease. Johnson was beaten twice on shots and he was beaten a third time by a long slapshot by Damon Severson only to be denied by the post. But he held on admirably in multiple occasions to deny the Devils, whether it was on a jam play on his doorstep or a Miles Wood breakaway late in the third period. Both teams should be pleased with how their respective netminders played tonight.
The Power Play Flickered: The Hall goal was the exclamation point of a great power play. There was an actual zone entry that wasn’t a dump in that immediately led to a shot on net by Zajac. The Devils reacted to collect the loose puck and get set up. Stollery calmly had the puck from the back, sent it right to Palmieri, and Palmieri sent the puck across properly - no Flame had a stick in the way - to Hall above the right circle. It was an actual good play in formation and it yielded a goal.
Unfortunately, the other three power plays the Devils had tonight featured many of the same issues from the previous month and a half. Dump-ins that often led to Calgary clearing the puck with ease. Breakouts that would take up time and yield no offense. Players seemingly not knowing where to go. Fortunately for the Devils, they got it right once and it held up as the game winning goal. Imagine if they could be functional more often. It would have helped; especially near the end of regulation.
It could have been worse: it could have been Calgary’s. While the Flames were able to gain the zone and get set up, they only had two shots on net in four minutes of power play time. They were fortunate to get two of those four minutes too. Early in the game, Wood was hit from behind by Garnet Hathaway. Kyle Quincey took exception to said hit and fought Hathaway. Somehow, Quincey received an extra two minutes for roughing even though both participants in the fight clearly were down for fighting. Anyway, the Devils’ PK did well to keep the Flames power play from doing much despite how easily they made it look to get set up. It’s something the Devils could take away from this game, both as something to improve upon and how to perhaps improve upon it.
So On That Goal Against...: If there was one breakdown in coverage to discuss, then it would be on the goal against. Dougie Hamilton fired a shot that Kinkaid stopped. Quincey was out swinging his stick towards Hamilton, so he wasn’t down low. OK, that’s fine. Kyle Palmieri was initially by Monahan as they skated to the net. Travis Zajac saw that and decided to just stay in the slot. Palmieri left Monahan to get to another Flame in front. Severson, likely gassed from skating the length of the rink twice on this shift, was in the circle. That’s how Monahan was open to put home that rebound. In retrospect, Zajac should have joined Palmieri so Palmieri could be free to take the other Flame. And Severson should be where would normally be too. Alas, that breakdown was costly. Fortunately, it was one of few of the night.
As an aside, the line of Michael Cammalleri, Zajac, and Palmieri wasn’t all that hot tonight. I thought Palmieri was just fine; he was certainly active with three shots out of seven shooting attempts. He also scored a goal. Zajac and Cammalleri just did not make much happen. Oh well.
One Last Thought: This was a better game for more of the bottom six as well. Zacha was more notable on offense. Blake Coleman was able to chip in a bit more and was tripped up in the third period, giving the Flames two minutes to kill instead of going for goal (although they tried for that shorthanded goal). Josefson made a welcomed return to the lineup. While I think he should have slammed in that rebound early in the second, he was robbed by Johnson’s blindly swinging his stick up and I’ll take getting robbed over not being in a position to be robbed. He kept on attacking. Wood had a smarter game and even used his speed for a late breakaway; he just needs another move or two. The only bottom six forward I didn’t think played all that well was Devante Smith-Pelly. He wasn’t so strong on the puck, he didn’t attempt a shot on net, and he wasn’t all that useful on defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sergey Kalinin draws in for him on Sunday. We’ll see. Still, the Devils’ depth may not have scored tonight, they didn’t get rolled over and that helped make the performance what it was. I appreciate that.
Your Take: The Devils won 2-1 and they did so by playing what I thought was a very good game in Calgary. What did you make of it? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight? What could or should have been better tonight? What should the Devils learn from this game before their game against Vancouver on Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site’s account on Twitter, @AAtJerseyBlog during the game. Thanks to Devin for previewing the game. Thank you for reading.