Special teams can make a big difference in a game. A successful penalty kill or even a shorthanded goal can have a huge impact. Likewise, an effective power play can jump start an offense or even just provide the scoring that may be lacking at even strength. Good performances when up or down a man can drive a team to win a game they may not otherwise play well in. That is what happened at the Rock tonight as the New Jersey Devils beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-3, on the strength of two power play goals and a shorthanded goal.
The power play was short, sweet, and supreme. The Devils received two opportunities that lasted all of thirty-two seconds because they scored quickly on both. The two power plays came in the third period and their conversions meant that the Devils tied up the game and went up 4-3. The first was a great sequence of events after a faceoff win that was finished by a great shot from Taylor Hall.
Notice that every Devil played a role and played it correctly on this play. Will Butcher was an outlet for Jesper Bratt off the draw. Bratt received the pass and made a nice backhand pass to Adam Henrique. Henrique turned and fired a great one to Taylor Hall. Jimmy Hayes set a great screen on Louis Domingue (pictured in the screencap of the video). Hall fired a great shot. You could not ask for a better power play goal. Then there was the second one, which started off in the neutral zone and led to this:
Adam Henrique won the draw and the Devils moved back to run their play. Henrique carried the puck in and played it to Bratt. Bratt passed it back to Henrique in the face of two Coyotes; Henrique passed it back to Butcher. When Butcher received pressure from Jordan Martinook, he passed it across to Hall. Hayes was right in front of Domingue, who had to shove and look around him. Hall made a killer pass across the slot to Bratt. As Domingue was getting over to his left, Bratt hammered in a killer one-timer. Again, a great finish to a great play that involved everyone. And it put the Devils up 4-3, a lead that they defended right until the end. You could not ask for a better power play result than two goals out of two shots on two opportunities. This was crucial.
So was the penalty kill. It was not perfect. The PK conceded the game’s first goal; a rebound attempt by Christian Fischer (no relation) in the first period. But after that mistake in coverage, the penalty kill was sharper. Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons were aggressive on the kill and forced the Coyotes to defend their own end. In the first period, Gibbons picked off a D-to-D pass and went off on a breakaway. He was fouled by Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the process and was given the penalty shot. Gibbons would score presumably the first penalty shot in his career and make it 1-1 in the first period:
There’s a shorthanded goal to make the PK even in goal differential tonight. On that kill and two others in the first period, the Devils were solid as they could be. Their one kill in the third period was stressful as the Devils were pinned back and could not make much of a play. But Cory Schneider was solid and the Devils did survive it. In total, the Devils held the Coyotes to seven shots out of five opportunities. That was big as the Coyotes could have made it a long, long night. Instead, the Devils’ matched their goalscoring on it and their aggressiveness was rewarded. This was a crucial part to the Devils’ success tonight too.
Adding to the fact that the special teams were a massive factor in the Devils’ win tonight was that their even strength play was poor. The Coyotes did not look like a 0-9-1 team out there. Whether you want to attribute it to the Devils playing a full 65 minutes last night, the Devils looking past Arizona, or whatever, the Devils’ even strength performance was just not good enough. Their defensive play was just porous. It was as if the team forgot that defense is everybody’s responsibility. Clearances often failed - when the Devils were able to get to them. The neutral zone was just a free zone for the Coyotes to get through. Players were caught overloading to one side, leaving the backdoor open. Communication seemed to be an issue with Coyotes just finding spots to fire in and ways to keep attacks going. Exacerbating the defensive woes were that the Devils seemingly resorted to dump-and-chase play for offense and many of their zone entries often ended with one or fewer shooting attempts. The Coyotes out-shot the Devils 30-20 at even strength (and 9-4 in 5-on-5 play in the third period!), and Natural Stat Trick’s game flow shows Arizona being ahead in attempt differential all game long. The Devils played it as if they were waiting for Arizona to make mistakes instead of trying to force the issue - like they did on special teams. Not only did that not happen too often; the Devils were too loose and unfocused to avoid mistakes themselves. It made for a frustrating experience; the winless Coyotes arguably out-played the Devils in even strength. That was frustrating.
Fortunately, despite some notable non-calls, the Devils did get two power plays and scored on both. Plus, they escaped a first period with four penalty kills with only one goal allowed and one goal scored. The special teams brought up a lackluster even strength performance and gave the Devils a comeback win. Good as it is to win, I do hope this game is a wake-up call that this team really cannot afford to play the way they did against anyone. They really could have lost to a winless Arizona team that certainly did not play like a scrub team tonight. May they heed this lesson as they hit the road for their next three games. And may the special teams support the Devils’ efforts; they made the difference tonight.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Five for Howling, jvl101993 has this recap of the game.
The Game Highlights: From at NHL.com, here are the full highlights:
Mighty Hall and Bold Bratt: Taylor Hall was forced to play plenty of defense tonight, but he forced some of the Devils’ offensive opportunities and had a big night on the scoresheet. He scored the Devils’ lone 5-on-5 goal tonight off a pass in front by Bratt; he finished a lovely pass from Henrique for the team’s first power play goal; and he fed Bratt for a killer one-timer for the other power play goal. Hall led the team in shots with four and each one of this three points were important to how the game went tonight. While his CF% was unfavorable, Hall was a big reason why the team won tonight at all.
Plenty of love should also be given to Jesper Bratt. Like Hall, Bratt did not have a good night in the run of play as he was pinned back quite a bit in 5-on-5 hockey. Like Hall, Bratt was crucial in the productive plays for the Devils. Bratt picked off a pass by Kevin Connauton behind the net, which allowed him to set up Hall’s first goal. Bratt played well from the side boards, which led to a secondary assist on Hall’s second goal. Bratt scored the eventual game-winner. Bratt’s PK work was good too. While Bratt had some miscues on defense and slashed Max Domi for a penalty, Bratt played an important role in tonight’s win as well.
Eleven and Seven: Now, why were Bratt and Hall on the ice together in spots? The Devils went with eleven forwards, which meant some shifts among the lines were necessary. Andy Greene was out as his wife gave birth to a son this morning. So all of the other seven active defensemen played tonight. The only twist was that Marcus Johansson was a late scratch due to tweaking something during warm-ups; Stefan Noesen replaced him. That would explain some brief and somewhat unfamiliar combinations. Although, maybe the Devils should consider having Hall and Bratt togehter a little more often? Maybe?
Knowing that the Devils had seven defensemen out there and the team allowed 37 shots on net, those facts do not speak well of the D. While Damon Severson was not a turnover machine, he had his issues. Steve Santini and John Moore were overwhelmed. Will Butcher was not much of a factor on defense. Dalton Prout did not do much beyond screening Schneider on the second goal against - a great shot by Brendan Perlini - and duck on the shot. Ben Lovejoy displayed issues with speed again as Fischer (no relation) was able to get in front of him for his goal. Mirco Mueller somehow ended up as the only defender with a positive CF% tonight and yet he seemingly iced the puck quite a bit. The forwards only helped so much, which was not enough.
The point: Andy Greene was dearly missed and the Devils coaches need to really sort out the defensive issues. We’ve seen enough of them throughout this 8-2 month that we know it will lead to a downfall in time.
Poor Nico: No, Nico Hischier did not really draw my sympathy on a play or anything like that. He was just poor tonight. The Coyotes loved playing against him. Hischier did not add much of anything on offense with no shots and no shooting attempts. Defensively, he was trying but he was out-matched. His “highlight” was having his pocket picked cleanly by Clayton Keller, who took that steal and turned it into a score that made it 2-3 late in the second period. I am not trying to pick on the rookie. Everybody has bad games. But this was a bad game from Hischier.
Not Benched: Pavel Zacha took two penalties in the first period. The first was a slash on Fischer (no relation); the second was a trip on Ekman-Larsson in the offensive zone. Given what we saw in the Rangers game earlier this month, I would have not been surprised to see #37 stapled to the bench. He was not, though. As far as I could tell, Zacha kept playing regularly. He was not as good as he was against Ottawa and registered no shots on net, although he did attempt four shots. Perhaps John Hynes and his staff did not want to go to ten forwards to easily. Especially with the team having the issues that they did have with Arizona in 5-on-5 hockey. At least Zacha did not take a third penalty.
Gibbon’s Goal Scoring Machine & Coleman’s Energy: Brian Gibbons now leads the Devils with five goals. That is still a weird sentence to type. His move on the penalty shot was akin to Bratt’s awesome shootout goal against Ottawa. Gibbons provided some smart play on the PK and nearly cashed in a second shorty in the second period. Alas, it was not all good for #39. His 5-on-5 play was not so hot and he took a penalty of his own in the third period. It was a little hook that paled to the uncalled cross-check in the neutral zone earlier by Arizona on that shift. It was called all the same.
I did really like Coleman as an energy forward. His work with Gibbons on the PK gave the Coyotes fits. He skated hard whenever there was a chance for the play to go forward. His hit on Ekman-Larsson was heavy, clean, and it did lead to Fischer (no relation) taking a call. I keep bringing it up, but it is true. He’s playing the sort of way he needs to play to stay on this roster.
Schneider’s Return: I really liked Cory Schneider’s performance in all three periods tonight. While the goal he allowed to Keller was stoppable; he did not really have a chance on Fischer’s (no relation) goal and he did not see Perlini’s thanks to Prout. Schneider made 34 stops, he made some big ones on Derek Stepan (six shots), he denied Keller on a similar shot on that third period penalty kill, and he held strong as the Coyotes had six skaters on the ice at the end. Schneider responded well despite being crashed into by Fischer (no relation) after his goal. With how passive and loose the Devils were on defense, Schneider had to play well to keep the Devils in the game. He did that. Well done.
On the other side, Arizona traded for Scott Wedgewood because their goaltending has been a problem. That penalty shot goal Louis Domingue allowed to Gibbons was a pretty bad one. I don’t think he should be faulted for the other three as two were one-timers that caught him out and the other he could not see until it was too late. Still, four goals out of 25 shots is another hit to an already low save percentage. I would have wanted to see the Devils be able to put more shots on him and really challenge him to make some tough stops. They scored as many as they needed, though.
Charity: During the game, the Devils announced that they will be holding their food drive for their next home game. Fans are encouraged to bring canned and non-perishable food on the night of November 7. This is one of the games that are on the vouchers from the coat drive donations. So if you’re planning to go from that or if you have a ticket or whatever, please bring some food to help someone out.
Congratulations: As noted earlier, Andy Greene was not in the lineup tonight. His wife, Rachel, gave birth to a son, Maddox David, this morning. Congratulations to the Greenes.
One Last Thought: The Devils did a better job defending a 5-on-6 situation at the end. I wish Drew Stafford was able to put in the empty-net goal, but he was held to a sharp angle and the shot was blocked away too. Still, the Devils were better prepared, they had two big zone exits (Stafford had the attempt on one, a second that wasn’t an icing), and Arizona did not get the critical bounce or seeing-eye shot that they needed. It was nervy, but the Devils succeeded in that situation. A welcome change after getting torched for two 5-on-6 goals on Friday night.
Your Take: The Devils were able to beat Arizona 4-3 and end the month at 8-2. A month in review post will be up on Monday. In the meantime, what did you think of this game? Who impressed you on the Devils? Who were you disappointed in? What do the Devils need to do to improve their performance ahead of a road trip through Western Canada? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.