Tonight, Cory Schneider was the main man in Newark. It was especially impressive given that his Friday night start was abysmal. That game featured a heinous shorthanded goal allowed and Schneider was pulled for Keith Kinkaid after giving up three goals on five shots. With so little action, the decision was made by the New Jersey Devils coaching staff to give him the start tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. That decision proved to be the right one as Schneider was fantastic. Schneider dragged the Devils beyond regulation with 38 saves on 39 shots. He denied Connor McDavid and company over and over and over with all kinds of stops. Schneider did his best in overtime as he did in regulation, but he could not stop Mark Letestu’s slapshot, which gave the Edmonton Oilers the 2-1 overtime win.
Schneider was very much sensational at stopping shots. But despite the 2-1 score, the run of play was anything but close. Unfortunately for the Devils, Cory Schneider (and Keith Kinkaid) cannot play offense, cannot defend anything but the net, cannot win matchups, cannot break the puck out of their zone, and cannot win battles in the neutral zone. That and more is on the skaters who play in front of their goaltender. The Devils were decisively defeated by the Oilers when it came to all aspects that did not involve goaltending.
Basically, the flow of the game quickly followed this pattern. Edmonton gains the zone. Edmonton creates offense. Devils collapse in own zone either to clean up a loose puck, attempt to win the puck from Edmonton, or just chase the Oilers around until the puck becomes lose. There’s an attempt at some offense which occasionally worked, but more often than not, Edmonton collects a cleared puck and does it again. And the Oilers relished this common sequence of events to make Schneider work hard for his money tonight.
After a few minutes to start the game, the Oilers started to run over the Devils. First it would be Connor McDavid just driving to the net like a truck. Then it would be a unit like Jordan Eberle, Drake Caggiula, and Benoit Poilout causing issues. Before you know it, Edmonton’s fourth line of Letestu, Anton Lander, and Matt Hendricks would pin the Devils back. It did not help at all that defenseman Yohann Auvitu was injured in his first shift tonight; forcing the Devils to rotate five defensemen. And those five defensemen were also missing Andy Greene; this game featured a lot of Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, Ben Lovejoy, and Kyle Quincey.
The Devils would get the first break of a goal when Miles Wood torched Eric Gryba for a breakaway. Wood beat Cam Talbot with a backhander for the goal. The Oilers were given more incentive to attack and they did by putting up sixteen shots out of twenty-eight shooting attempts on Schneider. (New Jersey just had seven out of thirteen attempts.)
The second period was more of the same. The Oilers just kept coming at the Devils in waves with the Devils putting up only occasional responses. The end of that period: 14-6 shots in favor of the visitors and 24-11 attempts also in favor of the visitors. Schneider faced a full night’s work in forty minutes and he was cornerstone to the 1-0 lead the team was defending.
That lead would not last. At 3:33 of the period, one would get by Schneider. Edmonton’s fourth line pinned back New Jersey’s and then defenseman Matthew Benning took a shot on net. When he shot the puck, this was the situation as the puck past Luke Gazdic, who played in place of Beau Bennett for no logical reason:
Schneider would be beaten low on this shot that he really didn’t see thanks to Ben Lovejoy and Matt Hendricks. That tied up the game. And the Devils responded with a little more offense than they had in the prior period. They mustered up six shots to Edmonton’s nine, although the Oilers blew them away in attempts again 17-9 as a function of their territorial dominance. Schneider continued to stop everything to leave the game open for the taking. There was one golden opportunity for New Jersey late in the period. When Edmonton left a puck behind in their own end. Kyle Palmieri picked it up, passed it to an open Adam Henrique in the slot, and Henrique unleashed a one-timer. Alas, Talbot stopped it. Even worse, that was the last real scoring chance the Devils had in the game.
Overtime came and that was more of Edmonton being in control than anything else. The Devils were credited for one shot, but the majority of those four minutes had the puck on Edmonton’s stick. They kept Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Ben Lovejoy (yes, Lovejoy started this) back to start. They kept Adam Henrique, Michael Cammalleri, and Damon Severson from doing much. A breakdown led to McDavid getting in behind the Devils and drawing a slash from Zajac, which was called. On the ensuing power play, McDavid and Oscar Klefbom would both be rewarded for their nights with a point when Letestu hammered in a top-shelf one-timer shortside on Schneider. It was a well placed shot - Edmonton’s 43rd of the night - that beat Schneider a second time. It had to be a great shot or something that would have caused Schneider to not see it because he was completely in the zone. The other Devils, well, they were out-shot 20-43, out-attempted 34-77, out-attempted in overtime 1-8, and were just stuck in their own end so much, I had to keep checking if they were killing a penalty or something. The non-goaltender Devils were run over tonight.
That is why I’m so happy with Schneider’s performance, he carried the Devils to a point in the standings. But I lament the other Devils’ performance because anything better could have resulted in a win given how great Schneider played.
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The Opposition Opinion: Check out The Copper & Blue for their take on this game.
Hall & Larsson: Taylor Hall was acquired for Adam Larsson back in June and they played each other on their new teams for the first time this season. How did it go?
For Hall, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. With about seventeen and a half minutes of ice time, three shots out of five attempts, and some lovely passes to P.A. Parenteau, Hall provided what he usually does. Hall was also blatantly tripped by Milan Lucic in the third period but that wasn’t called, so he didn’t draw a penalty that he should have. Regardless, this game screamed for a Devil skater to take over and despite some efforts by Hall, it did not happen. I will say that, once again, Hall’s unit was the best among the forwards. While Wood scored a breakaway, Hall wasn’t out-shot in 5-on-5 play (just 7-7) and his reunion with Travis Zajac helped on the defensive end. I didn’t like how Hall performed in overtime; but over the whole game, he was better than others.
Larsson had a great night. The whole Edmonton defense did, really. They held New Jersey to only twenty shots on net out of thirty four attempts. That’s excellent for any team. Larsson himself played a steady 22:26 with two shots on net out of four attempts. In 5-on-5 play, he was present on the ice for only four shots against out of seven attempts against him; a small amount compared to the 11 out of 21 performed by his team. Larsson was paired with the somewhat controversial Kris Russell and had plenty of shifts behind McDavid’s line and Drake Caggiula’s line, which were very, very successful.
Does this mean the trade should not have been done? I look at New Jersey’s offense without Hall and conclude, nope. Besides, one game (or two) isn’t a referendum on deciding who won the trade. Especially in this case where the two players are known for and are asked to do different things.
By the by, Michael Cammalleri and Adam Henrique had more ice time at even strength than Hall. I don’t think that’s because John Hynes thought those two were doing so well. It’s because they were out-attempted and out-shot so badly that they were stuck in their own end and therefore had quite a few long shifts to boost the TOI.
Small but Stupid Decisions: Maybe these are minor in the large scheme of things, but a number of decisions that I thought were stupid stuck out to me tonight.
First and foremost, the decision to scratch Beau Bennett so Luke Gazdic could play was a stupid one. It makes no logical sense. Yes, Gazdic is playing against his former team. That’s not a logical decision, that’s an emotional one. And it still isn’t a good one because Gazdic was not good in Edmonton, the Oilers let him go to free agency, and the Devils signed him. There was no word of any bad blood or anything like that. And even if there was, Bennett was at least a guy who could help drive the play forward on a third or fourth line. No, he doesn’t product much, but he could complete a line as functional. Gazdic, on the other hand, contributes next to nothing and drags a line down. Sergey Kalinin and Nick Lappin were largely ineffectual with Gazdic and the whole line was wrecked in 5-on-5 play tonight. They were also the line out there for the goal against in regulation. And for those who like Gazdic for any grit-related matters, well, he doesn’t even give you that. This was a bad decision.
Second, the usage of Ben Lovejoy in overtime was baffling. I get it. Without Greene and down to five defensemen, everyone is going to receive a lot of minutes. Lovejoy spent the whole night mostly losing to the McDavid and Caggiula lines. So overtime begins and Lovejoy starts in place of Damon Severson. Huh? And as he’s chasing the play, Edmonton just moved around him with ease. He received a second shift in OT and was blown by McDavid, which forced Zajac to foul him. The power play starts with Henrique, Quincey, and Lovejoy and McDavid charges to the net on a power move. Said power move knocks Lovejoy into Schneider and the net. And Lovejoy remains on the ice to play. Why? He was creamed into the net, he was adding nothing in OT, and there were three other fresh (sort of) defensemen on the bench. Why not replace him? It’s penalty kill, the d-men know what to do. It’s not like Lovejoy has been exceptional at it, especially tonight. And, lo and behold, the Oilers work the PP over to Lovejoy’s side for the eventual goal. I can understand Lovejoy being used as much as he was in regulation, but there was no reason for him to be the first choice defender in overtime tonight.
Third, the continued line of Cammalleri, Palmieri, and Henrique. They got wrecked again. Granted, the team did, but this line really ate it from a possession standpoint. Palmieri was just poor tonight. Cammalleri seemed to be on a different page than most of the other Devils. Henrique was the most effective, but that’s like saying a car has two flat tires instead of three. I know they scored goals on Tuesday but this is a line that isn’t working. Why this one wasn’t switched around, I don’t know.
Fourth, any attempt to lob or dump pucks solely for Miles Wood to chase it remains to be a waste more often than not. Yes, Wood negated one icing tonight. When he did so, he was hit into the endboards and didn’t come out of that with the puck. Even if he did, he didn’t have anyone nearby to pass it to. Wood’s breakaway goal was a great example of how Wood’s speed can be effective. Give him the puck and space in front of him and he’ll take it with great strides. Give him a shallow puck to chase and it’ll work. Making him expend that energy to try to get to a puck that’s launched ahead risks him being offside, risks an icing, risks hurting Wood with a collision, and risks not even coming out of it with the puck so he’s behind the play from the start.
The Frightful McDavid: I was sick the last time the Oilers came to the Rock so this was my first live viewing of Connor McDavid. He is absolutely on another level with his speed, his hands, his coordination, and his intensity. He just owned the Devils when he was out there, carrying the puck with speed into the zone, driving to the net, and firing away. He went for wraparounds, he set up his teammates, he crashed the net, and he was just making Devils chase him around. McDavid finished the night with eight shots on net, eleven attempts, a drawn penalty in overtime, a secondary assist on the game winning goal, and a +15 in 5-on-5 Corsi (attempt differential). I’m glad the Devils will only have to see him one more time this season.
By the way, a special shout out should go to Oscar Klefbom. The defenseman actually out-shot McDavid with nine shots on net out of twelve attempts. That’s all kinds of impressive too. While his common partner was victimized by Wood for New Jersey’s lone goal, Klefbom was just a shot machine. Unsurprisingly, his most common forward line was McDavid’s.
One Last Thought: I have to say that despite the inclement weather in New Jersey, there was a very good crowd at the Rock tonight. The announced attendance was 14,734, which is pretty good given the circumstances. The crowd was into this game throughout. The low score helped, sure. So did how the Devils played. And as much as I criticized how the Oilers just beat on the Devils, I will say that the Devils put more effort into their performance. What soured many in the loss to Toronto was how they didn’t play with any fire after the Maple Leafs buried them with four first period goals. The Devils, while heavily out-shot and out-attempted, did skate hard when they got a stop on defense, they tried to make plays off said rushes, Schneider made a lot of big saves, and while they weren’t as many as I would have liked, there were some scoring chances created instead of settling for long shots. The “compete level” was much higher compared to Friday’s loss and the fans picked up on it.
Your Take: The Devils hit the halfway mark with an overtime loss. Schneider carried the team to a point but that would be that. What did you think of the Devils’ performance? Who was the best Devil not named Cory Schneider tonight? What could the Devils have done any differently? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for writing the game preview for this one. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site’s account on Twitter, @AAtJerseyBlog, during the game. Thank you for reading.