After a December filled with many bad losses to close out 2016, the first game of 2017 definitely ended on the right foot for the New Jersey Devils. Tonight, they shut out the Boston Bruins by 3-0 score. In a game filled with power plays, forechecks, and crashing of the net, the Devils actually competed with one of the best possession teams in hockey - and even beat them. What’s more is that the Devils certainly earned this win. This was not a game where the goalie stood on his head and the Devils just made the most of a few chances to take the game. While some match-ups did not go the Devils’ way, the Devils forced Boston to make mistakes, take calls, and kept them honest until Taylor Hall put home the empty net goal to seal the win.
The standout performer is usually the standout performer in any shutout victory: the goaltender. Cory Schneider received the start and he played like he did in many games last year. Schneider was quick and sure with his glove. He was well positioned for many shots and he reacted quickly to the shots he couldn’t be well positioned for (e.g. rebounds, loose pucks). Schneider took a few bodies but did not look any worse for wear in the crease. Schneider was even smart with his stick outside of the crease. Schneider played as well as one would ask of any goalie and that’s huge since he was coming off a terrible performance in this last month.
Of course, he did have some fortune, which usually is also the case when there’s a shutout. The first one came in the dying seconds of the first period. P.A. Parenteau coughed up the puck in the slot to Brad Marchand, Boston’s leading scorer. Patrice Bergeron took the puck for a shot and Marchand tried to jam it home past a sprawled out Schneider with seconds left on the clock. He appeared to grab it, but a lengthy video review was needed to confirm that the puck remained just on the line.
This turned out to be a huge call in New Jersey’s favor. I don’t have the number and it would make me feel real sad to look up how many goals the Devils have conceded within the final minute of periods this season. It definitely has happened enough times that it has been on the minds of some Devils fans. Like a concern of sorts. Given how poorly the Devils have handled bad breaks and especially against teams that know how to apply pressure, that goal could have really changed the tide of the game. That did not happen. Instead of going into the first period 1-1, it ended at 1-0 and I know I breathed a sigh of relief at the referee’s decision.
The second fortunate moment came early in the second period. It began with a shift that featured a long shot by Ben Lovejoy trickling through Tuukka Rask. A Bruin cleared the puck from the crease behind the goalie, they broke out quickly, and a sharp-angled shot (or a pass) ended up with a short rebound right at Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron could have and perhaps should have finished that particular play; but Schneider was able to get enough of the shot to have it go wide. It was a bang-bang play and it could have been a game-tying goal. While the Bruins would eventually turn up the offensive pressure in the second period and take more than the five shots they were credited for, that was their best chance of the period. Schneider had to react quickly and he did so correctly.
Those two fortunate occurrences broke New Jersey’s way, which was great for a team that could use some breaks given the last month or so. Just look at their goals for evidence. P.A. Parenteau knocked in a loose puck at the right post on a third effort for the game’s first goal. Steve Santini took a shot, Taylor Hall tried to fire in an angled shot, and Parenteau initially didn’t finish jamming it in. But he did, so the opportunity was not wasted. In the third period, Miles Wood charged through the neutral zone with speed and, more importantly, the puck. Kalinin joined him on the rush and no Bruin saw him streaking down the middle. Wood sent a pass across to Kalinin, which hit Kalinin in the skates. But Kalinin was able to angle his body to get his stick on the puck to knock it past Rask and ensure the goal was legal. The shot could have gone awry or into Rask, but Kalinin was able to make it count. On another night, these goals may not have happened so that’s another thing to appreciate with this win. The Devils had some of the puck luck in their favor in Boston’s end of the rink too. (The Devils receiving six power plays also represented good breaks except, well, the Devils didn’t really do as much as they should have done with six power plays.)
Adding to the impressive nature of this 3-0 win, consider what the team was doing prior to the game with their roster. While Taylor Hall was set to return and did so, Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson were sick before the game and did not play. This resulted in Adam Henrique, Pavel Zacha, Sergey Kalinin, and Devante Smith-Pelly as the team’s centers, which isn’t ideal given that Zajac would have naturally drawn Bergeron. But they managed. With the loss of John Moore, Steve Santini lined up with Jon Merrill while Kyle Quincey was paired with Damon Severson and Yohann Auvitu was demoted. It’s not what I would have done, but I’m not John Hynes or Ray Shero or someone who gets paid to work for a professional hockey team. The Devils managed with that too. Combined with how the last month of games went against opponents who excel at puck possession, forechecking, and playing down low, this game had the potential of being another ugly one. Instead, the Devils played refreshingly well. Schneider was excellent, the skaters weren’t albatrosses, and the Devils earned this win. Good job.
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 Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder for an opposition opinion to this game.
The Season Debut of Santini: Steven Santini was called up on Sunday and made his season debut tonight. He’ll definitely remember this one as he earned his first NHL point, a secondary assist on Parenteau’s goal. The assist is actually his first point in any professional league this season; he was pointless in fifteen games with Albany. Did he play well? I’d say so. John Hynes and the coaching staff provided Santini and Merrill with good match-ups, keeping them away from Boston’s top line. The pairing was limited to fifteen shifts and less than twelve minutes, too. Claude Julien, head coach of the Bruins, definitely tried to pressure both of them with a forecheck. This led to some additional passes and the occasional adventure before a breakout could occur. Merrill in particular was put off by one Bruin, much less two. But Merrill and Santini were ultimately successful in moving the puck forward and getting stops in their own end. They both ended up well on the right side of 5-on-5 play; Santini had the best attempt differential among all Devil skaters at +9. In total, Santini’s debut was quite successful and the pairing with Merrill worked. The challenge will be to see how it will go down on the road tomorrow night and when either has to play more than just fifteen shifts.
The Return of Hall - And Zacha: Pavel Zacha was moved up to center Taylor Hall and P.A. Parenteau due to Zajac’s illness. Also, Hall was back. That line was also successful. It created the team’s first goal. Hall had four shots out of six attempts; he was very active at going forward. He also sealed the game with an empty netter, killing off any potential drama late in the third period. Zacha did not register a shot on net, but he was moving the puck well. Most telling was that they were the only forward line on the Devils to finish positive in attempt-differential. Hynes sent them out mostly against David Krejci and Frank Vatrano and the Zacha-centered line won that matchup. They didn’t really struggle with other Bruins lines either. It was a good night for the rookie, who hopefully will stay in the lineup for a while; and for Hall, who needs to be good because he’s the star forward.
What Didn’t Work, 5-on-5 Edition: As Merrill-Santini received limited shifts, the pairing of Kyle Quincey and Damon Severson had many more issues. Quincey was pretty poor as his lack of speed and issues with positioning were exposed. Severson wasn’t good enough to make up the difference. Both defensemen spent a lot of time in their own end, especially in the second period.
At forward, the bottom six wasn’t that good either. Granted, Wood and Kalinin created and scored a goal, respectively. It was a good goal. It was a very good play. It was an important score as it gave the Devils some breathing room early in the third period. But the good plays from Wood, Kalinin, and Nick Lappin were few and far between. Likewise from DSP, Luke Gazdic, and Beau Bennett. Those two lines spent plenty of time in their own end too. I can’t say I’m totally surprised as most of those players aren’t particularly good on defense. Quincey and Severson were behind them quite a bit, too. That played more in Boston’s favor and it showed even by the eye-test.
I’m not saying these players are awful or that the units should change, but these were the groups that had the most trouble in 5-on-5 play. As a whole, the Devils were fine. Teams with a lead are usually decisively out-attempted and out-shot and that wasn’t the case by the final whistle. Granted, there were plenty of penalties and I think the scorer wasn’t really paying attention in the second period. No way did Boston only have five shots in the second period. I’m fairly certain Schneider had to make more than five saves in the second period.
What Didn’t Work - The Power Play Edition: The Devils’ PP was more like PU tonight. What’s sad is that Boston handed the Devils opportunities almost on a platter to really put this game out of reach early. A fight between Colin Miller and Miles Wood (no, not Luke Gazdic, Wood) ended up with Miller getting an extra two for roughing. During said power play, Adam McQuaid cut Adam Henrique with a high stick in front of Rask. That led to a 1:09 5-on-3 situation followed by 2:51 of additional 5-on-4 time. What did the Devils do with that? Not much of anything. The 5-on-3 featured the stupid formation that keeps two Devils on the goal line so there’s effectively three shooters in a 5 on 3 situation. The following power play followed the same blueprint of the other 5-on-4 situations of the night. Attempt at a zone entry, fail to maintain possession with a bad pass, a bad dump-in, or a bad decision, take time to recover, and repeat. The Devils had six power plays tonight, which lasted 10:51 tonight. They took six shots on net in total. That’s just terrible. And with Zajac and Josefson out, the second unit looked lost and featured plenty of Kyle Quincey, who really should not be out there on a power play. Not that the first unit had much more direction. The Devils seemingly made it easy for the Boston penalty killers to clear pucks. I can forgive not scoring if Rask was forced to make a lot of saves and the Devils were able to take advantage on a man advantage to create a lot of offensive opportunities. After all, Boston has one of the best penalty killing success rates in the NHL and Rask has been great in PK situations this season. But there wasn’t even that.
The Devils have scored only one power play goal in their last five games; that’s one out of their last 28 opportunities. Going 0-for-6 represents a lot of wasted opportunities to punish Boston for their fouls (Aside: I think Zdeno Chara’s tripping penalty in the third period was a bad call.) While the Devils won tonight’s game, the power play definitely has issues in all aspects on a power play that need to be addressed. From how to breakout to what to do when set up against different penalty killing formations, everything should be on the table to be fixed. Or at least changed because this isn’t working.
One Last Thought: I am not a fan of fighting in hockey and I would not miss if it were outlawed tomorrow. Therefore, I was not a fan of that fight occurring at all. But my problem is with what caused it. Apparently, Wood legally and cleanly checked Kevan Millar. Somehow, this meant Colin Miller had to go after Wood and throw down with him. This was in response Wood committing the sin of doing something that happens in every hockey shift: throwing a body check. This was no “run from behind” like Tom Wilson. Just a body check. Why such hits results in fights, I do not understand. I don’t know what page it’s written in The Code where the guy giving a clean hit needs to be fought. As it turned out, Miller’s “standing up for his teammate” backfired. While Wood felt pleased punishing Colin Miller in the face, Miller received an extra two minutes for roughing to go with the first, which gave the Devils a power play.
Your Take: The Devils won their first game of 2017 and earned the shutout win. I want to know what you think about that. Who do you think the best Devil was on the ice? Would you agree that the Devils got the breaks tonight? What should the Devils take from this game ahead of their road game against Carolina tomorrow? How would you rate Santini’s performance? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along with the site’s Twitter account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thanks in advance to Devin, who will provide the game preview for the Carolina game. Thank you for reading.