Going into this one, this would be seen as a measuring stick of sorts for the New Jersey Devils. The Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs last year and are expected to do it again - and perhaps go further. What’s more is that they have been scoring loads of goals: 19 in their first three games. After two wins where the Devils decisively beat their opponents, this would be a real test before a very difficult back-to-back set at the end of this week. Did the Devils pass it? The 6-3 final score says they certainly took care of business. How they did it, well, it was very, very, very eventful.
The most important player in this game is Cory Schneider. The Leafs put up 50 shots on goal tonight. 13 in the first, 17 in the second period, and 20 in the third period. The Leafs had 11:46 of power play time over eight opportunities including one two-minute long two-man advantage and a second two-man advantage that could have lasted well over a minute. Those power plays generated 17 shots on net. Attempts? For Toronto, 73 in total and 49 in 5-on-5 play; those values dwarfed the Devils’ 50 and 31 respectively (per Natural Stat Trick). Chances? Leafs were up 52-29 in all situations, 33-21 in 5-on-5 (also per Natural Stat Trick). Needless to say, Schneider needed to be important tonight and he absolutely was big in the net. The Leafs loved to crash the net on their power plays and he did his best to deny a lot of short shots and quick rebound attempts. Schneider held onto longer shots well and gave up few rebounds. Odd man rushes? Schneider had those too and he stopped them all. You could not really fault him for the three goals against: a bounce off his skate from a too-wide-open James van Reimsdyk left of the crease; a deflection on a shot by Dominic Moore; and a one-timer shot on his flank during that second 3-on-5 situation by Auston Matthews. Even if they were bad goals, Schneider still made 47 saves. A lesser goaltender (think Chad Johnson from the Buffalo game) would have conceded more goals and make this game much closer on the scoreboard. Schneider made sure the Devils’ lead from the second period did not go away. He was massive tonight.
Schneider provided many saves. The many goals, well, that’s the amazing part. Let’s briefly summarize each one.
#1. Less than thirty seconds after van Reimsdyk converted a power play, the Devils had an offensive shift. Steve Santini ripped a slapshot from the left point. The puck hit off Miles Wood’s body and in behind Frederik Andersen. That made it 1-1.
#2. Adam Henrique lobs a puck out of the defensive zone and Miles Wood skates up ice. Defenseman Calle Rosen gets a glove on the puck. However, he reached to glove it so the puck fell away from his control. Wood swooped in and roofed a shot past Andersen to make it 2-1. Rosen’s mistake led to Wood’s brace.
#3. Midway through the second period, the Devils were on a power play. This was their fourth of the game and they did not do a whole lot of good on their first three. The start to this one was good. But the lamplighter happened like this. First, Jesper Bratt kept the puck in the zone at the left point from a feed by Marcus Johansson. Bratt skated the puck down to the goal line and then passed the puck behind the net to Johansson. Johansson drew Morgan Reilly in a bit and then passed it back to Bratt behind the net. Bratt one-touched a pass to an open Pavel Zacha at the top of the crease past Andreas Borgman. Zacha put the one-timer high into the net for his first of the season. It was then 3-2.
#4. On the same shift, Zacha was called for hooking and John Moore was called for a weak cross-checking call. On the initial MSG broadcast, it looked like it was just Moore - until #37 was seen in the box as well. A full 3-on-5 situation against Toronto’s mighty power play? Not good. What happens? This:
Devils win the defensive zone faceoff, Andy Greene chips it off the boards, Jake Gardiner keeps the puck in the zone but he can’t corral it, Adam Henrique takes that puck and skates it up ice past Gardiner and around William Nylander and shoots it, and Brian Gibbons followed up to hammer in the rebound.
Yes, the Devils scored a 3-on-5 goal right at the start of the penalty kill. Off a rebound. It was the first regular season 3-on-5 goal in franchise history. (I know they did it at least twice in the playoffs.) It made the score 4-2. The resulting power play and time after this is when the Leafs really pulled away in possession, attempts, and shots. Again, Schneider was huge in this game. But this goal was astounding and funny when it happened. Fun fact: this was the eventual game winner too.
#5. After a surge by the Leafs, the Devils are able to force an offensive zone faceoff. The fourth line comes out. Leafs win the draw and Rosen attempts a clearance from the corner. Blake Coleman intercepts it with ease. He takes a step and rips a shot inside the left (Andersen’s left) post and in. The Devils received some breathing room at 5-2.
#6. That breathing room helped as Matthews pulled the Leafs within two goals. But late in the game, the Devils had another offensive zone faceoff. Zacha won it cleanly back to Moore. Moore fired a wrister from the right point and Zacha tipped it to have it beat Andersen. This made up the final score of 6-3.
To recap: a deflection off a body, a one-on-one goal off a misplay by Rosen, a power play one-timer at the top of the crease, a rebound put-back in a 3-on-5 situation, a shot off a turnover by Rosen, and a stick-deflection off a wrister from the point. It was an array of goals that got the Devils to this result. It involved several different people. It included both a power play and a shorthanded goal. It was all fun.
Luck? Yeah, there was certainly some luck going on in New Jersey’s favor (e.g. Coleman going off the post and in, the deflections, the team’s first ever regular season 3-on-5 goal). And the Leafs did hit some posts in some big situations, like one during their first two man advantage and Nazem Kadri hitting the right one off a one-timer early in the third. But it is what it is. The Devils made more of their situations to beat Andersen and go up big. It wasn’t like the Devils had no offense; they had 31 shots on net and the Leafs’ big out-attempting and out-shooting really came about after the first 3-on-5 situation, which was killed.
The Devils skaters scored many goals, Schneider made many (many, many) saves, and they remain undefeated going into a tough back-to-back against Washington and Our Hated Rivals. Job well done.
The Opposition Opinion: Arvind. at Pension Plan Puppets has this game-timeline recap.
Optional Defense: I do not really have a whole lot of praise for the defensive part of the game. If I were to stretch, I thought Toronto did a very good job on their penalty kill to deny the Devils’ zone entries. Even then, the Devils still put up nine shots in five situations and gave up a goal to the middle man in a 1-3-1 set-up. I imagine both head coaches, John Hynes and Mike Babcock, are not all pleased with the amount and location of shots allowed tonight. The heat map at Natural Stat Trick shows the most intense colors right in front of the net. Turnovers were occurring quite a bit, the neutral zone was not slowing anyone down, and both teams did a lot of scrambling in both even strength and special teams situations. Throw in penalties and I’m sure the coaches are trying to think how to make things better for their goalies. Schneider was great tonight but allowing 50 shots in a 60 minute game is a definite red flag. So would the eight power plays conceded, which made matters much worse. The breakdowns for Toronto, which led to a number of the Devils’ six goals, are evidence enough to tell his team that they’re not where he wants them to be yet.
The only real positives that I can say for the Devils’ defensemen, outside of some momentary plays, was that they contributed on offense. Santini and Moore created the first and last goals tonight. Will Butcher picked up two secondary assists, although the second one may have not been so important. That helps. But the defensive side of things needs work - and that also includes help from the forwards.
The Return of Palmieri: Impressively, Kyle Palmieri returned to the lineup. He did not do a whole lot. When he was on the ice, the Devils were often on defense in 5-on-5 play. Still, he played about sixteen minutes, put up two shots on net, and drew two penalties. That’s not an invisible performance. It was good to see him get out there and play at full speed.
Poor Hall: Taylor Hall was robbed yet again tonight. He had a wraparound try that required a diving block by Nazem Kadri. It could have put the Devils up 3-1 earlier in the game. Hall was up for this one, though I thought his effectiveness faded in the third. I did enjoy his carry-in zone entries and his speed all the same. The points will come for him and hopefully soon.
The Rookie Sensation: Nico Hischier was not awful but he was definitely kept quieter in this game. He tried to hold onto pucks and reach for possession for sweet stickhandling moves. It did not work so well tonight. He did have a few good shifts.
But the rookie sensation right now is Jesper Bratt. He remains hot. He set up Zacha’s goal to keep a point streak going. He drew a call while getting a shot on net after some sweet moves around Nikita Zaitsev. He had some strong penalty killing shifts. Again, look at the usage and it is reasonable to think the coaches expect him to stay in New Jersey. Bratt played 17:15 total with over three minutes each on the power play and the penalty kill. He’s not shooting 100% anymore, but he did register one shot on net, one post, and two other attempts.
Guys Hoping to Stick Around: Miles Wood entered the lineup after Palmieri and Drew Stafford went out due to injury. Wood stayed in the lineup tonight after Palmieri’s return (sorry Ben Lovejoy) and he made it count. Wood’s first goal was more or less a chance deflection. The second goal was an example of what Wood is good at: chasing down loose pucks with speed and creating a scoring chance on his own. Finishing the play makes it sweeter. Wood had a couple more good looks from collecting long pucks. I was not a fan of his holding call; it was a silly thing to do on a forecheck where he was not going to win the puck anyway. On the flipside, Wood did draw a slash from Rosen near the end of the game that really sealed the win. It was a good offensive night for Wood; may be it will be enough to stick around.
The other lower-line players who made some noise tonight are Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman. Each scored. Each played a lot on the penalty kill; especially Gibbons, who played 6:39 on it. That alone suggests he’s not going to Binghamton anytime soon. Who else would take those minutes? But the impressive thing is that in a game where the Devils became severely out shot and out attempted; the Devils were out-shooting the Leafs when both were on. It was not a lot and not for a lot of time, but it was some respite in a game that became a shooting gallery on the goalies. That speaks to both doing good work out there. When Stafford returns, the coaches are going to have to make some tough decisions.
17 for Noesen: In the first period, Matt Martin - who is a jerk - threw a hit to Gibbons’ back. So Noesen fought him. For the first, Noesen received an instigator, a fight, and a misconduct. I thought that was a bit much since Martin was certainly not opposed to it. Alas. The calls were served and Noesen resumed playing a decent game.
You Know Who Was Good?: Adam Henrique had a sneaky-good game. In addition to being a massive-minute-muncher on the PK with over seven minutes tonight, Henrique led the Devils with five shots on net. This included a breakaway where he fell to deny a more dangerous shot and taking that shorthanded shot that Gibbons scored on. Henrique was also doing well at the dot, which was big for the special teams situations. Per Natural Stat Trick, Henrique actually held things down well against the likes of Mitch Marner, van Riemsdyk, Patrick Marleau, and William Nylander. I do not think it was so much better that he needs to move up ahead of Hischier or Zacha, but it was a good performance from the veteran center.
Come On: Henrique was involved in one of the weirder scenes of the game. After it was 6-3, Martin goes out and tries to hit Bratt hard. That didn’t work. Henrique stepped in and the two were grappling with each other for a good thirty seconds. The weird thing is that the refs let play continue while this happened. They finally blew a whistle when the Leafs tried to gain the zone. There was no fight. There was no penalty. Just two guys interlocked with a linesman trying to separate them whilst the game was ongoing. The whistle should have went sooner. At least no one was hurt.
One Last Thought: The Devils have now scored 16 goals in 3 games. They’re shooting at under 16% right now. As a result, these three games had plenty of goals to cheer for and marvel at. Hopefully when that fades, the defensive effort will be stronger and Schneider will remain excellent.
Your Take: The Devils won 6-3. It was not a dominant effort except in net and at finishing plays. Despite all of the penalties, the Devils came out with a big win and remain undefeated. What’s your take on this win? Who impressed you the most on the Devils? Who did not impress you at all? Which one of the six goals was your favorite? What do they need to work on ahead of a big back-to-back at the end of this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
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