Tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings showed how quickly a game can turn on its ear. It did so thrice in the Devils’ 4-3 win. Let’s go through it.
The Devils came out strong in the first period and they were rewarded for their efforts. Their first ninety seconds of hockey may have began with an icing, but a 2-on-1 that led to Kyle Palmieri hitting the post soon followed. Shortly after that, Miles Wood had a chance in the slot. After that, Pavel Zacha fired a shot on Jared Coreau and Stefan Noesen slid in the rebound right at the crease. A few minutes later, Pavel Zacha took a tripping call. Past halfway through that kill, Palmieri was able to take puck and go off on a jaunt that resulted in a shorthanded goal. The Devils controlled the rest of the period with only occasional sparks of offense from a seemingly stunned Detroit squad. It was a legitimately good period for the Devils. It was refreshing to see them take initiative, go up early, and maintain that lead through to the intermission.
In the second period, Detroit would eventually play to the score. After absolutely failing during a sequence of power plays that included 1:16 of a 5-on-3, the Red Wings began to attack more and more. Cory Schneider would be tested more and more. A quick stop here, a sudden rebound save on Frans Nielsen there, and so forth. Eventually, the Red Wings would get a goal. Henrik Zetterberg cut to the crease just in time to re-direct a shot by Gustav Nyquist. It was 2-1 with under two minutes left in the second. But the Devils hit back before the period ended. Taylor Hall made a great pass across the blueline to spring Kyle Palmieri into some space. Palmieri fired a scorcher of a shot past Coreau to make it 3-1. The run of play was really only in Detroit’s favor for part of that period and up until they scored. The Devils had the best possible response to close out the period.
At that point, I was feeling good about the performance and the score. All New Jersey needed to do was to keep the Red Wings honest and don’t do anything stupid. Despite a strong shift or two to start the period, I can’t say they really did enough of that. Detroit out-attempted New Jersey 17-4 in 5-on-5 play and 19-5 in all situations in the third period and it really showed. Noesen took a hooking call at 10:18 and then the game was turned yet again. Near the start of that PK, Adam Henrique broke away from the Red Wings and was able to force a puck off Coreau’s right pad, up, and over it for a shorthanded goal. Yes, the Devils scored two shorties and were up 4-1. However, even the team with the worst power play success rate in the NHL would get a PPG in time. Detroit would on this same advantage; Tomas Tatar fired a shot past a screening Justin Abdelkader to make it 4-2. The Red Wings continued to attack and the Devils were just in survival mode. With about five minutes left in the game, the Devils had a rough time of it against Detroit on a shift and defenseman Nick Jensen jumped up on the attack. He forced chaos in front and poked in a puck past Schneider to make it 4-3. In just a matter of minutes, the Devils went from looking like having a comfortable, decisive win to having to hold on for dear life.
Matters were only made worse when Palmieri - the guy who scored a brace (two goals) tonight - hit Andreas Athanasiou early along the boards before he could get the puck. That’s interference and a penalty to kill with about 2:15 left in the game. Detroit tried, Coreau was pulled for an extra skater, and the Devils just dug in deep. Schneider was as alert as possible; just as Palmieri came out of the box, Riley Sheahan took a shot. Schneider stopped that and then threw out a right pad to deny a potential equalizer on a rebound attempt by Thomas Vanek. The Devils got the puck behind the net, battled along the boards, and killed the remaining seconds to secure the win. There would be no heartbreak. There would be no last minute facepalm. There would be no crazy, disappointing bounce. The Devils held on after a crazy sequence that turned what appeared to be a sure-fire win into a close one. All within ten minutes.
It’s good that the Devils held on to win it. If only to end the month on a victorious note. If only to prevent a losing streak. If only to get out of the basement of the Eastern Conference for the moment. For the rest of the way, I want the Devils to be competitive and if it means some wins like this, then so be it. This game should be remembered for Palmieri’s two goals, two shorthanded goals by the Devils, and some other positives amid a season full of negatives. The win makes that possible even if the game was flipped around a bunch of times.
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: KTBauer has this recap up at Winging it in Motown.
Discipline!: If there was one area of the Devils’ performance that stunk like the third period performance, then it would have to be their discipline. The Devils took five minor penalties tonight. Kyle Quincey took a really obvious and unnecessary cross-check on Darren Helm during a PK that handed Detroit a 5-on-3 situation. Thankfully, Detroit’s two-man advantage formation is like New Jersey’s and was as effective as most of the Devils’ 5-on-3 situations. Noesen’s hook wasn’t terrible, but it turned out to be costly even though Henrique did score a shorthanded goal on it. Palmieri’s interference penalty wasn’t awful either, but it made the last two minutes of the game far more nerve-wracking than it needed to be. Overall, the Devils did out-score Detroit on the penalty kill 2-1. Good as that was, taking five penalties to Detroit’s one cannot be seen as a positive. Against most other teams, their power plays would likely make the Devils pay more for a 5-1 penalty differential. They would likely not have Niklas Kronwall (or someone else) be a pylon on their way to a shorthanded goal, much less two shorthanded goals. They would likely not waste a fairly long 5-on-3 situation with no shots on net. They would likely not waste about a minute in a one-goal game in the dying minutes of the game before pulling the goalie for a sixth attacker. The Devils were fortunate that Detroit’s power play woes held them back tonight. For future games, the Devils have to do a better job staying away from those kinds of fouls.
Incidentally, the Devils’ lone power play was really good for a minute. The second minute wasn’t so good, but the Devils’ one good minute had three shots on net. Detroit’s five power plays yielded a total of five shots. That speaks to how lackluster the Red Wings’ man advantage units have performed tonight.
Two Good(ish) Periods: The game ended with the Red Wings leading in attempts and shots in 5-on-5 play 39-28 and 21-16, respectively. What was remarkable was that the lead for Detroit formed in that third period. That third period, again, was 17-4 in attempts and 7-2 in shots. But the positive in that is that the Devils managed to prevent Detroit from controlling most of the run of play when they were leading for most of the two periods. That’s hard to do for any team, especially given New Jersey’s own issues with possession and Detroit’s real desire to move up in the standings. As poor as the third period went, I give them credit for keeping Detroit from attacking throughout the second period or for long stretches after going up 2-0 early on. If they could have done a better job of it for a third period, then this would have been a more comfortable, decisive win. Alas, it was what it was.
Rising Palmieri: Kyle Palmieri made an impact tonight with two goals, including a wonderful shorthanded goal. Here’s the video of that goal:
Glorious. Just glorious.
Palmieri led the team with four shots (and a post) and he finished his month with six goals and four assists to lead the team in scoring for the month. It was a strong performance. I didn’t like that he took a penalty near the end of the period, but the Devils survived it. I’m hoping that this will lead to bigger and better things from the winger. At a minimum, he’ll continue play with Taylor Hall. Imagine if Palmieri catches some kind of fire and Hall has someone to finish more of those slick passes he gives out. It’d be something.
Shhhhh...: Before and after the third period, Jon Merrill finished positive in terms of attempt differential. He went from an amazing differential to being the only positive Devil tonight. That was not a function of just being with a good line or his match-ups having awful nights. No, Merrill played a very tidy game in his own end. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He didn’t make anything glaringly awful. He was just quietly good.
Speaking of quietly good, I did appreciate how well Henrique contributed on defense. Yes, he scored a shorthanded goal. But his line wasn’t so good tonight (Miles Wood, where were you? Michael Cammalleri, what are you?), but Henrique was backchecking effectively over and over. Like Merrill, Henrique just took care of a lot of business. It would have better if it led to more offense, but impressively his line wasn’t caved in during that third period.
Who Got Caved In?: The fourth line. Devante Smith-Pelly did have a nice steal and a one-on-one with Coreau in the first period, but that was pretty much it in terms of contributions from that unit. P.A. Parenteau was downright invisible. I think we’ll see Sergey Kalinin soon enough. Maybe a mixup of the bottom two lines too, although I think Stefan Noesen scoring another goal that was effectively set up by Pavel Zacha should mean those two will stay together. We’ll see. Defensively, Karl Stollery was overwhelmed at times. I thought Steve Santini was OK, but Stollery was just not all that effective. I think when Andy Greene returns, Stollery will be the one to head out of the lineup. At least based on tonight’s game.
The Hottest Wings: Anthony Mantha, Zetterberg, and Nyquist were Detroit’s best line by far. Even if they only contributed one goal, they did combine for seven of Detroit’s thirty shots and they allowed very few shots against. The Devils just had issues with that unit. Fortunately, the Devils were able to do enough damage to Detroit’s power play and other units.
Aware Schneider: While conceding three goals out of thirty shots isn’t necessarily great, I was very pleased with Cory Schneider’s performance. I don’t think he had a fair shot at the first two goals allowed. I’m not so sure on the third one. But he did keep Detroit off the board for just over 38 minutes, he was collected when Detroit tilted the ice in the third period, and he even made some quick, point-blank stops to preserve whatever the score was at the time. I’m fine with Schneider playing like this. Especially since Jared Coreau showed at the other end of the rink what less than good goaltending looks like. I’m not sure why Petr Mrazek was not brought into the game, but that’s something only Detroit’s coaches can speak to.
One Last Thought: This is my last recap for what will be most of February. Nothing bad is happening, I just have to take care of some good personal business that’s more important than hockey. I’ll be around, but Devin, Brian, Gerard, Alex, CJ, Mike, Matt, Nate, Steve, and Chris will take care of things. Keep reading their stuff and keep supporting your Devils.
Your Take: The Devils won 4-3 in Detroit with a dramatic, close finish. What did you make of the performance? Who was the best Devil in your eyes tonight? What can the Devils learn from this game ahead of their home game against Calgary on Friday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with the site account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.