Sloppy is the best word I could use to describe all three periods of play between the New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers tonight. . Some think fun hockey games are 1980s-style goal-fests. Others prefer goalie duels. This game was all about passes being denied, shots being blocked, sticks being checked, and yet out of all of that chaos, the defensive plays led of surprising bits of offense for both sides. It was certainly entertaining at times. It was tense at others. Both depended on your rooting interests. All the same, the Devils fought in this sloppy game and prevailed 2-1 to end a four-game losing streak. The result is largely thanks to Cory Schneider.
While the game was far from smooth, the Panthers really kicked things up a notch in the third period. They were down 2-1 to start the period. They have won only five games heading into this game. Of course, they were going to push more offensively. But there’s a fine line between score effects and just getting rolled over. This fell into the latter as the Panthers put up 17 shots on net in the third period alone. They put up 16 in the first two periods combined. The Devils responded to all of this offense by Florida with a whopping four shots on net and not a lot of time in their end of the rink. Needless to say, Schneider had to be big to protect the lead - and he was. The Panthers had one power play, where six shots were created. All were denied. A 4-on-4 situation yielded three shots, including a gifted one from Schneider that he thankfully stopped. (His only mistake of the period?) The dying seconds featured a desperate jamming attempt by Jonathan Huberdeau at the right post that was denied by the skate of Schneider. In between, Schneider would just find ways to get in front of shots and turn them aside as he could.
There was some help too. For the rebounds left by Schneider, the Devils scrambled to make sure that a Panther would not pounce on them. (Example: Andy Greene made a slide tackle to block a rebound attempt like he was trying to stack pads he did not have. And it worked.) They largely did that throughout the game, with the lone exception yielding a score to Nick Bjugstad. Even then, it took a second effort on a rebound as Schneider stopped the first one and Bjugstad was able to roof it in. The larger point: Schneider needed to be superb tonight with how things went in the third period and how the game went overall. And he was.
The Devils were also helped out with one bounce and one opportunity that the Devils seized. The Devils were slow to get going in this game as it took over seven minutes for their first shot on net. The second shot on net ended up being a goal: Damon Severson fired a shot not long after a faceoff and the puck hit off Keith Yandle’s leg and past James Reimer. There’s your lucky bounce. In the second period, Nico Hischier drew a tripping call on Michael Haley during a power play. The Devils would have a thirty-eight second 5-on-3 situation. The Devils ran their first 5-on-3 of the season and it ended wonderfully. Twelve seconds into it, Kyle Palmieri launched a rocket of a one-timer from a pass by Will Butcher to make it 2-0 at the time. There’s your opportunity seized. While they gave up a goal to Bjugstad, the Devils did come close to make it 3-1 second period when Brian Boyle hit the post on a shot. The shot, of course, came from a broken play where the puck was just loose in the slot for the big man to have a free shot with it. It would have been great and possibly eased up some of the pressure that Florida brought in the third period. It was not to be.
Thankfully, Schneider made sure a second goal for Florida was also not to be. While the performance was not as solid as, say, their overtime loss to Edmonton back on Thursday. I think it is fair to say the team needed to get a win by any means before entering another road trip. They did that. The four-game losing streak is over. The Devils are not necessarily falling off a cliff. The end is not necessarily nigh. This is all worth appreciating - especially as it came from a very good game by Schneider (with one exception). The Devils cannot celebrate this one for too long, though. They play in Chicago tomorrow for the team’s eighth game in the first twelve games in November. No one said this NHL thing was easy.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Litter Box Cats for a recap of tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The One Thing Schneider Did Not Shine In: Stickhandling. Schneider has not really been good at handling the puck. He made one nearly embarrassing mistake in the 4-on-4 situation in the third period. The puck came down with Vincent Trocheck bearing down. Schneider had to come out to play the puck and he had two teammates on each side. He ended up throwing the puck to the sideboards, missing his teammate and Trocheck guessed right to intercept it. Thankfully, Schneider hustled to deny an easy equalizer. Schneider was called upon to play more pucks behind the net. Those were not nearly adventurous, though the Devils play along the sideboards made it so as Florida won a couple of those pucks to get some additional attacks going. It may be a bit unfair to pick on this moment, especially since Schneider did so, so well at everything else. But it could have been a real backbreaker and so it should be noted. Likewise, Schneider made up for that and went on to stop 32 out of 33 shots, mostly with little margin for error.
Power Play Streak Snapped: The 5-on-3 goal is the first power play goal of the month. It ended a 0-for-11 run. The 5-on-4 power plays created little; just one shot in between the short and successful 5-on-3 situation. It is great that Palmieri pounded in a PPG - his first goal since coming back from injury. However, the process still needs a lot of work to have the Devils generate more offense in their man advantage situations. For now, this streak snapping should be appreciated too.
Give Him Minutes: Damon Severson high-sticked Jamie McGinn in the third period. This was one of the few mistakes Severson made all night. #28 was great in both ends of the rink. Yandle’s leg yielded a goal for him, Severson was the only defenseman with more than one shot on net with three, and the 5-on-5 play was in New Jersey’s favor when he was on the ice. If you wanted Severson to make a statement, then he did so with his performance. I wish the coaches would have recognized him more for it. Amazingly, he played fewer minutes than Mirco Mueller and John Moore. Yes, those two received penalty killing shifts, which boosted their ice time. That begs another question: Why are Mueller and Moore regulars on the PK? Not that the PK was bad tonight - it was good outside of the third period - but it smacks of something odd that Severson played less than sixteen minutes despite playing well.
Faceoff Nightmares: The Devils were owned at the dots tonight as the Devils just won 16 faceoffs to Florida’s 33. Aleksander Barkov was a monster with 17 faceoff wins; he ate Adam Henrique and Blake Coleman alive in both offensive and defensive zone draws. Trocheck also was big on draws; particularly in his own end. Funnily enough, the faceoffs that ended up mattering the most were the ones the Devils won. Nico Hischier won a draw against Trocheck to start the 5-on-3, which was quickly ended by Palmeiri. After Huberdeau’s dangerous jam play, there were 17.6 seconds left after play was blown dead. The Devils iced the puck twice afterwards. Brian Boyle won each of those faceoffs to ensure that Florida would not have an 18th third-period shot to attempt, much less go in the net. The takeaway? Maybe not worry as much on faceoffs except for specific situations? Maybe?
Crushed: Steve Santini received a lot of love and a lot of cheers in the second period, when he dumped Barkov into his own bench. It was a gloriously clean hit and it made for a great visual.
I howled when I saw it live and I cackled at every replay. This hit got the Rock buzzing. Barkov is a large man and checks into the benches are not common. Santini doing both and in such a clear manner was just wonderful to see. People love big hits and Santini whipped out a big one on Florida. Enjoy seeing this in future video packages at Devils games and in broadcasts this season.
Speaking of Santini, he did not get completely owned by Florida. OK, he and the Devils were forced to play quite a bit of defense against Barkov, Evgeny Dadonov, and Huberdeau. But it was refreshing to see #16 not stuck in his own end for the majority of his shifts. He played well alongside Greene and his penalty killing shifts were good too.
Bottom Six Notables: For the positive side, Blake Coleman demonstrated his superior forechecking. He ended a penalty kill early when he drew a hook from Dadonov after skating out the puck on a zone exit and trying to create a shot. Coleman took on some defenders and even beat a few in the run of play. The 5-on-5 stats seem a bit odd, but Coleman managed to be -5 in attempt differential and +3 in shot differential. He even took three shots on net himself. Even with losing a whole lot of faceoffs, I liked what he was doing in general and that is notable. Miles Wood took an unnecessary roughing call early in the game for hitting Reimer behind the net. But Wood behaved for the rest of the game and when he was on the ice, good things tended to happen. He provided plenty of good energy, he took a few attempts, and he stretched the ice a bit. For a bottom-six winger, that’s pretty good.
For the negative side, Brian Gibbons had a rough game. He lost plenty of pucks and the run of play often went against the Devils when he was on the ice. Gibbons was OK on the penalty kill, but he was unable to get much going on offense. It may appear that the team’s leading goal scorer (still) is coming back to Earth somewhat. Jimmy Hayes did not contribute much on the ice again. He had no shots. He attempted no shots. He drew no calls. He did not help a lot on defense. His one moment: winning a faceoff on offense that led to Severson’s goal. OK, that meant something - and after that feed, Hayes went on to nothing much. I remain confused to see him in the lineup and Pavel Zacha on the scratched list. While Zacha does not play right wing, surely the Devils could move some things around to accomodate it. At least Hayes was kept to less than ten minutes of ice time. He was also kept away from the power play; Brian Boyle and Miles Wood took shifts in similar roles instead.
Was 9-13-21 Working? Tonight, sort of. The three were positive in the run of play in 5-on-5 play. The three combined for five of the team’s 21 shots. But they could have done more to drive the play forward and really put pressure on Reimer. Hall was held in check and even got caught with a holding penalty after grabbing Michael Matheson’s shoulder in the first period. The trio was held to just one shot in the third period, when the Devils really needed more to keep Florida honest. They did contribute? Yes: Hischier drew a penalty and Palmieri scored a PPG from that drawn call. There’s that. Could there havebeen more? Absolutely - and not just hoping Hischier stuck with Bjugstad before his goal. The Devils’ top forward line could have and should be expected to create more offense than they did tonight. Is it enough to keep it together? Based on the fact that the coaches have kept Nico with Hall, I think so. I also think that a returning Travis Zajac will drive a change. That is apparently happening much sooner than expected.
Poor Bratt: Jesper Bratt was assessed a hooking minor. Yandle was off-balance and falling and apparently a referee thought his stick blade touched the defender’s gloves. It was a weak call live. It was the major point in a game where Bratt did not really do much. He had no shots, only one attempt which was blocked, and he did not make a real impact on the game. It was a quiet one marred by a cheap minor penalty.
Chalk Talk: As a season ticket holder, I get opportunities for things that came up from my ticket rep. The Devils tried something new today: chalk talk with Chico and Matt Loughlin. Thankfully, my ticket rep gave me a heads up on this so I was able to attend. A bunch of us STHs were escorted to the old Devils locker room (we could see some of the Florida players warming up in the hallway along the way) where Glenn “Chico” Resch was waiting. He was incredibly friendly, offering any autographs, pictures, and conversing with everybody. Matt showed up a little later, introduced himself to everyone, and then they sat down, gave a general statement about the team’s play, and, well, took questions from the fans about the team’s play and their roster.
I’m not going to go into the details as far as what Chico and Matt Loughlin had to say about Cory Schneider’s trade-ability, Damon Severson and what’s up with him, the team taking as many penalties as they have been, the defense not being so strong, and how Travis Zajac would fit in the lineup (Zajac was cleared for practice today). There was a lot of opinion shared. Some justifable and reasonable. Others where the numbers and run of play do not exactly back it up. But it was a good pre-game activity and it is a nice perk for STHs. I do not get the chance to enjoy most of them for various reasons; but I really enjoyed this one. It helps that Chico and Matt are as personable and friendly as they are passionate about the team. I hope the Devils continue to do this sort of thing and other things like it.
One Last Thought: Tonight was Military Appreciation Night at the Rock. To that end: Thank you to all of the veterans and active military personnel.
Your Take: The Devils ended their losing streak in a 2-1 win largely driven by Schneider shining like a star in the crease tonight. The Devils will go to Chicago tomorrow to start another road trip. What did you make of the team’s performance? Who do you think did well and who do you think did not do well? What’s up with the third period being so poor again? How did you react when Santini dropped Barkov into his own bench? What can the Devils takeaway from this game that they should apply in Sunday’s game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.