Tonight, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Edmonton Oilers. Last week, the Devils visited the Oilers and lost 3-6 in what would turn out to be the start of a losing streak. After that big loss in Edmonton, the Devils fell in a shootout against Calgary, faded late to St. Louis, and then faced the Oilers again. With seventeen seconds left in overtime, Connor McDavid set up Leon Draisaitl for a shot that finished the Devils and ended the game with a final score of 2-3. That’s 1, 2, 3, and now four games without a win in a row. Despite that, the Devils are amazingly still in first in the division and this honestly was not a bad game by the Devils.
Seriously, the Devils played a solid effort against an Edmonton team featuring one of the most terrifying forwards in the NHL. While the Oilers have flopped out of the gate, they put a hurting on the Devils just last week. The Devils played like they learned a couple of things from that matchup (and some other games) and at least took a point out of this one. Whereas the team stunk it up so bad in the third period against St. Louis on Tuesday, this night was the one where the Devils lost a close one in a hard-earned way and didn’t get the proverbial bounces and so forth. The Devils managed to out-shoot the Oilers in regulation 31-26, attempts favored the Devils in 5-on-5 play 44-40, and neither team really dominated for more than a couple of minutes at a time. After some dire defensive performances, the Devils reduced some of the odd-man rushes against (I didn’t write eliminate, I wrote reduced) and did not lead Cory Schneider out to dry save for a few moments. I would have liked to have seen more offense in the third period, the Devils generated some real good chances and came far closer to that third goal in regulation than Edmonton. Alas, Blake Coleman hit a crossbar, Drew Stafford was robbed on a rebound by Adam Larsson, and a few other chances went begging. This was three periods of solid hockey by the Devils. Not perfect, but I’ll get to that later in this recap.
The fourth period made the big difference and it was a period of two halves. The first half featured the Devils largely in control. Nico Hischier was given a glorious opportunity in an early 2-on-1 after Taylor Hall gave him a potentially killer pass. He should have shot the puck. He did not. He passed the puck back to Hall, which was well behind him. Hall worked really hard to win the puck back and keep possession going. After some shifts and another shot, Hischier took a shot on net after trying to get around a defender. Maxime Talbot made a pad save, the Oilers cleaned up, and we entered the second half of OT. This half largely consisted of Hall, Hischier, and Andy Greene being stuck on the ice for a two-minute shift. The Oilers teed off on a totally gassed Hischier and Hall. Schneider was huge in denying Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had three of Edmonton’s six shots on net. Hall was able to get off first, but Hischier and Greene had to wait for a better opportunity to change. It was a disaster of a shift and Schneider and fortune were the only reasons why the Oilers did not end it there.
Unfortunately, the replacements led to the Oilers ending it right at the end. Brian Gibbons made a great intervention on defense after replacing Hall. But he took the puck up ice and lost possession. John Moore and Jesper Bratt were caught out in the neutral zone. Kris Russell passed the puck up to Connor McDavid, who torched Gibbons and head to the net. Moore charged back, focusing solely on McDavid. He didn’t see Draisaitl cutting in and Bratt was never going to catch him. McDavid stopped in front of the crease, laid off a pass for Draisaitl, and that’s how Edmonton won it. If only Gibbons held onto the puck and didn’t lose it. If only Moore had an idea about an Oiler behind him. I had hope that if the Oilers weren’t going to score on that two-minute offensive shift in overtime, then they just weren’t. Then McDavid and Draisaitl threw my hopes over the top rope and onto the concrete floor.
Disappointing as that was, I do not think the Devils should be too hard on themselves about how they played in general. There were some more pointed negatives, but they also did quite a few things well. It’s the sort of performance that makes me think that this winless streak may not last too long. If they were decisively smacked down like they were in Edmonton last week or it was just three periods like the third period against St. Louis, then I would be more unhappy and worried. This - not so much.
The Opposition Opinion: Patrick Olsen has this recap up at the Copper & Blue.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
An Emotional Goal: Early in the first period, John Moore played Brian Boyle into the Oilers zone shortly after Edmonton cleared the puck. Boyle went in for a shot at Talbot. Talbot fumbled the puck. Brian Gibbons went for a jam, the puck was still loose, and Boyle slammed it into the net. The goal was the first of the game. The goal was the first for Boyle as a New Jersey Devil. It is a definite highlight as it is impressive at all that Boyle is even playing. The man has been diagnosed and has suffered from leukemia. He’s had to enter this season later than everyone else while having such a serious condition. The larger hockey world has been cheering for Boyle and they certainly did cheer when he potted this goal.
What’s more is that Boyle played a good game. He played 13:38 overall, the Devils were positive in Corsi when he was on the ice (13 to 7), and he won nine out of fourteen draws. I think it is fair to say that this was his best game so far as a Devil. I hope he is able to score many more goals as he continues to play whilst battling leukemia. Boyle is very strong. He’ll do it.
Now That the Shoe was on the Other Foot...: The Devils took the first two penalties of the game and they took them within the first fifteen minutes of the game. Hischier hooked Milan Lucic before the game was a minute old and the team was caught with too many men on the ice. The first penalty kill was great. The second one was more or less survival. Then a funny thing happened: there were no other call on the Devils. Yes, the Devils managed to keep their penalty count low. In fact, the Oilers were called for four penalties. Hischier drew two of them; Adam Larsson grabbed Gibbons’ face for a super-obvious penalty; and Larsson high-sticked Coleman. This was a night where the opposition were less disciplined than the Devils. This could have been big.
It wasn’t. The power play was largely a waste of time. While the Devils would generate some glorious looks - Stefan Noesen tipping a puck past an open net was the closest among all of them - they generated only five shots in eight minutes of power play time. The Devils spent more time on their power play chasing down clearances and battling for pucks as they sent them into the Oilers. Many cross-ice passes were tried, few connected, and even less led to anything of value. The Devils’ power play has not scored since October 28. OK, going 0-for-7 isn’t exactly the worst thing ever but it is not like the goalies have been standing on their head. Maybe there would be one chance on each of these power plays and nothing more. It is not good enough. Something has to change in this process, whether it is instructing the players to take more initiative or adjusting the breakouts for zone entries. This is not working. It’s a bit sad because with the Oilers handing the Devils four power plays, the PP could have led to a win tonight.
Making the Tough Ones - But the Easy Ones?: Cory Schneider was fantastic on Tuesday. He was less than fantastic tonight. Schneider was able to make plenty of tough saves. He did his best in overtime when 9-13-6 were stuck in their own zone with little energy to expend. There was no chance he was going to get the Draisaitl goal. Yet, Schneider was beaten twice on two seemingly easy plays.
The first goal against came from Anton Slepyshev. After a won draw in the neutral zone, Lucic tossed a pass to Slepyshev on the left wing. The winger was able to get around all of the Devils and beat Schneider shortside. The play made the Devils look bad as a whole; especially Schneider. Maybe he was expecting a pass or Slepyshev to cut to the middle. Nope. The second goal against was much worse. Early in the third period, the Oilers had a makeshift 2-on-1 as Nugent-Hopkins was able to get around Andy Greene in the neutral zone. Nugent-Hopkins played the puck across to Lucic. Steve Santini defended a potential pass back so Lucic went for a low shot. The shot hit off Schneider’s stick and went through his five-hole. It was a soft goal to allow. Worse, Schneider did get a piece of it - which usually means he could have had all of it. That goal tied it up at 2-2. I would be underestimating the Oilers’ prowess to state that the Devils would have won if that goal was not allowed. But it would have been a big help. Again, the weird thing is that it was not like Schneider was terrible. There were some shots and shifts where he was the standout player. But he allowed two bad goals and that just is not good. It’s a bit frustrating to think about.
Improvements: The Devils put up a stronger defensive effort tonight. The Oilers were held shotless for about the first nine minutes of the game, which included an Edmonton power play. The heinous turnovers were cut back. Mirco Mueller and John Moore were far less problematic than they were in St. Louis. Moore was not even the team leader in shots against in 5-on-5 play tonight. Butcher had some follies on the power play and his lack of speed was an issue at points; but he was much better tonight in the run of play and he did not get lost too much. Damon Severson returned to the lineup, which is where he belongs, and he had a very good game too. The only defensemen that were overwhelmed were Greene and Santini. They were -13 and -12, respectively, in attempt differential and both faced twelve shots against There’s an easy explanation for that: they faced McDavid, Draisaitl, and Patrick Maroon the most. The all-star led line did whatever they wanted in 5-on-5; Greene-Santini just had to deal with it. Overall, though, that the damage was limited to one pairing helped avoid Edmonton running wild all over the Devils. It also helped that no defenseman took a penalty tonight.
As for shots for, everyone contributed at least one tonight. I like seeing that; it points to every line and pairing having some positive contributions. The biggest among them were the goals; Boyle’s goal was previously explained and Drew Stafford’s was a beauty, as he rounded Talbot for a goal. I would have liked to have seen more out of the power play, but they did put up a healthy number of shots in 5-on-5 play and when they were able to get going against Edmonton, they really shined. All that was missing was that third goal, especially in the third period. If they can keep this up, then I think they’ll be fine.
While Nico should have shot the puck in the 2-on-1 in OT, I did appreciate the coaches letting him play on after that very early penalty in the game. Hischier was quite good at stealing the puck, skating with control, and looking for the play to be made. I thought that after that penalty, Hischier did well enough to redeem himself and then some. Alas, all he was missing was a goal.
The Return of Palmieri: I really liked seeing Kyle Palmieri lead the team with five shots on net. Palmieri returned to action for the first time since October 20. The right winger fired away as he should. He was generally OK in the run of play and jumped right into big minutes with 19:22 played tonight. He played mostly with Hall and Hischier and that went well enough. I still question whether Hall and Hischier should stay together; but that answer may not come for a few more weeks. Still, the line was not a major issue, Palmieri went back to his usual role, and it went well.
Was Zacha Missed?: Not really. Pavel Zacha was a healthy scratch as he has not played particularly well enough in most games this season. I think his linemates need to be different; or at least not named Jimmy Hayes. But the Devils did not really miss him tonight. Boyle played well. Gibbons and Coleman were fine enough as energy players. It is not like Zacha was going to soak up minutes against the McDavid or Nugent-Hopkins lines at home. I do think he should draw back into the lineup this weekend. If only to see whether he received any messages or learned any lessons from a box seat. Who would come out? I’m not sure. Hayes was probably the least effective of the Devils skaters tonight, but Zacha does not play his position. Maybe Boyle slides to wing and Zacha goes back to center to make that happen? We’ll see.
WWE Night: I really liked how the Devils went in on WWE Night. They could have done more, in my opinion. But I really enjoyed the highlight video mixed in with wrestling commentary during the pre-game. I really enjoyed the compilation of Ric Flair promos towards the end of the game. I liked the one clip of goals set to “Glorious Domination.” (Seriously, Devils, use this song more!) I enjoyed the taped segment of NJ Devil beating up the egotistical Albertan Brawler - complete with a dropkick by the mascot. I liked how singer Chris Georgetti had the big gold belt with him as he sang the Canadian anthem. I especially liked seeing Daniel Bryan and the various WWE memorabilia on the lower concourse. I would have used more wrestling themes and such, but it was clear the Devils put some effort into it. Nice job. I hope it becomes an annual promotion.
One Last Thought: McDavid is frightening.
Your Take: The Devils lost 2-3 in OT in a game that wasn’t really that bad in general. What did you make of the performance? Who was the best Devil in your opinion? Who was the worst Devil? What can the Devils learn from this game before Saturday’s game against Florida? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.